Archive for the ‘compassion’ Category

How often have you heard someone recite the words “be content in all circumstances”, paraphrasing a familiar verse from Philippians. Paul states:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11

Usually, when someone is teaching this scripture, discussing it among friends, or even in a particularly untactful comment to someone who is struggling, they are referring to a circumstance in which someone does not feel content, but not really getting to the entire message Paul is sharing. It doesn’t start with being content, it was a learned process (see verse above where Paul says he learned…). But how do we learn to be content? Just like in almost every scripture in the Bible, we need to study context and read the entire passage to discover what the author is teaching us.

In this verse, contentment was learned by Paul, and thankfully can also be learned by us. The key in Paul’s message lies a little earlier in his letter to the Philippian church.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Did you catch the key to Paul’s, and our, contentment in verse 14?

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Do you think Paul was content, the way he describes contentment in chapter 4, when he was a Pharisee killing Christians? I don’t! I believe his contentment began when he believed in Jesus, was baptized, and then learned contentment by answering the calling Jesus gave him to preach ands spread the gospel as a missionary! His contentment is directly connected to his calling, or better yet, his answered calling. Jesus gave him His plan for Paul’s life, then Paul obediently said yes, and found contentment in life because he started doing exactly what he was created to do!

Simply put, Paul gave his life to Jesus, answered the calling Jesus had placed for his life, and found contentment in every and all circumstances because he was on the path chosen for him. We can also find that same contentment, by following God’s calling for our lives!

So, now it comes back to us…what will we do with what we learn? If you find yourself lacking contentment in life, you can’t just BE content in any and every circumstance. You may be able to fake it for a while, but that inner calling will eventually come to the surface until you make the decision to listen to the God-given calling inside of you and press into that direction for your life.

There are many ways to move into that direction, once you discover what God has given you a burden to do – you know, those times you feel so strongly about ___________ that you just can’t contain the emotion or desire to do something about ____________. One way is to take that “passion” and dig into God’s character and word and see what He says about it. Another is to talk with others about what you are feeling and work out your thoughts and possible direction you can move to make an impact. You can also ask others who have a similar passion within their calling and God may develop a relationship between the two of you in which leads to even more change! But most importantly, listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudges! You know, those times where you feel a strong desire to call someone out of the blue, connect with someone brand new (maybe even someone out of your typical network of people – even if they are way beyond your normal reach), volunteer in your community, write a post, read a book, etc…the possibilities from a creative God are endless!

Something to keep in mind when seeking your calling is that there will be many distractions that will attempt to alter your course of action. The best way to discern if you are heading in the direction of your calling is to check your thoughts out with God’s word. If what He says in His word doesn’t line up with what you are thinking, it is likely a distraction. His calling will never be contrary to His nature, character or His word.

So what is your next step? It may be to go to the first step and accept the free gift of grace that Jesus offers each and every one of us – salvation through the grace of Jesus! If you have questions about salvation, I’d love to have that conversation with you!

Maybe it is to read and reread Philippians to get a feel for how Paul learned to be content…I know this has been a letter I have been parked in lately as I discovered the key to contentment. Maybe it is to look through your social feeds or watch the news/ read the headlines and see if God prompts your heart. It may also be to dig deep into yourself and ask loved ones what they see in you as a calling/passion, including what gifts you possess (those things you are naturally good at). But first, ask God to reveal His calling for your life! As you talk to God about this, He will reveal some things to you that will blow your mind! Thoughts that may seem contrary to who you are, but then He does His thing and shows you how you were designed to think and act upon His calling.

I’d love to hear about your journey whether just starting or a long-time coming. Please feel free to reach out or comment about your calling, and as always if you’d like to talk about contentment and/or calling, know I am always here for you! You can email me at rboyland01@gmail.com or connect via the form below.

I can’t wait to see more and more of you discovering your calling and taking steps toward fulfilling your purpose! Let’s make the world a better place by engaging in our communities and using our calling to change the world…you in?

Advertisements

As I was laying in bed this morning, I felt prompted to weigh in on what I feel is the biggest problem in America that has led to the current sports figures kneeling during the National Anthem. Likely, what I am writing here will resonate with you in spirit and hopefully more so in action, as well as likely causing some angst in many of you as well – which is fine with me because I feel it is something God is pressing into my heart to share. So here goes:

NFL Players Kneeling During National Anthem

The real problem resulting in all of the protests (on every issue regardless of political, social or faith-driven beliefs) is the lack of courage people have to engage with one-another directly – in the church or in community. Worse, this lack of courage, along with all of the cheap and cowardly shots people take upon one-another daily from the safety of their computer or phones, only seems to be super-fueled by the media – not just journalism either, but more so, social media. That is the biggest oxymoron of our time – there is nothing social about social media anymore. Maybe there never was! What social media has done to our culture is allow most people to hide behind their keyboards or phones and communicate with their own bias and opinion while spewing hate as if their ideas are the only ones valid, all while judging everyone else as if they are completely ignorant. That might be a nicer way of saying that small minds and cowardly people will engage in every way possible without actually engaging in a way that leads to reconciliation! If you don’t have to actual talk to someone face-to-face, it’s easy to demonize them and their thoughts, words and beliefs. Cowards act done in this manner, not people seeking to make this world a better place.

So here we are, watching the NFL players sit during the National Anthem and almost everyone is weighing in on the subject with so much venom in which, in my opinion, is not representative of the Man I follow. But it is not just this most current topic that everyone is up in arms about. Lest we forget, this same pattern has been occurring almost weekly! And every issue is important! Racial violence, political unrest (on all sides), religious uncertainty, gay vs straight, rich vs poor, black vs white, muslim vs christian, stand or kneel – the list goes on…

All these issues along with social media are just a symptom of the real problem though. The real issue is so simple, and would be transformative to our communities, nation and world if we would just grasp this simple, yet profound solution that is not new – it actual was spoken throughout the New Testament by Jesus and His disciples, as well as public figures from our recent past like Martin Luther King Jr…and the beat goes on and the masses keep their ears plugged to what would really make this world a better place. Simply, if we would engage one another in face-to-face conversation and relationship, almost all of the hatred, anger and violence would dissipate as we begin to see other people as brothers, sisters and friends! We would begin to feel their pain and struggle and would help them seek out a solution to whatever is on their heart and mind, and they would reciprocate the love to us in our struggle as well. And maybe, just maybe, our heart hearts might grow three sizes that day!

I have a very good friend who also happens to be a black man. I am a white man. I believe when we first started hanging out we were both wanting to become closer friends to not only understand each other and where we come from culturally, but also we see a similar hunger in each other for loving people and extending God’s grace to one-another and those God has placed in our lives! Our conversations are sometimes raw, and I know for a fact some of the questions or comments I have made have been very naive and probably sounded pretty ignorant – I even encourage him to call me out and tell me if something I say or ask is stupid or biased…and he has – and he never judges or condemns me as we are in relationship and love one-another as brothers.

One day I had heard a talk at a conference presented by a black man who was describing his daily life as a young black man – driving through Los Angeles and passing police cars along the side of the road. He said about 7 out of 10 times, especially if he had another black man with him in the car, he would get pulled over for random things and usually let go without incident – but there were also many times where he feared for his safety from the men and women who were employed to keep them safe just because of bias and color. Guns sometime pulled as they approach the car. You know, fear on all sides can be a fuel that breeds destruction! And your immediate reaction to the last two sentences is a tell-tale sign of your bias regarding this issue facing some of our fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in this world on a daily basis.

This was just a small portion of this mans talk, but afterward I was having a discussion with a couple white pastors from the south, and they were trying to justify what the police had been doing in pulling them over, making assumptions that they must’ve been doing something wrong – speeding, acting suspicious, playing “their” loud music (his words), etc. I was saddened that these church leaders had completely missed the point of the talk in the first place, and worse chose to judge someone without even attempting to understand or engage simply based on their color and the situation described. They missed the message because of their bias – this young black man was reaching out to an arena full of leaders from every nationality to begin a conversation and start a relationship that may lead to a healed nation. He sought out a conversation, they simply wanted to justify their own bias without engaging the real issue or making a difference.

Back to my friend – after I returned from that conference I asked him about being pulled over by police in Anderson, IN. I asked him how many times in the past year he had been pulled over. He said, “I don’t know for sure, but I do know that I get pulled over often, many weeks I get pulled over several times, and even more if I have another black man or youth in my car.” When I told him I hadn’t been pulled over for at least 10-15 years – and that time for a tail light and he was just informing me of the light being out – I began to understand a bit more of his struggle and felt another level of compassion for my friend and what he goes through on a daily basis, even here in the midwest!

My goal in writing this post is not to give my opinion on a topic or social issue (but I will do that at the end though). More than likely, my opinion will be different than at least half of you reading this post. But isn’t that the beauty of relationship? When we engage with one another over real topics and deep issues, we grow! A very wise New Testament writer states it this way:

James 1:2-4 MSG – Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

That verse, as with many others, is written specifically to Christians, but applies to all. The only way for anyone to grow in any meaningful way is through the challenges of life. We are not lacking challenges in 2017, that is for sure. If your not sure, look at the headlines or venture onto your social media account and peruse the hot topics of the day. Pick one that resonates in your spirit and then take it to a place that few are courageous enough to go – find someone with a different view than you and ask them to meet you for coffee or a beer and have an honest, inquisitive discussion with the sole purpose of building a relationship and understanding why someone would come to an opposite conclusion than you on such an obvious topic (in your opinion). That is where God does some of His best work – in relationship! Discipleship is done in relationship. Jesus taught and led through relationship. Paul was a missionary spreading the gospel through relationships. For real change to occur, change toward reconciliation and loving one-another, we must not sit out and hope someone else engages in culture. We are not even called to just pray about someone else engaging the issues – prayer must lead to action. No, this call is for you to be part of the solution, and no-one gets a pass! If we will not engage one-another face-to-face, we have no right chiming in on the topics we don’t agree upon – bravery behind a screen is just cowardice! We have to stop this endless cycle of hate and turn toward one-another in love in the hope of building a mutual respect through relationship SO THAT real change can happen and lives are changed for the better.

So I challenge you now (don’t wait) – think in your heart about a social issue or topic that you have strong opinions about (even if it is something you see no possible other way of viewing it correctly) and put it into words. Then, seek out someone that may have a different opinion about the issue and meet them to start a conversation. Not to seek to change their opinion, but to seek to understand them through relationship.

And to lead well and not just share my opinion on this subject socially – I will start! I have many opinions about topics that likely run contrary to what many church people are posting. One topic that has caused a whole lot of controversy in local churches has been, “can a gay person be a believer in Jesus and go to heaven”? It is amazing to me how many times I hear people ask that question! Or worse, people state their opinion in an argumentative way that simply puts up more walls. Writing that sentence for me sounds absurd, but that is because I have an opinion that has been deveolped by engaging in deep relationship with the people in whom this sentence really affects, and have dug into God’s word and His character to make a determination that I feel comfortable sharing. It is this – YES, a person who is gay can be a follower of Jesus and enter into heaven! If by reading that sentence you became real uncomfortable or even a bit confused or angry, that is where relationship comes in. Reach out to me at rboyland01@gmail.com or below contact form and lets begin a conversation!

This entire life is about relationship and we were created to be in relationship! Social media and the bait-click driven comment sections of articles have created a culture of cowardly people who will spout off hatred from behind a screen (in the name of the first amendment, by the way….the very same thing many who are protesting peacefully are doing), but will not actually be part of any solution, taking steps toward one-anotherness and leaving behind the division and judgmentalism that is killing humanity.

Man, if I were an enemy of people, I would develop differing opinions and create ways for people to express those opinions in anger without any consequences for their actions, and then make sure there are an equal amount of people that have the exact opposite opinion, spread a little judgment and hatred, and lead the extremists to take their anger to levels of killing and fighting, and then sit back and watch the work I had created and call it good! Seems like the enemy has been doing an incredible job (in his opinion) in creating division in humanity, don’t you think?

We are better than this! Engage in real conversations with people who think differently than you and watch relationships form and unity to happen regardless of the different opinions. Different opinions have the potential of expanding our worldview beyond our little minds and into a level of love and grace that has never been seen in this world – well, maybe in one person a little over 2,000 years ago, and the thing is that same love and grace is available to each of us today as well. And becoming more like that, extending His love and grace to those around us, is the only way for this generation of people to actually make a difference and build a better world, one relationship at a time!

In typical church world, we try to help people grow by providing studies or groups to teach information about God. However, what is needed first is relational growth so we can become vulnerable enough to allow the Holy Spirit to humble us and grow us spiritually! Relationships teach us how to be transparent, selfless, vulnerable and loving. They teach us humility and how to show honor. They show us how to navigate our emotions and offer compassionate ears as well as a loving correction where appropriate. In an authentic relationship, we have the opportunity to invite someone else into the most intimate part of our being to join us on this journey called life! God designed us to be in relationship, not so we can gather every once in a while and act like we have it all together….No! He designed us this way because He knows the best way to thrive in life, while here or beyond our years on earth, is to deeply know others and be known!

Relationships, loving God and others, are the path to all aspects of health and growth – emotional, physical, and spiritual. Without them, we become bitter, hard, unreachable and unteachable – kinda sounds like a lot of people you’ve been exposed to in church facilities, doesn’t it? The thing is, the church was never meant to be an institution where people fake who they are, gather and sing, get a boost or a rebuke, and then go home and hide for another week or two. It wasn’t even meant to be a place where you get in a group or even serve at your local church building on a weekend. Those things are not church…We are The Church! So if every day, walking around human beings are in fact The Church Jesus and Paul spoke so highly of, saying this group will change the world, maybe we have a little relational work to do here! Maybe we need to engage with the people around us and learn how to love and live with one-another as we grow together in our relationship with Jesus! He is the glue that holds everything together – including relationships! I learned that lesson the hard way many years ago with my wife…a story I’d be glad to share over coffee or a beer sometime!

Friends sitting in a cafe

Friends sitting in a cafe

Relationships are the key to everything in this life and in the next! When asked what the most important message He can give to this world, Jesus responded with this:

Mark 12:30-31- 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Are relationships easy? No! Yet they are the most valuable investment you can make in this brief life to realize a wealth of knowledge, friendship and spiritual growth! Jesus knew this when He laid that out – love Him and love each other. So let’s stop just doing organizational church and start being The Church that He designed from the very beginning. Only then will we see true change in a world that has become far too institutionalized! Imagine a world where the Kingdom is built through authentic relationships where genuine empathy, compassion and love is the natural reflex! I want that world now, as it will be in heaven! Join me!

last-ac597b7eca2b4a550ad15962eeeee42a

Football coach Vince Lombardi died in 1970. As he died, Lombardi turned to his wife Marie and said, “Happy anniversary. I love you.”

John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”

Bob Hope, to his wife Dolores when asked where he wanted to be buried, said…”Surprise me.”

Last words have a way of being remembered by those who are left behind to finish out this life on earth, especially by the loved ones in that person’s life!   When a loved one utters their final words here on earth, we remember them, cherish them, and if a request was made, we honor that request!

I can still remember the last words my father spoke to me before he died; “Take care of your mother for me.  I don’t think I am going to make it.”  As hard as that was to hear, those last words have guided my life from that point on!  The very first thing I did after my dad died was to lead my mother into a life-saving relationship with Jesus Christ!  I also look back to that moment as the turning point in my personal relationship with Jesus, as well as the beginning of a calling from God that is redefining my life mission and passion!  Through much trial, depression, sin and fighting with Him (and my wife), God used this moment to redefine my life and legacy.  He continues to this day to give me an eternal perspective that could only be realized by coming through the loss of my dad, and responding to his last words!

I am sure you have heard some last words in your life.  Whether it be a loved one, a celebrity, a sports figure you know…those last words will live on.  I am here to share with you the most famous last words ever uttered, and to challenge you to remember these words, cherish them and honor the request made in these final words on earth from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

His final words tell us His heart and vision for our lives as His followers – Go (everywhere) and make disciples!  Making disciples is not as hard as many have made it out to be.  Discipleship is not taking a barrage of classes and getting a lot of head knowledge.  Discipleship is not knowing a lot about God; it is growing to know God – to be in relationship with Him!  Discipleship is taking our relationship with God and coming into relationship with others, walking with them and helping them take their next step in their relationship with Jesus.  It really is as simple as “love God and love others!”

So why is it that we take the last words of the people in our life and sear them into our hearts, and leave Jesus’ last words for someone else to take seriously?  We are to first love God with all or our heart, soul and mind and then go love others – if He is our first love, His words should have more weight than any words we hear!

My challenge for you right now is to study these last words of Jesus as He ascended to heaven, not only to cherish them, but to take action upon them!  Our faith is not a personal faith as some will say, one we keep to ourselves – that is no faith at all, and is simply a cop out for sharing Jesus!  Our faith is to be alive and active!  If we truly believe Jesus is our Savior and The way to be with the Father for eternity, how selfish is it for us to keep that information from those around us?

The fruit of a disciple of Jesus is to be a disciple-maker who not only makes disciples, but is one who makes disciple-makers!  Disciples make disciples who make disciples – and this is how we change the world through relational discipleship!

IMG_4153

As I have navigated through many stages of life, one thing continually resonates in the lives of people I talk to, and it is such a powerful force that many sacrifice their convictions in hopes of satisfying those deep desires…Relationship!  Relationship comes in many different shapes and sizes.  Our relationship with a spouse looks different than a relationship with our kids.  Relationships with co-workers are different from family members.  Relationships with the clerk at the gas station take a different form than that of our best of friends.  Regardless of which relationship you are considering, it is apparent that we were designed to be in relationship!

When God designed us, He did so by creating us in His image.

Genesis 1:26 – Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

In that statement from God, something very profound occurs!  It starts by saying God said (singular) and then He said, Let us (plural) make man…woven into the very core of His creation of man was this idea of God being in relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – yet being one God.  There has been much confusion and controversy over the idea of the Trinity, and many doctrinal statements have been made that have so many people scratching their heads or totally discounting the idea of a three in one God.  But, God didn’t build His word to confuse us!  He gave it to us to liberate us!

I truly believe that this “contradiction” in verse 26 (“God” and then “us”) is really quite uncomplicated.  Simply put, God is relational and He designed us in His image to be relational as well!

His plan is to be in relationship with us as we journey through this life building our relationship with Him as well as with those God has placed in our lives.  Yet, as we develop relationships with those around us, our primary relationship with God has to take first place in our heart and soul!  When we place God in His rightful place in our lives (first place), the other relationships we are engaged in just seem to work themselves out.  Having a Kingdom worldview keeps this life in perspective and focuses our heart on relationships.  Nothing in this world matters more than our relationship with God and our relationships with others!

love

Recently, my wife Lisa and I were able to take a short retreat to Cincinnati to focus completely on our marriage as we attended a Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.  Going into the weekend, we both would have said the weekend was really just a chance to get away and rest, and maybe takeaway some refresher tips for our marriage.  After all, we’ve been married for 23 ½ years and have seemingly gone through every struggle imaginable over those years and persevered, and eventually thrived, through those struggles…focusing on God really makes all the difference in the world!  However, we learned quickly that in every marriage, and likely every healthy relationship, when not being 100% intentional, we tend to take each other for granted and slip up in areas of connection and conversation.  I am so thankful that we were able to attend and invest in our marriage to ensure many fruitful years to come!  I highly recommend a yearly marriage retreat or conference for every married couple (and every engaged couple)…your marriage is worth the yearly investment!

As I began thinking more about some of the discussions during the weekend, as well as witnessing so many young couples struggling in the areas of love and communication, I was reminded of some very wise counsel we had received a few years into our marriage that really helped us gain a better understanding of how marriage works and thrives.  The area of challenge is love – is it a feeling or a choice?

Let me ask you this: If someone were to come up to you and demand for you to “Love Me!” what are the odds that you will fall deeply in love with that person at that moment?  Demanding love never works, and is likely to repel the other person, not attract them.  Yet, when we show someone we love them, making choices to love them by having conversations with them, doing things for them, placing their needs and desires above your own, not only will your love for that person grow, odds are they will reciprocate that love.  You see, people respond with love when you love them in practical ways.  That giddy “in love” feeling can be deceiving because when that feeling, or emotion, fades we have a choice – we either choose to love or we choose to run.  True love always chooses to love, even when the feeling of being “in love” wanes a bit.  Mature love is active!

Some will say the “in love” feeling will never fade; “I love him/her too much!”  However, ask any woman with kids who are nurturing and caring for them, taking care of them when sick, running them around to all their destinations, all while working and trying to maintain the family unit…that “in love” feeling either turns to resentment or she chooses to love her husband in the midst of the trials and child-rearing.

In our marriage, that “in love” feeling faded pretty quickly as we had been married for 6 months when we got pregnant with our first child.  How I wish we would have understood that love is a choice as opposed to a feeling early in our marriage…I believe it would have saved us a lot of heartache and pain.  Once we understood that love is an action, not an emotion, we were able to begin healing and start loving each other again because we wanted to…not because of a feeling, but because of a choice.  Like any stage of life, love grows and matures as it becomes part of who we are.  Once discovered, I can honestly say that I love my wife Lisa more now than I ever have!

I can say without any hesitation that any marriage can be healed, regardless of how deep the hurt and betrayal may be.  I have witnessed in many marriages, as well as ours, miraculous healing that can only be credited to God and two people choosing to not give up on the godly institution of marriage.  You want to know something key…your spouse doesn’t deserve your love!  And you don’t deserve their love either!  We are all broken and fallible individuals seeking love and acceptance.  The key to a thriving marriage is placing God first in everything you do!   When we keep God first, loving our spouses becomes an act of love toward God as well as our spouse.  Our spouse may not deserve our love at times, but God always does, and He says that we love because He first loved us:

1 John 4:19 – We love each other because he loved us first.

So remember these key tips on growing a healthy marriage:

1 – Love God first and above all else.

2 – Love your spouse because God loves you – you reciprocate His love by loving your spouse.

3 – Remember, mature love is a choice, not a feeling.

Every healthy and mature marriage requires these three steps, and every unhealthy, failing marriage can be healed by two people taking these three steps.

I can say with all the boldness I can muster that because God loves me, I love Him more than anyone else!  Because I love Him so much, I choose to love Lisa with all my heart and in my daily choices.  Choosing to love her because God loves me doesn’t cheapen my love for her…it actually deepens that love because our marriage now is firmly planted on the foundation of God’s love!  And no other love can be as solid as God’s love for us…after all; He sacrificed His Son Jesus because He loves us that much!

In the past few weeks I have had the incredible opportunity to visit two newly planted churches – Church of The Hills in Nashville, TN and The Cathedral in Flint, MI.  Along with other members of itown church, we set out to encourage and support these two new congregations as they get their feet firmly planted within their communities to reach as many people as possible for Jesus Christ…doing anything short of sin to reach people for Christ!  We fell in love with the hearts and sacrifice of these amazing people as they fulfill the call God has placed in them to be a local outpost in their communities loving God and loving those around them!  We’ve made some life-long friends as well, all while cheering one-another on from afar serving our local communities and introducing people to Jesus!

Supporting the local church is an awesome responsibility for us all because in every community the local church truly is the hope for that community as well as the hope of the entire world!  With so many individual churches in our communities, The Global Church (everyone who follows Jesus) must support one-another and understand that church is not (and should never be) a competition.  The Church is a living entity of individual gatherings of people who need to be working together to reach the world for Christ; putting aside differing styles and rituals that are simply preferences, not doctrine!

church-competing

Unfortunately the picture above kinda hits a sore spot, doesn’t it?  Far too many local gatherings have chosen to not read (or at least understand) the memo from Paul where he calls us to band together as The Church body to reach as many people as possible for the sake of Jesus Christ!  Instead, many local churches have placed themselves in the headship of The Church as the only means in the community to have a relationships with Jesus – yet Jesus said we, as His followers, are ALL in this together as The Church with many different members of the body who must work together for the good of every person who is far from God in our communities…and Jesus is the only head of The Church!

Romans 12:3-8 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the 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.

I recall a story Andy Stanley, Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, shared regarding a gay-pride parade set to pass in front of their rather large church building on a given Sunday morning.  Andy and his staff tried to think it through to try to have as many congregants and volunteers as possible already in the building before the parade was set to pass.  They discussed how to keep the congregation inside the building a little longer than usual as to not “expose” the members to what they deemed a moral concern, possible protest or at the least an ugly exchange.  They were more focused on hiding their “righteous” eyes than reaching a community of people who need Jesus as much as we do.

As the morning began brewing, Andy was feeling a bit convicted and torn – from what I recall in his story, he and some others went outside to see how things were shaping up.  His conviction was set in stone when he saw the small church congregation across the street lining the road and handing out glasses of water to all the participants in the gay-pride parade – smiles on their faces as they opened their hearts to those walking along!  Conversations were happening and a bridge to an unreached group of people was being built right across the street!  Wow!  This congregation understood what it means to serve the community, offer grace to all, and love our neighbors with the love of Christ!  The lesson Andy learned that morning has shaped the ministry of North Point to this day as they seek to extend grace and love to the very people most congregations won’t engage – people far from God!  How different might this story have been if the churches were on the same page instead of working it from their own angle?  Odd isn’t it…what is the purpose of the local church if not to love God and love others?  Those far from God are exactly who Jesus said He came to save, and when we follow Him, we should be no different:

Luke 5:32 – I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.

Now, something amazing happens when you break that down…Jesus came to save sinners who are lost without a Savior.  Every person on this planet has at least one thing in common – we are all sinners!  The difference between being lost and found is a simple act of faith – believing in Jesus Christ!  How pious we become when we somehow think we are better than someone else because we are in relationship with Jesus!  The fact that we are in relationship with Jesus ought to embolden us to engage the community around us and share the good news of Jesus’ amazing love and grace!  How do we do this?  We build relationships with people who God has placed in our path (co-workers, fellow students, gas station attendant, Taco Bell employee, Starbuck’s server, etc.).  As we genuinely love those around us, opportunities will arise where we can share our testimony, our story, of how Jesus has changed our lives.  It is through relationship that God created man; it is through relationship that God sent His Son Jesus to save this world; it is through relationship that Jesus died for you and me; it is through relationship where Jesus came into your life and changed you; and it will be through relationship where each lost soul on earth will have an opportunity to begin a faith relationship with Jesus to change their eternal path.

Jesus has one plan for the salvation of this world – The Church (ALL followers of Jesus).  Jesus poured into 12 men…upon His resurrection and ascension to heaven He set them loose with one goal in mind – get into relationship with people in your path, share the good news of Jesus’ incredible gift of grace, and help others on the path do the same!  Here is Jesus’ commission to His disciples, and in turn His commission for us as The Church:

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go – our commission to get into people’s lives and build relationships…you can’t build a relationship unless you are willing to go.

Baptize – as relationships are built we share our story of how Jesus changed our lives.  This is where people have an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus’ gift of grace and respond to that Good News by accepting that gift and beginning a relationship with Jesus.  When the topic of baptism is brought up we must also understand that water baptism is simply a public profession of one’s new relationship with Jesus – one next step in our faith journey proclaiming we belong to Jesus!  Though it is important to make that public proclamation, water baptism in and of itself is not a requirement of salvation.

Teach – we walk alongside those new in relationship with Jesus, helping them understand grace and showing them how to go into the world and begin making disciples through relationships.

“Go, Baptize and Teach” is the method Jesus commissioned us to make disciples who will learn to make disciples – this is how the world can be changed by a group of 12 men who passed it on to us!

Local churches and fellow believers; it’s far past time for The Church to come together and love one-another as we love those far from God.  When those far from God see how ridiculous individual church congregations treat one-another, they see the hypocrisy and want nothing to do with us!  When people see how critical “religious” people are in their comments or posts on social media as well in their arguments in the public square, why would we expect them to want join our mission let alone follow the One we say we follow?  God doesn’t want us to argue with people who think differently than we do.  No-one has been argued into the Kingdom!  Jesus wants us to love people who don’t know Him and get into relationship with people far from Him!  Only then will we have an opportunity to share the things that truly matter in this life!  People will want to know the One we follow when we actually reflect the One we follow!  So go out and show His love and grace to those around you – just as Jesus has extended His love and grace to you!  And cheer on the local congregations of people in your community who are reaching people for Jesus…the heavens explode with a party every time one sinner accepts salvation through Jesus.  Let’s join in that cheering and reach everyone together!

 

I’ve often heard people say something along the lines of this:  “God just wants me to be happy”, usually followed by a description of destructive behaviors and possibly life altering choices.  Like the twisted deception that Satan gave to Eve in the garden – “Did God really say….” – this lie is still one of Satan’s favorite tools to deceive believers in this more recent culture of the selfie.  Unfortunately, God’s desire for joy in our lives has been misinterpreted into thinking that He wants us to enjoy the worldly desires that can only give us a brief and false sense of happiness which is fleeting on this earth.  However, God’s true desire for us to enjoy this life has nothing to do with us being happy!  No, His desire for our joy in this life comes from our holiness – something we cannot attain on our own!

a941142fac974423a22cc060c11e4aa5-1

So, can we obtain true happiness (or pure joy) from worldly desires?  I don’t believe we can…yet, this is one of the ways Satan tries to trip up believers – if he can’t take away our eternal security, he darn sure will try to make us turn our backs on the true joy that we can only obtain through God’s character and His purpose for our lives.  Finding ourselves within His will is how we obtain the joy we read about in the Scriptures.  The feeling of happiness that Satan tries to make people believe is good is what Paul calls the worldly desires, or works of the flesh, that completely contradict God’s joy that we deep down desire more than anything!

Galatians 5:16-25 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

The litmus test is really pretty simple, but when we are lost in the moment we must step back and evaluate our thoughts and behaviors to see if they line up with the “works of the flesh” (which are from Satan) or the “fruit of the Spirit” (which comes from God).

To follow Jesus, and to obtain True Joy while we are here on earth, we must take every thought and behavior to task and see where it falls:

  • Thought or behavior from Satan – The works of the flesh – sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (You’ve seen people living in this mindset, and true happiness can never be found here…only destruction and pain)
  • Thought or behavior from God – The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (When you see someone with this fruit on them, it is a beautiful thing to see and to feel…unless Satan is feeding your mind with envy or jealousy – you know, those fleshly thoughts)

It may be hard to see in the moment, but as we step back and review our current life situations we will discover (if we are being honest with ourselves) either Satan has complete control of our lives or we have allowed God to lead our lives.  If we choose Satan (and it is a choice), our relationships and lives will end in a miserable death – after all, Satan is the father of lies and his lies always lead to death:

John 8:44 – You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

But, when we choose God, our relationships, choices, desires, and path will be led with an exceedingly abundant joy that can only  come from our Father in Heaven.  That kind of joy can only be known when we have accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord and choose to repent of the desires of our flesh (sin) while standing firm on the belief that God has a plan for our lives, and that plan will always reflect God’s good and perfect character.  He desires that we live a life that reflects the nature of His Son, Jesus, and anything less is simply our flesh giving in to Satan.

Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking [fleshly desires] but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

God does not want us to be happy; He wants us to be Holy!  No, we cannot be perfect, but we can choose a Holy joy-filled life that only God can lead us to…a life and joy that reflects the One who gave His life for us!  And the immense joy that follows our desires for holiness can only be described as Miraculous!

 

judgmental-christian

Have you ever heard someone use a bible verse to, in the “Christian” way, rip someone else apart?  Scripture is often misused to let someone, or a group of someone’s, know that they are not living up to the self-righteous standards of an individual or group who is stating the verse, usually in a legalistic or Pharisaical manner.

As I was studying this week, something from the “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians popped off the page.  It almost appears to not even fit in this passage about love, and yet it is a common verse that I have heard people use to beat others down who don’t agree with them, who are new to the faith or even just checking the whole Jesus thing out…and it is used completely out of the context in which Paul places it within this chapter.  The verse is:

1 Corinthians 13:11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 

If I read this verse (11) with a law mind-set (where we have to keep all the rules for God to love and accept us) it is easy to pull this verse out of this chapter and pound someone else over the head with it, especially without the proper understanding of the passage (context) or the greater understanding of God’s love (grace).  However, this is a chapter on love, and Jesus personified love through His amazing gift of grace!  When reading scripture, we must read it through the eyes of grace, not condemnation!  First of all, scripture is to be used as a mirror, for the reader to develop a deeper relationship with God and gain understanding into His character.  It’s not to be used to tear others down!  Second, when interpreting what His word is meaning, you have to get the context of what the writer is saying.  Here, Paul is teaching that regardless of the gifts God has given each of us (1-2), the incredible faith we may possess (2), or the amazing generosity we may show (3), without love (defined in verses 4-7) we are nothing (2), gain nothing (3) and are just an annoyance to those around us who may be far from God (1)!

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 – 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

So, with an understanding of what love is through the lens of grace, we can read on and see that when completeness comes (10), that is when we move on to be with Jesus, all our abilities and limited knowledge we have gained through our own strength will disappear (8-10) and become complete through Him and His grace!

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 – 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 

Then we come to verse 11, the very verse I spoke of previously in this post.  Yet, in the context of what Paul is saying, as children we are self-centered and always trying to coerce others into believing and thinking what we believe and think based upon our limited understanding or knowledge.  As children, we tend to focus less on loving people and more on getting our way; less on meeting people’s needs and more on changing their minds; less on extending grace and more on passing condemnation.  You see the pattern?  It is a vicious cycle that can lead to the opposite of freedom that Jesus offers!

1 Corinthians 13:11- When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 

Check back next week for the conclusion of this post (Let It Be Love – Part 2) where we discover the pay off of in heeding Paul’s words and aligning our life with that of Grace through Jesus Christ!  Until then, read 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 and prepare your heart for grace and love through your life in Christ!

0alergic

Far too often, “Christians” are willing to talk amongst themselves while posting stuff about the things they don’t agree with or are completely against either in regards to faith or in the world in general, yet very few are willing to get into the lives of people far from God and introduce them to our Amazing Savior, the man who’s Grace is enough for all of us!  Many would rather make a point with their opinion rather than make an eternal difference in someone’s life…who do you want to be?

What if each of us, this week, would focus on being light to those who don’t know Him and stop posting or communicating any sort of negativity of the things we don’t like or agree with?  The world offers up more than enough negativity, but as followers of Jesus, we have the only real message that can offer up life and freedom!  Let’s live in that freedom and be people in whom those who don’t know Him yet want to be around and want to build relationships with that can lead to true Freedom that only Christ can offer.  The world has enough reasons not to follow Jesus, yet unfortunately those reasons have nothing to do with Jesus, mostly His followers!

Remember, Jesus spent a lot of time with people who were far from God, and shunned those stuck in their religious practices and law focused mindsets…and those people Jesus spent time with liked spending time with Him because Jesus loved them and wanted to be in relationship with them more than try to force Himself on them.  Jesus had every right to condemn people for their sin, yet He chose relationship over religion.  We must do the same if we ever want to become more like Him!  We choose relationship with God and with others while God changes us and them from the inside-out!  Without relationship, transformation can never happen!

The Grace Jesus offers requires absolutely nothing from us because, in Him, it is finished!  Once we truly understand this amazing gift of grace our response will be to love God and those around us because we are a new creation in Jesus – being transformed by Him and Him alone.  It is impossible to love those far from God if we are consistently focused on the stuff we don’t like or have negative opinions about (can be politics, sports, weather, movies, someone’s outfit, etc.)…we must be passionate about loving people far from Him and building relationships with them as we live out our lives in Christ and share Him with those far from Him!  If we are completely unattractive to people around us who don’t know Jesus how do we ever share the message that saved us?

If people are not attracted to the message we are sharing in the same way they were attracted to Jesus and the early church, it is likely they are not hearing the same message that Jesus and the early church was presenting…the Gospel is attractive and freeing!  Is the message we are sharing attracting people or repelling them?

Time for believers to stop arguing with other believers (or worse, while non-believers are in the picture) about individual opinions or bents and start loving one-other and more importantly loving people far from God…love, not opinion, is what our neighbor needs!  Let Grace do it’s work in our hearts as we extend grace to those around us – Grace breeds grace!  Every word we say matters and potentially has eternal consequences…make your words and actions count, and give God all the glory!

Matthew 12:35-37 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

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!

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!

 

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.

superstock_1150-1358-fbconversation-on-the-golf-course-posters

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

Web

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!

Capture

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?