Archive for the 'Love' Category

Dare to Be Different

While traveling in Jerusalem, our tour guide thanked us for showing our love for the Israeli people by visiting Israel and desiring to see the holy sites. He then told a story that touched the center of my heart about observing a group of Christians from Africa parading through Jerusalem with signs that read, “We love you Israel.” During that parade, our guide said that he overheard a young boy saying to his father, “I thought the Christians hated us.” Our guide said that he felt a deep sadness to hear this question, for he, too, was a Christian – a Messianic Jew – with a deep knowledge of Israel’s history and culture. And yet, he became instantly encouraged when he heard the father’s response to his boy, which was, “Son, not all Christians are alike.”

This father was teaching his son to be discerning rather than to lump great groups of people into uniform stereotypes based on often misleading or incomplete knowledge. And the whole narrative runs somewhat counter to the narrative we have seen in the past and that we sometimes still see in America today. In America, until very recently, if you would have told people you were going to see Israel or that you actually “love” Israel, you might have had a great number of secular persons trying to debate with you over Jewish “settlements.” “What’s the deal with Israel?” one person asked me several years ago. “Why does our country support them so much no matter what they do?” More recently, if you say you “love” Israel, they lump you into the category of so-called “political Christians,” who are often people with a shallow knowledge of their own worldview, but with a firm conviction that self-described “evangelical” Christians are politically required to show their love and concern for Israel. Our notions of what it means to love or support Israel – and why we might do it – seem to sway dramatically in even recent winds.

In Israel, however, the concept of time and history is much deeper. The Jewish peoples’ idea of what people think of them comes from thousands of years of often supernatural survival, glossed with an indescribable hatred that can only be understood through the lens of the Bible. Unfortunately, many in the Jewish community believe that Christians do, in fact, hate them, a notion that is not altogether assuaged when one looks at history. Whether it stems from the completely misinterpreted notion that Jews killed Jesus, the evil ramblings of insane tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, or more subtle understandings of White Nationalist tenets that are moored to a deeper, if unstated, hatred of Jews, the idea that Christians are not necessarily in lock step with Jews is always just below the surface.

Accordingly, in this blog I am asking for all of us to develop a deeper understanding of Israel and the Jewish people. In some ways, I’m merely asking for a stronger understanding of the Biblical worldview, which would automatically call us to love all humans, including Jews and those who hate Jews alike. But we must never forget the Biblical history, which clearly shows a nation chosen by God to achieve His ends for all of civilization.

It’s a call to an understanding that can ignore whimsical changes in attitudes based on political power. It’s a call to love everyone, but with full knowledge of the special nature of the Jewish community and Israel now and in the future. But mostly it’s a call to love God and to trust Him when he makes promises to whom he chooses. Are we so vain that we think we can either slow or hasten God’s plan?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, history is replete with misunderstanding and even hatred of the Jews, but that hatred is often the symptom of a larger community disease. So, as in all things, I rely on the teachings of the most famous and influential Jew ever to walk the earth, Jesus Christ. He said, “A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

How can we do that? We must continually assess our thoughts and words to keep our hearts, minds, and spirits clean of the kind of hatred too often seen in the world. We must love others, but we must also be certain that the love we share is grounded in the Truth of the Bible and in the Father’s love rather than in some fleeting political notion or worldly desire. We must study the Word, which provides the Truth not only of a people, a nation, and a messiah, but also the Truth of a universal plan designed to save each of us despite our natures.

Most people don’t take the time to develop a worldview that explains the nuances of belief in Jesus. Dare to be different. Dare to dive deep into the faith and develop that worldview. Dig into the Old Testament. Learn about Israel, the Jewish people, and the supernatural story of their existence. Above all else, though, show your allegiance to the teachings of Jesus through your love. Do your part – however small it may seem at the time – to make the statement, “I thought the Christians hated us,” so absurd that no one will utter it ever again.

Are You Awake? Are Your Eyes Open?

We just returned from a blessed dream vacation in Israel for two weeks. I call it a “vacation” even though it was more like an intense college semester abroad. We learned so much, and we connected with the Holy Land in a way that I’m not sure I can even describe (even though I’ll try in future blogs).

Even before I went, though, I’d been praying for revelation on the things happening in our world and here in the USA, and requesting confirmation that my eyes are open and that I’m not blinded by the worldly propaganda I seem to be seeing. Fortunately, I’ve been getting that confirmation, but it only makes my heart ache from seeing the hate and division being sown by so many people, including those professing to be “Christians.” This blog is about “hate,” and the spiritual darkness it causes.

We know that hate has been a big factor in human history since the Fall. And a lot of that hate has been advanced in the name of God. History is replete with wars, disputes, invasions, conquests, etc., by seemingly well-meaning persons hoping to satisfy their own notions of what God wants for the world. Some of these things “done in the name of religion” are what caused me, ultimately, to refrain from using the word Christian at all. Too much worldly baggage. I use “follower of Jesus” instead.

Through biblical history we see people’s insecurities and imperfections flare up when they’re challenged for their beliefs, and I see a lot of that as a root of the hatefulness in our world today. Importantly, I also see how the enemy is blinding people – using what psychologists call “confirmation bias,” which is a powerful motivator for fueling nascent belief. In short, people seek to confirm the beliefs they already have to avoid cognitive dissonance, which causes even physical discomfort. Confirmation of the Truth can be a very good thing, but knowing the Truth of God often means having a fully developed theological worldview, and I’m not sure a lot of followers of Jesus have that to begin with. People will try to confirm what they believe, but if their belief of the Truths of the Bible is only superficial, they will, instead, confirm notions that occasionally (or even often) go against a biblical worldview. This includes hateful notions, and this makes the whole thing very dangerous. In the world, confirmation of hateful notions has led to all sorts of desensitization and horrible atrocities.

In writing to a group of believers, John reminded them of the slippery path toward spiritual blindness caused by hate when he said, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister] is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” (1 John 2:9-11). Notice the temporal progression: hate causes darkness, and then the darkness causes people to stumble.

And remember, too, that as with all sinful behavior, Jesus set the bar so that we would not be able to justify small or “insignificant” amounts of hatred; even what we might consider miniscule amounts of hate – going even to our thoughts – is sinful to a perfectly loving and righteous God. Indeed, as in other places in Scripture, Jesus corrected our notions of sin by articulating this new bar. For example, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) Love your enemies? Be perfect? Yes, indeed. That’s the bar Jesus set to keep us out of the darkness.

So, in my opinion, just a little bit of hate from a follower of Jesus – such as a random post on Facebook, screaming at another driver, or even wicked thoughts – has the potential to create spiritual darkness, which then causes him or her to stumble further on a myriad of theological tenets. Is it any wonder that a follower might quote the Old Testament out of context when he or she has been blinded by his or her own hateful thoughts? Indeed, is it any wonder that followers might do or say anything unbiblical when even seemingly small instances of hate have blinded those persons to the Truth and Light? If they’re stumbling in the dark, they’re stumbling in the dark. Don’t expect them to do a crossword puzzle. Expect them to break their toe.

We need to be sure that we aren’t in the darkness. To do that, we must pray for revelation of the Light and for recognition of even the smallest of behaviors that can lead to spiritual darkness. Keep your focus on the Lord and his Word. Measure everything against what Jesus taught. Keep your spirit clean. Stay awake. Open your eyes.

Love and Basketball

This story has been making the rounds on television – I saw it first on the CBS news, so here’s the link:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-high-school-basketball-team-incredible-sportsmanship/

It tells about how a couple of high school boys in Waco, Texas, thought it was sad that the Gainseville, Texas, juvenile correctional facility’s basketball team never had any fans when they came to play. So this time, when the Gainesville Tornadoes came to play in Waco, these two students made sure that the Tornadoes had fans, posters, and even cheerleaders to make them feel like a real team.

Of course, they were already a real team, but it just took a bit of love to help them to fully realize it. A classic definition of the kind of love God expects from us is this: meeting other people’s needs at the expense of our own. I’m sure it wasn’t necessarily easy for the two Waco kids to put this whole thing together, and I’m sure that they could easily have just brushed the whole thing off. But in the end, because of the love showed by the people in Waco, at least a couple of the Gainesville players said they would never forget that day for the rest of their lives. Who knows, maybe it even turned them around.

I work in criminal justice, and I understand the need for empathy to solve the kinds of criminal issues we see today. What I don’t say enough is that I absolutely think that God is really the only way to solve any criminal justice issue. We can talk about cost-benefit analyses, constitutional mandates, and even social science research, but it’s only love for our fellow human beings that will change our future for the better.

Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” but this merely reminds us that the word “least” is really a label that we use in the world. God doesn’t love them any less, but they do offer us an opportunity to show love, mercy, and justice in concrete ways.

As Saints, what we do in the world matters, but the two boys in Waco have shown that you don’t have to dump a bunch of money at a problem or come up with some amazing super-solution to make a difference. All it takes is a bit of love and creativity, and God smiles.

Ministering to People in Grief

Ministering to People in Grief

Often times we will interact with people hurting with grief.  Know that grief does not only come from loss of loved ones through death, it can also come from the loss of a relationship, marriage, job, pet, etc. 

During this last year I had six loved ones pass on to be with the Lord. While that was all happening, a lot of very well-intentioned people said a lot of well-intentioned things to me. I know they were trying to comfort me because at one time or another I had said these very same things to people when I thought they needed comfort. But I also had people say things that I found very comforting. Let me tell you what those things were so you can use them yourself.

1.  “I’m so sorry for your loss – I can’t begin to know how you feel.” It was so nice to have someone just say they felt sorry for me. Plus, I liked it when they said they didn’t know how I felt. So many times people say they know how I feel and the first thing I think is, “really?” I also had someone say that they were sad when they experienced “something similar.” That was okay, too, because it recognized those subtle differences that made our losses different. 

2.  “I know you’re really going to miss them.” That’s a fact for sure, and I can’t imagine a time when saying this won’t be true. Let’s put it this way – if you say this and it’s not true, get ready for a pretty interesting story. Most of us miss people when they’re gone. This is a lot better than saying something like, “they lived a good, long life.” Although that might have been true for the passing of my 94-year-old grandfather or my 84-year-old father in law, I would rather have had them around for a few more years. 

3.  “How are you doing – what can I do for you?”  This is a very practical question that told me that they were willing to chip in when things were rough.  Believe me, that’s helpful and comforting. A lot of times when people die, you just aren’t sure what to do, and having someone offer up a little help can really calm you down. This is a lot better than saying something like, “Well, they’re no longer suffering.”  While this might be true, my first reaction to this is to think about them suffering. 

4. “Can I pray for you?” Man, can you ever! I’m always looking for people to pray for me, with me, around me. Even if we didn’t do it right then, together, I found a lot of comfort in knowing that someone was going to speak to God about me and my loved one. Christians tend to fall back on certain “company line” statements about death, such as “They’re in a better place,” or “you’ll see them again,” or “it was their time to go,” but for whatever reason, these statements just didn’t do much in the way of comfort for me. That was a big revelation because I think I’ve said each of these things a hundred times.

I had one person put everything together and say, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ll pray for your heart to be comforted and I know you will miss them a lot.  I still miss my _______ because my love was so deep for them too.  Let me know if you need my shoulder to lean on or to talk about your loving memories.  Can I buy you lunch? ” Now, that was a good one!  

How to Treat Others

Heard a great quote – author unknown

The most cruel thing that a person can do is to treat another person in such a manner that they forget that they are a son or daughter of the King!

How are you treating others???

Comfort for All

Did you know that we have access to the ultimate in comfort during those times when life has hurt us or broken our hearts?

The Greek work for comfort is paraclese or parakaleo, and you may recall hearing the Holy Spirit referred to the Comforter or Paraclete.

John 15:26 (KJ) – “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me”

John 14:16 (KF) – “And I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.”

A decision to follow Jesus – to believe what he said about both himself and you – means that you are given the Holy Spirit to reside within you. If you read enough stuff about the Holy Spirit, you’ll see conflict and confusion unlike any other topic (some churches don’t even teach on it!) But despite any disagreement on the form and function of the Holy Spirit among various religions, I believe that God’s Spirit indwells believers quite literally. That’s really an awesome thought, and it means that it is proof that God is ALWAYS with us and ALWAYS there to provide comfort and guidance to us.

When we are going through a difficult time, we often use our friends and families as sounding boards for advice, but we should really be relying on our Father FIRST by getting into the Word and prayer constantly throughout the day. Our Father is the source of our comfort, and so relying on Him is something that we need to make a focused effort to do at the outset. His advice is always the true and right path – even if it seems hard or makes us initially nervous! The comfort comes from following God obediently.

Second Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (NIV)

This single verse shows us that our comfort from God creates a duty to give comfort to others. And it goes the other way, too. Much like the idea of reaping and sowing, if we share our comfort, we will receive comfort from God and others.

We know that we live in a very painful and difficult world that is dominated by the enemy. Accordingly, it’s our duty to keep our wits about us and to properly process the things that happen to us and to others so that we can provide comfort and support. We live in a time much like in the time of Isaiah where “good” is called “evil” and “evil” is called “good” so relying on the Word of God is crucial for telling what is coming from whom.  We must not fall prey to the lies and deceptions of the enemy, and we must not allow ourselves to feel like victims. After all, we’ve already won this fight!

We have a compassionate loving Father that wants the best for us.  He will allow us to grow through our difficulties and assist us to weather any storm.  His compassion and comfort for us is shown not only through comfort of knowing He loves us, but also through comfort and encouragement from others and the Word, and through the experiences of personal and spiritual growth from other difficulties we have overcome.

Some form of the word “comfort” is found 69 times in the NIV Bible – 19 of these are in the New Testament.  “Encouragement” is often used as comfort, and this word is found 55 times in the NIV. The fact that the word is used so often is a great reminder that God does love us and care for our wellbeing. As God’s children, we need God’s comfort.  We need to know God cares about us and we need the comfort that can only be given through the promises in his Word.

I have always loved Isaiah 40:29-31, but now it has an added dimension: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Those of us who hope in the Lord will renew our strength, and that gives us comfort. We will soar like eagles and not grow weary or faint, and that gives us comfort.  So much of the frailty that we feel when we need comfort – weariness, tiredness, weakness, and faintness – can be overcome by finding hope and faith in God. Rest in His comfort, strength and love.

So keep your head up and focused on God when you feel down, walk in His strength when you are weary and tired, and breathe in the Holy Spirit when you feel faint. As you go through the day, keep saying the simple phrase “Jesus in me” to remind you of the promises of God. Keep His Word close to you and hide it in your heart and be encouraged that He will guide you through the tough times!

Who Inspires You?

Who  Inspires you?

The word, inspire means “to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence”.  When we think of being inspired we think of it in a positive way, such as being inspired to be better or do more.  Jesus is the ultimate positive, influencer encouraging us to always strive to be better and do more for others.  Today, think about who inspires you and tell them THANK YOU!


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