Beth Armstrong

Christian wife, mom, & author. Doing life with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I walk, I stumble, I fall. But God is big. And this is what I write about… Thanks for stopping by!

Archive for the tag “Jesus”

DISHING ON DIFFICULT PEOPLE

I was being kind and compassionate and was prepared to go out of my way to be helpful. Then he bit my head off. I immediately thought, “Thanks for nothin’ there, bud!” I always go the extra mile in the respect, caring, and kindhearted department with this guy. And what I get in return is short, impatient, disrespectful responses. He grunts, he groans, or he growls at me nearly every time. He’s crusty. He’s rough around the edges to say the least. He once told me that when he dies he’s “going straight to hell because he’s one mean son of a bitch.” (Yep, that’s a direct quote from him.) Ever since he made that declaration, he’s been on my heart. For whatever reason, this week when I reached out to help out with my normal positive, considerate approach, and when he bit my head off, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

Later, another gentleman (not sure he really deserves that title if I’m being honest) told me he didn’t like me one bit at all. (What I really wanted to say was, “Yeah, the feeling is mutual!”) He let me know I was terrible at my job and that I needed to get with the program. He then stated that he didn’t like being around me and told me to go away. Apparently not long after we met I ticked him off. He doesn’t look at me, speak to me, or acknowledge me in any way. I say hello to him every time I see him. I ask him how his day is going. And he pretends that I don’t exist. Until this week. When I got an earful. And again, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

head buttWhen I deal with difficult people, my motto (and self-talk reminder) of the last several years has been, “Just kill ‘em with kindness.” But after this week, my new motto just might leave off the words “with kindness.”

“Bless those who curse you,” He said. I’d like to think Jesus was plum crazy or maybe on something when He challenged His listeners in this way. But that wasn’t the case at all. He was always taking what was right-side-up and turning it upside down. Or perhaps better to the point, He was always taking what was upside down, and turning it right-side-up. Paul reiterates Jesus’ words by adding, “Bless and do not curse.” Then Peter adds his two cents by saying, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing…”

I think Jesus initiated these words because He knew that life was a grander story than just mere moments of insults and ingrates. He knew that He was part of a bigger story than the one written in the heat of the moment of disgust or displeasure with an individual. Not only was His story bigger, but so was that of the insulter, the attacker, the persecutor, the difficult person. And if He could weave kindness, compassion, grace, and mercy into their story, maybe it would awaken them to the bigger story they were a part of but just didn’t know it.

“Love your enemies,” He said. Why would I want to love them when they don’t return the sentiment? Loving them is an investment that doesn’t produce any kind of return, other than frustration on the part of the one giving the love. But this is what we’re challenged to do. To participate in God’s story–one in which He is speaking and acting. A story of unconditional love. And grace. And mercy.

“Love, do good, help, and lend to those difficult people in your life,” He said. Those difficult people in our lives aren’t problems to fix. They’re people. Made in the image of God. People to love. People to serve.

Jesus also added these words, “…expecting nothing in return.” That’s where it gets real. That’s where it gets raw. I want progress in return. I want a glimpse of something positive in return. I want my effort to mean something, to make an impact, to influence…and see evidence of it.

God says to all of us, “It’s not about the return. It’s about the story. I am writing your story just as I am writing theirs.”

So…we gear up, we armor up, we fill up and prepare ourselves to spill out love and blessings to those who curse us, our enemies, the ungrateful, the selfish, the hateful, and the mean-spirited. And we know after all the spillage, our bucket will indeed be empty. (Jesus probably experienced this on a regular basis.) But we go straight back to the Source to refuel. The Author of our story. The One who invites us to participate in it as best we can. By loving…doing good…and blessing.

 

WHY JESUS DIDN’T HALF-ASS

“A job isn’t worth doing unless it’s done right the first time.” It was something like this that my grandmother embedded into us when we spent the summers with her. We “earned our keep,” so to speak. We had a list of chores to do each day. We memorized Bible verses at meal times, we were expected to treat each other with kindness and respect, and she set the bar high. We had to make our beds each morning…perfectly. We had to do the dishes…completely and thoroughly. We had to clean out the toy closets and ball closets…spotlessly. We had to sweep the garage…immaculately. She wasn’t being mean, or harsh, or a taskmaster. She just expected us to pitch in. She wanted us to learn the value of hard work. She wanted us to learn to do a job right…the first time. It’s a waste of time to do a job half-assed, then do it repeatedly until it’s done right, done well, and with care and excellence.

This is what my grandmother taught me. I didn’t care much for those lessons at the time. Matter of fact, I kinda thought it was a crock. Since when do kids go to their grandmother’s house to work? It’s supposed to be all about fun. And, truthfully, we had a lot of fun with her…after the work was done. She loved to play games…after the chores were complete. Part of her mission, I think, was to teach us grandkids to do a job right the first time around. And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

I ran across a passage this week that made me think of this very thing. Some people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus took him aside, put His fingers in the man’s ears, and some of His spit on the man’s tongue. (Yes, this sounds disgusting!) Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Be opened!” In an instant, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened, and he began to speak clearly. It was gross, crazy, strange, and miraculous all at the same time.

The people who witnessed this were absolutely blown away. And do you know what their response was? Here’s what they said about Jesus… “He has done everything well…” What they were indicating about Jesus was, “He does everything beautifully, commendably, and with excellence. Jesus does admirable things that are honorable, surpassing good and noble.”

He didn’t just do some things well. He did all things well. He didn’t choose to half-ass a few things now and then. He chose to do the job right (and with excellence) the first time. The Message Translation of Mark 7:37 records it this way, “He’s done it all and done it well.”

I wonder if Jesus grew up with a grandmother like mine?

Or maybe He just knew that it made perfect sense to do everything well. That doing things half-assed is a waste of time. Maybe He sensed that excellence and honor was the way God intended it to be. Maybe He figured out that if you’re gonna do a job, do it right the first time. Because in the end, this is the way, the effort, the attitude, and the character that pleases God…and my grandmother.

 

JESUS, WHERE’S WALDO, & PROBLEM SOLVING

About 15 years ago or so, the Kansas City Star used to put Where’s Waldo in the lineup of comic strips in their Sunday edition. Back in the day, we spent lots of Sundays with my folks who took the paper faithfully. I remember Sunday after Sunday, lying on the family room floor, poring over each comic strip with an occasional grin or chuckle. But one of my favorite parts of the funny papers was Where’s Waldo. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s one of those seek-and-find type things. Waldo is a kinda geeky looking guy with a red and white striped shirt, round glasses, wacky brown hair, and a red and white stocking cap. Where's WaldoEach cartoon features Waldo tucked away in some crazy, action-packed scene. And your job is to find him. I usually couldn’t. I’d spend a good 5-10 minutes searching for the guy, but wasn’t very successful. Then my oldest son, who was about 4 or 5 at the time, would come scrunch down beside me, and within 30 seconds would say, “There he is, momma!” I thought it was coincidence at first. But week after week, I’d search high and low, studying the scene with a careful eye, trying to find Waldo. I’d find someone who closely resembled Waldo, but not Waldo. Then like I said, Caleb would swoop in, and find him in a heartbeat without even trying.

Sometimes I think solutions to our problems are like this. We search high and low, in what feels like some crazy, action-packed scene. We look the scene (aka our problem) up one side and down the other and just can’t seem to find the solution. For us it’s sometimes grueling and clouded by seeing the same reality over and over again. Someone else, however, can take a look at the same reality and see the solution quickly. They can come in with a different perspective—one that’s not emotionally charged—and see the solution.

But here’s the thing…we don’t like those people. Even though they can see clearly what we should do, we don’t listen to their advice. We brush away their wisdom. It’s a pride thing in us. We have trouble admitting the fact that we have weaknesses and need help. There are times when we should seek out wisdom, help, advice, or counsel from others, but instead we just insist on trying harder ourselves.

You remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? When He stood at the entrance of the tomb and hollered for Lazarus to come out, scripture records that “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (John 11:44a).

Why did Jesus do that? Why didn’t Jesus bring Lazarus out all clean and fresh to put a further exclamation point on this miracle? Why did Jesus have Lazarus come out of the tomb all “mummified” like that?

The very next thing Jesus said to those close by was, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go (John 11:44b).” That’s why. Jesus asked whoever was near the tomb to help Lazarus take off what bound him. You see, Jesus knew we needed each other. Jesus knew the value of others stepping in to help, to unbind us, to be hands-on in setting us free from our problems.

If you can’t find Waldo, you might ask Caleb to help you.

If you can’t find the solution to your problem, however, you just might consider the Jesus method—of asking those nearby to help unbind you.

WHY?…OR WHY NOT? WHICH IS THE BETTER QUESTION?

A few years ago, a kid I knew went through a phase of answering every question you asked him with a question. He would ask you back the same question you asked him, only with a twist. For instance, if you’d ask him, “Why did you shorts on such a cold day?” He’d answer back, “Why not wear shorts on such a cold day?”

If you asked him, “Why did you leave the meeting early?” He’d respond, “Why not leave the meeting early?”

It was always kinda funny, always kinda unique. And when I considered his responses, I had to stop and think to myself, “Well I guess you have a point there! Why not? What would be a legitimate reason why not?” And usually I couldn’t come up with a viable, legitimate reason why not. So my questions (as to why)—which I originally thought were valid and reasonable—were actually not so much.

There’s an interesting story in three of the four gospels in which Jesus is found eating with some “tax collectors and sinners.” (That’s not my wording—that’s actually what the Bible says.)

“Tax collectors and sinners.” I wonder who all might have been lumped in this category back then? And who—what saintly person, group, or entity—got to label them as such?

So Jesus was hanging out with a group of sinners—criminals, reprobates, outlaws, degenerates, troublemakers, and whoever else. Next thing you know, some “high and mighties” come along and see Him doing this. (Gasp! Say it isn’t so!) Yep! There was Jesus (who was sinless) eating dinner and chillin’ with a house full of heathens. Appalled, I’m sure, they immediately ask some of Jesus’ close friends, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

I suppose from their perspective it’s a valid question, right? Why would Jesus—who was perfect, holy, and righteous—hang out with imperfect, unholy, and unrighteous folks? This was an important, legitimate question in their eyes. I mean, these “high and mighties” wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with anyone who might taint their lily white reputation. So they questioned why. But a more important question in my eyes is “Why not eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Why NotWhy did Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? Because He loved them. Jesus didn’t see their faults and flaws. He saw their faces. He didn’t let their immorality keep Him from seeing them as individuals. He saw past the sin, and saw a somebody.

Why did He hang out with sinners?

Why not?

Far too many of us are afraid to associate with the “tax collectors and sinners” in our world. We’re afraid we might be labeled. We’re too protective of our reputation. We fear we can’t relate. We somehow strangely believe “it’s not the Christian thing to do.”

You see, the skeptical eye, the critical heart, the judgmental perspective looks at Jesus and says “Why in the world are you hanging out with sinners?” But the grace-filled eye, the merciful heart, the open perspective says, “Why in the world wouldn’t you?”

Scripture says that Jesus was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” It also says that they were hanging around listening to what He had to say.

Why did Jesus hang out with sinners?

Why not?

Jesus chose to do life with the sinners, the outcasts, the heathens, and all kinds of disreputable folks. So why don’t we?

 

WHY I SHOT JESUS IN THE HEAD

I accidentally shot Jesus in the head with the hand sanitizer. I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened.

We have new hand sanitizers everywhere at work. The ones you mount on the wall. And they squirt out purifying, decontaminating foam. I don’t like the foam. I prefer the goo. In my expert hand sanitizing opinion, the goo does a better job of fully cleansing each and every part of my hands. The foam, on the other hand, seems like it evaporates into nothingness as I attempt to spread it around. To each her own, I suppose.

I digress…

Back to Jesus…

I didn’t want to get rid of the monster-sized goo pump sanitizer we previously had, so I moved it over on top of the piano. I don’t know if you have a gallon jug of hand sanitizer goo on top of your piano or not, but we do. Hand sanitizer on one end…Jesus bust on the other. The Jesus bust is a whole other issue, but for now I’ll let that one go.

Because I have quite a bit of physical contact with elderly people at my job, I feel the need to either wash my hands a lot or at least sanitize them. (I hope that doesn’t sound too weird or rude.) So I headed over to the piano, passing up not one but two foam sanitizers, so I could fill my hands with the goo. One pump usually does it for me, but if I’ve touched several “yucky” people—I’m just keeping it real, y’all—I’ll go for two.

So, one hand on the pump apparatus, one hand down below to catch all the disinfecting, sterilizing goo. Apparently because of the angle of the dried-on goo from its previous use, instead of squirting downward as gravity might have it, it shot out sideways…three feet to the left…right onto Jesus’ head. Bless Him!

For a hot second I was confused because my hand was not filled with the goo. But then I laughed. Out loud. Hard. Because I just shot Jesus in the head with the hand sanitizer. This was funny to me. And oh-so-ironic. Here I was, standing over the purifying goo and Jesus. Jesus now having cleansing goo running down from the crown of His head, over His face. Jesus being cleansed. Purified. Yeah…AS IF!

This is the irony.

Jesus isn’t in need of cleansing. I am. Jesus isn’t in need of purifying. I am. And it takes a whole lot more than a monster-sized jug of hand sanitizer to disinfect, and sterilize, and purify this sinful, unrighteous self of mine.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

I still chuckle each time I head over to the piano to get sanitized. I see the Jesus bust and am reminded that it’s all because of Him I can stand forgiven…cleansed…and purified.

Thanks be to God that He doesn’t get tired of me coming to Him for forgiveness. For a “do over.” For a clean, fresh start. That’s the kind of faithful God we have. And because He created humor, I’m sure He doesn’t mind that I shot Jesus in the head with the hand sanitizer.

 

A NEW YEAR’S INVITATION

I had the privilege of seeing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra perform in Kansas City the day after Christmas. This is a show I’ve been longing to see for many, many years but never wanted to spend the money to see it. But this year we were blessed by a connection of my husband’s at Time Warner Cable and got to enjoy the show for free in their executive suite at the Sprint Center. All I can say is “Wow!” If you ever get the chance to see them, go for it.

But the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, as talented as they are, is not the point of my blog today…

I was blown away and caught off guard by one of the numbers they performed. It was one of their more “quiet” songs—no laser lights, no pyrotechnics. Just a gal singing under one lone spotlight and someone else in the dimly lit background playing the keyboard. The song is called For the Sake of Our Brother, but in it contains the first verse and chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful. What I’m used to each year around Christmas is the traditional, almost boring rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful that we sing in church. Don’t misunderstand… I’ve always liked the song. But as most Christmas hymns do, they become routine, humdrum, and uninteresting at best. I hate that fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. But as this gal sang the other night, she sang this particular song with such power and depth, yet with such vulnerability and purity. She sang as if she really meant the invitation she was singing about.

O come all ye faithful…
…Joyful and triumphant

Come and behold Him…

Come and adore Him…
…O come let us adore Him

I sat there speechless. Mesmerized. Sucked into the invitation. And personally challenged. I love Jesus. But adore Him? I adore cute little puppies, soft warm kittens, and huggable sweet babies. But adore Jesus? What?

If you look in the thesaurus, “adore” is associated with words like worship, esteem, revere, glorify, exalt, and honor. Somehow that no longer fits cute little puppies, soft warm kittens, and huggable sweet babies. It moves waaayyy beyond that.

The invitation in the song is for us not only to behold Jesus, but to adore Jesus. To come faithfully, with joy, and victoriously adore Him. And although we sing that song at Christmas time, I’m pretty sure the invitation extends beyond that hemmed-in, commercialized, two or three week time frame.

For the last week—since I left the concert—the idea of adoring Jesus hasn’t left my mind. In the things I read, in the experiences I’ve had, in the people I’ve encountered, the idea of adoring Jesus has come to the surface over and over again.

You see, I want my 2016 to be about adoring Jesus. I want to be faithful in doing that. I want to experience joy and triumph in 2016. And as much as I’d like that joy and triumph to be in things like my own personal happiness, my own career stability and advancement, deep down I’d rather that joy and triumph be in adoring Jesus. I want to faithfully, joyfully, and triumphantly adore Jesus—so much so that it affects the way I think, act, talk, relate to people, pray, react, read, give, and all that other stuff.

Jesus…

He’s the King. He’s the Christ. He’s the Rock. He’s the Redeemer.

2016 ChallengeHe’s the one who came to save the world. He’s the one who forgives us, loves us tenderly, gives us do-overs, never leaves us, treats us with grace, grabs us close when we’re hurt or afraid, leads us when we’re lost, and willingly doles out mercy. If you think about that…what’s not to adore?

So the invitation in the song is my challenge to myself for 2016. But the invitation in the song is for you as well. It’s a collective kind of thing.

So, are you willing to accept the invitation? Do you want in on the challenge? After all, it’s not about ME. It’s about US. It’s a New Year’s challenge for US.

“O COME…LET US ADORE HIM!”

(Note: If you’d like to watch a video of the song I’m referring to by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, click here.)

 

 

 

A TWO-STEP PLAN: How Hard Can It Be?

Does God laugh? Is He funny? Does He have a sense of humor? Ask Woody Allen and he’d say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.”

Your plans, my plans, we all have plans. I don’t know whether God laughs at them or not, but most of the time we take our plans pretty seriously. Plans are those steps you follow or things you do in order to meet a desired outcome. Funny thing is sometimes we follow plans exactly. Sometimes we don’t. And sometimes we struggle to figure out just what the plan is.

When my oldest son was two years old, we pulled into our driveway after running some errands. Since we had an automatic garage door opener but no remote, we had to go inside our house, through the living room, through the dining room to where the door to the garage was, and push the “doorbell” button to open the garage door.

Well on this particular day, instead of going inside with me as he always did, Caleb asked if he could stay outside while I went in to open the garage door. I was a little reluctant because I knew he’d be out of my sight briefly, but went ahead and agreed to it. I told him firmly to stand right by the garage door handle and not to stray off.

I went in through the living room, through the dining room to where the door to the garage was, and pushed the button to open the garage. I looked down at the bottom of the garage door, and as it began to open, I saw Caleb’s little feet standing right there where they were supposed to be. I had a proud momma moment briefly as I thought to myself, “Yes! My boy followed the plan!”

I expected him to trot right into the dining room momentarily, so I stayed inside and began sifting through the mail. That’s when I heard it. The frantic cry coming from the garage: “Help, momma! Momma, help me! Help! Help!”

I quickly peeked out into the garage to the space where his little feet were just seconds before but they weren’t there. No, his feet were now about 4-5’ up in the air dangling and swinging because not only did Caleb follow the plan, he followed it to a T. He stayed right next to the handle on the garage door as instructed—“right next to” as in “held tightly to.” YIKES! (Yes, God has a sense of humor!)

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, it’s recorded in Mark 3:13-14 that He climbed a mountain and invited those he wanted with him. They climbed together. He settled on twelve, and designated them apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out to proclaim the Word…”

What's the plan?Did you catch that? There’s a clear plan lodged right there in the text.

“The plan was that they would be with Him, and He would send them out…”

There’s not only a plan, but a definite order here as well. Be with Him first. Send them out second. So somewhere about 2000 years ago, God laid out a two-step plan for His followers. Easy, peasy, right?

I’m pretty sure Solomon was correct, however, when hundreds of years earlier he wrote, “…God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). And because we’ve made ourselves very complicated, we’ve made His plan complicated too. The plan was that they would be with Him, and He would send them out.

How hard is it to “be with Him”? How hard is it to spend time with Him each and every day? How hard is it to spend a few moments reading the Bible, to think about the greatness of God, to pause and thank Him for the good stuff, to ask Him for help, to hang out in His presence, to consider His ways and strive to honor them? How hard is it to follow the plan? It’s as hard as we choose it to be.  It’s as hard as we complicate it to be.

Jesus “invited those He wanted with Him.” Truth is He’s invited you and me as well. Truth is we are wanted. Truth is not only does He want us, He wants us with Him.

“And they climbed together.” Truth is He climbs each and every mountain together with us too.

The plan was—and still is—that they would be with Him, and He would send them out…

It’s simply a matter of following the plan!

WHY WE MUST BEGIN AT THE END

“This is where God has me.”

I find myself saying this a lot. And I find myself not liking this statement I make nor do I find myself liking the state I’m currently in. But…this is where God has me.

Some might argue that sentiment. This current state of life is NOT where God has me, but rather it’s where my choices have landed me. Or it’s where my lack of effort has put me. Maybe those things are true, but if God is sovereign—and I believe He is—then either way, this is where God has me.

It dawns on me that over the last five years or so, I’ve worked hard to create the life that I want. I have pursued paths, sought out different avenues, hoped and dreamed of the future that I wanted and believed would happen. Several times in the last several years I’ve charted my course, set the dial on “determined,” stepped up my game, and gone for it.

All of those things, however, have fallen apart. The goals haven’t been achieved, the dreams haven’t happened, the believing and hoping have come up lame and limping like an athlete who begins the race but never finishes.

And so I say…and keep on saying “This is where God has me.”

I don’t know how Paul did it when he said, “I’ve learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” (Philippians 4:12). I mean, I know how he did it in theory. But I’m not sure how he did in in reality. The very next thing he said was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

I can do all things…

Doesn’t that sound like just another pep talk, motivational mantra, or bumper sticker to live by? Matter of fact, I just saw it on the back of a t-shirt today.

begin at the end

This is where I’ll end my rant. In all my pursuit, hoping, dreaming, and believing, I’m now in a place where I’m asking God, “Okay…what do You want?” If the paths I’ve chosen and the futures I’ve longed for have all ended up in derailments or detours, then I have to begin where Jesus ended when He prayed, “God, all things are possible for you…But please, not what I want—what do you want?” That was the beginning of the end for Jesus. Relinquishing what He wanted. Surrendering to what God wanted for Him.

Rather than ask God to take part in the story I’ve already written for myself, I’ll try to embrace the one He’s already written for me. Maybe if I can come to the end of myself, it will be some sort of beginning.

But until then…this is where God has me.

WHY JESUS IS NOT THE SOLUTION TO YOUR PROBLEMS

When I was in middle school my mom invited my band teacher over for dinner. Although I liked my band teacher, this is embarrassment and awkwardness times 10 to a kid. As the night progressed, somehow it came up in conversation that she had something broken on her car. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but seemed like it was a bumper or headlight issue. So my mom, genius of all geniuses, suggested using duck tape to fix the problem. (Insert even more embarrassment by the mere thought of suggesting duck tape to be the solution to her problem.)

But sure enough, my parents and my band teacher went outside, duck tape in hand, and “fixed” her car problem.

Interesting what we use to “fix” our problems, isn’t it? If only there was a duck tape for life’s big issues, right?

People in ancient times didn’t know anything about duck tape. Bless ‘em. But not unlike us, I think what people hoped for in Jesus’ day was a solution to their problems. And to be honest, Jesus certainly showed promise as He challenged authority, healed people, fed folks, and caused the world to think upside down and inside out.

Could He be? Might He be the solution?

Did He fix their problems? Did He wipe out all their struggles? No. Jesus simply came into the world, sank deep into the muck of all its brokenness, and took it all onto Himself.

John Updike, author of More Matter, wrote “…men and women are radically imperfect and radically valuable.” Jesus, more than anyone else, knew this about people. And that’s why He came.

I don’t think Jesus came to fix your problems. He said Himself, “In this world you will have trouble…” Nor do I think He’s the solution to your troubles.

Jesus is not your duck tapeJesus came to know you. To do life with you. To love you even though you are “radically imperfect.” Jesus came not to offer solutions, but to offer salvation. Salvation is a bigger deal than solutions.

You are radically imperfect.

You are radically valuable.

And Jesus is not your duck tape.

IN YOUR DRAMA, WHO’S THE MAIN CHARACTER?

When I was in high school I took a class called “Theater Arts.” Basically we did little skits and dramatizations all semester, being coached by one of the best teachers ever. I’m not the world’s greatest actress, but my classmates and I sure had a lot of fun. By semester’s end we did a 3-act play called The Curious Savage. It was centered on the residents and staff of a mental institution. I didn’t have the lead role but I wasn’t a bit-part either. I played the part of “Miss Willie,” a nurse who assists the doctor with the patients. I had two entrances from stage left—one near the beginning of the play in Act I, and one near the end of the play in Act III.

Now…when I mentioned earlier I wasn’t the world’s greatest actress that was really an understatement. You see, at our live performance in front of the entire school, during Act I when I entered at stage left, I mistakenly said my lines from Act III. I took the entire play from Act I to Act III in a brief, but very awkward instant. I’ll never forget it! Someone on stage, far more talented and brilliant than I in the field of acting, quickly helped us recover. (And yes…when Act III came and I entered from stage left, I said the exact same lines. Talk about embarrassing!) Needless to say, that’s all it took for me to realize I would never star on Broadway. I was far better suited to be behind the scenes rather than center stage.

The main character. Center stage. There are certainly times in our lives when we like this kind of attention. We want the kudos and accolades that being front and center bring. We sometimes enjoy being the focus of the crowd, our co-workers, or family.

Then there are times when we don’t set out to achieve this kind of notoriety, but it just happens. When you lead, people follow. When you tell a story, several people tune in. I think this is how John the Baptist was. I think he had a unique personality, lifestyle, and message that made people naturally curious, so he drew a crowd. All kinds of people engaged him in conversation. On one such occasion, he said to the crowd, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  (Luke 3:16, NIV). There was John—the center of attention, the main character—but he didn’t want to be front and center. He indicated to the multitude that there was one greater than he. He told people about God’s message. He challenged them that it was time to rethink everything. In a sense he said, “No…it’s not about me…it’s all about Jesus.”

Check out how The Message translation renders this same verse: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.” John was the mere stagehand. Jesus was the main character.

Main Character or Stagehand?To be honest with you for a brief moment, I’ve struggled in this very area. I’ve literally been “center stage” a lot over the last 10 years. As a keynote speaker, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people across several states. And while I shared Jesus everywhere I’ve gone, I actually liked being the “main character.” So God has acted, and has gotten me out of the way. Because when it comes right down to it there’s no way I, as the main character, can ignite a fire and change people from the inside out. That’s totally God’s job. And John the Baptist got it.

I’m slowly getting it. I’m slowly, and imperfectly, getting the truth that it’s not about me. And I so want to point people to Jesus. Jesus–not Beth Armstrong–as the main character, as center stage.

What about you? In your life, in your world, in your drama, who is the main character? And who is the mere stagehand?

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