Strange

(Based on Matthew 9:9; Mark 1:2-8)

Earth is a theater filled with a crowded audience.
The people are packed tightly together; expectant.
Anticipating.

You’re there. Front row. Edge of your seat.
The curtains have opened.
Act One has been announced: The Beginning.

The lights shift gradually. A slight change in the hues of red and yellow. He’s not in the spotlight, but he’s standing inside the color formation, stage left. Before his lines are delivered, you know his role is important.

Without hesitation . . . right on cue . . . he doesn’t simply deliver his lines, he declares them.

MALACHI: Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, 
who will prepare Your way before You.

Your eyes move to stage right where the slight change in blue and yellows directs your attention. Again, not in the spotlight but standing near the edge of the stage, another key role. Before you have time to absorb the previous lines, the following is delivered.

ISAIAH: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight!

Malachi and Isaiah’s roles are complete. They’ve delivered the message. They’ve made the introduction. They now exit the stage of history, and the colored hues of lights blend into one strong yellow beam. It’s shining brightly on a wilderness setting and scene one begins.

The star?

No one we would have chosen. In fact at his audition we would have been tempted to say, “Thanks but . . . no thanks.”

Seriously?

But filling the role and now standing center stage is John the Baptist. We actually smell him before we see him. Everything about him seems strange.

Such an important role! The forerunner. The baptizer.

And given to . . . him?

We shift uncomfortably in our seats. We want a well-dressed businessman. One who’s well educated in marketing. Someone who knows strategy; cause and effect; supply and demand. One who can predict trends and interpret graphs of steady growth vs. decline.

But we didn’t cast the role. And like it or not, it belongs to John the Baptist.

Again . . . strange. Before we have a chance to think too deeply about it, however, we realize we’re right inside of Mark 1:8. Right in the thick of John’s introduction.

Maybe we can get used to him. Perhaps we can become comfortable together. After all, hasn’t God always filled important roles with the least talented? Hasn’t He always used the least expected to accomplish great things? That’s one of the great benefits of being a Christ follower.

A teenage girl brings the Savior into our world.

A donkey speaks to its master.

A former Christian-killer delivers the gospel to the Gentiles.

Even so, John the Baptist may be one of the strangest. But it was Jesus Himself who declared, “among those born of women there has not risen one greater” (Matthew 11:11 NKJV).

Think about that. John smells bad. He doesn’t fit the mold. Or maybe he’s wearing mold. It’s hard to tell. But in plain English, he just stinks. He has no social skills. He’s different.

And what he eats is disgusting—locusts and other crawling things. He obviously doesn’t care about his appearance. He’s wearing . . . well, it’s . . . he’s wearing something made out of camel skin. Where are the animal rights people?

John is really really really different. But still, Jesus says this about him. Let’s look at it again:

“Among those born of women there has not risen one greater” (Matthew 11:11).

What a compliment! There have been a lot of compliments given throughout time. But can you think of one higher than this?  Jesus said that John was great! That’s simply incredible. It’s amazing.

I really want this in my life.

I need this in my life.

I want to be great in Jesus’ eyes.

 

Searching
So, what was it? Really. What was it about John that caused Jesus to say those words? What made John so great? I want to know the answer to those questions. I need to know the answer to those questions.

 

I have my thoughts . . . but I’d love to know yours! So join the discussion below.

(And by the way . . . a little shameless promoting. This is an excerpt from my newest book Masterpiece: 18 encounters with Christ that prove it’s all about you! Don’t get it from Amazon. I sell it cheaper. If interested, you can send me an email, and I’ll tell you how to order directly from me: susieshell@comcast.net).

God is Depending on YOU!

There’s an old tale about Jesus ascending to heaven after He’d been resurrected and met with the disciples and other believers. The tale states that Jesus entered heaven and was greeted by the angel Gabriel. “Well, You did it! You became the greatest gift of all. You gave You very life for sinners that they may be forgiven and have eternal life. Was it worth it?”

“Oh, yes,” Jesus said. “It was worth every drop of blood.”

“And now You’ve conquered death and have come here to prepare an eternal home for all those who will accept Your wonderful and free gift of salvation.”

“Yes,” Jesus replied. “That’s correct. And on, how I yearn for everyone to accept My gift and live with Me forever here in heaven.”

“So what’s the plan, Jesus?” Gabriel asked.

“The plan?”

“Surely You have a plan! State-of-the-art technology? Huge marketing campaign? Maybe a few celebrities to endorse Your gift?”

“No, that’s not the plan,” Jesus said.

“Oh, Well, what is the plan?” Gabriel asked.

“I only have a few followers . . . and I’ve entrusted the entire gospel to them.”

“You mean . . . that little band of Christians?” Gabriel asked.

“That’s right,” Jesus said.

“But how will they ever spread Your wonderful gift from generation to generation? Shouldn’t we come up with another plan?”

“There is no other plan, Gabriel. My Christians are all I have. And I trust them.”

 

So . . . what do YOU think? Give me your thoughts on how you’re fitting into the plan.

I Don’t Pray for Patience

I don’t pray for patience, because I’m afraid I’ll get it.
I’m OK being impatient.

You know I’m kidding.
(Or am I?)

I’ve been up since 3:30 a.m.
My flight was supposed to leave at 5 a.m.
I travel 42 weeks/weekends a year, and I’m learning to discern what some of the pilot’s announcements actually mean.

“Delayed due to mechanical difficulties” really means we forgot to gas up.

“Delayed due to unforeseen problems,” means we can’t find the keys.

Pilot: Got the keys?
Co-Pilot: No. I don’t have the keys. I thought you had them.
Pilot: I don’t have the keys. Where are the keys?

And during the actual flight . . .

“We’re experiencing some unexpected turbulence,” really means the pilot’s son who’s traveling shotgum, got bored doing his homework and pulled a lever, turned a knob or pressed a button.

Pilot to son: “Don’t make me stop this plane. Cuz I’ll do it. I told you to concentrate on your homework!”

So I was supposed to depart at 5 a.m.

3:30 came way too early. I’m thinking on these early flights, maybe I should start calling the airline about an hour ahead of time and just check in with them:

ME: “Did someone gas up the plane? Got the keys? No children in the cockpit for this flight? Are the windshield wipers working OK? Gas pedal and brakes good? Toilet paper in the dollhouse bathroom?”

I finally leave the OKC airport at 8:45 a.m., and of course I’ve missed my connection from Chicago to Flint, MI. Now I’m enjoying a five-and-a-half layover in Chicago. That’s how long it takes to fly from OKC to London. As in England.

London, England!
I could be touring Madam Tussad’s wax museum right now!
Or the Doc Martin four-story headquarters.
Or taking pix with William and Kate and the babies.
Or being issued a restraining order from William and Kate and the babies.
Instead I’m eating an Auntie Ann’s pretzel and picking off the salt.
Almost as good being in London.

I finally arrive in Flint, Mich., at 8 p.m.
The service I was scheduled to speak at started at 7.
It’s over. I  totally missed it.
They turned it into a prayer meeting instead.
And God moved.
Without me.

What a great reminder.
He so does NOT need me.
I’m extremely grateful He has chosen to use me.
But He doesn’t need me.
He could make the rocks cry out, or the podium speak His Word,
or have the carpet sing His praises.

Father, I’m frustrated.
Exhausted.
But thankful for the lesson You’ve taught me today.
It’s not about my schedule, is it?
It’s not about my speaking, is it?

IT. IS. ALWAYS. ABOUT. YOU.

All the time.

Every day.

In every way.

Yes, Lord.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what God uses to get YOUR attention to remind you of this truth.

Never the Same

I’m in Quito, Ecuador.
For the past 17 years I’ve taken students (and adults to help me) on two-week international mission trips.

My friend Steve Goley, with Big World Ventures out of Tulsa, Okla., actually puts the details together for me (flights, ministries, hotel, translators, etc.) so I can simply concentrate on loving and ministering.

My main job is to speak each evening. When everyone comes back to the hotel, we have a hot meal and then an evening service we call  FUAGNEM: Fired Up And Going Nuts Every Minute!

Each summer we see more than a thousand people give their lives to Christ through this ministry. We collect their information and give that to local pastors who want to disciple them and get them involved in their churches.

May I confess something?
I’m exhausted. Just finished speaking at a camp in VA
and barely had time to repack and do laundry before flying overnight to Quito. Part of me is longing to be home.
In my own bed.
With my two dogs, Obie and Amos.

But I’m here because it’s right.
For the past 17 years it’s been right.
It’s my chance to see God move in big ways.

And more than making an impact in another country . . .
the real reason I do a missions trip each year is for our students.

Most teens view their relationship with Christ as a feeling—
and it’s usually how they feel when their hands are in the air
and they’re swaying to praise and worship music.
This is Christianity, they think.
This is what it means to love God.

Sometimes I wish we’d just stop all the music and teach students there are other ways to worship.
Before you condemn me, please hear me out.

When we enter a relationship with God,
It’s something that’s so sacred
so huge
so holy
it transcends our understanding.
It’s BIG.
It can’t be contained in how I feel when my hands are in the air
And I feel the beat of drums swelling in my head.
In fact, it has nothing to do with this.
It’s beyond that!
It’s saying, “I won’t renounce” when the machete is at the throat of an Iraqi Christian.
It’s making time to read the Bible . . . daily . . .
no matter how tired we are or how much we have to do.
And it’s praying constantly.
It’s trusting God for what we can’t see.
It’s weeping before Him and yearning until our hearts feel raw from praying for genuine intimacy with Him.
It has nothing to do with my favorite chorus.
And on these trips . . . I see our students go beyond the music.
I watch them push deeper than the excitement of an overseas trip.
I see the light go on in their eyes as I speak to the group about living in radical obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
And I hear their confession. I see their growth.
And we have revival.

Revival. Not a word we hear much anymore.
Most teens have never heard the word.
And when they experience it, they don’t know how to label it.
They come to me with tears running down their cheeks saying,
“I’m a Christian, but I’ve never been challenged like this.”
“I don’t hear stuff like this in my church back home.”
“I’ve never been challenged like this before.”

And I wonder what IS being preached in many of our churches.
Or if many are simply places to feel good.
And I question if most teens who think they have a relationship with Christ really do have a genuine relationship with Him.

So I do this trip every year.
Because I love revival. And I love introducing teens to revival.
And I love hearing them testify. Many don’t even know what a testimony is. They learn quickly.

And when I watch a teen lead someone to Christ . . . it’s amazing how his confidence soars! Nothing is impossible, if one can lead someone to God! Sharing our faith is a definite confidence booster.

And by the end of the trip, to see how worship has completely changed from feel-good music to truly being in awe of our Creator God . . . to being speechless before Him . . . to grasping even a bit of His power . . .

Well, that’s why I’m here.
And missing my own bed is a very small price to pay.

Share with me your thoughts on how YOU experience genuine revival. And why do you think many churches no longer have revival?

Masterpiece

The paint is still wet on the canvas.

The colors glisten in the sun.

Texture and technique equal vibrancy extraordinaire.

The Artist has created brilliance.

 

But instead of putting down His brush, He waves it over His creation and breathes directly into the painting. The colors receive His breath and begin to move. Rhythm gives birth to shape. Silhouettes become personalities. Life explodes through the canvas.

 

It’s a masterpiece. What the Artist has captured is beyond your imagination. You don’t want to blink for fear of missing something.

As your focus intensifies . . . you’re able to see beyond the kaleidoscope of vivacity . . . and you’re stunned.

You’re looking at you.

 

The Artist has included you in His painting.

It’s hard to swallow.

Your heart is racing.

How is this possible?

 

It may be hard to believe . . .

but breathe a sigh of relief, because it’s true.

 

YOU are inside the greatest painting in the world.

In fact, even before the Artist picked up His brush,

you were on His mind.

 

He knew the color of your hair before He painted it.

He saw your laugh lines before sketching them.

He places so much value in who you are, that He never thought twice about placing you in His creation. In fact, if you look a little closer, you’ll see a resemblance between you and the Artist . . . for He fashioned everything in this masterpiece after His own image.

 

YOU are in the painting.

YOU are part of the masterpiece.

YOU have reason to rejoice.

 

As you study the work before you,

it begins to move . . . and you realize this is not a still painting.

It’s a moving piece of art.

 

Let’s not simply look at the painting or admire it from a distance.

Transformation never comes from simply viewing.

The Artist has extended His hand.

He has issued the invitation.

Will you join Him?

He invites you inside the masterpiece.

 

Go ahead.

Step inside.

Look around. Characters are moving swiftly now.

The Artist Himself is quickening. He’s engaged. He, too, is inside the painting. And He’s moving more rapidly than anything else on the canvas.

 

What’s He doing?

Look around.

Notice every detail.

This is all about you.

 

Soak it in.

The Artist is shifting everything in the painting to get to you.

From His vantage point, it’s you on center stage.

The painting revolves around you.

He’s literally moving heaven and earth to get to you.

He’s chasing you.

He wants you.

He’s calling you by name.

 

Allow yourself to be captured

and

captivated by Him.

 

It’s all about you.

If you were the only one in all the world to paint . . .

He’d still use the richest, most vibrant, all-expensive colors

on you.

 

It’s all about you.

You’re the one for whom He died.

You’re the one for whom He refused to stay in the tomb.

You’re the one for whom He has purchased the new canvas.

 

You’ll meet some fascinating personalities affected by the Artist.

You’ll become part of the story inside the stories the Artist has breathed onto the canvas.

 

Go ahead.

Accept His invitation inside the painting.

Discover your story by learning His.

Along the way, you’ll engage in 18 encounters that prove

it really is

all about

you.

 

(The above is the introduction to my new book Masterpiece: 18 Encounters With Jesus That Prove It’s All About You)