Can’t we just love each other?

So much bickering! So much anger! So many ugly things being said! So much hurt! Can’t we just love each other? After all, this is Valentine’s month, isn’t it?

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It’s a valid question. But there’s a problem. It’s a very real problem. The problem is this thing called “love.” We really struggle right there. If you listen to pop songs of yesterday or today, you will get a mixed bag of definitions, illustrations, or dreams of love, but you will find it difficult to find the real sense of love as God has defined it. It’s not what we think it is. Jesus addresses it though. His standard for love is really, really high and very, very difficult. You may not really want to know it. But you also may want to at least take a peek at it. You know, just in case…

In the middle of his greatest sermon, the one that He preaches on a hillside to his disciples, Jesus says this, “So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12. We were taught this as a child and our parents called it “The Golden Rule.” Scripture often sums up all of the Law and the Prophets with one word, “Love!” The two greatest commands are “Love God and Love Others!” (Mark 12:28-31). Essentially what Jesus is saying here is love is lived out in the Kingdom of God by “whatever you wish others would do to you, you do it to them.” This is startling. This is shocking. Love just isn’t that way! At least, that is what our hearts tell us. Thankfully, the Apostle Paul gives us even more clarity about love in 1Corinthians 13 (Read it at your leisure!).

So, how do we want to be loved? I suggest that there are at least three spheres of our lives that long to be loved.

   We want to be loved emotionally. Don’t we all want emotional acceptance, emotional sensitivity, feeling of being wanted, feeling of being supported, feeling of being needed, the feeling of being important to someone, the feeling of acceptance, feeling belonging, cherished, respected, welcomed, appreciated, befriended, listened to? Then, this is how we treat those around us! You giveemotional acceptance; you be emotionally sensitive to the needs of other; you make others feel needed, wanted, appreciated, and cherished, respected, welcomed, befriended…etc. You see this?

 We want to be loved mentally. We want to be understood; we want our opinion heard; our thoughts to matter; we want recognition, approval, and to be believed in. All of these things and many more aspects we don’t have time to list are what we give to others. Think what relationship in your life right now would be so much better if this was done. Take your thoughts and direct them outwardly to the people around you.        

 We want to be loved physically. We want to be touched, hugged, caressed, and cuddled. I can remember my mother’s hand on my forehead when I was sick and throwing up. That certainly is a one-of-a-kind love.

  Here’s the point though: we don’t manipulate life so we are treated this way! Instead, we give this love to those around us! Wow! This is a tall order! Is there anyone you know that loves like this? I’m pretty sure, I am not capable of doing life and living love like this. So, the original question above, “Can’t we just love each other?” seems a bit like a “No,” doesn’t it?

Unless… Unless something from within our hearts changes. Enter, God’s amazing grace through the person and the work of Jesus! He changes the heart of those who trust Him and by God’s grace, in our struggle to love as we would want to be loved, we humbly exercise His divine grace and we reach out to God in prayer!

 We ask! Simply put, it is an act of humble faith. We are desperate to love this way, so we ask God in faith. Love doesn’t come naturally, but only through God’s grace working in us. We pray for God’s wisdom to love; for God’s patience to love; for God’s Spirit to love through us. This word ask is the word a beggar uses when he is asking for alms!  We don’t know how to love; we are bound by our base desires (7:6) and we are blind by our own lusts and self-serving desires. So, we don’t resort to our own manipulations of life, we die to self and come to Christ in nothing else but humble faith. Notice what Jesus does? He gives! Twice Jesus says this! Of course He does, He loves!

 We seek! This is asking in faith but with passion. Our base passions and desires scare us often so we tend to push away from them. Jesus says we passionately ask! With all the emotional gushing love we can muster we implore, plead, entreat, and appeal for God to grace us with a love that communicates Jesus’ kind of love. But, notice, it is not a demand! It is not with a stomp of the foot, but it is a humble faith with passion. It’s an earnest pursuit of reacting or acting in a way that you know is outside of you! I wonder if when you don’t love your neighbor well if you really passionately ask God for His love? How does Jesus respond to our seeking? He allows us to find. There are ways to love each person, each time! Seek from Christ His love and you will find ways that His love in you can be given.

We knock! This is asking God for love with passion persistently and patiently! It is probably the most blessed part of what Jesus is saying. We keep coming back. Why? Because life continues to present to us time and time again that we can’t love in a way that is needed. We persistently knock in order to patiently learn to love each person in each situation with care, with gentleness, with truthfulness, and with the same grace that Jesus has extended to the likes of us. Notice who opens the door! Twice Jesus says, “It will be opened to you.” He opens the doors to love others. He has to! It’s His love, you’re His person, and the one needing love is His work for His glory!

Who can do this? Only Christ! Look through the pages of Scripture and find people loving in extraordinary ways but getting very little love in return. The Apostle Paul explains how this love happens in Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Faith in Christ is that upward and outward look to Him that steadies our hearts to love people that are so very different from us and look at things from such different views. By faith, we get to die to that inward and downward look that seeks its own and look upward and outward that loves God and loves others. Isn’t that amazing?

So, yes, we can just love each other. And, just for fun, we can work to “outdo one another in showing honor” to each other! (Romans 12:10). What grace!

 

I’m a perfectionist!

I never really wanted to be. I never thought I could be. But, I am!

I remember well as a young student pianist I would drive my Mom nuts when I practiced. I would take a two-note phrase and go over, and over, and over it until I could perform it perfectly three times in a row. If I made a mistake, I would start all over again. Usually, somewhere in the middle of my striving, I would get so frustrated that I would take both hands and hit the keyboard striking as many notes as possible. By this time, my mother would ever-so-cautiously enter the room, tap me on the shoulder, and softly say, “Why don’t you get yourself a drink of water and come back to this later?” Mom knew what she was doing. While that worked to divert my mind and emotions temporarily, it did nothing to quiet the beast that was forming in me and showing it’s ugly head. I say ugly, because that is exactly what it is. It is ug-ly!

Striving to be perfect is damaging on so many levels. We don’t realize everything that is connected to it at the time, but the evil beast from within is there storming about and seeking who it may devour.

The implications behind my perfectionism

I call them implications because they are not often quite so readily seen.

If I am perfect, I don’t really need a Savior. Now, think on this long and hard. If I can somehow, someway do it right or actually be right, why would I need Jesus. This is perhaps the most difficult truth about my supposed perfectionism. Jesus really didn’t need to die. We don’t need Jesus, really. This is more than just wrong, it is heretically wrong! This is rebellion at its worst. It goes against all that God’s Word teaches. I become the savior and I am my own righteousness. It speaks of ingratitude for Jesus. All that God did for us in Christ is unnecessary. Wow. I don’t want to go down that road at all.

If I am perfect, woe to the people around me! You see, if I am perfect, it is a perfection of my own making. It’s not God’s perfection, it is mine. It’s not really perfection at all and yet I demand that not only I must live up to it (which in itself is a big hoax) but everyone around me must live up to my standard. The problem is they don’t know my standard and so they fail miserably and constantly. But this is good for my perfection because it makes my position of perfection even better because no one else can be perfect like me! I then look down on them and treat them as the failures they are. I let them know about it too! They will never meet up to my standards. Over time, though, because no one meets my standards, people grow weary of not being able to meet up to my standards and they begin to resent me and desire to not to be around me. I am left to wonder why and am often sulking and feeling sorry for myself when I really it brought it on myself because “I have to be right!” I end up treating people in such selfish and unkind ways.

Yah, woe to them!

Well, the Apostle Paul understood this quandary of life. In 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of a dialogue he had with God. He said that God gave him a “gift of a handicap to keep me in constant awareness of his limitations.” (V7 in the Message). He went on to say that he didn’t quite think of it as a gift at first, but when God showed him that in his weakness, Christ’s strength became visible in his life, he was glad to have his gift! He was glad to have his God-given handicap. His imperfection made him glad! In fact V10 says, “Now I take my limitations in stride, and with good cheer!”

Wait! Who really does that? Who really is glad and with good cheer in their limitations? Not a perfectionist! You see, my faux perfectionist heart is full of self-glory that keeps me from the two greatest commands of all Scripture: Love God, and love people (Luke 10:27). It’s damaging to the glory of Christ around me and it takes away an opportunity to love my neighbor. Why then am I even in this world then? No wonder I am discouraged!

But because of the Gospel of Jesus, I get to be a repenting faux perfectionist! And, I’m glad!

For more reading on this subject read here.

New Year…Same Battle

It’s a new year. For the genuine child of God who is seeking to live a life pleasing God there often creeps into our understanding that sanctification is a process of moving forward with God.  We interpret Paul’s words in 2Corinthians 3:18 “And we all…are being transformed…from one glory to another” as our sanctification moving us along in an upward direction that is more and more free from the pain and suffering of sin to a more glorious plateau of heavenly bliss that can only bring us more happiness and success. By success, we think it will mean complete victory over sin and even maybe to the point that the battle with certain sins will just vanish and our hearts will be at peace in this world. One look at the path of our Savior dashes the reality of an upward successful trek as He took the path to the cross (Philippians 2). This inward look comes around every year at this time because of the emphasis on the New Year with “new beginnings.” So we vigorously set up new goals in order to help us move onward and upward in our trek because, well, last year we really didn’t move quite as onward or upward as we anticipated. So our minds go to a quick review of 2018 and we measure ourselves by where we are in comparison to where we think we should be. We should be better. We should be more holy, more like Jesus, and more fearless in life. We should be…we should be…we should be… ugh! But we aren’t!

It’s an amazing deception. It is a masterful deception. The Evil One knows just how to push our buttons and get our eyes on to where they shouldn’t be. Living the lie that constantly pits our life against where we think we should be by now is a vicious and pernicious way of living. The flaw is where our eyes are going. Where our eyes look indicates where our hearts are. We are called to be people who believe. We are called to faith, only, not faith in ourselves, but faith turned away from ourselves (repentance) and turned toward trusting Christ–both who He is and what He has already done in our place. The glory Paul is referring to is not a self-produced, self-affirming glory from within ourselves but is a supernatural work of Christ in us and us in Christ. In just a few verses away, Paul exclaims, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!” (2Corinthians 4:5,6). So real glory is found only in an ever expanding and growing reality of Jesus as He lives in us and through us. This only comes by faith and faith only comes through the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Every day we spend time looking where we “should be” we lose sight of Jesus and His perfect work on our behalf. We are then discouraged, bound by our lack of seeming success, and blinded to all the realities of Jesus. That’s right where the Evil One wants us. We grow cold towards the Word and faithless in our living.

So, it’s a new year. My friend, don’t buy into the temptation to look inward and compare to where you think you should be. Look outward and look upward to believe in the work of Jesus who is in you. His perfections and promises are all yours to trust in and live your life out of. Only as He works His kind grace will your life see and experience His great glory in every area of your life. The battles may all look the same and you feel overwhelmed, out numbered, and you are so tired of that same nagging sin that is dogging your weary soul. But, really, truly, “Greater is He in you!” (1John 4:4). With great joy in Christ’s finished work on your behalf, trust Him. Rest in Him. Believe Him!

New Year…same battle…even more amazing Savior! He’s your sweet hope!

Questions Every Pastor Should Ask A Missionary Candidate

Every pastor knows the routine. Missionaries are seeking prayer and financial support to go where God has directed them. We first get mailings which will include testimonies, facts about where the particular place, and usually a letter of recommendation from the mission agency or sending pastor. It often followed up by a phone call.
Most of the time, the pastor has no idea who they are or how the missionary got the churches address. Often, the missionary is assuming they will get a meeting and some will even suggest a date for a possible presentation for support. Having been a missionary, missions pastor, and lead pastor, I am very familiar with the routine. Some say it is in need of repair and even perhaps a major overhaul of the system could make missions less difficult for the missionary. That is something for a different post.
The purpose here though is to suggest some questions that every pastor needs to ask a candidate long before a missionary ever gets to do a presentation. It is also a reminder for the missionary to perhaps have some things in his own thinking that he needs to consider as well.

1.   What is the Gospel? This is not a question you take for granted. I think in my early years had someone asked me this question, I would not have been able to articulate it well. If a missionary is supposed to be the spokesman for the Gospel he should be very adept to speaking the Gospel from several angles and use several Scriptures rather than recite the “Romans Road.” Their understanding of the smallest points of the Gospel should be clear and precise. Their ability to articulate it should be literally at the tip of their tongue. Their passion for the purity of it should show up in their delight to talk about it. They should have stories about people they have personally dealt with who have been forever changed by it. You should see their love for the Gospel in their eyes.

2.   What is your greatest priority as a follower of Jesus? If anyone should know the Great Commission, it should be a missionary. For the glory of God all believers should make disciples of Jesus. Church planting can certainly be one outcome of the priority of disciple making, but there must be a solid, vigorous, and clear zeal to be personally involved in the lives of people (from all cultures) helping them to become more like Christ and less like themselves. This is the Christian’s greatest priority!

3.  What is your strategy for living out #1 and #2? Many candidates have little to no answer for this. The Gospel and disciple making is often something that is merely “understood” and not strategically planned. Part of a strategy will be to know your immediate culture. However, even knowing your culture is not enough. My good friend and missionary David Hosaflook says his strategy is “Pray, meet people, and tell them about Jesus.”  I love it. However, one may pray and for a myriad of reasons will never make “meeting people” a genuine reality.  If you love people and you love God you will purposefully be with people.  However, talking to some candidates, loving people seems to come with great difficulty. There needs to be a well-thought-out strategy in place that is honed over time that intentionally makes meeting people a reality. Paul suggests a strategy to be in place in Romans 10:14 when he says “…how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” I call it a philosophy of ministry, but it is simply a way that one person lives in such a way that he strategically meets people for the purpose of discipling them with the Gospel. It can vary in methodology but it must be there!

4.   Who are you now discipling? If a candidate is not presently making disciples being in a different country won’t flip on the switch. If they truly believe it, they will be doing it presently. I am often surprised at the answers I get when I ask that question. Take a cursory look at Paul’s epistles and they are littered with names of people he has discipled. Take a quick look backward in your life and see if you can see faces of people who are more like Christ today and less like themselves because of your immediate impact in their lives. A missionary candidate should have many.

5.   What is your timeline for the first 5 years? Knowing how to begin is one thing, but knowing how to plan for the future is another. Having at least a 5 year plan is crucial. A plan is a map, a guide, or a path that you plan even though you know you will need to have adjustments. Even a young, inexperienced missionary should make a plan and outline a timeline that he wishes to pursue and at the same time leave it open for God to make His divine providence known. Set goals, give priorities, and place them in a reasonable time schedule. Then take each step humbly submitting to God’s final and ultimate plan.

6.   What is your exit strategy? This addresses the question of the end. Many start out with much zeal only to find out that there is no end plan. In the past it has been considered noble to promote no end at all–just a desire to be “faithful.” While faithful is indeed noble, God actually desires that we consider the end (see Luke 14:30). Is there a retirement savings plan? But more than that, is there a plan in place to grow up their own replacement from within their own existing ministry? It is important to prepare the next generation and raise up leadership/servants to do the work when one no longer can do the work. Each missionary should seriously consider and plan effectively for their exit.

7.   What is the real level of commitment of your wife and children? I cannot tell you how many missionaries I have met who when speaking to the husband/father really had little to no real understanding of what they were asking of their wife and children. Often, you can see it the eyes of the wife. The family has such a powerful impact on the overall effectiveness of ministry–especially in countries where the family culture is so devastated with the ravages of a self-serving environment and broken relationships are the norm. The missionary’s family should be strong, unified, committed, and joy filled not only around each other, but their love for each other should resonate throughout the ministry.  The bond between the husband and wife should be obvious and unwavering. It will not be perfect and kids will always wrestle with the things of God, but there should be a grace-filled unity that gives space for each other in each step of life.

I am sure there are more questions to ask, but these questions address things that are often assumed and I don’t think we should assume these key elements. Anyone who is seeking to serve the Gospel should have a healthy transparency that welcomes the questions and they should even have reasonable answers for them.

 

A life…now a legacy.

You know that’s how it goes, don’t you? God gives you your life, you live, and then all is left is your legacy.  A legacy is what you hand down to the next generation.

Last night, our world lost a life, but certainly not a legacy.  Major Ron Brooks passed away due to a stroke he suffered earlier in the day. God took him home. thumb_12417920_10205776196781100_4652109840460545980_n_1024

He was my high school principal and a man I had the privilege of serving along side a church plant in Heidelberg, Germany. The generation he served and the impact of his life is today still being felt.  Thousands of teens sat under his preaching/teaching and many, many were rescued out of the grasp of sin and turned to Christ because of his influence. Countless numbers of men today stand in pulpits across the world because of his faithful influence.  Many today sit at home or at work and quietly live their lives for Christ because Ron at one point in their lives courageously risked his own relationship with them to enter their world and speak the Word of God into it. Many many more young people even today are continuing to be influenced because they are being reared by parents who sat under his influence for Christ and the Gospel.  The legacy is real. The legacy cannot be missed.

His time in the military had an indellible influence upon him.  It showed up in his preaching. There was always a sense of urgency that worked its way out of the text. There was a commanding way to him that spoke with authority.  It was what that generation needed.  There was clarity in his preaching that very often found its way to the heart where like it or not, he addressed your need. His time with his Savior had an indelible influence perhaps even more. It too came out in his preaching. You knew you were loved. You knew you were served with truth. Your life was greatly affected, even changed. Christ was exalted and God was glorified.

He was God’s chosen servant for a particular generation. Good servants of God are like that. They are “wired” and placed in an environment to do a specific task for a specific purpose.  He tended to his purpose with great zeal and tireless effort to bring the truths of God’s Word to bear in lives. It was his passion.  It was his delight.  It was his heart.  Lives were changed. My life was changed.

Thank you, sir!  Thank you principal!  Thank you co-worker and mentor. Thank you servant! Thank you lover of Jesus.

Your legacy is real. Your legacy continues and will do so to the 1000th generation (Deut 5:10).

May God’s sweet grace rest on you, Barbara, Ron Jr., Jeff, Leslie, and Stephen and may in the days ahead you find Christ as rich and satisfying as Ron taught us all that He is!

A life…now a legacy.

“Only one life.  Twill soon be passed.  Only what is done for Christ will last.”

I Want To Be Your Friend

A friend sent this to me recently. Relationships are very difficult to maneuver through but with God’s grace at work in our hearts it should look a lot like this:
Martin Colborn writes,
“Can you criticize me without condemnation, ridicule or condescension? Can you express your convictions without expecting me to immediately adopt them as my own? Can you allow me time to test statements, in order to find out the truth (or error) of them for myself? Will you acknowledge that you, being human, friendship-daycould possibly be wrong, even in your dearest convictions and opinions, allowing me the same? And could we just talk, without cliche, without posturing or intimidating, without seeking to gain the upper hand or to win an argument? And when we must part, can we do so not to hurry to tell others each other’s faults, but to love and pray for one another instead, and look forward with delight to the time when God brings us together again? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, I want to be your friend.”

Christ-lovers and people who intentionally live for God’s glory should be the best at this.

Evidences of a Healthy Church

One of the most important jobs of the elder is monitor his spiritual health.  Paul counseled Timothy to “…watch thou in all things…making full proof of your ministry (1Timothy 4:5 KJV).  This same “watchfulness” is in the elders job description for the church.  Paul instructs the elders at Ephesus to “Take heed…to all the flock…” (Acts 20:28).

I love having a group of men that meet once a month to pray for the flock, plan for the flock, and protect the flock of God.  There are some very sneaky ways in which sin, wrong thinking, wrong philosophy, wrong theology, apathy, or indifference can come into an unsuspecting body of believers and wreak havoc over time.  There are some obvious and observable evidences of health that should quickly help us see if we are headed toward good health or is there a need for an adjustment.  Although not an exhaustible list, here is a list I look at to help me adjust.Perfect-church-2

1.  Is Christ seen preeminent in all areas of church life? (Col 1:18) Christ is the Head and in everything He IS preeminent. We don’t make Him this, He IS this. The question then becomes “Are we keeping in line with what is true?” This would include preaching. We can have a very well though out sermon with our Hebrew/Greek well developed and fully defined and have a profound exegetical outline and well articulated illustrations and never get to Jesus. Children’s ministry, teen ministry, college ministry, men and women’s ministries must all get to Christ and His preeminence.

2.  Is the Word central and authoritative? Pragmatism is slick. It dulls the senses and silently allows things that Scripture would never condone. The words “central” and “authoritative” are key. Central means it is in the middle of our thinking in all areas. Authoritative means we wrestle with our wills and emotions and seek to make sure our motives are submitted to God’s clear directives.

3.  Are there lives changing?  One of the joys of Scripture is to see just how God works His glory out in lives and the profound impact that has on a life.  People who are constantly pursuing God will always be changing from glory to glory (2Corinthians 3:18). Paul wanted His churches to continue to grow in their understanding of Christ and the aroma of Christ to permeate all of life (2Corinthians 2:14).  Growth in Christ is always seen by others and ultimate demonstrates itself in people becoming less like themselves and more like Christ.

4.  Is there ownership of sin? John is very clear, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1John 1:8). The sad thing about aging in our organized churches is falling for this trap. Like the church in Sardis, there is a “reputation of being alive” but are really dead (Revelation 3:1). Much deadness can be traced to how the Laodiceans thought of themselves in full denial of what was true (Revelation 3:17). They didn’t own their sin. Let’s say it another way, “They didn’t treasure Christ and His magnificent grace.” Confession and repentance must be an intentional part of individuals and practiced corporately as well.

5.  Is there a growing care for “one-another?”  This spills over into so many areas of the church. People sacrificing themselves to give to each other was a key characteristic of the early church that made an indelible mark in the culture (Acts 2:42-46). We feel sometimes that we have to program our way into the surrounding culture when we should begin with genuine care, “one-another” each other in a way that is in direct contrast to the self-serving life-style of people without Christ.