Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Leaking into heaven

My friend has Alzheimer's, and she loves Jesus.
She raised her kids, taught piano, all the while loving Jesus.
Now she is leaking into heaven
Every day a bit more there, a bit less here,
Drip by drip she's been leaving us,
Gradually moving into her new digs,
It seems natural for her to do it this way
After all, her hearts been there already a very long time.
Now she's pretty much all there. I wonder do they say
"but dear, your body. " I can hear her answer now. She'd laugh, smile and say "oh don't worry about that old thing,  it'll be along soon enough."
She's leaking into heaven and now she's rarely here.
My friend has Alzheimer's, and she loves Jesus.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Parental pain and puzzlement

We put others through a lot of pain and suffering when we walk away from the Lord. We hurt those closest to us because our actions become self centered instead of Christ or other centered. We also hurt those who led us to Christ and taught us how to follow him.

In Galatians 4:19-20 Paul writes

"My children, I am in terrible pain until Christ may be seen living in you. I wish I were with you now. Then I would not have to talk this way. You really have me puzzled. "

Who introduced you to Jesus? They are your spiritual parents. When you walk away from God they feel great pain and sadness. When you continue on in your walk with Jesus, (no matter how bumpy the road) their hearts are filled with parental pride and joy.

Sometimes we break their hearts, and often they feel great pride in us, but always- always they love us. If your spiritual parents could see you right now, how do you think they would feel?

Monday, September 16, 2013

When better is worse

Everyone wants to be good at something, but what if you are good at being bad? Paul says he was cruel to God's church, but he was a much better Jew than anyone else his age.  Before I became a Christian, I was good at being bad too, but I didn't call my bad "good". Here is what Paul said:
"You know how I used to live as a Jew. I was cruel to God's church and even tried to destroy it.  I was a much better Jew than anyone else my own age, and I obeyed every law our ancestors had given us.  But even before I was born, God had chosen me by his gift of undeserved grace and had decided to show me his Son, so I would announce his message to the Gentiles. I didn't talk this over with anyone. " Galatians 1:13-16 CEVDCUS06
Religious people call their bad "good". The murder others and say they are "serving God". They burn down houses and drive people of other faiths from their towns and villages and say they are "cleansing evil from their midst". They burn the sacred writings of other faiths and say they are "serving God." The most horrible thing about religious people is how they cloak their evil and relabel it as "good." It's not good. It's evil. There is not much hope for religious people because they think they are "good". Well there's not much hope for any of us, unless the Lord intervenes.

Paul also says that "before I was born, God had chosen me". He acknowledges that in spite of his religious evil God, in his sovereign plan, had chosen him for something special. It wasn't because of his religion, his being good at being bad, or his being good at being good, but rather God chose him based on God's undeserved grace alone.

We imagine that God chooses us because of something He sees in us. Maybe that is so, but the Bible doesn't say that. The Bible says that God chooses people for His own reasons and purposes that we may or may not ever understand. It's not about us, but about God. In this case God chose Paul to take the good news about Jesus to the non Jewish peoples of the earth. Perhaps his religious bigotry and zealotry prepared him for this task. I think it did, especially since he ended up on the other side of the bigotry - the receiving end - and was able to endure it graciously. Still the main thing is that God chose him before he was even born. Wow, talk about destiny.

I wonder how Paul would describe his motivation before and after meeting Jesus. He was highly pro-active and dedicated before and after meeting Jesus, but at the same time, he experienced a heart transformation. Before he was motivated by religious hate cloaked as zealousness. Afterwards he was motivated by love and compassion. Both of these fundamental motivations were powerful, but one enslaved and other freed people. One controlled through fear, the other gave up the goal of controlling others, and depended on the Holy Spirit to do that through love. One drove out those who disagreed, the other served them and sacrificed for them. One shrunk the heart of man, the other enlarged it.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

You can go to hell

I'm sure that, at some time in my life, I told someone to "go to hell". For a Christian who believes in eternity and final judgement, it's a pretty bad thing to say to someone. Granted, if I said that to someone, the last thing on my mind was God & eternal destinies. At the time I was probably just ticked off and not at all concerned with spiritual things.

Paul, on the other hand, is quite earnest when he tells the Galatians that the false teachers who have messed them up can "go to hell." Here is what he says,

Galatians 1:6-10 GNTD
"I am surprised at you! In no time at all you are deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ, and are accepting another gospel. Actually, there is no “other gospel,” but I say this because there are some people who are upsetting you and trying to change the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel that is different from the one we preached to you, may he be condemned to hell! We have said it before, and now I say it again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel that is different from the one you accepted, may he be condemned to hell!  Does this sound as if I am trying to win human approval? No indeed! What I want is God's approval! Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ."
Paul is pretty riled up and blasts the Christians at Galatia with both barrels. He says if anyone is preaching a different gospel, different from the gospel of salvation by grace that I (Paul) preached to you, that person can "go to hell", the real hell.

What do you get ticked off at? I get ticked off at people who take cuts in line ahead of me, miss appointments without so much as a phone call to say "sorry I can't come", plastic packaging that has to be open with a box knife. A lot of the stuff I get ticked about is trivial and unimportant. There aren't that many recorded instances of Paul getting angry. He was persecuted, starved, falesly imprisoned and misunderstood. He had some kind of chronic medical problem that bothered him constantly, yet we never hear him complain or get angry over these things. But he gets really pissed off over these false teachers, because they are striking at the heart of the gospel, telling people they have to "be good" in order to "get right" with God. In fact he gets so mad, he says "they can go to hell" - really - really go to hell over this.

I think I care too much about things that don't matter, and don't care enough about the things that really matter. One of the things that really matters is the good news that Jesus died for my sins, rose again and offers forgiveness and new life to anyone who wants it, freely. You can't pay for it, you can't perform for it; all you can do is accept it with thanks.

Lord help me to care more about the things you are passionate about, especially the gospel of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What's in a "hello"?

How do you greet people? I struggle with this. When I write an email to a customer, do I use their surname and "Dear" or address them by the first name with "Hi". What is the right balance between respect and friendliness?

Paul greets the people in the church at Galatia with a prayer.
"I pray that God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!  Christ obeyed God our Father and gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins to rescue us from this evil world.  God will be given glory forever and ever. Amen." Ga. 1:3-5

 Imagine that - "Dear Michael, I'm praying that God ..." It's kinda cool. Who doesn't want to be prayed for or blessed? Who wouldn't want God to be kind to them and bless them with peace?

The tough part of Paul's greeting and prayer is his specificity (the spell checker didn't highlight it, so it must be a real word, yeah!) He prays that God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to them. He goes further and makes sure that they know which Jesus He is talking about - the one who obeyed God our Father and gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins to rescue us from this evil world - that Jesus. Paul was specific because the Galatians were struggling with some fuzzy thinking about who Jesus was. Some false teachers had confused them, so he starts out in his prayer - by being very clear as to who Jesus is.

Does this mean that a generic prayer is wrong? Am I compromising the gospel if I pray for someone and don't mention the cross and salvation? Is is okay just to pray for people and ask God and Jesus to be kind to them and give them peace?

Of course it is. No one wants to be force fed the gospel, especially when you haven't established a relationship or credibility, but praying for people are asking if you can pray for people is a very nice and appropriate way to show Christian love. Of course, you need to follow through and really pray for them.

How do you say "hello"? Even if you don't vocalize it, when you meet someone why not whisper a prayer to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ asking "God, Please be kind to _________ and give them peace." It might change the way you relate to people.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Talk about authority

"From the apostle Paul and from all the Lord's followers with me. I was chosen to be an apostle by Jesus Christ and by God the Father, who raised him from death. No mere human chose or appointed me to this work." Galatians 1:1-2 CEVUK00

If God knocked me to the ground, blinded me and spoke to me, telling me what to do, then I guess I could say "I was chosen by Jesus Christ and by God the Father", but that didn't happen to me. I've been smacked to the ground plenty of times, but in every case God has used an agent to do so, rather than doing it personally. 

The whole idea of a divine calling is bit sketchy to me. Some people think that I have abandoned my calling to do business. They will cite verses like "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" to say that if ever, you decide to be a full time pastor, then that is what you must do until the day you die. It is true, that I feel completely unworthy to serve as a pastor and the role of businessman is more comfortable. A businessman does not have to be perfect, but a pastor may not have feet of clay. I have feet of clay. 

I don't think I will ever have the absolute confidence of Paul. All I have is this: Jesus said "Go and make disciples of all the nations ..." and I'm trying my best to obey Him. He said "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Christ)", so I don't need a personal calling - I have a command to obey. My calling, if you want to call it that, is to obey Jesus.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Seeking approval

"You may brag about yourself, but the only approval that counts is the Lord's approval."
2 Corinthians 10:18 CEVDCUS06

Atta boy! Well done! Good job! We long for approval. I want to hear "well done".  Some days I feel like that is already an impossibility - that I've messed up so badly that there is no way the Lord will say those words to me. I feel like a runner who stumbles badly in the middle of a race and falls to the ground. The rest of the field finishes and I am still rounding the last turn, bloody, painfully slow, and obviously limping.  The TV crew is interviewing the winner,  draped in his national flag, and I am that out of focus last runner in the background finally crossing the line. No reporters or fans are waiting to congratulate me, no one holds out a bottle of water or even a paper flag to wave. No one says "nice race". It wasn't nice, it was ugly, brutal, embarrassing. There are only two things to say about it : I ran, and I finished.

Will I hear "well done"? If it were my child in the race coming in last would I say  "Good job, I am proud of you. You didn't quit."? I would.

" if you, being evil, give good things to your children, how much more the Father... "

I will one day cross the finish line and I hope, I expect that my Father will say "you did good. I love you and I'm proud of you." And so, I run...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The process of missions

"But I hope as you become stronger in your faith, we will be able to reach many more of the people around you. That has always been our goal. Then we will be able to preach the good news in other lands where we cannot take credit for work someone else has already done."
2 Corinthians 10:15b-16 CEVDCUS06

Here is a great summary of the hope and goal of missions :
  • To reach many people in any one locale 
  • To train up & strengthen the new believers so that they will become partners in outreach and discipling. 
  • As local believers become active in outreach then the missionaries/apostles can go to another place and start again.
Notice the two pronouns Paul uses: "as YOU become stronger in your faith, WE will be able to reach many more of the people around YOU." (emphasis mine: why do people always say that? Does anyone really think Paul used all caps in the original Greek?) I think the YOU is the Corinthians and the WE is the Corinthians + the Apostles. When the Corinthians grow to the point where they become active partners in outreach then MANY MORE people in the area can be reached. Multiplication occurs, and the Apostles can go to another land where people haven't yet heard about the gospel.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why does God enrich people?

"Remember this saying, “A few seeds make a small harvest, but a lot of seeds make a big harvest.”   God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food. He will increase what you have, so that you can give even more to those in need. You will be blessed in every way, and you will be able to keep on being generous. Then many people will thank God when we deliver your gift."
2 Corinthians 9:6, 10-11 CEVUK00

Why does God enrich people? At least one answer is: So that they can help others. 

Bill and Melinda Gates were criticized for years for not giving enough of their wealth to others. They were labeled "selfish" "stingy" etc. Then they set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, gave away their wealth and dedicated themselves to changing the world in ways that work. They didn't give their wealth away to satisfy their critics - someone might give part of their wealth to get critics off their back, but not the bulk of their wealth. How they are investing their wealth says a lot about the kind of people they are.

Seeds are meant to be sown. Your resources (your time, talents, material goods, etc.) are your seeds. If you don't plant them, they can't multiply. The scripture above says that "God gives seed to farmers" AND "provides everyone with food." Not everyone is a farmer, but God uses the farmers to provide food for everyone. 

Am I a farmer? Am I sowing generously? 

I don't think I can trick God into giving me wealth, and honestly I don't want to be wealthy. I don't care about wealth, but I would like to continue to "be blessed in every way, and be able to keep on being generous". In my case, I think that I need to sow more seeds. I want to keep on being generous, so I need to keep on being generous. If God, who is generous, blesses my generosity and enables me to do even more, then I will. If, in his wisdom, He decides it is someone else's turn to be generous to me - that's okay too. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

God and the giver

Giving is a tough subject to talk about. There is a lot of guilt associated with the the subject of giving. I wonder if I'm giving enough.. Am I being selfish? There are so many people with desperate needs - shouldn't we, shouldn't I do more? When we talk about giving and generosity the discussion quickly becomes all about us (the donors) OR all about them (the needy). Even in church, we can easily leave God out of the equation. As I was reading 2Cor 9, I noticed that God was mentioned. I need to go back and re-read chapters 8-9 and make a more comprehensive list of what it says about God, but here are two things to whet your whistle.

Remember this saying, “A few seeds make a small harvest, but a lot of seeds make a big harvest.” Each of you must make up your own mind about how much to give. But don't feel sorry that you must give and don't feel you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give. God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others. The Scriptures say, “God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right.” God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food. He will increase what you have, so you can give even more to those in need. You will be blessed in every way, and you will be able to keep on being generous. Then many people will thank God when we deliver your gift.  2 Corinthians 9:6-11 

  • God loves to give and he loves people who share his passion"God loves people who love to give." - Wow, it doesn't say "God loves people who give" but "God loves people who love to give". God is generous and he has a special affinity for people who love to give, because they are like him. I'm a bit of a google geek and when I run into another geek we whip out our phones, talk about this app and that app. "Did you hear that google is going to ...?" There is a natural affinity and friendship that occurs instantly. God feels that way about people who love to give. God loves to give and he loves people who share his passion.
  • God supplies the generous person with everything they need to keep on being generous. "God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others." God can and does bless the generous person, so that he/she can continue to help others and give to those in need. In the Bible the word "bless" is a BIG word. There is great generosity inside the word "bless". Bless is - I ask for a hamburger from McDonald's and God takes me to a 5 star Michelin restaurant. God values generosity so when He sees a generous person he amply provides that person with what he needs to continue being generous. God is generous and he resources those people who share his generous nature. Does this mean that I can force God to give more to me, by giving more to others in need? Let me answer that question with a question "Is that the kind of question a generous person would ask?" 

  • God gives freely and always does right. “God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right.” God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food."  God's gifts don't do harm. Sometimes our well meaning gifts do more harm than good, creating dependency or unintended consequences. God gives freely - no strings attached. God doesn't give out of a feeling of compulsion or guilt. No one guilts God into giving something that will ultimately bring harm. He doesn't cave into family or peer pressure. He gives freely, for the right reason and in the right way.  
Lord, I want to be generous like you. I know I will make lots of mistakes in my giving, but let me err on the side of generosity, not stinginess. Help me to say "no" to unworthy causes, and "yes" to the many truly needy people. Help me become a person who "loves to give" just like you.  Amen.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Generosity is Noble

Out of curiosity I looked up the Wikipedia entry on generosity and found this: "The modern English word "generosity" derives from the Latin word generĊsus, which means "of noble birth". In other words, some people used to think that only people of noble birth would be generous. Or perhaps it was expected of nobility to be generous to the poor. Generosity is a noble trait, but it is probably as common, if not more common among ordinary people as among the "nobility". The people from Macedonia were generous and noble. 
"My friends, we want you to know that the churches in Macedonia  have shown others God's gift of undeserved grace.  Although they were going through hard times and were very poor, they were glad to give generously.  They gave as much as they could afford and even more, simply because they wanted to.  They even asked and begged us to let them have the joy of giving their money for God's people.  And they did more than we had hoped. They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us, just as God wanted them to do." 2 Cor 8:1-5

Here are some lessons about generosity from the Macedonians (in no particular order):

  • generosity doesn't depend on your financial circumstances. These people were going through hard times and were very poor, yet they gave generously. This truth implies a 2nd:
  • you don't have to wait til you are financially stable before giving. You can begin giving when you don't have much at all. 
  • generosity is usually limited by what a person can afford. The Macedonians gave as much as they could afford, though some of them gave more than they could afford, i.e., they sacrificed something to give. 
  • In NO CASE do we ever hear of someone borrowing money to give. Giving was based on their income and they did what they could and a bit above that, but no more than that. 
  • Generous giving comes from the heart: "simply because they wanted to". These people wanted to give and it seems that initially they were refused, so they "even asked and begged" to give. Which leads to another principle:
  • Generosity, giving is a privilege not a duty. Imagine someone grabbing Paul's arm firmly and pleading "Please Paul, you have let me contribute!" When was the last time you begged someone for the privilege of giving? It reminds me of Chinese fighting to pay a restaurant bill.

  • Generous giving for the right reason brings joy and happiness: "they begged us to let them have the joy of giving", "they were glad to give generously". Does writing a check to WorldVision, Samaritan's Purse, or your favorite charity make you happy? Have you ever secretly done something special for another person and then sat back and watched with delight as they enjoyed your generosity?
  • Giving done right shows off God's amazing grace: "the churches in Macedonia  have shown others God's gift of undeserved grace". I haven't often thought about the testimonial value of giving. Giving done right points a spotlight on God's amazing, undeserved, generous grace. Giving generously, sacrificially is a reflection of the giving of the Father and the giving of Jesus to us. So what is giving done right?
  • The first step in becoming a generous giver is to give yourself to God. "They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us". Giving oneself to God as a living sacrifice is the first step. Once God owns you and your possessions, than giving is simply a matter of obeying the promptings and directions of the Holy Spirit. 

Those are some preliminary thoughts on generous giving. Hope it is helpful.

The test of true love

We've all seen them, the pictures of hungry children in Africa or Haiti. I receive a email newsletter from WorldVision and have often clicked on the "give now" button in my browser to donate. I'm clicking less often now. Am I growing calloused? experiencing donor fatigue? I find if I put it off, then I won't donate. How do you measure love? in dollars and cents? The Bible says not to love in words alone, but in actions. I've been reading 2 Corinthians in the Bible, where Paul writes:
"I am not ordering you to do this. I am simply testing how real your love is by comparing it with the concern that others have shown. You know our Lord Jesus Christ treated us with undeserved grace by giving up all his riches, so you could become rich.  I think you should finish what you started. If you give according to what you have, you will prove you are as eager to give as you were to think about giving."
                                                                          2 Corinthians 8:8-9, 11 CEVDCUS06 
 Paul is writing to people who said they want to help. When he mentioned the trouble in Palestine, these Christians said "you can count on us! We want to contribute." Now it is time to follow through. Follow through or lack of it is the test of true love. You said you would give, you have good intentions, now what are you going to do? 

I wish I could have points for feeling sorry for people. If I received points for feeling sorry, feeling bad, empathizing, my name would be in the "high score" lights. "I feel your pain, bro. I really do." Unfortunately you don't get points for good intentions. "Feeling the pain" is useless unless you also act. 

Many times money is not what is needed. Sometimes a phone call, a touch, a kind word, a note to say "thinking about you today, just prayed for you" - these often give people the courage to make it over the top of the mountain. Still, you have to follow through. You need to put it on your "to do list" and actually make the call, write the note, etc. or it counts for nothing. 

Paul says that Jesus put it all on the line when he gave up all his riches so we could become rich. Which means, by the way, that I am rich. He goes on to say that we should give or act according to what you have - so if I have money I can share it (assuming money is what is needed), or time or a word of encouragement or an act of kindness or ... Whatever it is, that you've been meaning to do, well in the words of Nike "just do it!"  It's a little risky, but that's the nature of love. Love takes risks. 

Next time you feel the compulsion to help someone - just do it.