Thursday, September 27, 2018

FORGIVENESS


Colossians 3:13
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

                The climate in our nation today is one of unforgiveness. The current trend is to openly criticize and condemn. Instead of trying to build people up in a positive way, we are looking for ways to cut people down. This is not confined to one group; it is an epidemic that has infected most of our public discourse. As followers of Christ, how are we to respond?

                There are several passages of scripture that speak directly to this situation. The first is Matthew 7:1-5.
                "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
                "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

                Jesus made it clear that taking a condemning stance toward others only makes matters worse. He reminds us that the way we treat others will dictate how they respond to us. It seems that people are oblivious to this fact today. They openly criticize others, yet are offended when they are criticized in return. Jesus called for honest self-evaluation before a person tried to correct another. There are things in everyone of our lives for which we need forgiveness. By taking an honest look in the mirror, we will approach others with greater humility and compassion.

                At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus stressed just how important forgiveness really is.
                Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
                For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:12,14-15

                Jesus sets a condition upon our receiving forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. The measure of forgiveness that we can receive is directly in proportion to the measure of forgiveness we offer to others. In one sense God’s forgiveness toward us in Christ is unconditional. Yet, in a practical way, we will continue to live under the weight of our sin if we are unwilling to forgive others. Why is this true? Because unforgiveness is a sin in itself. And as John tells us in 1 John 1:9, we receive forgiveness of our sins when we honestly confess them to God. An unwillingness to forgive others is in reality holding onto our sin. Therefore, God cannot forgive what we are unwilling to admit and relinquish.

                Paul picked up the practical application of what Jesus was teaching in his letter to the Colossians. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13) Our response to others is to stand in stark contrast to how the World responds. Just as God has offered us His amazing grace, we are offer that same grace to others. Instead of holding onto our resentments and offenses, we are to bear with the frailty of others and forgive them. Then just to make his point crystal clear, he states that we are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. There is not wiggle room here for holding onto our grievances. Jesus knows all about us and yet has forgiven us. He calls us to do the same for one another.

                Peter reminds us that Jesus’ words were not idealistic chatter. Jesus lived them out to the very end of His earthly life. When Jesus was unjustly condemned, He did not lash out at His enemies. Instead He forgave them.

                When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:23-24)


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

CONFESSIONS OF A DOER


Luke 10:41-42
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

                Since I was in Jr. High School, I thought of myself as a relational person. I spent my summers working as a counselor at a summer camp. I went on two mission trips. I was actively involved with our Christian Service Brigade group at church. I assumed that I was a people-oriented person. Then I took my first personality inventory and, to my surprise, I discovered that I am a task-oriented person. I am much more of a doer than a relater.

                It wasn’t that long ago that I finally realized that I am project driven. I am motivated by short-term, well-defined projects. Give me a specific task and I am on it. I am not great at maintaining things over the long haul. Even though I thrive on routine, I bog down when it comes to sustaining routine objectives that require on-going energy and enthusiasm.

                Being naturally task-oriented, I have had to work hard at being genuinely relational. Some people are naturally relational. They effortlessly enter into other people’s lives with joy and enthusiasm. They are energized by connecting with people; all people. I know a person who, placed into a room of strangers, would connect with everyone of them before the evening was over. I would be fortunate to connect in a meaningful way with one or maybe two people in the room.

                Leith Anderson once told me that we are all like Legos. Each of us has a certain number of snap-on points. When our snap-on points are full we cannot add any more relationships. I have a limited number of snap-on points. Therefore, I have had to work very hard at connecting with people. God has been very gracious to me, and has allowed me to develop a number of close, significant friendships over the years, but I will never be the relational magnet that some others are.

                Being a doer, I am most comfortable working on a specific project. If I can manage the task on my own, all the better. One of the huge growing edges for me has been learning to work with others in meaningful ways. It takes more time. It is not always the most efficient. It is often messy. But I know that it is what God wants from me. We have not been created to travel through life as a solo. We were created to live in relationship with God and with one another.

                One of the problems that we face is that we live in a world were doing is valued over being. If a person is not busy doing something, they are wasting their time. We fill our lives with activities at the expense of genuine relationships. What is true of the world is true of the church as well. We value programs over people. We equate busyness with effectiveness. We have become a tribe of doers.

                Currently, I am in a position where my prime task right now is building relationships. Building relationships takes time. So, I have been internally struggling with the sense that I should be doing something, when what I really need to do is slow down and genuinely relate to people.

                Martha is often given a hard time for being task oriented instead of people oriented. What Martha was doing was necessary. She did it out of love for Jesus. She genuinely wanted to serve. Her real problem was that, instead of serving with joy, she served with resentment. Why can’t Mary be as task-oriented as I am? There is work to be done. She is wasting time!!! Does any of that sound familiar? The issue is not what Martha was doing, but how she was feeling on the inside; her attitude. Mary took the time to be with Jesus. Martha was missing the chance to really be with Jesus, because her attitude had become a barrier.

                I genuinely love Jesus and want to serve Him. But I tend to measure my commitment to Christ by what I do more than who I am becoming. I can fall into the trap of trying to impress Christ with all that I am doing for Him when what He wants is for me to walk with Him. I value the task, He values the relationship. The two are not mutually exclusive. As James reminds us in James 1:22 we need to be doers of the Word. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22) Jesus said that if we really love Him we will obey (do) what He commanded. So, what does Jesus want us to do, above everything else?  "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31)
                 
                All of us need to understand who we are. We need to balance our doing with our being. We need to be faithful at the task, while, at the same time, being intentional about developing the relationship. Each of us will naturally gravitate in one direction or the other. If you are task-oriented, like me, you will have to work harder at building relationships. If you are people-oriented, you will have to work harder at accomplishing the task. Bottomline, the most important thing is not what are we doing, but who are we becoming in Christ.

Philippians 3:7-11
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

THE POWER OF OUR WORDS


1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

                                I can remember the experience like it was yesterday. I was a first grader at Chester Elementary School and I was eager to please my teacher. I was full of energy and excitement; so much so that it was hard for me to contain it. So, every time the teacher would ask a question of the class, I would blurt out an answer. I wouldn’t raise my hand, or wait to be called on, I would just speak up. Patiently the teacher would remind me to raise my hand and wait to be called upon, but I just didn’t get the message. One day, she had had enough. After another outburst of enthusiasm from me, I found myself sitting out in the hallway. I was ashamed and humiliated. Something changed within me at that moment and I stopped volunteering answers. I stopped raising my hand. I answered the teacher only if I was specifically called upon to do so. In essence, I retreated into a shell. I didn’t risk volunteering an answer again until I was in college. The power of that teacher’s words stayed with me for a very long time.

                It wasn’t until many years later that I came to grips with what had happened in me. I went from being eager and ready to engage to a person who timidly waited for permission from others before I acted. It is a trait that I still fight against today. The approval or disapproval of others can be a powerful motivator in our lives.

                When I was thirteen, I went to Christian Service Brigade summer camp for the first time. Each night we would gather around the large campfire circle. We would sing songs and listen to a devotional talk from one of the leaders. On Wednesday of that week, the speaker talked about being sure of our salvation. Something powerful stirred within me and I stayed after the campfire to talk with the leader. He prayed with me and an overpowering sense of relief and assurance flooded my soul. I determined right there that I would come back the next summer, not as a camper, but as a worker.

                When the time came, I signed up to work in the kitchen for the five weeks of Brigade camp that next summer. I was instructed to come a week early for staff training, so with a fair measure of fear and apprehension, I showed up at camp. The director, Charlie Steward, greeted me as I arrived and informed me that I had not been assigned to work in the kitchen, but that I had been assigned to be a junior counselor in a cabin. I was shocked, but being the compliant that I am, I accepted my new assignment. That experience launched me into an amazing adventure that lasted all the way into my college years. It was during that time that I clearly heard God’s call on my life; all because Charlie said that I had more to offer than washing dishes in the dining hall.

                I sat in the coffee shop at Bethel Seminary across the table from Janette Bakke and Dan Erwin. I had enrolled at Bethel in the Master of Christian Education track. My intention was to be a medical missionary, working as a Medical Technologist in a hospital in Haiti, and working with children. Being an introvert, I thought that this was the best way for me to serve God and still stay in the shadows. Janette was one of my Christian Education professors and Dan was one of the preaching professors. On that occasion, they both told me that I should explore more preaching. They were challenging me to move from Christian Education into pastoral ministry. That made me very uncomfortable, but I felt God’s tug on my heart, and I made the switch. That conversation changed the direction of my life in profound ways.

                We don’t always realize the power of our words. At the moment our words may seem insignificant to us, yet might make a profound difference in someone else’s life. Our words have the power to discourage a person and send them into a defensive shell. Our words have the power to encourage someone to break out of their defensive shell. Our words have the power to challenge someone to take a God-sized risk.

                I attended a reunion of the summer staff from Stony Glen Camp after I was already in full-time ministry. A young man came up to me and told me that I had been his junior counselor when he had attended camp as a young boy. Then he thanked me for my encouraging words to him. Because of what I had said to him, he had decided to pursue full-time ministry. I didn’t remember the conversation he referred to, but he did, and it made a profound difference in his life.

                Three times in the New Testament we are specifically instructed to encourage one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11
    Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

 Hebrews 3:13
    But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

Hebrews 10:25
    Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

                The focus of each of these passages is to intentionally strengthen the faith of others. There are so many things in our world that discourage us and tear us down. As followers of Christ, we need to actively build one another up, in the Lord. This is not artificially boosting someone’s ego, but genuinely building up their confidence in Christ. This concept of encouraging others is emphasized in several other passages as well. The point is brought home clearly in Ephesians 4:29. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

                Andy Stanley, in his book “Visioneering”, reminds us that we have the power to cast a vision in the lives of others with our words. We can cast a negative vision that can cripple a person or we can cast a positive vision that will empower a person. Our words are powerful. We need to use them wisely, carefully, and intentionally.     



Tuesday, September 11, 2018

UNITY


Ephesians 4:1-6
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

                Unity is an essential part of every healthy church. Without unity a church cannot move forward in any meaningful or fruitful way. Unity is something everyone desires, but we do not always follow the path to genuine unity. Instead, we settle for something less that what God wants for us. There are two common paths that churches follow that give the impression of unity on the surface, but fall short of the reality of unity.

                The first is uniformity. Uniformity focuses on the externals. It is a form of unity without the substance. Uniformity requires everyone to conform to a specific pattern. This often comes out in the form of the way we dress, the way we speak, the way we act in public. A prime example of this is found in the Amish community. But many churches fall into this trap. Uniformity leads to a checklist faith that is more about following external rules than following Christ. The Pharisees were trapped in uniformity. Uniformity can hide the real condition of a person’s heart and lead to arrogance and self-righteousness. Uniformity makes no allowance for a difference of opinion or approach to life. There is no compromise in uniformity.

                The second is unity at all costs. This is where unity itself becomes the goal. It is not unity in Christ, it is unity in unity. Therefore, we have to lower our standards and find the lowest common denominator. Unity at all costs values the fa├žade of unity over the real substance of unity. Unity at all costs always leads to compromise, usually in the area of faith, theology, and moral values. Unity at all costs takes a live and let live attitude. This is the kind of unity we see promoted in our world today. Let’s all just coexist and not make waves. Unity at all costs refuses to deal with difficult issues and is unwilling to confront others when they are engaging in inappropriate things.

                Paul gives us a snapshot of what genuine unity looks like. First and foremost, our unity is in Christ. We are the body of Christ and each of us has a place. Our unity must be centered on the truth of the Gospel. Genuine unity not only allows for diversity, but celebrates it in the right way. Each of us has been uniquely created and gifted by God. God wants to take all of our uniqueness and put us together as one body. Paul illustrated that in 1 Corinthians 12. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12

                Genuine unity is practical not theoretical. Paul tells us to live a life worthy of our calling in Christ. Then he goes on to explain what he means. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Our lives should reflect the life of Christ within us. That means that we seek the best for one another, while at the same time we hold one another accountable for the way we live out our faith.

                Paul stresses that unity in the Spirit is an essential part of our life together as the body of Christ. The Human body is unified when each part is doing its job. The human body is diseased when the parts of the body start to fight one another. It is the same with the body of Christ. Our goal is to be unified in our faith and together to become mature followers of Jesus Christ. God uses our different gifts to bind us together under the headship of Christ. That is what genuine unity is all about.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-16

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

STRAIGHT TALK


Matthew 5:37
Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

                Have you ever had a conversation with someone and, when you were done, you didn’t know what the other person was talking about? It is so easy for us to speak the same language and yet completely misunderstand one another. When I was in the Philippines, I discovered that “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes.” In fact, “yes” in the Philippines often means “I heard what you said,” not “I agree with you” or “I am going to do what you have asked of me.”

                Communication is such an essential component of every relationship, yet we so often get it wrong. One of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill is, “America and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” Just because we use the same words does not mean that we mean the same thing. What we call cookies the English call biscuits. What we call the trunk of the car they call the boot. What we call a sweater they call a jumper. You get the picture.

                Countries, companies, and couples often talk past one another rather than talk to one another. Both sides believe that they are being very clear, yet the other side does not understand what is really being said. This leads to misunderstanding and often conflict.

                Of course, there is a dark side to miscommunication. Today we call it spin. A person may say one thing but intentionally mean something quite different. A person can use language to manipulate, confuse, or mislead others. That is what Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.  

    "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37

                Why do people make oaths? They do it usually to try to convince someone of their sincerity. They need to do this because, in some way, they have violated the trust of another or have a reputation of not keeping their word. “This time I really mean it! I swear!” Jesus made it perfectly clear that we should always speak honestly so that there would never be a need to swear an oath.

                Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus called the Pharisees onto the carpet for using oaths as a way to cloud the truth.

    "Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it.” Matthew 23:16-22


                It seems that the Pharisees had found a way to make promises without any intention of keeping them. They would give the impression of sincerity without the substance of it. It is like when a child promises something with their fingers crossed behind their back. “You promised!” “It didn’t count because I had my fingers crossed.”

                As followers of Jesus Christ, we have an obligation to be straight forward in our speech. Words matter. They reveal our heart, our character, our soul. God will hold us accountable for how we have used our words. Jesus made that clear in Matthew 12:33-37.
    "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”

                When we become careless with our words, not only do we damage our reputation, but we damage the reputation of Christ. Others will judge our faith by what we say and how we live. If we say one thing and live another, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is seriously called into question. Mahatma Gandhi rejected Christianity because people who called themselves Christians didn’t live up to what they preached. As followers of Jesus, we have been called to be straight talkers; people whose words ring true under the magnifying glass of public scrutiny.  

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29