dialogue

Thanks to my wonderful wife for dialogue-ing with me about this topic and suggesting that I write this post!

We are living in a monologue world!  We receive messages in monologue form all day long – from News to podcasts, from TV to sermons, most information we receive is brought to us in a one-way communication stream.  What I feel has happened over the many years of this type of information overload is the erosion of the simple conversation…a dialogue with another human being!

Solomon warned us of this monologue form of communication:

Proverbs 18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

I was having a conversation with my wife the other night about this topic as she and I had both listened to different programs discussing communication…one from a female source (Mid Day Connection) and one from a male source (Mark Merrill).  Often times men get a bad rap because we tend to be fixers (trying to fix everything especially when it is not being requested of us)…and unfortunately we tend to monologue about how to resolve an issue more than listen to the heart behind the issue.  Yet, women can also fall into the trap of trying to get across their point more than listening in a two-way conversation.  Again, I feel this is because we have been trained by media and even many parents to communicate this way, and I think society is a prime example of why this type of communication is sucking the life out of relationships of all kinds – marriages, friendships, coworkers, family, etc.

As Solomon has said (many times in Proverbs) only fools want to hear themselves more than others in their lives.  True relationship can only happen when mutual respect and love are offered up from both people in that relationship.  Our love for God is poured out to those He places in our paths and lives, and those relationships are strengthened during conversations that include mutual respect!  Jesus made it very clear the importance for relationship in fulfilling His plan for us:

Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law.  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Love is the key to everything, and love cannot be expressed in a simple monologue…at least not for very long!  Simply put, Monologue is forcing my opinions on you to try to get you to like me or make you change your mind. Dialogue is expressing our opinions to one-another with the hopes of a deeper understanding and relationship! 

My challenge for you this week is to pay attention to the conversations you have and see if you are more of a monologue-r or a dialogue-r.  In doing so, you will also notice how others communicate with you.  The goal though is not to get others to change their method of communication; the goal is for us to become better communicators of the message God has given us.  Listening screams to the people around us that they are important and worthy of our attention and love – and love is the message that God is pressing into us to not only receive from Him, but to share with others!

 dancing-rain

A week or so ago I was having a conversation with my wife and quite frankly, I was a bit discouraged…kind of like when an outdoor activity seems all but lost because an unexpected rainstorm has invaded our plans.  For some time now I have been feeling the desire to move into vocational ministry, however, at least at this moment, I don’t see myself as someone who will speak to groups of people…I am leaving that up to God, though!  Yet, over the past year I have felt an even more direct call into ministry from God; something that is constantly brought to my mind by God in every moment and circumstance of my life.  My discouragement has come from not knowing exactly where God is specifically calling me!  It seems odd to me that God would call me into ministry yet not give me specific marching orders, even though I intuitively know that is not how He works in my life.  Something I struggle with almost daily…learning to find joy when it rains!

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Maybe my call is not so different than others who have been called.  God has simply given me one step at a time and once I am obedient and take that step, He shows me the next.  Many of the steps so far have been either faith steps or connections with people – I truly love when God prompts me to connect with someone He has brought to my heart and mind.  Some great relationships and deep friendships have developed and are developing through those interactions in which God was the only reason to connect!  Most of the trials I have been dealing with have indeed produced a steadfastness that has sustained my desire for relationship with God and with the people He has led me to (or to me).  I now see those trails (at least once I reflect) as opportunities to grow and discern God’s call in my life.

So, how do you respond to trials or disappointment?  How do you handle the victories and wins in your life and ministry?  In those moments, what do you think God is trying to teach you?  How can you and those around you grow during times of trial?  Do you have people in your life willing to pour into you even when trials come along?

Perspective makes all the difference when it comes to disappointment and trials.  Having a loving God in our life really does help us to see the struggle with joy knowing that the only way we can grow is to press through the trial and seek God to understand what it is that He wants us to discover.  Even though that way of thinking can be very difficult in the moment, having people around you who will remind you of God’s plan and purposes in your life can help keep you on the path that God is choosing for you…and besides, genuine relationship allows us to build each other up even when struggles rear their ugly head.  That’s how my lovely wife built me up the other night, simply by reminding me that the trials I am facing are opportunities to grow and take that next step of faith…answering His call one step and relationship at a time, especially when it rains!

grace-n-peace

After listening to a sermon from Tullian Tchividjian on Grace, I confirmed what he was saying and took it a bit further in looking through all of Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  Tullian had taught that in the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, he began with a phrase many of us have read countless times, and likely read it as a greeting or a formal way Paul began his letter.

Romans 1:7 – To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I found was that in fact Paul began all his letters this way!  Why?  Have we read the opening of his letters wrong all along or was this just a simple greeting?  You know as well as I do that Paul didn’t haphazardly write fluff into his letters, so I tend to believe there was a deep purpose for the words that Paul had chosen.

Grace and Peace are the crux of this simple yet profound greeting, and the point of the entire Gospel message!  This is why I believe Paul wrote them into all of his letters:

Grace and Peace are not a simple greeting in Paul’s letters, but a summary of the Gospel…Grace is the root, Peace is the fruit!

Grace – The only reason we even have the opportunity to spend eternity with God is the amazing gift of Grace!  Grace is something we cannot earn in any way.  Grace was personified in the Lord Jesus Christ when He came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died for all the sin of mankind.  But that was not it!  He then beat death, rose from the grave affirming that He was in fact the Son of God and was completely capable of forgiving our sins to allow us access to eternity with God!  The resurrection shows the world that the living Savior came to set the captives free!  That is Good News!

Peace – Receiving the Grace of God, accepting and believing Jesus’ conquering sacrifice on our behalf, allows us to live a life that looks different from the world around us.  Our circumstances do not define who we are any longer.  We are a new creation of amazing value – we are part of God’s family and our eternity is secure!  With that kind of assurance, we can live a life of Peace while working through whatever trials come our way with an understanding that our life here is only a brief blip on the road of eternity!  Living a life of Peace focuses our thoughts on the things that really matter, the stuff that God cares most deeply about – people!  With that kind of focus, we get to join God’s plan of loving people into the Kingdom!  Peace is the fruit of our accepting God’s Grace and living that Grace out in our lives!

And that is the Gospel of Jesus!  The Gospel is summed up in two words – Grace and Peace!  Paul was simply sharing the Gospel in a nutshell while the rest of his letter was written to flow from the simple message of Grace and Peace – the root and the fruit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  The same Gospel that radically changed Saul into Paul saves us to this very moment!

The question on the table is simply this: have you accepted His Grace so that you can live a life full of His Peace?  If not there is no time better than right now!  His followers may not be all that attractive to you (after all, we are all messed up hypocrites being transformed by the Grace of God), but He is the most amazing person you will ever meet!  He loved you so much that He died to set you free from guilt and shame, disgust and pride, addiction and fear, sin and death!  If you were the only person in the entire universe, and this still chokes me up, He would have still come to die for you to satisfy the need for death to cover sin…that’s how much He loves you!  He really is that good!  He fulfills an eternal hole in which every other religion, fame or fortune cannot even come close to fulfilling.  His Grace is enough, and His Peace is so refreshing!  It’s available to you, right now!  Will you accept?

 

 

Back to school

By now, most students in our area are back in school. It’s a time of getting back on schedule, seeing old friends and making new ones. This time of year offers some great opportunities in the area of relational discipleship as well. Whether you’re a student, parent, teacher or anyone who comes in contact with kids, teens and college students, you can make a difference in the life of someone else.

Mark 12:30-31 (ESV)

30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

This is a passage that typically rolls right off the tongue. So the big question is, “Who is your neighbor?” Yes, we are to build into lives in our actual neighborhood, but God’s definition of neighbor is so much larger than ours. I believe, and I feel scripture backs it up in the story of the good Samaritan, that God’s definition of neighbor is anyone He places in our daily path. The person in line at the checkout, the cashier, the police officer, your server, your students, friends, etc…they are all our neighbors if God has somehow placed them into our lives.

I know this is not rocket science and may not be at all new to you, but I’d like to throw out a challenge to you this year, right now. Find a way to implement relational discipleship into your life as the new school year begins. Here are just a few short examples of how we can make a difference:

If you are a teacher, find ways to engage kids at a personal and maybe even spiritual level.  You can teach in a way that shares biblical principles, and when asked, share where those ideas come from.  Open up the conversation for your students to ask questions, even if only one-on-one.

As a parent, you have many opportunities to share the love of God with different “neighbors”.  Your child’s teacher can really use a partner in you as a parent, not only in helping in the classroom and volunteering for parties and field trips, but in encouraging her or him throughout the year and maybe even being there for them in a time of need.

As a student, live out your life in Christ in such a way that shouts you are different…in a good way!  Remember, people are always watching us to see if we will live out what we say, so living out your faith means the simple things like:

Don’t lie, at all!

Do all school work and chores to the best of your ability.

Show compassion to those around you.

Look out for those being bullied or just ignored, and show them you care by getting to know them.

Respect your teachers and their authority.

And for any adult at all, keep your eyes open for any kid that needs someone to come alongside them and care about them.  There are far too many kids out there who need an adult to show them they are valuable.  If a fraction of the adults in any community would simply mentor one kid, each community would be completely transformed.  Bullying would reduce.  Suicide rates would drop drastically.  Childhood depression and anxiety would be rare instead of completely normal in our schools today.

Simply put, and as the famous quote goes, you were created for such a time as this. Making disciples begins with a relationship, and relationships begin when one person steps out of their little world and enters into someone else’s world. Heading back to school presents a fresh start in our lives as disciple makers. As you dig in, keep your eyes open to those around you and keep your heart open to anyone God prompts you to connect with…it’s an amazing thing feeling a prompting from God to make a connection, and actually going through with it by starting a conversation. Who knows, that person may become a life-long friend and/or better yet, you may have the joy of introducing them to our amazing Savior! Sharing the Good News always begins with a conversation, and conversations happen best when relationship has been established. Take relational discipleship back to school this Fall…you will be blessed beyond measure, and those blessings, when shared, become contagious!

 

fishers-of-men

Matthew 4:19 And he [Jesus] said to them [His Disciples], “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

Simple and brief message here of what it means to be a Disciple who makes Disciples:

Follow me – Our Active Response to God’s Grace

And I will make you – Jesus Active Response to Our Following Him

Fishers of men – Our Transforming Life as We Become More Like Christ and begin Making Disciples

Though our salvation requires nothing but faith in Jesus, once we give our life to Christ we begin changing from the inside-out.  His heart begins shaping our heart…the things He loves we begin to love.  As we begin to deeply love Him, His love for us expands in the way we love those around us.  What an amazing circle of love God has created!  His greatest commands were to Love God and Love others…makes perfect sense because to love God can only grow into a love for people who, after all, were created in His image!  Love truly is the only way to live!

I would expect that many cringed when they read that title!  I am sure some even thought this was a false statement.  I pray you read on and then decide what you will believe…as for me, I have made my decision based in part on the following scriptures (but not limited to these scriptures alone):

Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

This world we live in is far from being worthy of a Savior; yet, God so desires a relationship with humanity, His lone creation made in His image, that He was willing to offer up the only sacrifice that was worthy enough to cover the fate and sin of the world, the sin that we deal with on a daily basis.  That sacrifice was God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and He is the only reason we have hope in the sin sick world we live.  How amazing is it that even while we were still living out our sinful desires and wicked ways, He died for us!  Grace personified in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Yet, we still keep falling into the trap that we have to do something, anything, to gain or keep His love for us…as if we have the power to change God’s heart.  Through His grace, Christ has provided a way for us to live with God eternally – the sentence for sin is death and He beat death on our behalf!

grace

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

Grace has been given to all who have faith in Jesus, making Him Savior and Lord!  No works or deeds are required of us to gain His love or grace…if Jesus required our works to gain His grace, then His sacrifice was not required!  There is nothing we can do, we must simply put our faith in Him that it is done!

No works….here’s a thought provoking statement that goes against the grain of religion: Not even the work of repentance can gain you the free gift of God’s grace.  If the verse above holds true, our salvation, the free gift of grace, does not hinge upon our repentance!  If it did we would have a means to boast in what we have done!  So the question, “can I be gay and a Christian” really does make sense as one’s salvation doesn’t hinge upon our sexual orientation or any other behavior or lifestyle, regardless if you feel it is a sin or not.  Our salvation hinges solely on Christ’s work on the cross, and His sacrifice is enough to allow us the grace to trust in Him and let Him work within us to make us who He wants us to be!  Our repentance can only come after we have accepted the gift of grace as a response to love we have for Jesus and Him alone.   Repentance comes out of who we are becoming through Christ, but in no way proves a hindrance to our salvation.   Repentance is between you and God, not for you to point out in others!  Each one of us has enough sin in our life to deal with without pointing out where we feel someone else is falling short!

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

What “good works” has God created you to accomplish?  Too often we look at the verse on the tail of verses 8 and 9 and say, “see, we are supposed to do works (including but not limited to repentance) to stay in His good grace.”  But that is not what Paul is saying here.  He is simply saying that God created mankind for a purpose…and each of us has a calling from God.  His calling in our lives is the only “good works” we can even hope to fulfill!  And here’s another caveat: we must read these words for our own lives and not try to force something upon others.  God is working in each of our hearts in different ways, so my calling looks different than yours.  When the bible refers to “good works” it is always in relation to people around us, not in relation to God!  With God, it is finished through Jesus!  God never needs or wants our good works, but our neighbor does!

Romans 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Another great reminder of this truth – Grace is a free gift for those who have faith in Jesus!  That is it, no extra’s, no repentance, no getting cleaned up before beginning a relationship with Jesus, no condemnation…simply a loving God offering up a relationship with Him by trusting that Jesus is who He said He was and having faith that God’s grace is enough. 

At this point there is usually a big, BUT…yet, in God’s word that is it!  We can add all the works we want to the new believer, but it’s not biblical!  There is nothing we can do to get “better” or “do good”.  His grace means It Is Done! Finished!  When we try to add things to do for the new believer we are in essence sentencing them to a roller coaster faith that will have them on highs when they are performing well and lows when they forget to read their bibles or fall back into that sin that had them captive for years.  What the new believer needs is a relationship with you!  They need someone who is navigating this faith life to come alongside them and build a relationship with them right where they are…it’s seldom enough to give someone a list of things to do and expect them to build a strong faith life built on grace.  We need to be in relationship, doing life so that true biblical discipleship can happen!  That is why I love the term Relational Discipleship – it encompasses the need for relationship in the discipleship process!  Just like in our faith, relationship is the key to everything…and after all, Jesus modeled it first!

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

THIS IS GOOD NEWS!!!  We must remember that Jesus did not come to condemn, and His people must not condemn either!  As followers of Jesus, what we can do is build relationships, point people to our Savior and love them enough to walk with them as they make eternal decisions!  We can be disciples who are making disciples while allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those in which we are in relationship!  God is big enough and in control enough to allow us to love our neighbors while He transforms them…it is His job to change people He wants to change, not ours!  Our job is to love God and love our neighbors which requires relationships built on grace!

This post is based on a topic I have briefly written about in the past, at least as a descriptive term, yet God keeps bringing this to my mind as I interact with people in my daily life.  The topic is this: is God’s word a mirror in your life, or do you simply use it as a hammer over the lives of others?

Most of us have witnessed the extremes of the hammer position, whether in person or in the news.  Westboro Baptist Church is just one group with the extreme hammer view…and I will add their method and view is completely unbiblical and from the pit of hell!  They condemn and protest against the military (at the funerals of our fallen heroes no less) and against the LGBT community in ways that are an embarrassment to those of us who are truly trying to follow Jesus, as well as ridiculous and intolerable to those in which the hatred is being spewed.  Apparently the whole “love God and love your neighbor” thing doesn’t show up in the translation of scripture they are using!

hammer mirror

Before we get too used to pointing fingers at these extremists we must take a look at ourselves as well.  When we judge others based on their sins, in a small way we are following a similar type of thought that the extreme positions follow.  It may not look like it on the outside, and I am sure the actions do not equate those of Westboro or even the typical street “preacher” (or pharisaical condemner might be a better descriptor), however, when we condemn others based on their sin (either in our thoughts or by what we say) we are doing the same thing.  In Romans 1, Paul lays out a barrage of descriptors of the unrighteous (those not “good enough” to be His children).  But then he throws a twist at the readers in Romans 2 who were likely reading this and pointing the finger at those they deemed unworthy based on their sins:

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 

He is showing us that we are all in the same boat!  Without Jesus’ sacrifice none of us can live forever with God!  We cannot be “good enough” no matter how much we try…we all need Jesus!

The thing is, the Bible was never meant to be used as something to morally and spiritually impress upon others…it is meant to be read as a mirror reflecting God into our lives as we grow to be more like Him.  It’s His word to guide us, to help us become more like Jesus in our daily life and in the way we treat those around us.  When we use God’s word as a hammer, beating down people around us because of their behavior, we are acting like the Pharisees…and you remember how Jesus responded to them:

Matthew 23:25-26 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Jesus was not impressed by the amount of knowledge the “religious” people (Pharisees) had, that they memorized much of the scriptures and had many laws trying to make other people follow the rules they deemed proper and biblical.  Actually, Jesus, like many of us are today, was sickened by the religious groups, just like Westboro Baptist, and called them out on it often!  Jesus spent a lot of time with people who the religious had already condemned to hell.  And the incredible part to me is that those people who were the furthest from God really enjoyed being around Jesus and spending time with Him…many times taking their first real steps of faith with Him, but even if they chose not to take steps they truly liked spending time with Him.  Relationship always trumps religion!  Jesus knew fully how to build relationships and speak Truth with love and grace!  So, the real question here is this: if we are becoming more like Jesus every day, then do people far from God even want to be around us, let alone like us?  Are we spending time in places where people do not already follow Jesus, or do we stay comfortable in our little self-proclaimed holy huddles?  Are we spending time with our Savior, building a relationship with Him and reading His word as a mirror that reflects who we truly are, or more importantly who He is in us, so that we can extend that same love and grace to those around us?

I’d love to say I sit behind this screen with no judgment of others, but that would be a lie.  However, I do know what is True, as God defines Truth, and to not apply that Truth to my life, and share what God is pressing on my heart with you, would be in direct disobedience to God!  The way we treat others is a direct representation of who we follow…like it or not!  When Westboro spews their hatred in the name of God, it makes me sick to my stomach and angry because that is NOT who my Savior is by any stretch of the imagination and in no way reflects any attribute of His character!  Our actions may not be as vocal or public as theirs, but they are still stemming from the same basic thought…we believe we are more righteous than many around us and we’ve decided it is somehow our job to point it out to them!  As I grow older I continually see glimpses of how God wants me to grow in relationship with Him as well as in relationship with those He places in my path.  Amazingly enough, when I see the reflection of God’s word in my life it brings unspeakable joy to me and extends out to everyone around me!  Oh I wish those moments were more often than they are…however; it is so much easier (at times) to grab my hammer and shatter the mirror that God wants to use to reflect His Son instead of making the right choice by extending His love to those around me  no matter how lost they may seem to be.  Using God’s word as a hammer is simply saying that we are on the same plane as God…and that is a very dangerous place for a believer to think they belong!  How amazing would life on this earth be if those who follow Jesus would simply stop hammering people and start paying attention to His reflection in all of us…loving God and then loving others in His name!

Hammers make great tools when you need to nail something to a wall, but they are not appropriate to use when we want to “fix” or change people!  The only person we can change is ourselves, so we need to stop trying to change others!  The mirror of God’s word is the way to grow (and change) as we reflect the image of the One who created each and every one of us!  So start the habit now and begin to see every passage of scripture as a note written specifically to you and you alone…then and only then can God begin showing you how love really can change the world, one reflection at a time!

#Mirror>Hammer

Adventure

Numbers 14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

 Prior to God proclaiming His intentions to allow Caleb to enter the land flowing with milk and honey, God directed Moses to send out spies into the land and report back what they found.  Joshua and Caleb were the only men to see the land as good and prosperous…the others saw the danger and obstacles that stood before them if they were to enter the land to claim it.  Joshua and Caleb trusted God’s promises…the others trusted only what they could see!

God has used many hard times in my life to refocus my heart.  I have had times where I trusted my own intuition over God’s direction only to discover that my choice caused me to go down a path that took me away from God (remember Jonah?).  Yet, the most fruitful and joyous times in my life have come from obedience to His promptings in my heart and the direct paths He  laid out in His word.  Some of the most incredible relationships I now have came directly from God giving me a little push to make contact with someone…and whenever I do act upon that nudge, He never ceases to amaze me with the friendships and discipleship that takes place – both in my heart and in my new friend’s heart!  Just gotta listen and act!

How about you?  When God places a difficult situation or a specific person in your path, do you typically see it as an insurmountable obstacle…one in which you see no possible good outcome?  Or do you see an opportunity to trust God and grow closer to Him through the process…possibly forging a new relationship and likely becoming more like His Son?

When we trust God and His word, life begins to make sense.  Through His word, God shows us the priorities we need in our lives – Him first, then our spouse, kids, family, friends, etc.  Simply keeping those priorities would take care of most of society’s problems.  With God first in our lives, it makes sense for us to love our spouses sacrificially, even making them a higher priority than our kids!  With that kind of mutual matrimonial love, divorce would cease to exist and broken families would be a thing of the past.  Kids would not grow up without a parent!  Prisons would close down!  There would be no more loneliness or strife.  Alas, we live in a broken world, so many of these perfect scenarios are reserved for heaven…or are they?  Jesus said we are to live life (here on earth) abundantly!  Maybe keeping these priorities is the key to living a true abundant life….

Caleb did just that!  God had made a promise to deliver the people of Israel to a place that would sustain all their needs and bring joy to them for many generations to come…after all, it is the Promised Land and is still being fought for to this day!    Caleb spied out that land with God’s promise in mind…His view of the land was that of a new property owner scoping out how amazing his new residence will be and the possibilities of a future there.

We could learn a lot from Caleb.  How would your life look if you were to believe the promises of God and live your life as such?  He truly seeks to give you a future and a hope through the plans He has made for you, as is written in Jeremiah 29:11-13.  God’s promises and plans for each of us are a huge puzzle where God somehow, someway, miraculously makes them all fit and come together to fulfill His plan for our lives!  It’s up to you – will you cower in fear of the future and what may come, or will you act upon His promptings and promises and join Him in the grand design He has laid out for your life?  Your God-given adventure awaits!

Check out the lyrics to this song – Already There by Casting Crowns:

From where I’m standing
Lord it’s so hard for me to see
Where this is going
And where You’re leading me

I wish I knew how
All my fears and all my questions
Are gonna play out
In a world I can’t control

When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You’re already there
You’re already there

From where You’re standing
Lord, You see a grand design
That You imagined
When You breathed me into life

And all the chaos
Comes together in Your hands
Like a masterpiece
Of Your picture perfect plan

When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You’re already there
You’re already there

One day I’ll stand before You
And look back on the life I’ve lived
I can’t wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit

One day I’ll stand before You
And look back on the life I’ve lived
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You’re already there
You’re already there

You are already there

walks-on-water

Matthew 14:25-33 – 25 And in the fourth watch of the night He [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Often times when we read this passage the first thing we point out is the fact that Matthew didn’t have enough faith to stay above the waves.  Jesus even says he had little faith and doubted.  How pious we must be in our thinking to believe we have even a fraction of the faith required for such a miraculous water walking endeavor!  We need to give Peter a break for the amount of courage it took for him to even consider stepping out, let alone actually going through with it!

When reading this passage again today, what really stuck out to me was the fact that when Peter had His eyes focused on Jesus he was actually walking on water!  How cool is that!  Yet, when his focus turned to what was going on around him, seeing how the wind was crashing the waves against the boat, he began to sink.  It’s all good when we have our eyes dead set on Jesus, but when our focus shifts away from Him, life seems out of control!  The parallel to our lives is astounding to me in so many ways!

I recently had a conversation with a young person who is in the middle of a tug-of-war in their mind between accepting Jesus’ gift of eternal life and living the life they know, can relate to and are comfortable with – a life where they have finally found love, comfort, safety and forgiveness from people going through many of the same life struggles.  Like this person, most of us tend to think we have to figure it all out and possibly “clean up our act”, whatever that means, before taking a step of faith in making Jesus Savior and Lord.  The problem is…none of us have our act together either before we accept Jesus or after!  We are human and are all lost in need of a Savior.  Jesus is ok with our “lostness” as long as we don’t stay there forever…He loves us too much and desires us to spend eternity in relationship with Him as well as live an abundant life here on earth – abundant in love, grace and forgiveness!  You see, Jesus doesn’t want us to try to clean up our messy lives before we come to be with Him; He wants desperately to walk with us through our struggles and show us what unconditional love really looks like.

It is easy for life to get in the way of so many important things, especially when it comes to God.  We think we have to “get things done” or feel we are too busy to make God a priority in our lives.  However, our messy, busy lives are an indication that we are too swamped to NOT make Jesus the priority in our lives!  With Jesus at the center of our entire lives perspective changes, love increases, compassion abounds, generosity flows and life fills up with joy and meaning!  Life is still difficult, but with an eternal perspective, one that Jesus gives us when our priorities are in the right order, our struggles become opportunities to grow and build relationships.  That is the freedom that the bible talks about…freedom to live our lives while inviting Jesus to guide our hearts and minds as we seek to become more like Him – not because we are trying to gain His favor, but because that is how we respond when we love someone!

So, in what ways are you taking your eyes off Jesus and beginning to sink in your circumstances?  Where are you feeling God’s nudge to step out in faith, out of your own boat, and take an impossible step toward Jesus where you only see the possibility of drowning?  Maybe your next step is to trust in Him, to begin an incredible love relationship with the Creator of the Universe!  Regardless of where you are right this moment, I believe Jesus wants you to simply focus on Him, and don’t look down!

If you have questions on how to take your first step of faith, making Jesus your Savior and Lord, please check out NeedHim.org or feel free to contact me.  A relationship with Jesus changes everything for eternity!  This life is fleeting…where do you intend on spending eternity?

When you hear the words “Total Surrender” when it relates to following Jesus, what comes to mind?  Many years ago for me the idea of total surrender meant that I must give up all the stuff I really enjoyed if I were serious about following Jesus – music, sports talk radio, hanging out at bars drinking beer and throwing darts, playing golf, etc.  At that time I felt that the things that I was overindulging in were the problem, but the problem itself was much deeper.  It was rooted in the fact that these activities were taking up a lot of time and a higher place in my heart than my relationship with God, my wife and my kids.  My priorities were way out of balance and my relationships were showing it.

Early in my faith journey, the time where personal discipleship truly began taking root, I needed to make some drastic changes in my life, but didn’t know what to do or how to grow.  So with very little guidance, I simply gave up the things I saw as detrimental to the relationships that mattered most.  For me, without guidance, that was exactly the right thing to do as it helped me focus my energy and faith in a way where priorities simply worked themselves out – God first, then my wife, kids, etc.  You see, without a mentor, someone intentionally walking alongside me in my early faith journey, the places I was hanging out were not healthy places for me to spend a load of time.  However, if I had a mentor, I truly feel I would have seen an opportunity to extend the relationships I already had in those areas of my life to a spiritual level, inviting others in on the journey of faith I was embarking!  Hindsight is always 20/20, but I feel God is showing me these things to share with others beginning their faith journey as well as with those who are willing to make a difference in the life of someone who is beginning to navigate this journey of faith!

Surrendering ourselves is allowing God to best be glorified through our lives; and your life may be best utilized in a bar or on a golf course!

Giving up the stuff we enjoy in order to follow Jesus was never His plan; His plan involves Total Surrender of our selfish desires to His will for our lives, yet living our lives right where we are now in a way that glorifies Him in our thoughts and actions.  The type of music I listened to, the bars I hung out in, or the golf courses I played on were actually a big part of who I was, and exactly the type of places where God could be glorified by a sinner like me who was saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.  The problem was never the activities, it was making these activities a priority in my life over the relationships I needed most.

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So if you are early in your faith journey, have been a follower of Jesus for a long time, or are simply investigating the man Jesus, God really does desire for you to develop your relationship with Him first and foremost – to become His disciple.  Building a relationship with a good mentor is a great way to grow and learn to navigate this new found life in Christ, and is the example Jesus used to reach people when He walked the earth as well as the model He shared with us to begin making disciples.  As you continue to grow and become His disciple, God’s desire is that you would begin making disciples as well.  In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus commissions us to go and make disciples.  This is a great reason to continue the relationships we had when we were seeking out our selfish desires (for me, bars and golf courses)…what better way to glorify God than by living out our transformed life in front of those we have had relationships for years!  And in doing so, maybe God will provide an opportunity to begin sharing your testimony of change with those who already know your past self and have witnessed the radical diference in your life.  Of course if the places you hang out are unsafe or unhealthy for you in any way, you will need to use discretion…I am not saying to keep yourself in unsafe conditions, but I am saying to listen to God and discern whether or not you must walk away or simply change your focus and priority.  Again, a good trusted mentor can help in guiding you as well!

Surrendering ourselves is simply allowing God to best be glorified through our lives; and your life may be best utilized in a bar or on a golf course!   When our priorities are clear, a little beer or golf may be the avenue that God desires for you to make an eternal difference in the life of someone who desperately needs a Savior!  Don’t just think about surrender as a sacrifice…live a surrendered life that frees you up to love others in a way that only you can love them…in the places where you are free to be yourself, and the places where others are free to do the same!  God doesn’t want to simply change your behaviors; He wants to transform your life!  Your life, as well as mine, is a mosaic of relationships where Jesus can be made known in conversation over a beer or a game of golf…and to God be the glory!

#Freedom

Pub Theo

Pub Theology…Really?

Yes, really!  A thousand times Yes!!!

I recently had an incredible opportunity to be part of a gathering of people worshiping and talking with the good folks from Pub Theology Indy (www.PubTheologyIndy.com).  I have often felt that some of the best conversations about God, life, success and struggles happen when we let our guards down and just hang out in a local bar or coffee house!  This visit proved that to be true once again.

When my wife and I arrived, we entered the room where the sound system was being set up and people were floating around entering conversations.  I ordered a beer and my wife ordered a glass of wine as we sat down in anticipation of a great night.  We were quickly able to meet the people of Pub and had some amazing conversations with them about life, calling and Jesus.  Yes, you can worship and talk about Jesus in a bar over a beer!  My feeling has always been that this kind of environment would be where we would find Jesus hanging out if He were back on earth in human form seeking to bring real people into a relationship with Him.

The mix of music was great and The Flying Toasters played a great worship set!  The Pub Pastor (Daron) presented the gospel in an appealing way that drew people into a conversation and let them choose where to take what they heard about this man we love, Jesus!  I must say that this was a refreshing gathering of people sold out for Jesus and meeting people where they would hang, not expecting them to come where we usually gather for our creature comforts!

This post is not about critiquing the “performance” or “presentation” of a Christian message by Pub, it is simply written as an example of one way to reach people with the gospel in an environment where trust and relationship can be built quickly with guards down.  When Jesus left us the great commission (see Matthew 28:18-20) He said to go into the entire world and make disciples who will in turn make disciples.  He didn’t say to go to your local synagogue to get fed or let the priest or pastor regurgitate the message for you while you sit comfortably in your seat with little or no intent to engage the world…He said to go out and build relationships with people where they are comfortable.  Remember the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Paul’s words are a great reminder to us that Church must happen outside the walls of our local congregational outposts.  Real conversations occur when we are not deceiving others (or ourselves) by acting like we have it all together, as if everyone is getting along great, and are enjoying a richly blessed life, etc, etc.  By the way, a richly blessed life really does happen when we are being completely open and honest with God and doing life with others while dealing with our struggles head on!  Many times we grow the most when life completely sucks and we feel there is nowhere to turn…we then enter a conversation with someone who begins walking alongside us, helping to navigate through the circumstances of the struggle, always pointing back to the Savior in the process.  I have found that those conversations happen naturally over a meal, a beer or coffee when the defenses are down and the act of having it all together has been dropped.  Pub Theology offers just that…an environment where you come as you are, enjoy some beer, some great music, and a real conversation with Jesus Christ in the center of it all!  I will say it again; this is the kind of hangout that I feel Jesus would have wholeheartedly attended!  I can envision the party Jesus attended with Matthew and his buddies being very similar to the Pub gatherings (see Matthew 9:9-13 and Luke 5:27-32)…and who were the only ones looking down on that gathering?  The Pharisees – the self-righteous, religious people on the day!  Unfortunately, there is still a lot of “pharisaical” thinking going on in judgment of these type outposts where followers of Jesus are heeding the words of Paul, and the life of Jesus, and reaching people where they hang out!  From my experience with Pub, and the many conversations I have had in bars and coffee houses, Jesus is being preached, God is being honored and the Holy Spirit is moving in some incredible ways when movements like Pub Theology occur all over the world.  Faith, Hope, Love and Beer…what a mantra to live by!

#FaithHopeLoveBeer

@PubTheoIndy

www.PubTheologyIndy.com

 

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Bear with me, this is a little long, but it is an important topic for us to discern as we navigate this life and invite others into relationship with our Savior!

Answer this question for me – Is gluttony a sin?  There are a plethora of scriptural references you can look up to back the claim that gluttony is sinful!  So, having this interpretation in your head, and fully believing that God agrees with you, do you go out and find the first overweight person and tell them they are fat and need to repent of their wicked ways and get their eating under control?

How about this one – Is getting drunk a sin?  Again, many references to support the notion that getting drunk is sinful; however, if you go up to someone who is drunk or even later when they are sober and tell them they are a sinful drunkard and need to repent or they are going to hell, odds are that they will shut you out and label you a hate-filled Christian.

In a world where The Church congregates in thousands of different denominations, locations and interpretive belief systems, it is sometimes difficult for someone far from God to navigate what is True and how it applies to their life.  And, if we are all honest, when we were first seeking we were drawn to people who didn’t judge us and repulsed by people who were self-righteous.  This, I believe, is one of the biggest reasons Jesus was loved so deeply by those who were marginalized by society and the religious elite due to their sinful natures.  It is also the same reason those being shunned for their sin despised the religious people of the day.  Same holds true in our day!

Unfortunately, scripture has been twisted and interpreted in many different ways to agree with those following specific belief systems.  For example, alcohol by many denominations is strictly forbidden, and many even go as far to interpret the scriptural references to wine as simply grape juice.  However, in many other denominations, alcohol is fine as long as it is taken in moderation – which again is up for interpretation.

You see what I am saying here?  Regardless of what we may believe to be true (based on our beliefs, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit’s revelation), how can someone who may be seeking to know the meaning of life, and possibly even wondering if there is a God, begin to navigate what is true and what is heresy when the “religious” systems of the world cannot agree on interpretation of scripture?  Why wouldn’t those who are searching look for a group of people who will love and accept them for who they are, and subsequently, seek to find out more about the God they follow?  As followers of Jesus we may have differing beliefs and differing interpretations of scripture, many of which may be true while others may be very twisted, but we cannot condemn people for their behaviors and beliefs then expect them to even consider following the God we follow.  The one non-negotiable Truth that we must all hold is that faith in Jesus is the only way to spend eternity with God – yet, many people who do not follow Jesus think there are many ways to God (sadly, many people who claim to follow Jesus are confused on this topic as well)!  This post is not about what is right or wrong or to start a theological debate, it is simply something that needs to be said if we ever want to lead lost people to Jesus!  Lost people (people who do not have a relationship with Jesus) will never respond to a message that focuses on their behavior instead of Jesus’ message of grace and love!  And truth is typically irrelevant to the lost until they begin a relationship with Jesus – then He, not us, will be the One who guides and convicts as He sees fit!

Something God has really been hammering home in my heart is the debates going around in the “church-world” regarding same-sex union, gay priests, gender assignment, and homosexuality – “Can you be gay and be a Christian?”.  Let alone the identities of transsexual, pan-sexual, asexual, etc.  Again, some of the mainline denominations have affirmed gay priests, conducted gay marriages regularly, and interpreted the scriptures in ways that do not condemn or condone homosexuality.  Other groups completely, and vehemently, condemn the gay lifestyle and anyone in it, around it or even talking about it – trust me; I am talking with and about this group a lot and I feel the push back from the “religious”.  Regardless of where you fall on this lifestyle, there is still a group of people that are deeply loved by God and in need of the same Savior that saved us from our sinful behaviors.  As we fight over who is right and who is wrong, and I have my belief as well, we are driving this marginalized group of people far away from our God…”Why follow a God that these crazy people are following, He probably would condemn me too!  Why bother?”  By the way, they are being marginalized by the religious, not by God – and there is an eternal difference between the two!  Religious focus on law, God focuses on grace!

The Law in the Bible was manipulated by the Pharisees (religious) to condemn people who didn’t fit their constructed religious mold.  Yet the Law was given to show us that we are not capable of attaining the perfection of God on our own; by the way, perfection is a pre-requisite for spending eternity with Him, so none of us can measure up on our own accord.  The Law always points us to the Gospel because our inability to be perfect was nullified by Jesus’ ability and willingness to be the perfect sacrifice…He died as a perfect substitution for us while we were all still sinners!  The Law is there to show us we need the Gospel, and the Gospel tells us that we need Jesus!  It is never our job to point out what we deem to be sin in others; the Bible is to be read as a mirror, helping the reader become more like Christ.  When we use the Bible as a hammer, it loses its intended purpose given by the Author!  Judgment comes from above, not from someone walking alongside!

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Bottom line here is this – I care less about where you fall in your beliefs regarding human behavior than I do about the people who have been turned away from local churches and individuals simply because most are too afraid to enter a relationship with someone who thinks or acts differently than they do.  It’s OK to believe that homosexuality is a sin as long as you don’t condemn someone else because you hold what you deem to be their sin up in the light while you hide your sin in the dark.  I believe Navy Blue is Black because when I look at Navy Blue it appears to be Black to me; but just because I cannot distinguish between the two colors doesn’t give me the right to tell my wife she is wrong when the real issue is my own vision!  How’s your vision?  I personally have some great relationships with people who do not believe being gay is a sin.  We are still the best of friends even after they ask what I believe and I share that I believe being gay is a sin based on what I read in God’s word – actually, since we have been completely honest with each other in these conversations, I can say that my relationship with each person has become a deep friendship that is based on mutual love and respect.  Why?  I feel it is because my goal is not to change someone or tell them they are wrong or sinful; my goal is to develop a relationship with the people God places in my path in hopes that they may fall in love with the Jesus, the One I wholly love!  You might say, “Sounds like you have an agenda to me!”; yet it’s not an agenda when you place Jesus in the center of your entire life – it’s actually who you are in Christ!  To hide your faith is actually contrary to who you truly are!  People in general are OK with us having our own opinions and convictions (regardless if it is based on scripture or not) as long as they are not being condemned for their own or shut down for sharing their beliefs.  Differing opinions, convictions and beliefs make for incredible conversations!  If you are truly open to loving God and loving people you may blessed in building some incredible relationships with people who are very different from you – the same way Jesus did when He walked this Earth calling sinners like us to trust in Him!  With relationship comes opportunity to share your heart with others…and with your heart surrendered to Jesus, sharing Him becomes easy even when the “tough” topics of our day seem to cloud our judgment!  So let me ask you, are you seeing people through the eyes of Jesus?  How is your vision?

In my personal faith pilgrimage, God has led me to some of the most incredible growth opportunities.  Many times, though, I have missed the chance to connect with God on a whole new level because I would run myself ragged thinking I was doing exactly what God was intending me to do (usually overextending myself), or I was simply seeking after the things of this world instead of focusing my eyes on God and His plan.  However, I have discovered, when I do overextend myself, God will begin giving me signals to slow me down and seek Him in that moment.  Some of these signals for me have been anxiety, stress, strained relationships, irritability, insomnia, conflict and the like.

One of the healthy ways I can gauge if I am listening to God is if He is leading me to connect with people.  I am an introvert by nature, so when I feel the desire to connect with others, it’s usually a God thing!  I often say, especially when I contact someone out of the blue, that when God prompts me to reach out to someone I no longer question whether it was God or not…I simply obey that prompting, contact the person, and some of the most amazing conversations and relationships have come out of a simple obedient act – listening for God’s promptings and acting upon them!

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Exodus 14:14 – The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

(Excerpt from when Moses (really God) parted the Red Sea in Exodus 14)

Can you imagine what the Israelites must have been thinking as they were wandering around the desert searching for the land that they had been led to believe was promised to them by God?  Have you ever been on a vacation as a kid (or adult for that matter) and you just kept thinking or verbalizing, “Are we there yet?”  Yeah, me too!  When our family heads up to Miracle Camp each year (several times in fact), the 3 hour trip can become mundane, you know, you just want to get out of the car and get to the final stop.  “How much longer”, is often uttered more than once – sometimes by the kids too!  Just like the Israelites, when we are on a journey it is easy to lose sight of the destination.

As the Israelites set up camp, Pharaoh approached to wipe them out – he had a change of heart and wanted to hunt them down!  God had led the Israelites to this point through Moses with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.  On a long journey and not sure what the next day held, they set up camp by the sea as Pharaoh and his army approached.  Even during their struggle and complaints about God and Moses leading them out to their certain death, God placed the pillar of fire between Pharaoh’s army and the Israelites to protect them.  His plan had not been revealed to them yet!  They cried out to Moses asking why he had led them away from Egypt (where they were slaves by the way) to their death in the wilderness.  Griping, complaining and scared, their sight had been taken off of their destination – the Promised Land – and their fear clouded their thoughts and minds.  But God had not even begun what He was planning to do!  He set a fierce wind against the sea, parting it and creating a dry land path for the Israelites to flee!  As the last Israelite crossed through the sea on dry land, God let the fury of the sea return to its place, wiping out the entire wicked Egyptian army!  The Israelites escaped certain death at the miraculous hand of God!  And yet, even though they witnessed such an amazing miracle, in the days and years to come, they would continue to cycle back through doubt and fear – kind of sounds like us doesn’t it?

How about you?  Are you listening for God’s little promptings and acting upon them?  Is God telling you to connect with a kid or adult that simply needs someone to love them in a healthy way?  Is God calling you to take steps of faith so that you will begin a journey of answering His call in your life!  However He chooses to lead us, God doesn’t always show us a huge sign or miracle to guide us as He did over and over on the Israelite journey, but He still does miracles all around us every day!  As you act upon those promptings God places in your heart you will begin to see His heart all around you and the miracle just may be YOU touching the life of someone else!  To hear Him, though, to know He has you in mind, you must find a way to be still, slow down a bit (or maybe a lot) and listen to what He is telling you – keep your eyes and heart wide open and God will find His way to guide your heart to be more like His!

 

il_fullxfull-320700222 Check all self-righteousness at the door!

In society today, there are a plethora of social issues that are bombarding our local communities, and are even more directly becoming a big part of our daily conversations with people who may or may not follow Jesus.  Some of these social conversations form around government, abortion, human rights, same-sex marriage, bigotry, profiling, racism, gun control, and the list goes on and on!  As followers of Jesus, we need not exclude ourselves from these conversations; in fact, we have a high standard to uphold and entering the conversations is the only way for us to be a beacon of light to an otherwise darkened world!

Many of you may be reading this and saying something like, “yeah, we need to stand up and fight for what is right and against what is wrong in this world!”  While others are thinking, “great, another article bashing people with differing beliefs and convictions.”  Well, both thoughts couldn’t be further from the Truth…and by Truth I am referring to God’s Truth, not just my opinion or the opinion of some religious group!

When you enter a conversation with someone regarding – let’s pick an easy one to start with (tongue in cheek) – the government, what words flow from your lips?  Do your words build others up or do they pull them down to the negativity you are spewing?  We may not agree with the government, but as believers in Jesus Christ our words and behaviors speak a lot about the One we are following, especially to those who do not know Him!  We may have a legitimate concern, but the way we voice that concern says a lot about Who we follow, or maybe that we don’t follow His example at all!

How about the issues many are dealing with regarding same-sex marriage – an extremely polarizing topic of our day?  Do you shy away from the LGBT community because you are uncomfortable or worse, self-righteous?  Do you think God loves people who are living in the gay lifestyle and seeking marriage with their partner?  He absolutely and emphatically does!  God’s desire is for every one of us to truly know, love and trust Him – His grace and love is sufficient for everyone, and He extends an invitation of relationship to everyone regardless of sexual orientation…and even to the bigoted person spewing hatred toward the LGBT community!

Romans 1:18-32 discusses the fact that we are ALL sinners deserving His righteous judgment; every single one of us from Stephen Hawking to Billy Graham!  But remember, Romans is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the believers in Rome, not chapters to be read out of context or alone!  Romans 2:1-11 continues on to say that we have no excuse in judging others regarding their sin because we are deeply rooted in sin as well…in doing so, we are not only condemning others, we are condemning ourselves!  What Paul is saying is that we are all in this together, and without Jesus’ sacrifice, life would be futile and hell would be in all our futures! When reading the scriptures, remember…when we use them to beat someone else up we are using them wrong!  As followers of Jesus, in which the Holy Spirit resides, our words and behaviors, if coming from God, will exhibit the fruit that Paul speaks of in Galatians:

Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

When we read the scriptures properly (as a mirror, not a hammer), we learn to become more like Jesus – loving, compassionate, grace-filled people who are attractive to be around; people who are seeking relationships so that someone who does not know Jesus may be introduced to the only One that really matters!  Relationships are the measuring stick in God’s economy – with Him first, then with others…especially with those who have been deemed unworthy by society or by self-righteous people who take it upon themselves to extend God’s judgment in error.  By passing on His judgment, we ultimately drive the people God loves further away from Him.  I believe this wrecks God’s heart!  I believe we are to love people enough to get into their lives and potentially introduce them to Jesus.  We introduce and He will do whatever convicting He sees fit and proper!

When Jesus said to love God and love others, He meant it!  That old familiar song states, “they will know we are Christians by our love”; however, by extending judgment we forfeit the opportunity God has given us to not only love others by extending grace (the same grace God has extended to us) but also to build a relationship with them built on love and trust as well as grace and Truth.  This is one of the main reasons why the label “Christian” has taken on a negative tone in society – you know, judging others in the Name of God.  How repulsive!  However, as followers of Jesus, we take on His nature and extend the grace that He first showed us…that is a love worth following!  Grace is something Jesus offers us all, and if we are following Jesus’ example, extending grace to those around us is not an option, it’s a requirement and it’s the best way to build relationships!  So, are you representing Jesus well to those around you?

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God has led me to Romans 12 a lot lately and it never ceases to amaze me how much He can squeeze into a passage of His divinely inspired Word.

Romans 12:6-8 – 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

In this section of scripture, Paul is explaining to us the reason God has given us His gifts by His grace.  He gives us these gifts to share generously with others!  These are the gifts described above, but are just a sampling of the gifts that God gives to us:

Gift of Prophecy (foreshadowing something to come) – Share only as much as your faith allows.

Gift of Service – Get out and serve others!

Teaching Gift – Be ready to teach, and do it!

Gift of Exhortation (encouraging someone to take action) – Encourage others to do something for the glory of God!

Gift of Giving – Give generously!

Leadership – Lead well and with boldness!

Gift of Mercy – Show mercy to those you come into contact and do it with joy and kindness!

God never gives us a gift or blessing to hoard for ourselves.  When we keep His blessing for our own desires, our minds tend to run with a self-centered vigor that will creep into every area of our lives.  One of the biggest lies Satan uses to sidetrack followers of Jesus is the lie that “you deserve it.”  You know what I am talking about:

God has blessed you with a great income, so you buy yourself a nice, new truck; after all, you deserve it for all your hard work!  Then a friend calls and needs help moving…what do you do?  You can offer your help, and drive that new truck to his house and help a friend in need.  Or you can ignore your friend because you don’t want to scratch your new truck.

Or,

A single mom from across the street comes home with 2 little ones wrapped around her ankles, unloading several bags of groceries, all while your favorite TV show or sporting event is at its climax.  You can say that you have had an exhausting day and need this down time; you deserve this downtime due to your pressing schedule!  Or, you can take a few minutes and help this young mom, who more than likely had a much more stressful day than you could ever imagine!

Or,

Say you are out to eat with your spouse, and your server is having a bad day…you can tell she or he is struggling with keeping up or just keeping it together.  The service may not be real good…how do you respond?  Do you give them a small tip because their service wasn’t what you expected?  You might think, “They don’t deserve a good tip!” or do you bless them generously because they are human, make mistakes, and could really use a little encouragement – maybe the first encouragement they have received in a very long time!

You see what I mean?  God gives each one of us opportunities every day to be generous with the gifts and abilities He gives so that we will love others.  You cannot love God and hate (or ignore) those who were created in His image!  It is impossible to fully love God and seek His will yet not care deeply about those around us…it is not in His nature and cannot be in ours if we want to call ourselves followers of Jesus!  Remember, He died for all of us, not just you!  As God’s Image Bearers, we must extend His love to those who are in need, whether they follow the One we follow or not!  This can be the beginning of an amazing relationship that has eternal consequences!

#ImageBearers