Loving Your Neighbor

Serving is something some of us do well and others do grudgingly. It is easier to do when it is someone we love or someone we like, or who is like us or can give back to us. We love those people and we love serving those people.

Yet according to the gospels, lots of people love those people.

What makes being a follower of Jesus different, and one of the evidences of a changed life, is a willingness to serve people who can’t repay us, people not like us, people who are difficult or need a lot of grace.

In fact, when we serve we remind ourselves of the grace that God extended to us. You are hard to love, your life was (and maybe still is) a mess, you can’t repay God (although you try with all your might). Yet, God extended and continues to extend grace to you. Why? Love.

Everything starts with the love God has for you. Being loved by God is hard to wrap our minds around. What does God expect in return? What do you have to do so that God will love you? Will He hold out on love for you like a parent did? Will He love you more if you perform well? These all make sense in our minds, and yet all these things miss the character and depth of God’s love for us.

God doesn’t love you more based on your performance, and He doesn’t hold out on you. He gives His love and grace to you through His Son, and you did nothing outside of being broken and stuck in your sin for Him to extend it to you.

What did the man in the Good Samaritan parable do to get help? Well, he needed to need help. Right now God has placed someone in your life who needs help. Someone who is stuck and sitting on the side of the road of life unsure of how to move forward or wondering if they can move forward. Maybe they feel like their life, marriage or career is over. (Remember, if no one helped the man on the road to Jericho in Luke 10, there’s a good chance he would’ve died.)

Who will help that person in your life?

In our selfishness, we think someone else will come along. Yet, God sent you. You are there. You are their friend, their child, their parent, they are in your community group, they work next to you. You are there.

Will God send someone else if we overlook them? Maybe. God sent three people to help the man on the side of the road in Luke 10.

But our call, based on the love God has extended to us, is to extend that same love to those around us.

Is that messy? Yes. Is that easy? No. Will that cost you something? Yes. Is the grace God extended to you messy? Yes. Was it easy? No. Did it cost God something? Yes.

This week, today, tomorrow, you have a tangible opportunity to show someone what the grace and love of God are like. The grace and love of God that have been given to you.

Can Suffering Bring Any Joy or Happiness?

suffering

Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo…the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. This, of course, is what the Cross signifies. And it is the Cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ. -Malcolm Muggeridge

A Prayerful Response to the Election

As we move towards the election, many of us have different thoughts about it, the candidates and the direction of our country. Some are excited, some are fearful, some are indifferent. Elections create joy and anxiety for different people.

As followers of Jesus, we are to engage politics in a unique, distinct and attractive way.

But how do we do that?

One of the ways we can do that is by focusing ourselves through praying the Lord’s Prayer.

election

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

God is our good and gracious Father who always does what is good, right and perfect. A father cares deeply for his children, and our heavenly Father cares deeply for His creation.

Acknowledging that God is Father also reminds us that God is in charge. That our God is in heaven, and nothing happens without His direction and permission. While we may not always understand or agree with His direction or permission, we can rest knowing His care for us as a Father.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

We are reminded that ultimately God’s kingdom will come. God’s will will be done. Nothing can thwart that.

Regardless of the election results, we know that God is still God and Jesus is still on the throne, on earth as it is in heaven.

This is great comfort to a follower of Jesus.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

This line helps us to remember where our needs get met and what God has done for us.

This also reminds us of where our response comes from, that we are to engage politics in a unique, distinct and attractive way. We can do this because we know that on our own, we live unforgiven, debt ridden lives. This allows us to extend the forgiveness we have received to those around us.

election

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

We are tempted to be evil when it comes to politics. We are tempted to repay evil with evil. We also need to be delivered from evil because there is evil in our world (although not always in the places we think).

This is a reminder of our fallenness apart from Jesus and our need for His grace. This reminds us of not only our need, but also that Jesus is the only deliverer. Not a political party, not a candidate, a policy or a platform. While those are tools God can and does use, they cannot save us and deliver us.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.

This last line sums it up well. God is in control, forever and ever. All the kingdom, the power and the glory go to Him. Regardless of what happens in a culture or election, we can rest knowing we can live knowing that.

Knowing God, Knowing Love

God

In his book Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality, David Benner says:

Ask Christians what they believe about God, and most will have a good deal to say. However, ask those same people what they know about God from direct personal experience, and most will have much less to say.

Many will speak of knowing that their sins have been forgiven. Some will speak of answers to prayer or a sense of God’s presence. But many will fall strangely silent. Many – even evangelicals, who talk the most about a personal relationship with God – will not have much to say about how they actually experience God in that relationship.

A.W. Tozer notes that most of us who call ourselves Christians do so on the basis of belief more than experience. We have, he argues, “substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of religious notions, but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there.”

Why is it easier to perform for God? To know about God but not actually know God and experience God? Why is it easier to know that God loves you but not experience God’s love for you?

It’s easier to keep score than to actually live in God’s love. It’s easier to grade ourselves on church attendance, Bible reading, memorizing scripture, serving, and giving. Those are easier. Yet we can do all those things and still miss God. (Matthew 7:21 – 23)

If you, like me, struggle to live in God’s love, to know and experience God’s love and for God’s love for you to be the basis of your Christian life, let me give you a challenge.

This week, take some time to sit in silence and meditate on the following passages. Now if you are like me, you will read the Bible with an eye on “getting something out of it.” Who has time for feelings of love and silence?! I know I’m much more comfortable talking about God, debating theology and beliefs, than experiencing God. My hunch is you might be, too. The reason isn’t only because it’s easier to keep score, but also moving closer to God’s love for you will cause you to ask, “What does God think of me when I come to his mind?”

Stop a moment and answer that question: What does God think of you when you come to his mind?

Many will answer that question with disappointment or anger. But is God disappointed or angry with you? Does God feel indifferent towards you? The answer to those questions is no.

So, while you are sitting in silence, read the following passages. Now, don’t read them to learn something. Don’t read them to get some nugget of truth. Read them to let the truth of God’s love for you sink in.

Here they are:

  • Psalm 23, 91, 131
  • Isaiah 43:1 – 4, 49:14 – 16
  • Hosea 11:1 – 4
  • Matthew 10:29 – 31
  • Romans 8:31 – 39

As you do, remember the question: What does God think of you when you come to his mind? What do these verses tell you?

How to Handle Your Shame

shame

All of us to one degree or another carry around shame. Things we’ve done, things done to us. Things we’ve said, things said to us. Things we wished we had done, and things we wish that others had done. Shame shows up in all kinds of places and in all kinds of people.

What we often overlook is how much shame shapes our identity and our lives. It becomes a driving force in our lives, how we work and how we relate to others and God.

In Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God, John Piper says shame comes from three causes:

  1. Guilt. This is the one many of us know well. The addiction, the hidden sin, the abuse we don’t talk about, the affair, the divorce, the poor parenting, our failure at work and in life. We carry around guilt for ourselves and often without thinking, for others. When guilt becomes public knowledge, we have shame. Now we are known for what we have feared.
  2. Shortcomings. Shortcomings and failures are something all of us experience. Some of them are real and others imagined. Some are life shaping, and other shortcomings we simply shrug off. It is the ones that are life shaping that lead to shame. When our frame of mind says, “You are a failure, you aren’t good enough, you aren’t beautiful, strong enough or worthwhile”, we experience shame.
  3. Improprieties. These are the experiences in our life where we feel silly, look stupid or are embarrassed. We make a mistake, and it feels like everyone knows about it.

What do you do with your shame?

According to Romans 10:11, if you are a follower of Jesus, you will not be put to shame.

Yet shame is a driving factor in the lives of so many.

Here are six ways to move forward from your shame:

1. Name your shame. If you don’t name something, it takes ownership of you. This is a crucial step. You must name the hurt, the guilt, the shortcoming, the impropriety, the embarrassment, the abuse, the loss, the misstep, the sin. If you don’t, you stay stuck.

I’ve met countless people who couldn’t say the name of an ex, name the situation of hurt or talk about something. This doesn’t mean that you are a victim or wallow in your pain, but naming something is crucial. Without this first step, the others become difficult to impossible.

The saying, “Whatever we don’t own, owns us”, applies here. This is a crucial, crucial step.

2. Identify the emotions attached to it. Many times when we are hurt, we are an emotional wreck and can’t see a way forward. All we know is that we are hurt, that life isn’t as we’d hoped, but we aren’t sure what to do.

What emotions are attached to your shame? Is it guilt? Loss? Failure? Missed opportunity? Sadness? Hopelessness? Indifference?

Name them.

Name the emotion that goes with your abuse, abandonment, divorce, failed business, dropping out of school, not meeting your expectations or the expectations of someone else.

Often times we feel shame when we have a different emotion attached to it, but shame is far more familiar to us. Do you feel neglected or hurt or sad? What emotion is conjured up from a memory?

3. Confess the sins that are there. Do you always have sin when you feel shameful? No. Sometimes it is misplaced shame. It is shame you have no business owning. You didn’t sin; someone else sinned against you.

Sometimes, though, there is a sin on your part. You may have sinned, and that’s why you feel shame. Sometimes your sin might be holding on to that person or situation.

Sometimes you need to confess that your shame is keeping you from moving forward and keeping you stuck.

Bring those sins to light.

4. Grieve the loss. When we have shame, there is a loss. This loss might be a missed opportunity or missed happiness. It might be bigger than that and be a missed childhood, a loss of your 20’s, a loss of health or job opportunity.

It might be a relationship that will never be, something you can never go back to.

As you think about your shame, what did you lose? What did you miss out on? What did that situation prevent you from doing or experiencing? What hurt do you carry around? What will never be the same because of that situation?

5. Name what you want. This one is new for me, but it has to do with your desires.

Often the reason we stay stuck is because we know what stuck is. We don’t know what the future holds. Beyond that, we don’t know what we actually want.

We carry shame around from a relationship with a father who walked out. Do you want a relationship? Do you want to be in touch?

We carry shame from a failed business. Do you want to get back in the game?

Can you name, in the situation associated with your shame, what you want?

Sadly, many people cannot.

If you can’t name what you want, if you can’t identify a desire, you will struggle to move forward.

6. Identify what God wants you to know about Him. When we carry around shame, we carry around a lie. In identifying that lie, we are identifying the truth that God wants us to know about Him.

If you feel unloved, the truth that God wants you to know is that you are loved. If you feel unwanted, God wants you to know you are wanted. If you feel dirty, God wants you to know the truth that in Him you are clean.

All throughout scripture we are told that God is a Father, that He is as close to us as a mother nursing her child, that God is compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, gracious, tender, strong and for us.

The list goes on and on.

In that list, though, is the truth, the antidote to your shame and what you need to remind yourself of to move forward and live into the freedom of Jesus.

Freedom is hard.

Let’s be honest, freedom is difficult. Living in sin, shame, guilt and regret is easy. It is what we know. It is where most people live and reside.

Freedom is scary. Freedom is unknown. Freedom leaves us vulnerable. Freedom leaves us not in control.

Yet, this is what it means to be a child of God. To live in freedom. Overflowing freedom.

Can You Trust God?

trust

A common question that people ask is, “How do I know I can trust God?”

We talk about how to trust God when life falls apart, when the bottom falls out of a relationship, when we hit hard financial times or we get a phone call we didn’t expect.

What about just trusting God each day, whether things are good or bad?

There are promises all over the Bible about God, His character, what He will do and will not do. But how do you know those are real and will not fail?

That’s the question the apostle Paul is seeking to answer at the beginning of Romans 9.

Trusting in God is a hard thing to do, but when we do, it leads to our joy.

One of the things I often encourage people to do who struggle to trust in God is to ask themselves why they don’t trust God. What keeps you from that? Is it something you think God should have done? Is it because of a past hurt or a relationship that fell apart?

Often without realizing it, we don’t trust God not because of God but because of ourselves.

Once we are able to see why we don’t trust God and what keeps us from taking that step, we are able to deal with that.

It isn’t as simple as “just trusting God more.”

The reality, though, is all of us trust in someone or something in our lives.

We trust in people everyday.

Yet the reverse is true, and we know it to be true.

Misplaced trust does not lead to joy.

One of the things that I find most fascinating about Habakkuk chapter 3 is how Habakkuk reminds himself of how God has moved in the past. He recalls how the nation of Israel began, how God brought the nation of Israel out of slavery in the book of Exodus and gave them the 10 Commandments.

What Habakkuk is doing is reminding himself of how God has moved in the past. Often our struggle is with trusting that God will show up. Habakkuk is showing us, “God worked in the past, so I can trust He will work now and in the future.”

This doesn’t mean that God will work in the same way as the past. It doesn’t mean He will work on our timetable, but we do know He is at work.

You may be in a place where you need to remind yourself of how God has worked in the past of your life. Maybe you need to journal or make a list of things He’s done, prayers He has answered. Maybe you need to determine why you don’t trust God, what is holding you back and how to move forward in that. What things are you placing your trust in that will ultimately let you down and take away your joy instead of giving you joy?

Objections to Predestination

predestination

The past 2 weeks at Revolution, I’ve preached on election and free will from Romans 9. It is an enormous topic that I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface on.

In thinking about the topic, there are a lot of questions about predestination and objections to it. I came across this from John Stott that I thought was helpful:

Nevertheless, he has thrown light on our problem in such a way as to contradict the chief objections which are raised and to show that the consequences of predestination are the opposite of what is popularly supposed. I give five examples.

1. Predestination is said to foster arrogance, since (it is alleged) God’s elect boast of their favored status. But on the contrary, predestination excludes boasting. For it fills God’s people with astonishment that he should ever have had mercy on undeserving sinners like them. Humbled before the cross, they desire to live the rest of their lives only ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ and to spend eternity worshipping the Lamb who was slain.

2. Predestination is said to foster uncertainty, and to create in people a neurotic anxiety as to whether they are predestined and saved or not. But this is not so. If they are unbelievers, they are entirely unconcerned about their salvation, until and unless the Holy Spirit brings them under conviction of sin as a prelude to their conversion. If they are believers, however, even when passing through a period of doubt, they know that in the end their security lies only in the eternal, predestinating will of God. Nothing else can bring such assurance and comfort. As Luther wrote in his comment on verse 28, predestination ‘is a wonderfully sweet thing for those who have the Spirit’.

3. Predestination is said to foster apathy. For if salvation is entirely God’s work and not ours, people argue, then all human responsibility before God has been undermined. But again this is not so. On the contrary, it is abundantly clear that Scripture’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty never diminishes our responsibility. Instead, the two lie side by side in an antinomy, which is an apparent contradiction between two truths. Unlike a paradox, an antinomy is ‘not deliberately manufactured; it is forced upon us by the facts themselves … We do not invent it, and we cannot explain it. Nor is there any way to get rid of it, save by falsifying the very facts that led us to it.’ A good example is found in the teaching of Jesus, who declared both that ‘no-one can come to me unless the Father … draws him’ and that ‘you refuse to come to me to have life’. Why do people not come to Jesus? Is it that they cannot? Or is it that they will not? The only answer which is compatible with his own teaching is, ‘Both, even though we cannot reconcile them.’

4. Predestination is said to foster complacency, and to breed antinomians. For, if God has predestined us to eternal salvation, why should we not live as we please, without moral restraint, and in defiance of divine law? Paul has already answered this objection in chapter 6. Those whom God has chosen and called he has united to Christ in his death and resurrection. Having died to sin, they now live a new life to God. And elsewhere Paul writes that ‘he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight’. Indeed, he has predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son (29).

5. Predestination is said to foster narrow-mindedness, as the elect people of God become absorbed only in themselves. The opposite is the case. The reason God called one man Abraham and his one family was not for their blessing only, but that through them all the families of the earth might be blessed. Similarly, the reason God chose his Servant, that shadowy figure in Isaiah whom we see partly fulfilled in Israel, but specially in Christ and his people, was not only to glorify Israel but to bring light and justice to the nations. Indeed these promises were a great spur to Paul (as they should be to us) when he courageously broadened his evangelistic vision to include the Gentiles. Thus, God has made us his own people, not that we should be his favorites, but that we should be his witnesses, ‘to proclaim the glorious deeds of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’.

So the doctrine of divine predestination promotes humility, not arrogance; assurance, not apprehension; responsibility, not apathy; holiness, not complacency; and mission, not privilege. This is not to claim that there are no problems, but to indicate that they are more intellectual than pastoral.

4 Ways to Survive when Life Gets Hard

life

The reality of evil and suffering is one that a lot of people have argued about and questioned God on, and it is one of the main roadblocks to trusting God and following Him.

In my years as a pastor, I’ve sat with couples who have buried a child, adults burying their parents, I’ve wept with people who just found out they had cancer and a short time to live, listened to the brokenhearted stories about the end of a marriage, a child who wants nothing to do with the family or God, the loss of jobs, financial difficulties, addictions that can’t be beat.

It’s heartbreaking, and those are just the ones I’ve been party to. This doesn’t even count national and international tragedies and natural disasters we see on the news.

Personally, I’ve walked through the loss of friends, difficulty in family and work relationships, loss of jobs, setbacks in life, difficulties in starting our church. I’ve looked at mountains in my own life that seemed impossible to get past, hurt that felt so painful I thought I could never recover, betrayal that ran deep.

And then sits Romans 8:28 – 30. One of the most quoted verses in the Bible, it’s been used for encouragement over and over in the lives of thousands since Paul wrote it.

It says: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Right now you might be in the midst of a storm in life. You might not be. If you aren’t, the reality is your storm is coming at some point.

Here are a few questions to help you see where you are, where God is in the storm you are and how to have the faith to walk through what you are in and what is ahead:

1. What storm are you facing? It is important to identify the storm you are facing. Often we don’t know what it is. We simply feel down or something feels off from what used to be or what we hope. Often it isn’t a storm we’re in the middle of; we’re simply tired or burned out. Other times we are in the dark place of the storm, and the waves are crashing around us. Also, without identifying our storm, we will struggle to see anything that God is doing because we’ll simply go into survival mode or become jaded.

2. Are there any sins that need to be confronted? By this I mean, have you sinned to get you into the place you are in or has someone else? Take finances for an example. This can cause an incredibly stressful storm, but many of our financial issues are out of our control (housing market, retirement, etc.). Other financial storms are in our control (debt, spending, saving, giving, etc.). Or relational storms: did you hurt someone, are you holding onto something you need to let go of, is there someone you need to confront or forgive and let go?

3. Look back at a storm, hurt or pain from your past. With some distance from that situation, are you able to see God’s hand? I know in my life, the further I am from a situation, the more clarity I have. I will often see my pride and sin more clearly, but I also see God’s hand more clearly. Now the reality is, this side of heaven, we will not have answers for everything that happens to us. We aren’t promised that. We are promised that God will never leave us or forsake us, that all things do serve a purpose in God’s plan and that all things will bring about God’s glory and our good, if we are called by Him and love him. (Romans 8:28 – 30).

4. What does looking at your past help you to see about God with what you are facing? What is He trying to do right now? The reason I like to look back in my life is that it often helps me to move forward. This is why God had the nation of Israel do things to remember how He moved in the past. This is why as followers of Jesus we do things like communion and baptism, to remember how God worked in the past, because that has an enormous impact on our faith into the future.

What to do When You Can’t Stop doing Something

stop

We all have things about ourselves that we hate; things we do, things we think, things we feel and things in our past. We spend a lot of energy trying to change these things. We hope that something will be different tomorrow. Maybe we’ll magically stop looking at porn, stop being so desperate for love, stop feeling lonely, stop saying things at the wrong moment. Maybe that memory will finally go away.

So, we read our Bibles.

Struggling with sin is the normal Christian experience. Not because we don’t have power over sin, we do have power because of the work of Jesus on the cross in our place and rising from the dead. We have the power through the Holy Spirit to battle our sin and win, but we often lose.

In Romans 7, we see this struggle in Paul. Tim Keller lays this out as to why this is the present Christian experience:

  • In the beginning of chapter 7, Paul is talking in the past tense, in verse 14 he changes to the present tense.
  • In  7 – 13, Paul talks about sin killing him, he’s dead, but in verse 14 Paul begins talking about an ongoing struggle with sin. He is fighting sin, struggling but refuses to surrender.
  • In  18 Paul says “I know that nothing good dwells in me.” Those who don’t know Jesus are unaware of being lost and sinful. Without Jesus, we think we can save ourselves or are good on our own.
  • In  22 Paul says, “I delight in God’s law.” If you don’t know Jesus, you can’t delight in God’s law.
  • Keller concludes, “Often we repent of past sin and think it’s done, but God wants to show us how to hate it when the seeds come up again.”

To move forward in freedom, it is important to name, to confess, those things you do that you hate. Those struggles you battle with. To admit what dwells in you. Often we have an inflated view of our goodness, but to experience grace we must understand the depths of our brokenness. Otherwise, what do we need God’s grace and forgiveness for?

I think the process Paul walks through in this passage is instructive for us as we hate our sin:

  1. Do you hate your sin?
  2. Are you willing to fight your sin? To put things into place to win the battle against sin? This might mean you stop going to places, get rid of something, stop spending time with that person.
  3. Do you know how lost you are apart from the grace of Jesus?
  4. Do you delight in the law of God?

Longings, Desires & When I’m Letdown

desires

Often times it is hard to know what our longings mean. They can be sinful and good. They can reveal things about us, past hurts, pain, things we hope and dream for the future. They can be hard to trust, and they can also reveal who we really are, who we wish to become, and sometimes the people we wish to leave behind.

Our longings, though, also reveal deep within us what God has in store for us.

Our longings are a reminder that God has something more, something different; that our bodies and our world are broken and not how God intended them to be.

G.K. Chesterton, who lived in the early 1900’s, is believed to have said, “A man knocking on the door of a brothel is knocking for God.”

Our lives reveal a longing.

This week let me give you a challenge as you think about your longings and what they reveal about you. Here are some questions to ask:

1. What do you most want out of life? Out of this week and month? Many of us do not spend enough time thinking about what we want out of life. These desires, as we’ll see in a minute, not only reveal a lot about us, but they can also be from God. He created desires in us, desires for relationships, for joy, for hobbies and for the place we live.

2. What would truly make you happy in life? This begins to get to the heart of our desires. Does it have to do with relationships, housing, a trip, hobbies, a career, your body? Again, right now don’t judge if it is sinful or not. Simply list out the desire you have.

3. Is that a sinful desire? This is the moment we begin to evaluate our desires and what they show us. Is that desire selfish, for my glory, about my wants? Is it destructive to others? Does it serve me or God? Is this desire all encompassing in my life right now? Does it drive me like an addiction?

4. What do I do if it is a sin? Many of our desires are sins that we need to handle, confess and bring before God. Our desires also reveal our need for God and His grace in our lives. The desires you are convicted of, confess those to God. Confess those sins where you need to, and ask God to change your desires if need be. But don’t hold on to them; bring them to the cross.

5. What do I do if it isn’t a sin? Not all desires are bad. In fact, many of the greatest things people have done for God have been borne out of desire. Those are things that bring passion to our lives and joy that are from God. They are also God’s good gifts. It is good to enjoy a good meal with friends. It is destructive to make that an idol our lives revolve around.