Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"What Matters Most"

Galatians 5.6 NASU

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”
  
There’s a wrong way and a right way, the way of the flesh and the way of the Spirit, my power and the power of God. One way seems right but results in disappointment, discouragement, depression, and destruction. Another way requires discipline, courage, and trust and eventually leads to joy, fulfillment, and life. [1] However, the distinction between wrong and right, flesh and Spirit, my way and God’s is not always easy to determine.

Passionate arguments abound on all sides of every issue. Conversations about religion, politics, health care, the military, environment, or government spending have the power to transform reasonable people into militant crazies hellbent on advancing their treasured view at the cost of creating long-term relational rifts.

These issues, sacred positions, theological stands, political dogma may mean less than we think. What if nothing really mattered except “faith working through love?” 

The choice of whether or not to be circumcised as an adult Gentile was a burning hot topic in the first century church. For most engaged in this historic debate, it was a matter of eternal life and death. The Apostle Paul, who held a strong opinion on the issue, nevertheless claimed,

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision
means anything, but faith working through love.”

In my fervent search for truth, I must constantly strive to be “in Christ Jesus.” I must endeavor to maintain “faith” and “love” when making hard choices. Like a plane rising above the clouds or an elevator lifting its burden to a higher floor, I am called by Christ to leave behind the all-consuming, yet not-so-all-important, human way of dealing with my personal issues and step up to the higher ground of “faith working through love.”

Faith demands that I have a vision for a new way, a solution, a better world. Working implies a solution that’s not free. I must labor to achieve the vision. Though Love requires me to care more for people than my cause.

“Faith working through love” is what matters most.
_____________

[1] “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14.12; 16.25).

I found the image above in the on-line article "Brain Fight: Who’s the Decider?" by Roger Dooley, author of 856 posts on the subject of neuromarketing (http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/brain-argument.htm).

Monday, August 20, 2018

"Sometimes Jesus Talks Back"

Galatians 4.12

“Brethren, I beg of you, become as I am [free from the bondage of Jewish ritualism and ordinances], for I also have become as you are [a Gentile].” AMP

“…become like me, for I became like you.” NIV

I sometimes talk to myself.

“What a bozo that guy is. He’s shacking up with his girlfriend-of-the-month, drinks too much, and emits crude, loud noises from body orifices. He offends me. He’s obnoxious and doesn’t appear to care what I think or have to say. He’s boisterous and self-centered and probably wouldn’t hear me even if I tried to engage with him. I wish he did not live on my block. I am shamefully indignant toward this man, and helplessly drawn to despise him. Is it possible he is in my small world for a reason beyond my limited understanding? 

“I can’t stop thinking about him. I am both repulsed and fascinated. How could anyone behave so poorly? He and I have nothing in common (I hope). I vacillate between pity and disgust. I wish the guy did not exist, at least not in my neighborhood.

I am conflicted. I really do not like the man. I am not inclined to love him in any tangible way… strike up conversation, show some respect, invite him to dinner. I am seriously reluctant to walk the short distance to his home and try to befriend him. I am not afraid of rejection. It’s worse than that. I am afraid I will be successful and make an emotional connection. He might accept me and then latch on to me. What if he starts hanging around my house? Oh Lord, forbid it! I don’t want him near my kids and me. He’s definitely a negative influence and probably smells bad. I would much rather keep my distance and excuse my attitude with the obvious fact of his unworthiness.”

Sometimes Jesus talks back.

“See that guy down the street? He’s suffering. His level of emotional pain is getting the better of him. His dad was too self-absorbed to show him any real love. But I never quit loving him. He behaves like a buffoon, but he needs Me as much as anyone ever could. I placed this man in your life for a reason. I need you to love him. Love him by what you say and how you behave in his presence.

Stop judging this man. I don’t judge him. I died for this guy and his worth far exceeds your imagination. Do not look at his appearance for I do not see as you see. You look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.[1] I became like the object of My concern. I am the Word who became flesh and dwelt among the people I created.[2] I am a high priest who is able to sympathize with every man’s weakness, for I have been tempted in every way — yet was without sin.[3] I want you to do as I would do... embrace this man, dwell with him, sympathize with him.   

Become like this man in every way, yet do not join in his sin. Find out what he thinks. Discover the reasons for his behavior. Comprehend his thoughts. Feel his pain. Admit you are tempted by what tempts him. Earn his respect. Then you shall be my witness [4] and I will touch the world through you.”

Both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul became like the people they came to serve and, in so doing, became my example of real empathy in the face of human brokenness. Paul extended an invitation to those he paid the price to serve. Maybe someday I can too...

“Become like me, for I became like you”.

__________________

[1] 1st Samuel 16.7
[2] John 1.14
[3] Hebrews 4.15
[4] Acts 1.8

The cartoon of the guy drinking beer is "Barney Gumble" from Portland, Oregon's Matt Groening's famous cartoon TV series "The Simpsons."

Friday, August 17, 2018

"Heaven's Equality"

Galatians 3.28 NIV

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I love this verse. It awakens in me a beautiful image of countless multitudes of people in a bright and sunny place happily gazing skyward, enjoying the light of God’s approval, in harmony with each other and sharing this understanding in common... all humans are created equal in the sight of God.

Their focus is toward God and their interaction with each other is almost incidental. Although the people are crowded together, everyone is kind and caring. There is no pushing or shoving to get to the front, no jockeying for position, no fighting for a better seat. There is no front of the line, no position better than another, and no best seats in the house. Everyone is overjoyed to be there together and genuinely thrilled (though somewhat surprised) to see others they know.

Every type of person you can imagine is there! Young and old. Black and yellow, red, brown, and white. Men, women, boys, girls, and babies. Asians, Africans, Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners, both Near and Far ones. No one looks the same. There are tall, short, heavy and light people, muscular and scrawny, handsome, tattooed and pierced, beautiful, homely, even ugly and disfigured. Most appear healthy, others are are bent over and limping, but strong nonetheless. Some are even in wheelchairs or on beds, but without pain. Their clothing is diverse reflecting social status, place of origin, or taste in music. Scanning the horizon I see baseball caps, cowboy hats, hard hats, and turbans. I see gray hair, long hair, colored hair, and no hair.

The variety is as amusing as it is amazing. Every person is so very unique, every single one of them. Some are wealthy, some poor, most somewhere in the middle. Everyone is well fed and fully satisfied. No one, not even the children, need to go potty or get something to eat. Everyone is happy and anticipating a glorious unfolding of God’s best for the remainder of their eternal lives. To the person, each one is celebrating the presence of God and the absolute diversity of humankind with a wonder and joy far surpassing that of children on their first trip to Disneyland.

Nothing like this has ever occurred in the history of the world. It is an other-worldly image. It’s not yet happening on the earth as we know it. It’s a harmonious gathering of contented Christ-followers from every denomination, culture, country, and era celebrating their equality in Christ. It’s a vision of heaven or a new earth where there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” and all are “one in Christ Jesus.”

_______________

The image at the top of this post is entitled "Black Sheep" by popular United Kingdom artist James Marsh (1946- ). He is known for his illustrations, design-commercial art, and abstract painting. For more biographical information, go to "Ask Art" at http://www.askart.com/AskART/artists/biography.aspx?artist=127665.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

"Hypocrisy is Contagious"

Galatians 2.11a, 12b-13 NIV

“Peter… used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.”
  
What is the root cause of hypocrisy? According to this verse the culprit is fear. Paul claimed fear of the Judaizers made Peter act in a way that was inconsistent with his personal beliefs. This behavior is called hypocrisy and is common in the church. One church visitor told the minister, “I will not join your church because it’s full of hypocrites.” The pastor replied, “Why not? There’s always room for one more.”

This sin has serious consequences for leaders. As a result of Peter's hypocritical behavior, “other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” Apparently, hypocrisy is contagious.

If I profess one thing and do another, then I’m a hypocrite. If my actions always line up with my beliefs, then I’m perfect. I land somewhere in the middle. Like Paul, there are times when “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.... For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” [1]

I am fully aware that my personal hypocrisy has a negative impact on others. But I cannot simply stop being a hypocrite. My behavior patterns are too ingrained. Perhaps recognizing fear as the source of my hypocrisy, most specifically, the fear of what others may think, can help. If I am free from concerns about the opinions of others, then I am free to be myself and serve Christ with a whole heart in the spirit of true equality. It follows then, that if I am free from fear of public opinion, then I am free from hypocrisy. If I am free from hypocrisy, then I need not worry about leading others astray by my inconsistent behavior.  

Jesus, set me free!

______________

[1] In Romans 7.15, 19, Paul essentially described himself as a hypocrite in Romans 7 which is interesting since he accused Peter of the very same sin in Galatians 2. Could it be that Paul, who wrote the letter to the Romans, was a bit more experienced, mature, and humble than he was when he authored his earlier epistle to the church in Galatia?  

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

"Maybe it IS About Me"

Galatians 1.24 NASU

“And they were glorifying God because of me.”

That’s a gutsy claim, almost audacious. Paul attributed the worship of God by believers in new churches around Syria and Cilicia to himself! The elevation of self goes against popular teaching in Reformed and Evangelical circles. Paul’s claim does not sit well with “such a worm as I” [1] or “a wretch like me” [2]. Would the Apostle gain acceptance in our modern churches? Or, would he be tossed out on his unbiblical, egotistical, and self-elevating ear?

“And they were glorifying God because of me.”

We may secretly wish for credit and even believe we deserve some, but we would not admit it publicly as did Paul. Would you dare to come clean with the thought that you think you are the reason for something good in the world? Our version of Galatians 1.24 reads this way:

“And they were glorifying God [because of Jesus, or because of God,
or because of the pastor, or because of the beauty of nature, or] because
of [anyone or anything else BUT] me [because as everyone knows...
it’s not about me. And oh, by the way, aren’t I humble?].”

Paul’s words fly in the face of the popular little mantra “It’s not about me.” Apparently Paul thought (on this particular point) that it certainly was about him.

“And they were glorifying God because of me.”

It’s hard to imagine that somebody could actually glorify God… “because of me.” But if I refuse to believe in the possibility, I effectively reduce the power of God to nice sounding platitudes. I limit God who resides in me.

Try saying Galatians 1.24 in a mirror. Make this your memory verse for the day. Say it to a friend without flinching, or offering commentary, explanation, or qualifying remarks. “And they were glorifying God because of me.” Force yourself to repeat and mean it. It’s not easy, is it?

Lest you think this is an obscure passage without direct application and relegate Paul’s statement to ‘true for him but not for me,’ consider these words from the greatest sermon ever preached:

“You are the light of the world… Let your light shine
before men in such a way that they may see your good
works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus, Matthew 5.14a, 16

Apparently, on some level and in some mysterious way, ‘It IS about me.’ Would I act differently if I knew that to be true and truly believed that?
________________

[1] "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed", Isaac Watts, 1674-1748.

[2] "Amazing Grace", John Newton, 1725–1807.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"The Power of Drift"

2nd Corinthians 13.5 “The Message”

“Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need first hand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.

Jesus Christ is the starting point. He is the center of all human history and the cornerstone of all right theology. He is the reason for my existence and my confidence in the hope of eternal life. If this same Jesus is in me then I pass the basic entrance exam… I am “solid in the faith.” That’s good, but not good enough. I need “regular checkups.” Am I focused today on my walk with Christ? Or, do I occasionally “drift along taking everything for granted?”

“Drift” is a real phenomenon. It quietly drags us downstream before we know we are moving. We tend toward the path of less resistance, allowing random circumstances to direct the course of our lives. This is the power of “drift” in action. We think we’re ‘going with the flow’ (e.g.; a good thing) when in fact we’ve become aimless, falsely trusting our past experiences with Jesus to carry us through our present ordeals of faith (e.g.; not a good thing).

We need a fresh dose of Jesus every day. We must engage Him in regular conversation and consciously live in recognition of the on-going activity of His Spirit. Like Brother Lawrence [1], we are invited to “practice the presence of God” or, according to the Apostle Paul, be “led by the spirit of God” (Romans 8.14). Otherwise, we fall victim to the power of “drift,” which most likely moves us away from God, not closer to Him.

“Test it out.” Are you drifting from Christ like a cork on a slow-moving but powerful stream? If so, “do something about it.”
__________________

[1] Brother Lawrence, alias Nicholas Herman c.1605-1691, was a French contemplative who joined the religious order of the Carmelites in Paris at the age of 44. He is known for his “practice of the presence of God” in the simple acts of service. According to Brother Lawrence: "There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it" (The Practice of the Presence of God, D. Attwater, Orchard Books, 1926).

Monday, August 13, 2018

"I Love You, Daddy"

2nd Corinthians 12.14b-15 NASU

“…for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?”

Paul wanted what most parents want… the love of their children. My children can offer me no greater gift than their heart of love. 

I want nothing material or monetary from my kids. “…I do not seek what is yours, but you.” That I could not sell my daughter’s preschool art on E-Bay for a good price is irrelevant. I wouldn’t sell it if I could. Her artwork is priceless to me and clearly says in her own way, “I love you, Daddy.” My child’s colorful scribbled offerings on crumpled scraps of paper represent all I need from my little girl. If I had to (and I don’t because it’s freely given), I would gladly spend my last penny of income and expend my last drop of energy for the love and affection of the children God has given me.

Paul too would “most gladly spend and be expended” for the souls of his Corinthian children. He loved his disciples and wanted nothing more than their love in return. I am more than a child of God. I am also a man of God, having “put childish things behind me” (1st Corinthians 13.11). I am more than a child or man of God. I am a father (or at least a big brother) to others in Christ’s kingdom. As a father in the faith “I will most gladly spend and be expended for [the] souls” of His children.
_________________

The beautiful black and white image above is an untitled photograph by Mildred Grossman (1916-1988) taken at the Pilgrim Prayer March, Washington, D.C., 1957. Her work was on display February 9 - April 10, 1999 at the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (aok.lib.umbc.edu/gallery/eye.php).

Friday, August 10, 2018

"The Price of Leadership"

2nd Corinthians 11.28-29 NIV
Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

Paul’s “everything else” list of apostolic credentials and sacrificial achievements (verses 22-27) was lengthy and impressive:
  • Hebrew
  • Israelite
  • Descendent of Abraham
  • Servant of Christ
  • Hard labor
  • Frequent imprisonment
  • Beaten times without number
  • Often in danger of death
  • Received the 39 lashes 5 times
  • Beaten with rods 3 times
  • Stoned once
  • Shipwrecked 3 times
  • Spent a night and a day in the open sea
  • Constant travel
  • In danger from rivers
  • In danger from bandits
  • In danger from his own countrymen
  • In danger from Gentiles
  • In danger in the city
  • In danger in the wilderness
  • In danger at sea
  • In danger from false brothers
  • Labored and toiled without sleep
  • Known hunger and thirst
  • Often gone without food
  • Suffered cold and exposure
“Besides” all this, what else is there? What more could a man endure to demonstrate his loyalty to the brethren and love for Christ? There remained one final test of Apostolic commitment surpassing all others in its level of difficulty. It cost Paul dearly, kept him awake at nights, and made him take unnatural risks with his life. It proved the Apostle was supremely qualified to lead disciples at every local church throughout Asia Minor and Palestine.

“Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

The task of shepherding involves more than feeding the flock. A true man of God takes responsibility for the on-going spiritual welfare of his disciples. If a leader does not “face daily [and feel deeply] the pressure of [his] concern” and "inwardly burn" for the people he leads, then he is not the leader Jesus called him to be.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

"An Inch Wide and a Mile Deep"

2nd Corinthians 10.15b – 16a NIV

Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.”

Paul’s strategy for advancing the Kingdom of God was simple… go deep! His relationship with the Corinthian church involved multiple visitations and ample correspondence. He expected measurable spiritual growth to accompany dramatic conversions to Christ. Shallow professions of faith were not part of the Apostle’s evangelistic strategy. Paul’s advise to younger pastors like Timothy or Titus may be paraphrased, “Go deep young man.” Timothy and Titus followed up Paul’s ministry by nurturing the churches he planted in Ephesus and Crete. Converts developed spiritually before he moved to the next place of ministry. Their stability in the faith was required before Paul could “preach the gospel in the regions beyond”...

“Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow,
our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that
we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.”
2nd Corinthians 10.15b – 16a NIV

People matter to God. He will not entrust a pastoral ministry with more people until it’s leadership proves faithful on behalf of the ones He already sent.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.”
Luke 16.10a NIV

True leaders scoff at ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’ Instead, they head in the opposite direction. Men and women of God go ‘an inch wide and a mile deep’ by loving and nurturing the people God has given them. 

Pray that your leadership influence “will greatly increase.” Go deep with those under your charge to ensure their faith “continues to grow” so that you may soon go wide and “preach the gospel in regions beyond.”
_____________________

The painting of the man swimming deep perfectly and graphically describes my thoughts in this post. Artist Ramone Romero graciously gave me permission to post his work here. You may view his art at http://art-for-jesus.blogspot.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/ramone.romero.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

"En Theos"

2nd Corinthians 9.2 NIV

“For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and...

“...your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.”


It all starts with a little... 

ENTHUSIASM!


Definition:
enthusiasm (en-thoo'-ze-az'-em) [1] 1. Great excitement for or interest in a subject or cause. 2. A source or cause of great excitement or interest. 3. Archaic a. Ecstasy arising from supposed possession by a god. b. Religious fanaticism.
Etymology:
Late Latin enthusiasmus, from Greek enthousiasmos, from enthousiazein, to be inspired by a god, from entheos, possessed: en- (in) + theos (god), lit. “in God.”
Quotations:
“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882), Philosopher, essayist, and poet
“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”
Vince Lombardi (1913 – 1970, football coach of the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins)
“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”
Colette (1873 – 1954, Sidonie Gabrielle Collette, French novelist)
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965, British politician)
“Think enthusiastically about everything; but especially about your job. If you do, you’ll put a touch of glory in your life. If you love your job with enthusiasm, you’ll shake it to pieces. You'll love it into greatness.”
Norman Vincent Peale (1898 – 1993, clergyman and author)
“The ability to understand a question from all sides meant one was totally unfit for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of the real man.”
Thucydides (471 - 400 BC, Greek historian on the Athenian mood at the eve of Athen's decline)
“A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.”
Mary Kay Ash (1915 – 2001, cosmetics network marketing tycoon from Texas)
“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”
Samuel Ullman (1840-1924, poet, humanitarian, businessman from Alabama)
“If you can give your son or daughter only one gift, let it be enthusiasm.”
Bruce Barton (1886-1967, advertising executive, religious writer, US Congressman)
“For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.”
Paul of Tarsus (5-67, apostle and founder of the church in Corinth)
Conclusion:
Lord, I’m taking the plunge. Jumping head first in the river of God. I’m in! In God… en-theos… and by definition fully and whole-heartedly enthusiastic for the cause of Christ and the things you have called me to do. May my enthusiasm stir someone to action!
_____________________

[1] The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000.

Smiling baby image: photographer unknown. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

"Me, My Four, and No More!"

2nd Corinthians 8.3-4 NASU

“…according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints”

I am here to give. I must give. I receive that I may give. Nothing I have is my own. I am blessed to be a blessing.

How do people “give beyond their ability”? I understand how the generous give “according to their ability,” but how do they give more than they have? Brian Buffini credits his mother with this saying: “Give it out in slices and it’ll come back in loaves.” One must give to get to give to get to give.... If this repeating cycle of generosity works, then I cannot afford not to give. If I want more, I must first give more. It’s not a formula to apply. It’s a principle to live by. 

I do want more. I want larger faith to overcome limited-capacity thinking. I want to stop living with a scarcity mentality and restricting my vision to “me, my four, and no more!” I want the courage to open the door of my ark to drowning people, even when the flood waters of fear rise menacingly before me. I want learn how to be more concerned for others than myself.

I want to stretch my heart to see more, embrace more, share more, and be more. I want to depend on Jesus and live and give “to my ability, and beyond my ability.”

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you
will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will
dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.”
Isaiah 54.1-3 NIV

Monday, August 06, 2018

"Exponential Faith"

2nd Corinthians 7.13 “The Message”

“And the, when we saw how Titus felt – his exuberance over your response – our joy was doubled. It was wonderful to see how revived and refreshed he was by everything you did.”

We affect one another. Your attitude impacts mine. My emotional state can alter yours. As human beings, we are involved with other humans who influence the way we think and feel. We cannot escape this interplay. Nor should we try. I am who I am today because of the input of others from my past.

I am a collection of influences… some heard, some seen, most felt. The shaping of my essence may have begun before I left my mother’s body and became mysteriously aware of the emotional forces surrounding her young life.

There is an incredible potential for good here. Like the Corinthians, I can literally raise the level of joy in another person by my indirect, 3rd party behavior… Paul’s joy doubled when he witnessed the exuberance of Titus caused by the actions of the Corinthian church!

This is better than the ‘Domino Effect’ which impacts one individual after another in a sequential or linear way. Christianity could be described as ‘Exponential Faith’ because it has the potential of affecting the entire planet at an ever-increasing rate of conversion. The escalating and positive impact of Jesus Christ begins with just one contagious Christian uplifting the heart of another who in turn may double, triple, or quadruple yet another person’s joy. It’s a repeatable phenomenon. Who knows where that could take us?



__________________________

The photograph above was taken in the summer around 2008 or 2009 at Wildhorse Canyon Young Life Camp when my son Robert was 9 or 10 years old.  I love Robert's expression in the center of this human pyramid.  It appears to be one of pure joy.  The bald head in the lower right is mine, and the girl with the pink mini-mouse tee-shirt peering down at us is my youngest child, Rachel. 

Friday, August 03, 2018

"The Miracle of Human Connection"

2nd Corinthians 6.11-13 NIV

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you.

We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange — I speak as to my children — open wide your hearts also.”


I live for human connection. So do you. Paul also longed for depth in his relationships with those he loved. His life was an open book. He gave the gift of himself. “Withholding... affection” was not a part of Paul’s missionary game plan. He “opened wide” his heart to the people Jesus called him to serve.

“We... opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding
our affection from you... open wide your hearts also.”

The most precious gift you can offer another human being is the gift of yourself. Telling the truth about who you are, where you’ve been, how you’ve failed, and what you believe is risky business. When you “open wide” your heart and share your “affection,” you may not receive the same in return. Reciprocity is not guaranteed. But when it happens, it’s a miracle; the miracle of human connection....
  • An audience laughs spontaneously at a comedian’s joke
  • The pastor’s sermon penetrates to the heart of someone in his congregation
  • A child receives and responds to a parent’s affection
  • A man and woman meet and fall in love
  • A teacher witnesses his students want to learn
  • A married couple have the unspeakable joy of sexual intimacy
  • Friends meet for coffee and share confidences
  • Enemies find common ground and learn to forgive
  • Someone meets Jesus for the first time
These miracles happen when hearts are “opened wide” and signs of “affection” are freely shown. What can I do this day to help foster the miracle of human connection?

_______________

The image above called "day 20 may 14 open heart" is used by permission of photographer Genevieve Casey whose excellent work can be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/42037390@N00/.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

"Ambitious!"

2nd Corinthians 5.9; 18b-19a NASU

“Therefore we also have as our ambition,… to be pleasing to Him.”

God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,…”

Believers are ambitious, ambitious to please God. Our life’s aim, our sole purpose, our eternal calling, the goal of all that we do is to seek to discover what pleases God that we may possibly fulfill our holy ambition.

We trust Jesus in every ambitious endeavor because trusting God’s Son is the only way we can please God. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

“And without trusting, it is impossible to be well pleasing to God.
Hebrews 11.6 CJB

Paul clarifies the task in 2nd Corinthians 5 calling it “the ministry of reconciliation.” Our role is to serve as agents of reconciliation and thereby please our Father in heaven. We stand in the gap (Ezekiel 22.30), the middle ground between God and people. We speak of the love of God. We introduce others to Him Who is the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1st Timothy 2.5). We openly preach Christ Who alone can pave the way for reconciliation with the Father. We ‘show and tell’ in deed and word the joy of friendship with the one who gave us “the ministry of reconciliation.” We fully trust and proclaim “him who had no sin” and whom “God made... to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God,” (1st Corinthians 5.21).

“We’re speaking for Christ himself now:
Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”
2nd Corinthians 5.20 “The Message”

I trust Jesus who has filled me with holy ambition “to be pleasing to Him” and fulfill my ministry of reconciliation.
____________________

The painting at the top left of this post was originally used in promoting a panel discussion called "Offering Reconciliation" at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

"There are Days"

2nd Corinthians 4.7-9 NASU

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves...

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;…”

There are days…

…when my energy is spent and I can’t shake a low level sense of dread attached to the weight of my responsibilities. I retire at night with a vague and oppressive thought that I have not accomplished all that I should.

My anxiety is not without reason… too many yellow sticky notes, unanswered phone calls, never-ending flow of emails, client expectations, ministry demands, business obligations, family needs, medical issues, lengthy to-do lists… the lawn mower quit working, the dog is sick, my kid’s in trouble at school, I’m past a deadline, I lost my wallet, the bills are mounting, my child is throwing up, and my shirt is missing a button…

When does it end? I want to give up! But I can’t. I have a family and customers to think of. People need me. They’re depending on me. I must keep going... but I don’t want to.

There are days…

…when life is drudgery. I don’t think I can go on but I do, barely. It’s not fun. I’m living in my own power, and it’s obvious that is isn’t enough power to get the job done. I exist, but I am not alive. Existing, but not living. 

Then there are days… 

…(like this one) when I read a passage in the Bible (like this one) and my spirit is reinvigorated with a moment of hope (like this one).

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
David, Psalm 34.18-19 NASU

These are days… 

...when I know deep inside of my “earthen vessel,” that I carry a “treasure, which is “the surpassing greatness of the power… of God.” This is the fuel that powers the engine of my being. It’s not from me, about me, or because of me. It’s Jesus in me who transforms my day into one worth living. He inspires enough hope in my heart to put a smile on my face, a lightness in my step, and a bit of optimism in my outlook for the day. I am...

“afflicted... but not crushed;
perplexed, but not despairing;
struck down, but not destroyed”.

There are days… 

…when the forecast is bright and sunny. This is one of those days!
_______________________

Graphic at top of post from http://goodnews.ws/2010/02/19/the-power-of-optimism-and-positive-thinking/ .

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"W I I F M ?"

2nd Corinthians 3.5b-6 NIV

“…our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Laws are mostly good. They impose standards and exert force to insure a safe and secure environment free from the chaos of anarchy. But laws alone, even good laws, cannot produce a community that functions well. The real glue that holds society together is God Himself. He created us and placed in our souls a desire for healthy relationships with Himself and others. We all want, at our core, to live in harmony with the Creator and His creation.

But there’s a problem... ‘self’ creeps in and the needs of ‘self’ become more important than the needs of others. We can easily disguise self-centeredness by establishing highly defined personal boundaries and misapplying concepts like:
  • self-actualization
  • self-confidence
  • self-awareness
  • self-esteem
  • self-love
‘Self’ remains at the center of all these pursuits and the common good plays second fiddle to ‘W I I F M ?’ (What’s In It For Me?).

Our culture doesn’t help. The preoccupation with what is falsely promoted as ‘spirituality’ contains elements of self-centeredness that virtually guarantees culture’s eventual demise. The American ideal of ‘doing my own thing’ or ‘following my heart’ is a culture-wide reaction to the legalism imposed by earlier generations. Yet, even our best efforts and altruistic endeavors only serve to mask a rebellious spirit. Without God we can never create the enlightened society we seek no matter how noble and humanitarian we consider our motives and actions to be.

The whole idea of self-interests is encapsulated in the overused phrase: ‘You can't love anyone else until you first learn to love yourself.’ I can’t find that in the Bible. In fact, scripture suggests that loving self comes easily and naturally: No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it...(Ephesians 5.29 TLB).

We must want to do what is in the best interest of those around us, even if it means our own personal discomfort and sacrifice. Humanly speaking, this is impossible. The decision to put others first... ahead of ‘self’ requires the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Selfishness comes easy, but we cannot demonstrate true selflessness on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to behave like Jesus.

“...the Spirit gives life.”

We need Jesus. He is the life the Spirit imparts. Absolute adherence to any legal standard is a hope-killing illusion. But the Spirit of God can fill us with Jesus who alone makes it possible to live outside of ourselves and for the benefit of others.