Category Archives: Loving and Serving

Comfort and Joy

Lately it seems like a lot of people – friends, family and co-workers – in my life need encouragement.  And I find myself often reassuring and supporting them through life’s difficulties.  Today I am re-posting on of my earliest post I wrote for this blog.  It’s about how my father – and My Father – have supported and encouraged me throughout life.  However, I want to offer something else.  Sometimes, even though we know that our Father loves us, we need to hear audible words and we need arms with “skin on” to hug us.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, that is why the Bible calls the Church His “BODY.”  We are literally His arms and feet and mouth.  He uses us to encourage, help, support, inspire and cheer others.  Paul spoke about this in his letter to the Corinthian church.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.   (2Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV)

 We are comforted by God and are able to comfort others.  That’s how it works.  So my point today is simple.  Be comforted and offer comfort and joy to others in your life.  Goodness knows they need it.

So here is my re-post:

Running Like the Wind                                                                                                                                 July 1, 2011

I was never what you would call athletic.  The only shape I was ever in was round.  And that cliché about never getting picked for a team on the playground really was true.  I did run track when I was in junior high school.  I wasn’t very good.  But I did come in second in one of my races.  Of course, there were only two of us running.  I remember one race especially well.  The team had travelled somewhere for this race.  It was in an armory with the spectator seats in a balcony.  I was part of a four man relay.  I was the third leg.  We were third place when the baton was passed to me.  I took it and ran like the wind.  I’m not sure why, but that day everything was working well.  I was running fast.  I made up time.  I got us into first place.  It was a thing of beauty.  It felt great.  Unfortunately, the anchor runner fell behind and we lost.  It didn’t matter, I was feeling good.  But the best part about that day was that my parents and my sister were there to watch.  After the race my sister was telling me that as they watched the race, my Dad was jumping up and down at the railing cheering me on, encouraging me with his shouts.  She said she thought he was going to fall over the railing.

I have always treasured that story, that memory, especially because it so closely parallels the way our heavenly Father feels about us.    At least that is how it feels to me.  This great God, all-powerful, majestic and apart, still sees me.  Me! Imagine that.  He wants me to succeed at this Christian life.  He enjoys my victories and finds ways to encourage me.  He doesn’t give up on me because I’m not very good at stuff.  He cheers me on through my race in life.  Not only that but God has the desire and ability to actually empower me to live the life he wants for me.  He provides both the encouragement and the strength.

Unlike those kids on the playground, God actually chose me.  He looked down the corridors of time and said, “I’ll take Albert.  You’re on my team now.”  Wow, how great is that!   It wasn’t because I was especially handsome (although I am quite good-looking – in a short, balding kind of way), or smart or spiritual or holy or anything special.  He chose me because He wanted to.  That makes me feel special.  To know that God wants me to win and roots for me is one of the great milestones on my Journey to the Center of the Soul.

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Loving United

Last Sunday a city-wide worship event occurred in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan.  It was called One Worship.  It was the opening event of a week-long outreach effort into all corners of our city by a coalition of over 50 area churches (Jesus Loves Kalamazoo).  As I walked the festival grounds, I saw old and young, tall and short, skinny and not-skinny,  white, Asian, black and Latino.  I saw tattoos and piercings, khakis and polo shirts.    What I didn’t see were Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians or non-denominational.  I saw instead a great and diverse crowd of people all gathered for only one purpose – to worship Christ.  All of them “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  I have to say it was remarkable and uplifting.  It was encouraging to know that differences could be set aside in order to pursue God’s priorities.  To me it was the fullest demonstration of Christ’s prayer for His people when He prayed,

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

We so often hear of partisan bickering and divisions, arguments and even lawsuits.  Many have bought into an Us vs. Them mentality, but it seems to me that God is doing something new by gathering His people together in unity – not in sameness – so that the world may believe in Jesus.  This is exciting and it’s happening.  It’s possible and real.  And I think it will continue to happen, not only here but throughout our country and around the globe.  It’s time to be His Church, instead of our churches.  After all, as Paul says,

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all ” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

So, be encouraged.  Pray that this movement continues to spread.  Pray that it will break out in revival, that thousands and millions will come to know Christ.  And be glad that we are alive in this time to see this happen.

I’ve attached a link to a 3 minute video describing Jesus Loves Kalamazoo.  Be blessed.

http://vimeo.com/64135570

What Just Four Word Can Tell You

Is it really possible to accurately evaluate the condition of our hearts? What I mean is that it is far too simple to fool ourselves into thinking we are doing fine. We gauge our spiritual state by how we feel at the moment and justify our actions based on those feelings. The problem, of course, is that our feelings are an unreliable measure of our true condition. I ran across a story in the Gospel of Luke that, I think, can help us assess the condition of our spiritual lives. It’s the story of Martha and Mary, and in this story there are four words that reveal Martha’s heart.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)

“Lord, don’t you care.” These four words are a mind-boggling indictment of the character of Christ. Martha is actually accusing Jesus of thoughtlessness, of unkindness, almost of negligence. In the heat of the moment, she faults Him for abandoning her, misunderstanding her and being unwilling to look after her needs. She is frustrated with Him and disgruntled. And that is the most telling moment in this story. You see, she was merely trying to get some food together for the crowd in her house. All she was trying to do was serve Christ, but she was getting no help. “Why didn’t Jesus appreciate all she was trying to do for Him,” she probably thought to herself. So she lashes out at Him and sweeps her sister Mary into her rant. Everybody else is at fault in her mind and it’s just not fair and God doesn’t care about me!

Most of us would not be so bold as to speak so directly and accusingly to Christ. Some of us do. But I have no doubt that whether we verbalize our feelings so directly or not, most of us have probably felt this way. In the midst of our service to Him, we feel that our efforts are not fully supported or appreciated by the Lord or by anyone else.

Jesus’ response to Martha cuts to the heart of her problem. “You are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary.” You see, it wasn’t what Martha was doing that was the problem, it was her priorities. She was acting on her own strength, her own plans, her own expectations. She thought she was serving Jesus, when, in fact, she was pursuing her own plans and her own ideas of what that meant. This lead to anxiety. And it lead to anger. And it lead to being disgruntled. And it lead to lashing out. She was distracted by all her activity instead of listening for His priorities. That’s what Mary was doing.

So my point is not that we should all be sitting in a monastery or convent, only praying and reading the Bible. The fact is that there is a lot of “stuff” to get done on a daily basis. There are a lot of practical, day-to-day activities that need to be done. But it’s how we do those things that matters. In the midst of our activity are we missing out on those moments of connection with Him. Do we let Him in to our daily lives, as we drive here and there, as we mow the lawn or do the dishes? We don’t need to be “anxious and troubled,” instead we need to keep focused on the one necessary thing – listening for His voice. So if you find yourself saying or thinking those four words – Lord, don’t you care? – stop and regroup. Have you lost connection with Him? Have you gotten distracted and anxious about all activities in your life? Are you discontented and lashing out? Are you pursuing your own ideas of what the Christian life should look like? Of course He cares! We just need to slow down long enough to hear Him say it to us.

In His Zone

I’ve always been so impressed with world class athletes, especially Olympic athletes.  These men and women are singularly focused on their sport.  It seems that they eat, sleep and dream their sport.  They know what they have to do.  They know their goal.  They have a mission and they surround themselves with like-minded individuals who share their passion.  There is a story in the gospel of Luke that shows us the focus that Jesus had.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51-55, ESV)

I love the phrase, “he set his face.”  Jesus was totally focused on what He had to do.  He knew His goal.  He knew He was on a mission.  He knew that the salvation of the entire world rested on the completion of His fate in Jerusalem.  He knew that the ultimate goal was not His death, but His victory over death in resurrection.  And, since He told His disciples THE PLAN, He expected them to share the same passion – to see people saved, not condemned.

That is why it is so interesting to me to see James’ and John’s reaction to the Samaritan’s rejection.  They literally wanted to smoke them, to call down fire from heaven!  Wow! Feel the love!  They obviously were not on board with Jesus’ priorities or passion.  At this stage, they still did not get it.  They were more concerned about being “offended” and defending the Lord’s “reputation” than extending grace.  They were all about judgment and condemnation.  They were all about protecting their group from those who were not like them.   I like to call these types of people, “Holy Smokers,” not because they smoke cigarettes, but because they like to see people burn.

But Jesus rebukes them.  Some ancient Greek manuscripts add the phrase, “and he said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.’ ” So even though this phrase may be debated by scholars, the idea it portrays is consistent with Jesus’ mission.  He wanted people saved. John’s and James’ attitude was not consistent with that goal.  Unfortunately, there are still Holy Smokers in our day- groups, churches or individuals who seem gleeful when bad things happen to “sinners.”  Groups that like to go around and make sure others know just how much God hates them and can’t wait to send them to hell.

Really?!  Does this reflect the heart of Christ to a fallen world?  Would He even have bothered to leave heaven to die an excruciating death for sinners if He was just going to send them to hell anyway?   I don’t think so.  Jesus was laser-focused on what He came to do and getting it done.  He was not going to allow anyone to distract Him or sidetrack Him.  He was in the zone.  Actually, He still is in that same zone – saving, not condemning.  But more importantly, He wants us to be in His zone, to pursue passionately the revelation of His heart for the lost and for the sinner.

Is the End Near?

I’ve been thinking about the “end of the world” lately, or, more precisely, the return of Christ.  The topic has been in the news lately and I’ve been given a few books on the subject over the last 6 months or so.  I have felt that I have always been out of step with the traditional stream of thinking on the end times, so let me share some of my thoughts.  No doubt I may offend some of my readers, and I would welcome differing opinions.

The expectation of Christ’s imminent return has been common since New Testament times.  Indeed, even Paul expected Christ to return within his lifetime.  It was not to be.  From my reading it seems that Christians in every place and every century have predicted His return within their lifetimes, that the signs of the times clearly pointed to the right conditions for the coming Judgment Day.  Still we wait – expectantly – but wait we must.  Genuine and sincere believers postulate various models of the end time events and timelines.  We marshal our favorite passages from Revelation or Daniel or the other prophets to bolster our eschatology, while simultaneously dismissing, or worse, rejecting others who hold differing beliefs.  We are more concerned about building our model than building each other up.  Many live in the shadow of His coming and yet don’t live any differently than the world around them.

Yet in all the discussion about the end time events and all the predictions about its proximity and the required activities that the Church should be engaged in to hasten its arrival, it seems to me we miss one very important condition that Christ declared must be met before He comes.  In the middle of His end time teaching found in the Gospel of Mathew He says,

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mathew 24:14, ESV)

Regardless of the timing of the rapture, tribulation, millennial reign, abomination of desolation, or any other favorite concept, one thing must happen – all nations must hear the gospel.  The word “nation” here does not mean political boundaries but people groups.  All the tribes and peoples in the world must hear the gospel.  This is an absolute condition.  In fact, it is clear from the picture John paints of heaven that this must happen.  Listen:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 5:9-10, ESV)

There will be representatives from all people groups of the earth worshipping Christ.  So fulfilling this condition is a must.  The end will not and cannot come until this realized.

And yet do we believe this?  How many of us or our churches are focused on ensuring this happens?  How many among those who analyze prophecies and correlate them to current events actively pursue proclaiming the Kingdom to every nation? Are we so enamored with His Second Coming that we forget the reason for His First Coming – to save the world?  Yes it’s true that we long for Him.  We groan for the restoration of the world.  The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come Lord Jesus.”  Yet the need is great and the Bride needs to stop planning her wedding feast and instead start inviting the guests.

So what does this mean practically?  At the very least, we must be praying, praying for the unreached people groups.  To that end I would recommend the website www.OperationWorld.org.   Pray for any missionaries or mission organizations working to reach these groups.  Pray for what else God may be calling you to do to hasten Christ’s return.  Finally, pray that our hearts would resonate with His heart for the people He loves and for whom Christ gave His life.  Can we do any less?  Yes, Christ will return, but not until we obey His call.  The rest of the details pale in comparison.

Doing the Same Stuff He Did

The thought is almost overwhelming.  It seems so out of reach that I find myself not even trying.  In fact, I don’t even try to try.  It is simply not possible for me – ME – to do anything like what Jesus did, despite what He promised to His followers:

The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.

How can that be possible?  The “same works?”  “Greater works?”  I don’t see it.  I don’t see it happening around my city.  I don’t see it happening in my life.  Nobody seems to be doing anything close to what Jesus did.  So I have a problem.  Either Jesus lied or I am missing something…  I think I’ll go with the “I’m missing something” option.   Now what?

So I went back to the beginning of Jesus’ mission as described by Luke in his gospel:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 This is what Jesus said of Himself and of His mission.  This is the “same works” He was refering to.  If it was possible for Him to proclaim good news, or set at liberty the oppressed, it should also be possible, even expected, for me.  But the key to making that possible is found in these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”  You see, the same Holy Spirit that indwelt Christ, lives in me.  The same access that Jesus had to all the wisdom, power, guidance that the Spirit provided is also available to me.  I know it’s easy to say that it doesn’t really apply to us because Jesus was divine.  Well, I’ve always understood that while Jesus was on earth, He set aside His divinity (don’t ask me how) and lived as a man, a human.  So He had to be dependant on the Holy Spirit just like we do. 

This is what is so exciting.  I, even I, can live like Jesus, following and listening to the Holy Spirit as He moves in and around my life.  I can proclaim good news as I write my blog, teach on Sunday morning, lead devotionals with a group of teenagers, have lunch with a co-worker.  It is possible to help those oppressed and burdened by the enemy or by their past or fears find liberty.  I can be the one who can bring sight to the blind – spiritually or physically.  All these things are possible, not because I have some special power or am exceptionally holy, but because the Holy Spirit lives in me.  All I need to do is listen.  The poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed are all around me and Jesus continues to speak into their lives, He’s just chosing to use me to do it.  All I can say is, “Wow!” 

Oh wait, one more thing!  He’s chosen you too.  Listen…the Holy Spirit is talking to you.

The Art of Judging Others

“Judge not, that ye be not judged” is probably the most oft-quoted scripture verse, perhaps even surpassing John 3:16.  And, I would guess, equally quoted by Christian and non-Christian as a weapon to deflect criticism.  What this person is actually saying when they quote these words of Jesus is, “Let me do what I want without being held accountable or making me feel badly about myself.  I don’t want to face my own sinfulness so don’t point it out to me.”  In fact, they want to continue in their chosen behavior and not be condemned by others, especially Christians, whom they regard as hypocritical.  So faced with Jesus’ very words, we back off and let them go on.  “It’s true,” we think to ourselves, “who am I to judge.  I am no better.”  And we walk away cowed into accepting almost any behavior.

But I think we’ve missed the point of Jesus’ instruction and have become so myopic in applying this verse that we have lost the bigger picture.  The problem is confusion about the word “judge.”  If you look at the parallel passage in chapter 6 of the gospel of Luke, Jesus is quoted as saying,

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

 I think the point of Jesus’ instruction was to keep us from condemning another person.  Condemnation is really an evaluation of the other’s heart and it pronounces the other person as morally or spiritually defective and flawed.  By condemning we immediately elevate ourselves to a position of superiority over them.  We actually usurp God’s prerogative.  When a person says, “Don’t judge me,” they are rightly asking not to be condemned.  However, that does not mean that we are forced to accept any behavior or teaching that comes along under the guise of Christianity. As one commentator says, “Jesus is not calling to a universal acceptance of any lifestyle or teaching.  The Christian is called to unconditional love, but he is not called to unconditional approval. We really can love people who do things we do not approve of.”

There’s the challenge – to judge without being judgmental.   It is possible, even necessary, for Christians to evaluate – to judge if you will – the fruit of a person’s word and actions to determine whether they are consistent with the Gospel message.  It is acceptable to approach another person and challenge their conformity to God’s word, not from a position of self-importance, haughtiness or condescension but humbly, graciously and mercifully.  Perhaps there is a misunderstanding or a difference in application of the Christian walk that can be cleared up.  It is possible to differ with another and yet both be genuinely biblically based.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds them that those who had differing views on “meat sacrificed to idols” are still to be considered genuine brethren and not be condemned.  The same principle can be applied today to multiple situations, views and practices.  Right after Jesus says, “Judge not…” we read in the rest of that passage in Matthew,

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

The point is not that we cannot or should not take the “speck” out of our brother’s eye, but that first we must deal with the “log” in ours. 

Not condemning another Christian does not mean simply accepting sinful behavior.   The unapologetic must be held accountable.  The immoral must not be tolerated.  The “fruit” of a person’s life must be evaluated and action taken, especially if they call themselves Christians.  Later in Matthew chapter 7, Jesus instructs us to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”  We must be able to judge – to discern and evaluate – in order to recognize the fruit.  And in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says,

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

Paul expects the Church to judge those within the church.  So, how are we to understand our “judgeship?”  Here’s what I think.  First, there is never a place for us to condemn another believer.  We must remain humble and gracious in all our relationships.  Second, we must evaluate whether a clear principle of Christian behavior or teaching is being violated.  Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean that what you are doing is unbiblical.  We must allow our brethren the freedom to pursue God in a way that is genuine and up-building, but biblically sound.  Finally, if the fruit of a person’s life is clearly inconsistent with the Christian walk, then we must challenge them (if we are able) and if they remain unrepentant we must refuse further interaction with them.  However, I would certainly pray for God’s intervention and mercy.  No one is beyond God’s grace.

I understand that this short post barely scratches the surface of this complicated and important topic, but my hope is that it would make you think.  Perhaps start a conversation, but can’t simply ignore it.  You may disagree or think I’ve missed something.  I would love to hear from you.