Monday, October 31, 2016

Are We Upside Down?

And if we aren't, then why not?

As a follower of Jesus—and I use that word "follower" intentionally . . . not just someone whose thrown out some profession of faith, but someone who is truly following Jesus, and allowing Jesus to lead—are we a people totally foreign to, and upside down from, the world? And if not, then why not? He was.

My last post talked about the messiness of ministry. How those comfortable with the world will be uncomfortable with ministry (either their doing it, or with us if we are doing it). This morning, as I am reading through Matthew, a few more things popped out. In Matthew 10:24–25 Jesus tells (warns!) His followers, "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household." He then goes on to tell them He didn't come to bring peace, but basically to even turn members of a household against one another.

Jesus came into this comfortable world and totally rocked it, ripped it up, and turned it upside down. He talked about turning families against each other, but then talked about the new family of believers and how their love for one another would be so strong it would be sacrificial, and a defining mark of our identity as ones who love Him. He tore apart the physical "laws" of our world—multiplying fish and bread, calming stormy seas. He tore down the biological barriers we believed "solid"—raising the dead, and reversing irreversible diseases. He shattered the hold of darkness over the world, casting out demons who had held men in bondage and agony, and causing them to beg Him for mercy. He tossed about the values and "wisdom" of the world—telling us it is better to give then receive, to love our enemies, that the blessed are the servants and least, that the last would be first, and to not store up treasures on earth but to store them up in Heaven. He offended the "righteous" and gave hope to the "scum"—calling religious leaders broods of vipers and whitewashed tombs, and telling a thief on a cross they'd be together in paradise that night.

When Jesus came He blew into pieces all expectations about Himself—leaving an earthly kingdom in captivity and a few decades away from destruction, but declaring a Kingdom of God that was eternal. He declared Himself a King, but said nothing in His defense and submitted Himself to whips and spit and jeers and a crown of thorns and death. He made an instrument of execution for criminals a sign of adoration for God. He was born from a no account town, laid as a babe in a feed trough for animals, and welcomed by shepherds. 

We could go on and on with examples, but it is safe to say that Jesus came into this world and blew apart everything about it that was normal, safe, and considered "solid." He turned it upside down . . . and He now lives in believers, desiring to live through believers. He has given us His name, He has given us His presence, He has given us His authority and His power. He turned this world upside down and that leaves me with a haunting question: Am I upside down from this world?

It is a legitimate question. If He is in me, living His life through me, then why am I so much like this world when I should be completely upside down from it? Why am I so comfortable with this world, and maybe even a better question, why is it so comfortable with me? There was nothing comfortable that the world had with Jesus. He made it very uncomfortable. He made it squirm. Those comfortable found themselves wanting to get rid of Him. And those least and broken and lost and rejected found in Him love and acceptance and hope.

Am I upside down? And if not, why not?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ministry is Messy

And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him,
they begged him to leave their region.
(Matthew 8:34)
This verse is stunning to me, and a little scary, because it reveals the heart of man . . . including my own. Jesus has just set free two demonized me—men so fierce no one could pass by them. Men who, we gather from other Gospel accounts of this event, broke their chains, bruised themselves with stones, and ran naked. These men were slaves of Satan, cast out of their town, their lives destroyed, terrors to all. And Jesus set them free. But . . . in doing so, in setting these men free, the demons went into a herd of pigs and the pigs plunged off a cliff and died. The herdsmen went running back to town, told everyone what happened, and then comes the verse I quoted above.

Mark records it this way: Mark 5:15–17 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. . . . And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. Of that man, verse 20 tells us, And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Ministry is messy. And we may not be ready for the price it exacts. We shouldn't be surprised, as Jesus told us in following Him that the world would hate us, and warned that even fox and birds have homes, but He has none. Ministry is messy, and it forces us to really evaluate what it is we want. Not just the proper "Christian" response we all know we should give, but what we really want down deep.

These people saw men who had been terrorized by the devil, lives chained by Satan, and they saw them set free and in their right mind . . . and the Son of God in their midst. And they begged Jesus to leave. They were afraid. For some of them, these men being set free had cost them their livelihood.

It isn't a neat little story of men being set free that makes everyone stand up and cheer. Some begged Jesus to leave as a result of it. It cost. It made them afraid.

Years ago I heard a teaching on Proverbs 14:4 which says, Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Basically, if we want a clean stall, don't have oxen. But if we want fruit, expect a messy stall. The people had a choice—rejoice in these men being set free by the Son of God in their midst, or give in to fear and personal cost and ask God to leave. I am reminded of Moses, when God was angry with the people and said He'd have an angel deliver the Promised Land to them but He wouldn't go with them. Moses basically said, "If you won't go with us, don't give us the land." Moses is awesome! Oh that I might be like him. Offered all the worldly blessings and comfort He said, "I'd rather have You, God, than all of that. And if I don't have You, I don't want it."

Ministry is messy. Jesus turned over tables, fashioned a whip, got everyone angry at Him, suffered, missed out on a lot of comforts, had His own family reject Him, was lonely. And He saw people healed and set free. He saw lives restored, and people turned back to their Father.

Many years ago Mary Ann and I were so excited. We'd designed this awesome flyer we mailed to all the mailboxes in our community. We live in a very rural area, and it was a Western them—basically a WANTED poster and where the picture of the outlaw would be we listed things like jealousy, addictions, lust, broken marriages, etc. (I'll put a picture of it in this post.) We were like, "Wow! This is awesome!" It had text that talked about how all these horrible things seem innocent at first but are so dangerous as they roam, and invited people to the service and to see how Jesus could help. Instead of praise, we had people—Christians—concerned about who we were inviting into the community.

I get it. I get the fear. Everyone wants the poor and homeless and addicted taken care of, but nobody wants the shelter next to their house. I know I wouldn't. I like my privacy. I like the quiet. I like not worrying about my girls or possessions. But . . . I won't see the fruit, either, because ministry is messy.

Last night we, the elders of our fellowship, met to talk over some things and I was sharing with them my growing burden for the unborn. I truly don't believe that God will bless a nation that has a legalized holocaust in its midst. And I would hope that as believers, especially men of God, if we knew of a concentration camp down the street we'd do more than just say, "Well, it's the law of the land . . ."

But, if we really want to address the issue, it isn't enough to hold up signs and even get the law changed. What about the single teenager who is pregnant, whose family will cut her off if she doesn't get an abortion? Our we ready to open our home to her? And we can't even just stand with her until the baby is born. It's going to be a long road. Are we ready for that?

I know that on multiple occasions we've opened our home to people in a really rough place, or people who the community rejected. It has often been really hard, it has certainly destroyed the tranquility in our house, and I've more than once wondered if it would be OK or if we'd even have all our stuff when it was over. I've had people at our local Farmer's Market turn their back on me, and others hate me, because we've reached out to "those people." But, ministry is messy.

It is a question we as Christians must ask ourselves—as individuals and as local fellowships. What do we really want to see? And what is the cost we are really willing to pay? Because if we really want a clean stall, then don't go looking for oxen. But if we really want to see fruit, then be ready to shovel poop.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Loving God (How do we?) . . .

In our family worship time we've been spending a lot of time lately on the subject of loving God and loving others—basically the two great commandments given to us by Jesus (Matthew 22:37–40). What does that love look like? Is it a feeling? An act?

In 1 John the Apostle talks over and over about loving others, and repeatedly does so in the context of reminding us of God's great love for us. It seems that as we reflect on, and respond to, God's love for us we inherently love Him more, and that love gives to us a capacity to love others. It tells us that we love because He first loved us. So if our love for others is tied into our love for God (which is made possible by His love for us) then what does it look like to love God?

I asked the question this morning, "If you were to go on trial tonight for the charge of loving God would the evidence of your day be enough to convict you?"In other words, what does a life look like that loves God and has God's love perfect in it?

Obedience: In John 14:15–24 Jesus makes it undeniably clear that a love for Him will result in an obedience to Him and His words. It makes sense. When we love someone we want to please them and honor them. It is a fascinating thing that the Apostle John says, "Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected . . ." (1 John 2:4-5). When we keep His word, it perfects, completes, carries to fulfillment, the love of and for God!

Loving Others: John says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:7–8). We love others as a choice. As an action. Love is also a fruit of the Spirit of God in us, and we are given a capacity to love others because as a believer God is in us, and He loves them. Sometimes loving others is an "act" of surrendering to God's love in us for them.

Additionally, John says, "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). This is another stunning statement. When we love others, it also brings to perfection His love through us! I love this procession: God loves us, we respond to that love, God comes to dwell in us, God loves others, we love others. God's love is perfected and carried to completion by His first loving us and ultimately our loving others!

Trust: Another "perfection" statement in 1 John that deals with perfecting God's love is found in 1 John 4:17–18 where it says that when we have confidence regarding the day of judgment then God's love is perfected in us—and if we have fear of punishment His love is not perfected in us. His love is perfected in us when we completely trust Him and His work on the cross and His word and His character and promises. And this makes sense, you can't love someone fully if you don't trust them and you despise their character and nature. You can fully commit yourself into someone when you trust them completely.

Time Guarded: Some of my earliest memories are my parents taking an hour or so each day to have a cup of coffee together after work and share the day, catch up, and just talk. Mary Ann and I have guarded this "tradition" of taking time each day to have a cup of coffee and talk in our own marriage. Even when we can't just sit together, but are able to work on a project together, we enjoy each other's presence and company. We are best friends, and just being together is joyful. Ephesians 5:22–33 tells us that a Christian marriage reflects God's love to the world, and I'd like to think that in guarding time together, and enjoying each other's presence in working together, we are revealing a bit about how love for God can look.

Priorities Revealed: Back when everyone wrote checks for everything someone said, "Don't tell me your priorities. Show me your checkbook register for the last month and I'll tell you your priorities." One could say the same today looking over credit card statements, check registers, online payments, etc. Our investments represent our priorities. Be it our financial investments, our time investments, etc. Jesus said to store up our treasures in Heaven, not on earth where moth and thieves and rust destroy. He said that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. If we want our heart to love God more then we must store up the treasures that He loves. We must invest our money and time in the things that He is invested in. The things eternal. The hurting, the lost, the poor, and the defenseless like the unborn and widows and orphans. Our treasures define our heart.

Along those lines, Jesus warns us against believing the lie that we can love both God and money, etc., when He says, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). The Apostle John confirms this in 1 John 2:15–17 when he writes, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."

I do not believe this means we aren't to enjoy things. James 1 tells us not to be deceived but to know that every good and perfect thing is a gift from God to us. And the Apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:17–19, tells us God gives us things to enjoy. We just aren't to love those things, or get too fixed on them, but to rather love and be fixed on the One who gives them to us. The full passage is revealing when it says, "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."

Least of These: Jesus said that God sees whatever we do for the "least of these" as if it was done for Him—and whatever we neglect to do for them, He sees as having neglected to do for Him (Matthew 25:31–46). So, when we love the "least of these" He says He receives it as loving Him. When we visit the sick, the prisoners. When we feed the hungry. When we defend the unborn. When we spend time with the rejected. When we love them He says we are loving Him, and in 1 John 3:17 the question is asked, "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"

Inevitably in any discussion of helping others comes all the questions, "What if I get taken advantage of?" or, "What if I am enabling someone?", etc. I believe the Holy Spirit must guide us in each moment, but I can say in my own life that God has given me ten thousand fold more than I've ever had taken from me. I'd always rather error on the side of love and being taken advantage of, then miss a moment God had positioned me for. Besides, I don't know what fruit my act of kindness might bear down the road as the Holy Spirit moves on someone and convicts their heart and brings them to repentance. Ultimately, in these moments, I have to ask myself, "What is my goal?" Because if my goal is to love God in giving to another, then whatever they do with it is between them and God—I have met my goal.

These are just a few thoughts we've arrived at regarding loving God and others. Maybe you have more. It has been a special week plus talking it over, and I look forward to continuing it. Thanks for sharing in my life. In a way, now, you've sat in on family worship with us . . . you just need a good cup of coffee to "perfect" it.


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