Archive for the ‘Generous’ 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?

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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!

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!

 

Today as I was studying the Scriptures, a passage that is all too familiar struck a new chord with me.  Over the past couple years God has been pressing deeply within my heart an understanding of Grace, deeper than I have ever understood Grace at any point of my life!  I have been amazed at how many times throughout the Scriptures where Grace is extended through faith and faith alone.  You see, many teach that in order to be saved you must repent of all sin and turn from it, which sounds awesome but is completely unattainable in this life!  If it were possible, there would be no need of a Savior in the first place!  Jesus became sin and killed sin’s power in our lives when He died upon that cross.  Do we still sin?  Absolutely!  There is not a single person that has ever lived that has conquered sin’s grip and completely stopped sinning.  Not a single person except Jesus!  Yet, being perfect, He took all the sin of the world onto His shoulders and killed it’s control once and for all.  The only way we can defeat sin in our life is to accept in faith what Jesus did and know that He was raised from the dead, leaving sin in the grave, so that those of us who believe in Him can live eternally with Him.  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  How do you think this guy felt:

Luke 23:40-43 – But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him,“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

A criminal whose sin ran so deep it led to him being sentenced to death, yet in one magnificent moment he realized who Jesus really was (believed in Him), admitted that he deserved the punishment being giving for his own sin, and simply asked Jesus to remember him in paradise…to which Jesus remarkably tells this criminal he will be with Jesus upon death in paradise!  Grace given with no strings attached!  Each of us must simply admit we are sinful and lost without a Savior, believe in Jesus, that He is who He said He was, and we will be saved!  Our obedience to His will and plan for our lives can only come after we believe in Him.  There is no amount of cleaning up that we can ever do to be worthy of this free gift of salvation.  It is free for anyone who believes!

So I ask you, what do you believe?  Or better yet, in who are you placing your eternal destiny?  You may not understand or even believe some of the stories you have read about or heard from the Old Testament, and you may have some legitimate questions that you want answered, but Jesus said it best here:

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I know that many people try to offer up formulas or ways to be good enough, but Jesus made it so very simple that many will miss it looking for a deeper way, a harder way to live in peace forever with the Savior.  But it really is that easy!  Now, there will still be turmoil in our lives once we accept Jesus as our Savior.  Jesus addresses this as well:

John 16:33 -I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

You see, this time we have on earth is fleeting, a blip on the radar of eternity!  We will have tribulation (trouble or turmoil) while we are in this world, yet that trouble should never define us, it strengthens us as we realize that Jesus has overcome this world of sin and corruption, and we are continually growing in our reliance upon Him as His peace surpasses all understanding in the midst of the trial:

Philippians 4:7 -And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It is hard to comprehend, but the peace Paul writes about in Philippians 4:7 and Jesus speaks of in John 16:33 and also extends to the criminal next to Him in Luke 23:43 is available to us as well if we will simply believe in Jesus!  So, what is your next step?  If your next step is to believe, I pray you will simply pray to Jesus something like this:

“Jesus, I know I am a sinner in need of your grace and peace.  I believe that you came to earth from heaven and died for my sin and was raised to life so that we could live eternally with you in heaven, and have peace here on earth as we become your follower.  Thank you for you amazing love for me, in Jesus name, Amen!”

If you just said that simple prayer or something like it, and believe it in your heart, then welcome to the amazing life filled with grace and peace!  Please reach out to me or a local community of believers and let someone know of your decision!  We are not meant to navigate this faith life alone…we need to be in relationship with God and with others!  If you need help with next steps, or just want to share your incredible transformation story with me, click “Contact Rob” at the top of the page and lets start a conversation!  If you know someone who needs to hear this message of grace, please share!  You never know how God will use a few words to alter the course of someone’s life!

I am believing that God is going to do some amazing things in 2015 and God wants you to be part of His family changing the world through grace and peace!  Happy New Year!!!

John 21:15-17 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

 Many times when we read this passage of scripture we hone in on the fact that Peter has denied Christ and it reads like Jesus is calling him out and making sure, three times, that Peter gets it.  But what if this is really a call to Peter to stop playing “church” and start living it…stop wanting to be fed and start feeding others?  To stop following to gain more knowledge and understanding of Jesus and His message and start applying that message to his life and those around him?  I believe it is the same call Jesus is laying out to us right now!

Jesus is saying to Peter, and us – you say you love me; now show it by how you respond to that love – by making disciples.  Grace is a free gift and there is nothing you can do or say to gain it, yet as followers of Jesus our mission was never to be content with simply knowing Jesus and gaining more head knowledge about Him.  Our mission is to make disciples which takes the focus off of us and places it back where it belongs – on Jesus!

You see, Jesus knew that Peter was ready to begin changing the world (part of Jesus’ plan all along), yet he had to make a choice – since I have denied Jesus, I can wallow around in self pity and focus on me, me, me…or, I can choose to take what I know about this amazing Savior, and what I have learned from Him about love and grace, and share it with everyone I come in contact with from this day forward.  Thank God that Jesus challenged Peter to step out of the “feed me” mindset and into the life-changing world of making disciples!  The Church was born out of this not-so-subtle mind shift, and seems to be all but collapsing today because that mind shift has reversed!

His message for us is the same…as followers of Jesus it’s time for us to stop expecting to be fed by our local churches and start feeding ourselves.  It’s time to stop simply going to a church and start being The Church.   The local church is not a place for believers to come for primarily faith feeding.  The local church is there for community and deployment!  We build community with one-another and serve within the local church.  We are family, and family serves one-another well!  We also come together to be deployed to be a light in a world gone mad.  When members of local churches are inwardly focused, they become stagnant.  Serving and giving seldom happen at the level God desires because it’s not about Him anymore, it’s about us!  What a sad place for a believer to be – so inwardly focused that they miss the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many!

If you ever start thinking that your life in Christ is about you, you need to step back and realize it has never been about you…it has and always will be about Jesus!  Let’s lead our lives as though that were true…because it is!  Living for Christ and serving others by extending His love, mercy and grace is how followers are to respond to His love – feed and follow:

John 21:19b  And after saying this He said to him, “Follow me.” …and history continues! 

In Part 1 of this post on Let It Be Love, we discovered how Paul placed in the context of the “Love Chapter” an idea that, at the surface, doesn’t seem to fit the mold of love…putting away childish things.  Not that is doesn’t make sense, but that it is often misquoted as a way to tear others down instead of build them up.  Yet in full content of Paul’s message, he is saying that in the context of Grace and Love, we must put away self-righteousness and self-centeredness in order to grasp the love and grace that Jesus offers and expects us to pass along!

So, Paul continues on in verse 12 with the pay off!  When we put aside those childish ways of thinking, allowing His love and grace to flow through us to those around us, we begin to see His reflection in our own lives (12)…we begin, in part, to love like Jesus loved and reflect a little more of His character and actions in our own lives!  We get a glimpse of what we will know fully once we are in the presence of our Savior!

1 Corinthians 13:12For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

This chapter ends with a bang, driving home the point that love is what the follower of Jesus must default to in relationship with the people around each of us.

1 Corinthians 13:13 – And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

You see, with the Grace of God as the True North in our navigational compass, extending grace in love to others becomes a natural response to the free gift of eternal life that Christ offers us – what an amazing gift of grace!

As God continues to mold my faith and relationship with Him, my understanding and application of grace has increased ten-fold – yet there is so much more to learn about that amazing gift of grace that only Jesus can fully offer us!

A song that has a special place in my heart and deep meaning for how God is teaching me right now is a song from the group Family Force 5 called “Let It Be Love”.  I feel this song shares so much Truth and nails grace and love like few others!  Enjoy this song and lyrics below for a great word picture of Grace, and let Love through Grace lead your relationships with everyone around you!  Grace and peace to all!


 

FAMILY FORCE 5

“Let It Be Love”

I’ve never seen a soul set free
Through an argument
I’ve never seen a hurt get healed
In a protest
But I’ve seen sinners turned to saints
Because of grace
It’s love, love that lights the way
Love that lights the way

<Chorus>

Let it be our arms wide open
Bigger than the words we’ve spoken
Let it be a heart for the broken
If we’re gonna light, light
Light the way
Let it be love, let it be love, yeah
Nothin’ but love, nothin’ but love, yeah
Let it be love, let it be love, yeah
It’s love that lights the way

It’s not about the stand we take
But the grace we give
It’s not about the name we make
But the life we live
Heard about a King who sat down
Took my place
True love gave His life away
It’s love that lights the way

<Chorus>

Stronger than every fear
Comfort for all the tears
It’s where the war is run
And it has overcome
Louder than the loudest shout
Deeper than the deepest doubt
We’ll watch the walls fall down
We’ll watch the walls fall down

<Chorus>

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!

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!

 

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

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

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

 

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!

god vs satan_thumb[6]

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?