Friday, June 29, 2018

It's VBS Sunday, and time to talk about the Assurance of Pardon

Read 1 John 1

VBS…  Wow!  It’s a week like no other in the year.  We pack in Bible verse, prayers, stories from scripture that come alive in the telling, great snacks and games, and just good fun make up what for many might just be the best week of the year.

And, of course, there is the pool party.

And then there is the Sunday after Bible school.  I am thankful that the VBS leaders could wake up this morning.  There is tired and there is VBS tired.  Some are already taking kids to camp.  Things really happen around here.

I am also thankful that there are some here this morning that are usually not in attendance.  I know that most of you came to see your kids, but I want to let you know something.  God is love and God loves you.

If you have read very little of the Bible, I am going to give you some insight into things that you probably already suspected.

First, all of this—creation—is no accident.  The Apostle Paul told his readers to look at the evidence of creation itself and know that there is a Creator.  We know this to be true.  We know one true God and we know him best by his Son, whom today we call Jesus.

We know that God created us as the best part of everything.  He even made us in his own likeness, in his own image.

On top of that, he let us make our own choices.  That part didn’t seem to work out too well for us much of the time for we often made bad choices. Not all the time, sometimes we made very bad choices—terrible choices.  This is what we need to understand.  God loved us then and loves us now and will love us tomorrow and love us forever.
That does not mean that there are no consequences for our bad choices.  It means that God will never stop loving us.

A lot of people think, that If I am as good as the next person, I can go to heaven.  They may think that, but it is not in God’s word.  That’s not what he told us and as he is God, it might be good to know what he told us.  He is, after all, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

God knows that we can never be perfect without him.  He allows us to try.  And even though we know inside that we can’t be right with God all on our own, we still try to live the way we want and hope—no wish—that everything works out for the best.

Anybody here ever been short on money and when it came to your bills you just wished for the best.  You knew that you should make a budget and stick to it, but you just wished for the best.  If you are not careful, the water and electric get cut off while you wish for the best.

A lot of people look at life the same way.  I’ll just hope for the best.  If there is a heaven, surely they will let me in.  If there is a hell, oh well, I should have lots of friends there.  We will take over the place.

Let me tell you this morning that there is a heaven and there is a hell and God desires that no one go to hell.  He desires that all come to know him and the abundant life that he has in store for us now and forever.  That is the desire of God’s heart.

But he lets us make our own decisions.  Except for one.  God decided that he would make us right with him.  He would do the one thing that we could never do on our own.  He shed his own blood to take away our sin.

I’m not going to cover how God’s people used to make sacrifices for their sins.  They did.  They were temporary and they could not truly make us right with God.

But God did.  By the blood of Jesus—a divine sacrifice—we are in good standing with God.  Jesus paid it all.  We are saved.  We are reconciled to God.  We are ransomed.  We are rescued.  We are his!

And we should live the rest of our lives in grateful response to God.  We should live exactly as we were made to live—as holy and righteous people.

But we don’t.  We still fall short, but we never fall out of God’s grace.  Grace is undeserved forgiveness.  It’s unmerited forgiveness from God.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Humankind was not getting better.  We were anchored to our sin; yet, God himself made the sacrifice for us so that we could live forever enjoying the God who made us.

But we still fall short, and so we come to the memory verse for this year’s VBS.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Life still has struggles, and trials, and things that come out of left field that we make a mess of, and yet, God loves us.  We do not lose our right-standing with him.

We cannot undo what Jesus has done!  We can live being ungrateful for what he has done, but the blood of Jesus is more powerful than your worst sin.  Jesus paid it all!  He set us free from sin and we will know eternal life with our loving God.

But we still mess stuff up again and again.  So, what are we to do?

Confess!  Confess to God what you have done.  Let him know that you know you missed the mark.  He already knows.  This lifts the burden from you. 

God wants you to get back to living a full life.  He tells us to give him these burdens that we try to carry on our own.   He has paid the price for our sin and he wants us to live to the full.  He wants us to live an abundant life.

If you know Jesus as Lord and have sinned, confess.  It is just that simple.

The promise—the assurance—that we have is that he will forgive us.  He will forgive us.  There is no deliberation over the matter.  He will forgive us.

Now that’s cool beans.  God’s love is so great that he forgives us time and time again.  Once you have professed Jesus as Lord, you need not worry about any sin that you commit.  God has given us his assurance of pardon.
That doesn’t mean that we run amuck.  It means that we do our best to please our Heavenly Father, but when we falter, we confess and get back to doing the best we can.

His forgiveness is promised to us.  His pardon is assured.

If you do not live with this assurance because you have not yet received the gift of life abundant and life eternal through Jesus Christ, do not hesitate to make that decision today.

You will still have trials and temptations and problems, but you will be forgiven and will be in good standing with God.

Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved!

Do not hesitate to know the forgiveness of God, the peace of the Lord, and his assurance of pardon.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Catch God's Vision

Salvation is a gift.  Discipleship takes effort.  Is anyone hearing this for the first time?

The real question here is do we think that discipleship is worth the effort.  Is taking the risk, doing the work, and knowing both reward and hardship for following Jesus the Messiah worth it?  Is it worth it?

The textbook answer is “yes.”

The answer that we want to have in our hearts is “yes.”

The answer that we want to tell our friends and family is “yes.”

So why do we go back to old ways many more times than we want to?

I want to follow Jesus and trust in the Lord with all of my heart.  I want my life to put a smile on God’s face.  I really do want to love my neighbor.  I want people to know that I am Christ’s disciple by my love.  I really do want these things.

I understand that the gift of salvation is more that I can comprehend.   I sing and I believe, “Jesus paid it all.  All to him I owe.”  I get that.  I really do.

But I also understand all too well that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Sometimes I want to do everything the way God prescribed, and it seems like I can’t do anything the way God wants me to.  What gives?

Part of this is the ongoing struggle between our old self and the new creation.  It’s the continuous battle between living by the ways of the world and living by the ways of God.  It should get easier with practice.

But part of the struggle is simply that we don’t put in the effort.  That’s blunt, I know, but part of the problem is that we don’t put in the effort.

James is clear on this.  Get rid of the junk that belongs to the world and the way it does things and receive, accept, and embrace the word that lives in you.  Out with the old.  In with the new.  Out with the ways of the world.  In with the mind of Christ.  Out with our own understanding.  In with trusting the Lord with all of our heart.

What we learn from the Lord, we must apply in our lives.  It’s like taking a 1-hour class that has a 23-hour lab.  Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden was light.  Take his yoke and learn from him, but to learn from him we must take what he taught us and put it into action—into practice.

You have heard the expression that practice makes perfect.  It’s just not true.  Perfect practice makes perfect.  If your golf swing stinks and you practice that same sorry swing 100 times each day, your swing still stinks.  You are just making it harder to improve your swing by practicing the wrong way again and again.

You will get really good at a bad swing!

You have to practice doing the right things in the right way.  It’s not just, “I read the homework assignment for Sunday school.  Life is gong to be a breeze from here on out.”

“Yep, I just read the 10 Commandments.  Almost memorized 5 or 6 of them.  I am living God’s way without exception, whoa, except I sure would love to have me a phone like my neighbor has and a Harley like the guy down the street.  Man, that’s living”

“Don’t get me wrong.  I’m going to do things God’s way, but if that jerk cuts me off in traffic again, I swear I will kill him with my bare hands.  But I’m doing this God thing. Don’t get me wrong.”

James tells us that if we read the law or hear the law or we might even add that when we are led by the Spirit to do something that we know God wants us to do, or perhaps not to do, but we do our own thing anyway, then we are a mess.  He says it’s like looking into a mirror, stepping away, and wondering what we looked like a few seconds later.

But whoever looks intently into the perfect law—that is the law of love—and steps right into application will be blessed in what they do.  We will be blessed for putting God’s words, his love, his commission to us into effect.  That’s what we are told.

The gift is salvation.  Sin and death have no say in our eternal destination.  Living out that salvation—discipleship—is work.  It’s not debilitating work.  It’s the application of what the word tells us to do.

Love your neighbor.  I can do that, most of the time it doesn’t take too much effort.  I cut his grass if he is sick.  Pick up something for him at the store while I am out.  Speak kindly, listen to understand, and show God’s love as much as I can.

Love the alien in your land.  Well, I will love the legal ones.  The rest are surely excluded from that command, or not.

Love your enemies.  Some things take more effort than others.  If I can just get along with my neighbor who is in this country legally and is not my enemy, that out to count for enough credit that I can skip over the other two.

I can read about forgiveness and believe how powerful it is, but practicing it, that’s another story.  I would rather be a Pharisee and just point out other people’s problems.  I can throw me some penalty flags.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know about the plank in my eye, but to tell you the truth, I’ve grown used to it.  I’m comfortable with it.  I can still do my job pointing out the speck in your eye while toting around this lumber yard in my own eye.

Discipleship takes work.  Putting God’s words into practice takes work.  It takes practice. Martin Luther thought that 2 books should be taken out of the New Testament for two different reasons.  Revelation should be excluded from what most people need to read because it’s just too hard to understand.  I think we can relate to that sentiment.  How many different interpretations are there for all of those metaphors, unless you believe that everything is literal.  Revelation is just too hard to understand.

James, on the other hand is easy to understand, but hard to live.  Who can really live by everything that James is telling us to do.  Many of us get bogged down between understanding and practicing.

Discipleship takes work.  It also takes vision.  The proverb says that where there is no vision, the people perish.  Where there is no divine guidance from God, the people run amuck. 

James tells us to look intently into the divine law.  Look purposefully, look with hunger for God’s wisdom, look seeking to understand the perfect intent of what God has already given us in his word.

Catch God’s vision for humanity.

What would our lives be like—what would the world be like—if we all caught God’s vision. 

First of all, there would be no other gods and no coveting.  We would know truth and holiness and love.  We would truly honor our father and mother.  The Sabbath would become ever so special to us, whatever day it happened to be on our calendars. 

Theft and murder would not be the lead stories on the evening news.  Lying would be a thing of the past.  Unemployment for politicians would be up for a while but down for the rest of all time.  I would no longer lust after anything that was yours.

This whole love one another thing would be the biggest and longest lasting movement, ever.  You would not only know your neighbor but probably fix dinner for them once a week.
There would be nobody who was on the outside looking in. 

Inclusion would replace disconnection.  Family from our own human blood, from those connected in the blood of Christ Jesus, and those who just haven’t heard the new yet, would be one family.  We would all be brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus and life would be good.

You wouldn’t worry how much money you made.  You would always have enough because the body of Christ—not your government—would make it so.  Everyone would work the best that they could, give from what they had, and regard others more highly than themselves.

You would find that not only were you doing so many things for so many people, but so many were doing things for you.  That does not include math.  You still have to do your own algebra.   So many were doing so much for you.

Envision the generally accepted human wisdom that many hands make light work.  That’s what we would find if we looked intently into the perfect law.  There would be nothing to be dreaded.  There would be no jobs that were just too hard. 

I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I’m thinking Louis Armstrong must have been looking intently into the perfect law.

What a wonderful world it would be.

And then this thing that we call reality speaks rudely and out of turn, and says:  “But that’s not the world that you live in.”

The sad thing is that we listen to this voice that claims to be reality.  We give it so much credibility.  Why not?  This perfect world is not the world that we live in.

But it’s the vision.  It’s God’s perfect vision.  Why don’t we catch the vision instead of listening to what the world has to say?

But the world is still going to be a mess.  So what?  I have caught the vision.  I have caught God’s vision.  I can see the desire of God’s heart and I am so ready to put his words into practice even if it takes another millennium to see the difference.

I don’t just read God’s word.

I don’t just study to understand God’s word.

I don’t just make myself put his words into practice.

I have caught God’s vision and there is no cure.  I’ve got a bad case of seeing things God’s way now.  I can’t help myself but live according to his word.  He has revealed his will to me—his good, pleasing, and perfect will to me.

I have looked intently into the perfect law and there is no going back.  I didn’t say that I read today’s Sunday school lesson.  I didn’t say that I have read the verse of the day for two weeks straight.

I said, I have looked intently into the perfect law and there is no going back.

I have caught the vision.  I have caught God’s vision and his way is the only way for me.  I live his vision in faith and in practice.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Quick to Listen

God is good.
God created everything good and when he was finished he pronounced everything very good.
God has good plans for us.
God gives good gifts.

We sing that he is a good, good Father.

Should we not be eager to listen to him.  Most of the time when I consider these two short verses, I think of relationships between and among people.  Consider the words.  Nowhere do we see that these words are restricted to person-to-person use.  They are immensely valuable in that way, but not restricted just to conversations among humanity.

What if I was quick to listen to God.  What if when I felt God’s Spirit or his word speaking to me, I just closed my mouth and opened my heart and mind and listened—listened intently.  What if I was quick to listen?
What if I was quick to listen to God?

What if I listened without interruption?  What if I permitted only God’s thoughts to have a voice—the only voice when he is speaking.  What if my own counter-thoughts and arguments and excuses fell silent for this time.  I became slow to speak.  I became slow to formulate the thought.

I knew God was communicating with me, so I became quick to listen and slow to speak.  I was absorbing everything that he had to say through his word or Spirit-to-spirit. 

To get into this mode, we should remember that:

God is good.
God created everything good and when he was finished he pronounced everything very good.
God has good plans for us.
God gives good gifts.

Maybe we should sing Good, Good Father a little more often between Sundays to make us more receptive to what God is saying to us.

When it comes to God having something to say to us, we should be quick to listen and slow to speak, and we should be slow to anger.  The anger that our human nature generates will not get us to the right standing with God that we think it will.

Most of the time, anger is a problem.  Anger is not prohibited, but we are cautioned that anger does not get the upper hand on us.  It must not give the devil a foothold.  The sun should not set on our anger between us and others.  Reconciliation is our goal.

Retaining our anger can adversely affect our health.   There are many adverse effects that go with anger, but the counsel here is constraint not restraint.  We are to be slow to anger.

Why?  Human anger cannot produce the right standing that God desires.

So, is this counsel on anger about our relationship with God as well?  Yes!  We are not entitled to become angry with God.  When we do, he understands us, but he knows that our anger does not produce the desired results.

If you are angry with God, tell him.  It’s not like he doesn’t already know.  Then, be still and listen to him.

Our anger has no efficacy.  Efficacy is the power to produce desired results.  Self-efficacy is the power to produce desired results in ourselves.

If we are totally tuned into God and his direction, we must not rely on our own human understanding.  We are trusting God.  Our own nature and understanding may want to argue with God or reject his counsel, but we are to trust in him completely.

We are to be slow to anger when we don’t like what God is telling us or we don’t like what is happening in our lives.  In fact, we should be so slow that we just never seem to get there.  The Lord will direct our paths.

When we trust him completely—yes, that is with all of our hearts—and when we acknowledge him as we implement his counsel over our own understanding, God puts us on the right path and we continue in right relationship with him.

This counsel from James is also for our person-to-person communication.  That’s the way that we study it most often.   Be quick to listen to the other person.  Listen first, talk later, and listen intently.  That means listen to understand not to formulate your rebuttal while the other person is speaking.

Listen, really listen to what someone is telling you.  Understand what they are saying.  Do your best to understand it in their own words.  Don’t rephrase it to fit a pattern that already exists in your own mind.  Try your very best to fully understand what they are saying.

If you have questions, they should be questions that advance the understanding, not those that counter it.  Understand that understanding does not mean agreement.  It means understanding.

At some point, you will want a turn to be understood.  The counsel from James is don’t rush that part.  Let the other person speak until they feel understood.  Then take your turn.

Let us understand that we are talking about our most important conversations.  This is not Cowboys and Sooners banter.  This is husband-wife, mother-daughter, coworker to coworker, believer and believer.  There is a relationship in place and a greater relationship to be desired, even and perhaps especially, when the relationship is on the brink of dissolving.

It is time to be the one who listens first—to be quick to listen.  Perhaps, it is best to have an agreement to listen before you even begin.  I will listen to you until you tell me that you are completely understood.  After that, I ask that you extend to me the same measure of listening to understand.

This is a big agreement.  It is not an agreement to reach agreement.  It is an agreement to understand each other.

If people do this, they have each met a basic human need to be understood.  Our nature is to have others understand us.  We want to talk first, be heard first, and be understood first so that others will see our perspective.  Our nature says, if only they could see things my way, then we would surely agree.

Our human nature is to be understood and when both parties to a conversation insist on being understood first, we have what Steven Covey calls the dialogue of the deaf.  Everyone talking and nobody listening.

I ask you to understand that we don’t always get to agreement, but we can get to understanding.  If we can get to understanding in our conversations, the need to have agreement lessens.  I understand the way you see this.  I think you understand the way I see this.  I think that we understand each other.  We might not agree on whatever this thing or issue or discussion point is, but now that we understand each other, it seems like agreement is not as important as it once was.  The desire to have to be right about this thing has lessened.

Respect for each other grows.  Conversations are easier and other areas are open to be explored.  Quick to listen and slow to speak is a good model. 

But the words say “everyone” should be quick to listen and slow to speak.  Everyone who is seeking to please God.  This letter was written to Hebrews who believed that Jesus was both Savior and Lord. 

Would this counsel benefit everyone?  Of course, but few who do not seek to please the Lord are going to comprehend this whole love you neighbor business to the extent the believer does.  They are surely not ready to go beyond the theoretical to application mode.

Now let’s get to the motivation for quick to listen and slow to speak.  Letting lose on someone to satisfy that hunger in us to get even or go one up on another person is a temporary fix.  Anger is a temporary fix for a junkie who needs to feel like he or she has imposed justice on the world, or at least on another human. 

Once again, I am not talking banter which should be done in good spirits and never truly be hurtful.  I am talking seeking anger when we really need to seek reconciliation.  I am talking about loving anger when we should love understanding.  I am talking about living as if we desire sacrifice (to us) over mercy (to others). 

Let’s return to efficacy—the power to achieve desired results.  If we are living in anger and we desire right standing with God, Siri says, “You can’t get there from here.  Here are some things that I can help you with:  Find a good restaurant, calculate travel time, regurgitate useless facts.”

Our anger can never do what the blood of Jesus has already done for us—put us in right relationship with God. 

Understand that the counsel is slow to anger.  This is a constraint not a restraint.  We can become angry but it is never our first calling or something that we permit to take control of us in the moment.

Slow to anger means that only when we have exhausted all of our other directives from God, do we give our human anger a voice.  It is not a means to achieve righteousness. 

I can personally feel angry about killing half a million babies a year. That anger doesn’t make me right with God.  That anger doesn’t get me extra rewards in heaven.  I have to make sure that such anger does not supplant my calling to love one another and proclaim good news.

God permits you to be angry about some things.  Perhaps you are angry about how we litter this earth.  God did charge us to be good stewards of the planet.  Maybe it is how our media seem to slant everything one way or the other depending on where you set the dial.  God did tell us to speak the truth and use honest scales and standards.

There are plenty of things in our world that we could get angry about with some justification, but we do not get to right standing with God by any of these.  Only the blood of Jesus puts us in right standing with God.

From the perspective of achieving the desired results—efficacy—anger does not get us to being in right standing with God. 

Love is the operating verb for the disciple.  Love grows relationships.  Love leads us to this verse to better receive what God is telling us and to get along with each other more and more.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

We are permitted some anger.  It is a natural human emotion.  In the new creation that we are, anger does not govern.  Love governs, and peace is the fruit that we enjoy so much.  There are other benefits of living a life of love, but peace in a world that does not know peace is ever so valuable.

Let’s learn to listen to God and absorb everything he tells us.

Let’s learn to communicate with each other and enjoy the peace that comes just from being understood.

Let’s be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

The blood of Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. 

Now that God has made us right with him, let’s work at listening to God without distractions and getting along with each other by listening to understand more.

Quick to listen.
Slow to speak.
Slow to become angry.


The Alien in the Land

Hey!  You guys did a great job of staying with me through some interesting chapters that I pretty much read to you with a few inserted comments—that hopefully provided some manner of explanation.  Some of Leviticus just presents itself and all I can do is say, “That’s what God told them.”  

We try to understand what it was like to come out of 420 years of slavery and suddenly be a people unto themselves.

We can’t.  There are things that God directed that applied only to the priests.  There are directions to the people as a whole.  There are some that are just agricultural.  There are some that tell the people and the priest how to make temporary atonement for sin.  We are to understand that every command and decree that God gave his people was for their own good.

We may not comprehend all of that in our time.  We are blessed to live in a time of grace.  We are blessed to understand the central message in Leviticus:  Be holy as God is holy.  The message transcends Testaments.

This morning I want to pick out one verse that you have already heard.  We touched on it briefly, but let’s take a hard look at it.

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Let’s talk about something a little controversial.  Let’s talk about aliens in our land.  Let’s look at the directives from God on how to treat aliens.

First note, that there was no such thing as an illegal alien in this time.  The word did not make sense.  If you went into a country that was not your own, you obeyed its laws or you became a slave or were put to death or sometimes both.  You just didn’t get to break the law and still be free.

Understand that for most of the ancient world, being in a country except as a spy or invader did not violate the law.  Even spying was not so much illegal as it was lethal if you were caught.

There were no borders like today.  Crossing back and forth between and among nations was just something you did at your own risk.  Entry into a walled city might have been a different story, but crossing a border didn’t amount to much in most places.

Unless you were a high muckety-muck, you didn’t need papers.

Think about Namaan going to see Elisha (2 Kings 5), he needed some king-to-king correspondence, so it wasn’t perceived as an invasion or Namaan was not taken for purposes of ransom.

Now, if you brought an army with you, that was a different matter. 

But if you or your family came into another country, you were subject to their laws.  Those laws could change at any time, especially if the king made them or canceled them at a whim.

These aliens were subject to the laws of the land, but for the most part it was never illegal just to be an alien in a land.  The whole illegal alien concept was not a thing.  If you were an alien in the land, you were subject to the laws of the land.

God told his people that these aliens were also subject to your mercy and generosity.  When it was time for a Sabbath, they were also entitled to a Sabbath.  Remember when we come to Jesus confronting religious leaders about the Sabbath, he said:  The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. 

Those who obeyed God’s law couldn’t just say, get two of my pagan servants and have them run down to Chick-Fil-A and pick up something.  The Sabbath was for everyone.

When it was time for harvest, not everything was harvested.  Some was left for the poor and the alien.  God always included provision for those who were not blessed to own land or business in the Promised Land.  God always looked out for the less fortunate.  God’s commands directed his people to look out for the less fortunate and the stranger.

Think back in time from the giving of the law to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Most people think that God destroyed these cities because of homosexuality and bestiality and just general unholy living.  Those were surely in the mix, but what sin was prevalent when the angels came to visit Lot?

The people did not only fail to receive the aliens—the strangers—and provide hospitality to them.  They tried to abuse the strangers.

God reminded his people frequently that they were slaves and aliens in Egypt.  Your ancestors lived with the shoe on the other foot.  God’s chosen people entered Egypt at Joseph’s invitation and those few Hebrew people survived a regional famine that Joseph had prepared for as the most powerful man next to the Pharaoh. 

And then came a Pharaoh who did not remember Joseph and these people who were flourishing in the hill country of Goshen were perceived as the threat to the government and enslaved.  For over 400 years God’s Chosen People lived as slaves and aliens in Egypt.

God reminds his people that they too were the strangers once.  That nation made them slaves.  You are to show compassion.

The foreigners who came into Israel had to obey the law.  There could have been no such thing as an illegal alien.  Entering the country was not a crime then or there.  Failing to obey the law would not be tolerated.

Entry into Israel did not make one an illegal alien.  There was just no such term.  There was no law against such entry.

So we look at our country today.  This is the time and place where we live and we are trying to make sense out of God’s decrees. We have laws and regulations out the wazoo.  Some of them make it illegal for some people to enter our nation.  Entry by itself puts them in conflict with our nation—with our laws.

Here’s the theological term.  It’s a big mess.  But it is not a big mess for us—for the disciple of Christ.

You can have whatever opinion you want on the national law and policy regarding immigration, but our direction is at the personal level.  We are people of compassion.

The people who are here and their presence here violates the law will be dealt with or ignored by those commissioned to enforce the law.  As God’s people, we are to respect those in authority, pray for them, abide by the law—written authority, and we are even told to pay our taxes.

For us, we show compassion.  We show mercy.  If people are here legally or illegally, and they are hungry; we feed them.  Which is the governing condition?  Legal or illegal?   Neither, the hunger governs.  They have a need and we feed them.  If they have no clothing, we clothe them.  We know this.  We have done this.

I have talked with some who have come to see me for help who by the nature of the answers they gave me as I was trying to help with some long-term solution to their problems, revealed they were not in this country legally.  I counseled them that they would not have peace with this issue that they did not bring up, until this issue was resolved, but we wouldn’t let them go hungry.

We understand just how blessed that we are, and we do what we can to help those that we know need help.  We are not called to violate the law of this land and hide them from authorities.  We are called to abide by the law.

We can encourage these people to obtain citizenship.

We can pray for them.

We can challenge our lawmakers to come up with something better.  We should hold their feet to the fire to fix the problem.  They are supposed to be working for us.

But God has called us to have empathy for the alien among us.  The life of God’s Chosen People in the Promised Land and our life in the USA are vastly different, the laws are different, borders are different, manner and means of enforcement are different, but what is the same is this.

We love the alien as we do our native-born neighbor.  The instructions to the God-fearing people are to love your neighbor as yourself without qualification.

The government—and yes you have a voice in that government—will do what it must do, but you are always to be people of mercy and compassion in your direct dealings with those who are considered aliens in our land.

We are to be people of mercy and compassion.

We are learning to be holy as God is holy.

There is a whole big spectrum of things that our nation may or may not do with regard to immigration.  I am not going to get political here, but I think if I took 535 God fearing people to Washington and sent the entire Congress—Senate and House members—home for a week, we could fix this immigration mess and still have 5 days left to go to the monuments and Smithsonian Museums.

That’s not likely to happen.  Until the kingdom of the world gives way to the Kingdom of God, things will never be quite right.  Except that the Kingdom of God lives within us and we are called to be holy as God is holy.

In our personal relations, we are called to love all of our neighbors as we love ourselves without regard to citizenship and nationality or any factor of race or nationality or those things that seem so important in the secular world that pretends to have an ethical compass.

We who belong to the Christ are to love one another.


Friday, June 8, 2018

With all of your heart...

If I can just pay off this one bill…
If I can just make it through my senior year…
If I can just get through work today…
If I can just lose 10 more pounds…
If I can just get a better phone…
If I can just make it to retirement…

How many times have we been in the “if only I can” mode of thinking.  I’m not talking about the desperation “if only I can’s.”  You know, if only I can make it to the next exit and there is a gas station with a restroom.

I am talking about the mindset that says, “I can’t really start living until this thing—whatever it is—is done or arrives or is over.” Something is intervening as far as me living to the full goes.  I can’t wait until I can really live.

I don’t need some first things first poster.  I don’t need a better day planner when I have more ball games than kids in more locations that I can physically be, and be only one person. 

I don’t need career counseling when I get called into work unexpectedly three times this week and it looks like next week is go on—stay on, on into the next week.

I don’t need the flavor of the month get your life together program to reorganize my most recently reorganized disorganization.

I just need to get through all of these things that consume my life so that I can really live.  Anyone ever been in that boat?  I just have to get through this, and the next this, and the next…

What if I told you I can’t find that part in the Bible.  What if I told you the Bible said something else.  What if I told you that God’s plan for you included you to live, work, and play as if you were doing it all for him.

What if that one more bill that you need to pay off before you can get to living was something that you could do for the Lord.  What if you could work at it together.

What if making it through your senior year was walking with the Lord more than you ever had before and you lived your senior year like never before.  Maybe it’s your junior year or your fifth-grade year or a year in college or tech school, do it as if the Lord had the same schedule as you.

What if getting through work today was working as if you were working directly for the Lord, not for that knucklehead who is your boss.  This includes the self-employed.

What if your weight loss or health regimen was not something you did to hit a magic number but you did it to take care of the temple that God gave you.  What if you got a little Levitical about it.

What if you did the best you could with the phone you have until the Lord’s Spirit affirmed, it’s time to get a new one.

What if instead of waiting until retirement to live, you started living now and retirement became only a word attached to you job and not your life.

What if we traded our frustration for forgiveness.

What if we kicked our anger to the curb and replaced it with love.

What if we replaced the foul words in our lexicon with words more descriptive but less vulgar.

What if we traded living by the patterns of the world for living with the mind of Christ.

What if, everything became about living for the Lord.  Sometimes we affirm, “It’s not all about me,” but we do it in our best Eeyore voice.  What if we turned those words around and said, “It’s all about God!” and did it with the enthusiasm that we support the Sooners of the Cowboys.

What if we really made it all about God?  Make what about God?

The diaper change, the dentist appointment, the grocery shopping, going back for the one thing we went for and didn’t get, the heat of the day, the cool of the evening, the ball games, the snacks for the team, the hip replacement, rotating the tires, weed eating the sidewalk, loading cattle, the sunrise and the sunset, the thunderstorm, and summer reruns—what if these were all about God.

What if we never went through the motions or operated solely out of human motivation in anything.

What if God was in the big picture and in the minuteness of every detail of our lives.  What if nothing was ever ordinary.  What if everything became a holy thing!

Paul is writing about a wholesale exchange of one way of life for another.  The old died with Christ.  The new lives with him in everything.

Old ways were of the world.  New ways as a new creation are of God, rooted in love, seeking his approval in all things.

God’s peace rules in our hearts.  Think about what Jesus said about our hearts and our treasure.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  What if one of our greatest treasures is God’s peace. 

It is a peace that goes beyond our understanding.  It is a peace that can grant us rest in the middle of the world’s turmoil.  How can I rest in the midst of turmoil?  Don’t let turmoil into your heart.  Love and peace govern there.

Consider these words once again.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

What are the verbs here?  Clothe, bear with, forgive, put on are the action words.  Salvation is a gift all from God.  Discipleship comes with verbs.

Dress with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  We need to understand that when we profess Jesus is Lord and we are saved, compassion doesn’t always come instantly.  As disciples, we must take action.

Be patient with each other.

Forgive—that’s a verb that should count as a hundred simple verbs.  Forgive as Christ forgave us.

Put on love.  Understand that love is a powerful verb all by itself, but to put on love means that we have to break away from who we used to be and take action to be this person that God has called us to be.  Love is the binding agent for everything we are and everything we do.

These are action words for us.  They are a key part of our discipleship.  They help us live out our salvation.

Salvation is all from God.  Discipleship is walking with God and learning his ways.  This is typically not debilitating work.  Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden was light.  Take his yoke and learn from him.  There is action in our learning.

Husbands, wives, children, parents, even slaves are told to do everything they do not for human favor but to please the Lord.  We live in reverence for the Lord.  We work at whatever we do as if we are working for the Lord not for human masters or favor or status. 

We belong to the Lord.  We are his.  Our identity is completely in the Christ.  I think I might have noted once or twice that I was stubborn about this.

We are known by this identity—that we belong to the Christ.  Christ is all and he is in all.

In all that we are now—a new creation, people belonging completely to the Christ, Spirit-filled people—we give thanks to God the Father.

But there is a catch…

Are we to trust in the Lord?  No!  We are to trust in the Lord with all our hearts.  There is no half-measure or partial trust.  It’s an all or nothing sort of deal when it comes to trust, especially with God.  You trust him, or you don’t.  Well, I sort of trust him…

Are we to love the Lord our God?  No!  We are to Love the Lord, our God, with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength.  It’s an everything that we are sort of commitment.

Are we to put on God’s armor?  No!  We are to put on the full armor of God!

God does want half-hearted, lukewarm commitments.  We are not known by our Christian tee shirts and membership cards.  We are known by our love.  It is not a casual love.  It is an unconditional love.

As you go into your week, consider memorizing and bringing this verse to your heart and mind and across your lips for the days to come.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

It is the Lord Christ whom we serve!

Let’s not wait on anything before we live.  Let’s live this life with God and for God and seeking God’s approval in all that we do.

It is the Lord Christ whom we serve!