Wednesday, July 1, 2015

If At All Possible . . . Live at Peace

We shouldn’t be surprised with the ruling that came down from the Supreme Court concerning gay marriage. The more secularized the United States has become over the last 50 years decisions like this are going to happen. So what should a Christian’s response be to the decisions that go against their core beliefs? The way Christian’s respond is so important.

First, we can never forget that we are dealing with people. While we may disagree with each other we are all people in need of a redeeming God. We can’t come across arrogant or dismissive because each of us have dealt with and are dealing with sinful issues of our own.

Second, disagree respectfully. Defend your values with all your heart but don’t be argumentative. Don’t resort to name calling or labeling others. Be confident in your defense. Ask questions to gain a better understanding of someone else’s opinion. When someone turns it into an argument and starts using name calling as a tactic—walk away. Don’t get caught up in the intolerance of others.

Third, pray for the consequences that will arise from these kinds of decisions. When emotional decisions are made whether they are personal or national, there are consequences that have not been thought through. Pray for wisdom to say the right thing and to react the right way. Jesus even said, “Pray for those who persecute you.”

Finally, Love Wins. Here is a new twist to all the “#lovewins” I have seen over the last few days. Jesus tells us that the second greatest command is to love people. In the Sermon on the Mount he tells us to love our enemies not just those who agree with us, but everyone. When we are able to discuss issues out of “love” rather than “hate” it changes the culture. When love wins it does not divide—even when there are disagreements.

For those who may read this that have been hurt by Christians who disagree with you, but have done it disrespectfully, have labeled you, have been hateful, have come across dismissive or arrogant—I apologize because that is not the way of Jesus.

Even though Jesus did not defend our sinful nature he always saw us as people who need grace and mercy. He always respectfully disagreed. He always prayed for us to be one and wanted us to avoid the consequences of all sin. Ultimately, it is His love for us that wins and it is that love that made him attractive to the people he comes in contact with even today.
Romans 12:18-21

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

No Names, No Titles, Just Christ

I know this is unrealistic in our polarized culture today, but what if . . . what if we could become a culture in which the only identity we had was tied to our identity in Christ? I have to believe a lot of things would be different.

Jesus treated everyone with the same love when he was here on earth. The thing that made Jesus angry the most was when his kingdom was divided by labels--labels like Jew, Gentile, male, female, sinner, righteous. Some of today's labels are sinner, Christian, American, foreigner, racist, male, female, democrat, republican, wealthy and poor.

Quite frankly, I am tired of all the labels. It is divisive and counter productive. It is completely opposite of what Jesus stood for and practiced. Jesus sees us all as people who need a redeeming God to bring us together as one.

Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26-28, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Jesus sought a culture where people were brought together as one--not divided. Those who constantly want to divide our culture are creating the polarization. Leaders of our country constantly want to pick a side, promote their side and drive a wedge of division deeper into our culture. Think about that as you search for people to put into leadership positions in this great country.

Honestly, the church could take the leadership in our culture. We can begin to create a space where people come and are not labeled. They are seen as people who need to be clothed with Christ. We should all be able to find our identity in the one who came to bring us together as one. The church needs to set the example.

It should be an easy example to set if we submit ourselves to find our identity in Christ.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Love Neighbor As Yourself

Jesus tells us the second greatest command is to "Love your neighbor as yourself."

If someone were to ask you "Do you love your neighbor?" Would you be able to say "Yes."

How would you even know? How about if we were to ask your neighbor? What would they say?

The thing is Jesus is not just talking about the people who live around you. He is talking about anyone you may come in contact with during the day. As I sit in Starbucks right now I am surrounded by neighbors. Some of them have values different from mine, some of them come from different countries and some I  may even be uncomfortable around, but that does not mean I can't listen to what Jesus' says.

I am to love people no matter who they are, no matter where they live and no matter where they come from.

This is not a suggestion from Jesus, it is a command. This is the second greatest command behind loving God. I can not escape it.

The thing is it can be hard sometimes because there are some people I just don't like to be around. Jesus says that is not an excuse. He wants us to be different than what is considered normal. Jesus put it this way in the Sermon on the Mount, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even sinners doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Are not even pagans doing that?" (Matthew 5:46-47)

When Jesus says we need to "Love our neighbor as yourself" he is telling us this includes the unlovable--those who are different from us and those who may even be our enemies.

So let's ask ourselves this question again, "Do you love your neighbor?" How would those around you answer that about you?

Now go love your neighbor! Whoever that may be today!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Imitating I Am

"Be imitators of God."

That is what Paul writes to the church in Ephesus.

Jesus came and dwelled among us teaching us what it means to imitate God. Paul goes on to explain how we should live as imitators of "I Am." He says "walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us" (Ephesians 5:2).

The way of love is surrendering ourselves to God and His mission--That's what Jesus did.

The way of love is surrendering ourselves to others--that is what Jesus did.

If we love God and others we will learn sacrifice. We will learn what it means to put God first and what it means to think of others needs above our own.

Paul calls this a fragrant offering and a sacrifice--to God.

How can you surrender to God this week? How can you surrender to others?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Power, Love, Self-Discipline

Paul writes to the Evangelist Timothy saying this: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7)

This past Sunday we talked about being led by the Spirit, moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary. (You can listen to it here ). To move from the ordinary to the extraordinary means we are going to need to take some risks. We can't be timid.

So if we have been given a spirit of power what does that mean? It means we need to pray for God's power to come. We should not pray timid prayers, we need to boldly pray for God to heal people, intervene in life events and world events. We are calling on Him to do miracles today. Will every prayer end up in a miracle--no. But that should not stop us from asking God to do the impossible. Try it today. Boldly pray for God to bless you or someone else, calling on Him to perform a miracle. Be persistent, don't stop after one day. If God does the miraculous comment on this post so others can see the power of God. Pray for the extraordinary to happen.

If he gives us a spirit of love what does that mean? It means we need to love people extraordinarily. It is not an ordinary or normal love. Jesus talks about this love in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:43-48, he teaches us that His followers don't just love those who love them--they love their enemies, those who persecute them and those who are unlovable. How can you show the love of Jesus this week by loving the unlovable? Try it this week. Love someone extraordinarily, someone one that is hard to love. Show them love in a simple and practical way.

Then he say we have been given a spirit of self-discipline. Where do you need the Spirit to help you when it comes to self-discipline? Is there a sin you are struggling with? Is it a spiritual practice you need to do better? Is it a life change? Don't be like everyone else, don't do what is normal--add some self-discipline to your life and let God help you through whatever your struggle may be.

We all need to recognize this spirit that God has given us and allow Him to move us from being ordinary to extraordinary.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Let the Spirit Move You From Ordinary to Extraordinary

The Holy Spirit is so misunderstood within Christianity. It almost makes me nervous talking about Him. However, as followers of Jesus we need to learn to live by the Spirit's leading. Why? Because according to what the Bible says about Jesus' followers and the church, the Spirit plays a huge role.

Our verse of the week at Northwest is "And in Him (Jesus) you too (the church) are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit." Ephesians 2:22

Isn't that nice. God's Spirit dwells in the church. That should bring us comfort, peace and give us a feeling of safety, right? Yes and No. 

The presence of the Spirit means we are led by the Spirit. Being led by the Spirit means we are going to be asked to do things that may take us out of our comfortable padded pews and our safe little Bible studies moving us to take Godly risks. Moving us from ordinary to extraordinary.

Being Spirit-led means there will be times we go against logic--and in those moments we will see God do the extraordinary. 

I took a student with other students on a mission trip to Brooklyn, NY.  This student said he was an atheist. I knew he was going for all the wrong reasons, but I had this gut feeling it was the right thing to do. I explained to him we were going to do a VBS and he would have to teach as if he did believe in God. He agreed. 

He was asked by a kid at VBS why he believed in God. So living by what I asked him to do he began to explain why he believed. That night he told us about having to share why he believed in God. He then told us that as he was explaining his reasoning he realized he did believe. Who would have thought an atheist teaching VBS would come to an understanding about God. I will tell you who--God. 

God did the extraordinary in a very ordinary situation. 

This is the church being the church, letting the Spirit lead us to extraordinary places that only God can imagine. 

Later in Ephesians Paul takes the dwelling of the Spirit to an individual level, "I pray that out of His glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." Ephesians 3:16-17

The Spirit dwells within your inner being--in your soul. We have to learn to let Him lead and not keep His presence limited to our own knowledge. If we want to live extraordinary lives as followers we have to let the Spirit lead us as we live on mission for God.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

First Love

I was finishing up my teaching for Sunday this morning. We are beginning a series called "We Are . . . The Church." We are going to look into several things that make the church, the church. We are starting with a passage from Revelation 2:1-7. In Revelation Jesus addresses 7 churches, the first is Ephesus. He begins by talking about how good they are in the church at Ephesus. He is saying to them  "you are good people and a good church." Then he says this:

"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Consider how far you have fallen!" Revelation 2:4-5

There are two groups of people in the church, those who have grown up in the church and those who have become a follower later in life. Those who have become a follower later in life seem to have a greater zeal, at least for a while. Then they meet the second group-- those who have grown up in the church (smh).

Those who have become a follower later in life have a greater zeal because "how far they have fallen" is fresh on their mind. They grasp grace a whole lot better because they knew they life they had before Jesus and the life they now have with Jesus. They are zealous to share their faith because they have this great love for Jesus.

Those of us who have grown up in the church sometimes don't appreciate how good we've had it. I know, because I am one of those people. As one of these people I understand how easy it is to become complacent with my love for Jesus. We take Him for granted.

Jesus tells us how we can get back on track with our love for Him when he says, "Consider how far you have fallen!" Remember where you would be without Jesus spiritually. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. His love is shown when we consider what we have been saved from combined with how we have been saved through Jesus.

I mentioned earlier how those who become a follower later in life have a greater zeal and love of Jesus. If you have been a follower all your life here is something you need to do:

1) Learn from those who have become a follower later in life. Watch as they worship, serve and love God. Let them be a reminder of how far you have fallen and what Jesus has saved you from.

2) Don’t kill the zeal and excitement new followers have by imposing unnecessary traditions and practices on them. Instead long for the love they have for Jesus.