A perfectly good God exists, and evil exists. This is a challenging enigma to contemplate and understand. After all, a good God would stop all evil and suffering from happening, so we would not have to experience it, right? This is where we need to pause and consider some of the characteristics of God and consider how God works in the world.
God is omnipotent. This means that God is all-powerful. Wouldn’t it make sense that an all-powerful God would be able to eradicate all evil in this world? But there is still evil, and many use this as an argument against God, or his goodness. This argument comes in because we have a misconception about the concept and reality of real power, mainly how God uses his power.
Real power is not coercing and forcing your will and desires on other people or situations. Real power comes from restraint, as well. Underlying the all-powerful nature of God is that his nature is of love. God can, and maybe sometimes does, prearrange circumstances to make sure things turn out as he intended, but this does not mean this is how God acts all the time.
Real power also comes from restraint. Since God is all-powerful, he can do anything he wants. Since God is loving, he does not desire his creation, us, to follow and serve him out of anything but a desire and a sincere love for him. Everything has been set in motion and is perfectly aligned and created to make life habitable here on earth for humanity. If there were one, seemingly insignificant part out of correct alignment, life as we know it would end. For example, if the core temperature of the earth was a degree hotter, or the earth’s axis was off by .01, life would not be sustainable. This is true even if the moon was an inch closer to earth. Everything is placed in the proper placement and, therefore, has been given natural laws to run so life can continue. Even though J.L. Mackie says the argument that God limits himself in our world takes away from the teaching God is omnipotent (all-powerful), this is one of the best ways to describe what’s going on.
Another aspect of God’s restraint from merely taking control and erasing evil comes from his great love for the created order, especially humanity. If God wanted people to follow him, no questions asked, he would have robotic slaves. This is not what God desires. God desires a relationship with his creation. Because of this, God has given humanity the “gift” of free-will.
Free will has been a blessing and a curse for humanity. It has been a blessing because we have been allowed to learn, to make our own decisions, and to choose what we believe. It has been a curse because we have also been given a chance to do good or to do evil. There is much evil because people have exercised their freedom to bring evil into the world, maybe even into our situations. This is called moral evil.
Moral evil does not explain all that is wrong in this world because there are things that happen that occur because we live in a world where sometimes things happen beyond our control. We cannot stop the destruction of natural disasters. We cannot always prevent illnesses and diseases that take life. We cannot stop people from making the wrong decision. We cannot stop the consequences from the actions of others affecting us (i.e., Enron or financial systems doing what they believe is right). This is called natural evil.
This brings us to the next question, “did God create evil?” Saint Augustine argued that God only created/creates good things. And since the whole universe is God’s, it is fundamentally good. He also says that evil is not a created thing; it is an entity and, therefore, evil is the lack of good. God is all-powerful and has created an incredible world and universe. He is also unchanging and eternal, but the created order isn’t. Creation is mutable and changeable and, therefore, is corruptible to manifesting as evil. This lines up with the account of the fall in Genesis 3-11. Creation, humanity, rebelled against God, and brought evil into the world.
Bishop Irenaeus taught something a little different from Augustine. John Hick has his rendition of this teaching—Adam and the original creation were innocent and immature but were offered the opportunity to do good by loving God and people. He goes on to say that evil is here because this is an “inevitable stage in the gradual evolution of the human race.”
There is an argument that we cannot know good without knowing about evil. J.L. Mackie argues this with a few points: evil is a necessary counterpart to good, evil is a necessary means to good, and the universe is better with some evil. One of the issues with this kind of thinking is that it implies God is the One who created and brought about the evil and suffering we experience in this life. There is evidence to support this thought in scripture, but we also have to understand people are going to do what they are going to do.
To know evil means we have the opportunity to know good. To identify good means we know what is evil. And this is precisely why we were given the Law in our Bibles—to understand how we should live, so we do not end up living an evil life and corrupting the world even more. The created order is designed to do what God set in motion through natural laws. Humanity is the only part of the created order that has been given the gift of knowing right from wrong. God must have known we were going to make the choices we made and still make today, right?
Many theologians believe that God knows everything—past, present, and future—and lives within the space of being able to see and know all possible outcomes and scenarios (probable and factual). This means that God knows every possible way we could act or think. Some argue that this way of thinking about the knowledge God has means humanity does not have free will if God knows what we are capable of doing and do what we want. Scripture teaches God works all things together for good—meaning, God has a plan in place for every situation we might choose so his perfect will is done here on earth, even amidst the evil that surrounds us.
The biggest thing we have to wrestle with is not, why has God not eradicated evil, but what do we believe about God and what do we believe about how God works in this world and yours and my life. Sometimes faith has to go beyond the intellectual level and go into the heart level. This means there are some things we are going to have to be okay not being able to reconcile, and we have to trust that God is working for the good in this world. If we believe this about God, we can put simple trust that what the book of Revelation says about a new heaven and new earth are real, and God’s goodness will win in the end. The question now is, how will you and I choose to live?
How would you describe the state of our world? Would you say there is hope left? Why or why not?
What is interesting about these questions is, it all depends on how you and I view life. What do you notice about this picture:
Do you the the glass as half filled? Half empty? Or do you notice there is water in it that can be used for something good?
The point of this is, I believe, there is always hope in the world. The difference comes in with what we allow our minds and hearts be filled with. Do we pay more attention to the negativity, spread gossip, take part in slandering another person simply because they have a different viewpoint than you? These are all questions we need to consider.
I, as I have said, believe there is hope in this world still. There has to be. If this was only as good as it will get, then we are missing out on something greater than ourselves. Part of the issue is that we tend to focus on the viewpoint of our own perspective (which is clouded by our upbringing, our own culture, our race, our position in society, etc.). We can easily miss out on what God is doing if we only view the world through our own mindset. God is still working and he is also asking us can we look at the entirety of creation and see his plan of redemption at work now.
This is hard to do because we see so much that is wrong. Illnesses, crime, shootings, families torn apart, and so much more fill our TVs, newspapers, facebook walls, twitter feeds, etc. When this is what we pay attention to, this is what we will think the world is like.
I have hope for the future because there is always a glimmer of hope because God is always working. I also have this hope because I believe Scripture when it says everything will be made new (Isaiah 65, Revelation 21/22). This is also the message of Jesus, “the Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand.”
Friends we have access to the Kingdom of Heaven that is right here with us. As long as we pay attention to what’s wrong, we will miss out on what is right. We can easily miss out on the joy/love/hope/peace that is available to us here and now. God is asking us to be part of the solution. Yes, there is so much that needs to be done that we cannot (on our own) do everything, but we can do something.
What can we do?
Find ways to spread joy to those around you. Have a complaint? Seek out what the other person is going through before the complaint is made (seek first to understand then be understood). You never know what kind of connection/difference you can make in the life of the other person (yours too).
With this idea of spreading joy, there is something easy to do – plan random acts of kindness wherever you go. This may mean we go out of the way to do something nice (even if it is a simple smile), but we really never know how this will impact another person’s day, and how they will treat the next person all because you and I did something kind.
Be generous. Christians should tithe (giving at least 10% of our income) to the church. We do this because we fully trust God provides for us and when we give this much we live by the reality everything we have, God actually owns. Now, to do this, I think we have it backwards when we try to “step up” to this kind of living/giving. Jesus never says, “give what you can now and then do more in the future when you’re more comfortable.” No, Jesus says, “follow me…take up your cross.” This means we, at the beginning, place our full trust in him by going ahead and giving that much away.
I know I have just struck a cord with some people by saying to give to the church. There are many people who think the church doesn’t do enough and other community organizations are better equipped. But think about how much more the local church would/could do if all Christians gave 10% and gave it to the church.
Look at what you’re giving to. You may think 10%, at least, is too much, but my bet is you are already more generous than you may realize. How much do you give to civic places, students, clubs, sports equipment renovation, etc. The challenge is making sure what we give our money to will actually make a difference for eternity instead of breaking down and needing more money to fix back up.
What do you sense God leading you to do? If he calls you to it, you better believe he has, and will, equip and provide everything needed.
God is working in this world, through many people…even you! As we seek to love God more, we find we love people more and end up doing more to help build people up for the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven. This, after all, is what’s it’s all about anyway.
Living with this mindset is the only way we can experience a whole new world. Everything around us may not change, but the lens with which we view the world will change. Then, everything we do will help to make the world look like that.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear!
We are well into the new year. How’s it going for you? Are you feeling productive, or do you feel as if you are in the same routine, the same way of thinking, feeling like nothing as changed except the numbers on the calendar?
I would like to offer this question, “If, for you, everything seems the same, what are you learning?”
What’s interesting to me is how many times I ask this question and get a similar response, “I don’t have time,” or my favorite, “I’m too old”/“I have a hard time learning new things.”
Many people have god intentions to follow through with new year resolutions. I know I have, in the past. But then something seems to happen. There seems to be a new stressor, a new amount of pressure, that is causing us to change or to follow through with what we said we wanted to do. Change is hard. After all, it is said the only people who like change are babies with a dirty diaper.
So if it is change we really desire, what can we do to make it happen? The underlying truth we all have to realize is, if we are going to have a better life (a deeper life in Christ for those who are Christian), we have to seek and live into ways that help produce change.
How many of you have said you want to lead other people? I typically hear it like this, “I’m a good leader.” My question, then, is how many people do you have following you? Then we have to look at what makes a good leader. The truth is, real leaders are constantly learning something new, and improving what they already know and do.
I have heard that CEO’s of businesses read an average of 60+ books a year. Do you think this is something you can do? Why/Why not?
If the goal is to improve ourselves so we can do more, for our family, for the world, for our lives, then where can we begin?
I would recommend starting with something you already love. If you like to play golf, take a few lessons to help improve your swing. If you like to play other sports, play them more and ask people for pointers. If you speak for a living, ask people to constructively critique the messages. If you like to garden, seek someone who can give you some advice. If you have a desire to read, or say you don’t like reading, begin with a short audio book or podcast. This list can go on and on.
Part of the reason we do not follow through on our new year resolutions, I believe, is becasue we try to do more than we can manageably accomplish, then get frustrated when we do not get the desired results (if we have thought about results) within a week or two.
Leaders are learners. If we want to see our lives really change, and do great things, then we have to find ways to learn something, even if it is something we see as small. It is amazing how many things, business and world leaders can learn from attempting to master a golf swing.
Now, I am a pastor and I firmly believe that real change does not happen on our own. I believe we do not possess the power and ability to change within ourselves. We do have access to channel the Source of all Power and Grace in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, given by Jesus Christ, and directed by God. So, if you are a believer, have you sought out how God is asking you to be different? Have you followed his voice to undergo the process of transformation?
If you are not a believer in Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, his mercy is available and ready to aid you in achieving so much more than you can ever imagine.
The point of all of this is, what are you learning? Start small. It is never too early nor too late to expand our minds and watch the power of God flow in and through us to make lasting change in the world.
Oh, and it never fails to have some people with you as you learn something new: people to share ideas with, and to help hold each other accountable. God works well in those relationships.
READ SCRIPTURE: Luke 12:13-21
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
There was a pastor who was in the middle of a battle with the church’s worship leader. They would go at it in worship meetings. The worship leader would often try to outdo the pastor in worship. No one really knows why there was so much contention between them.
One week, the pastor was preaching about stewardship and the importance of tithing. He gave a great sermon and many people were feeling like they needed to move toward tithing. The worship leader was still upset with the pastor. Right after the sermon, for the closing song, the worship leader had the congregation sing, “Jesus Paid It All.”
What’s funny about this story is the closing song. What is sad about this story is how they both were so focused on themselves. Their pride, their egos, their ideas. It was truly all about who was going to be right and have their way be done.
How true this is for us today. We all like to be right and have everything work out for us. We all like people to know what we have done for ourselves, for our family. We all like ourselves and what we can do.
Jesus has been teaching, healing, and going from town to town proclaiming the message “the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
He has had crowds come just to hear what he had to say. Jesus would tell people things and concepts about God and heaven they never heard before. He spoke with incredible authority.
Even though Jesus would teach God is the source of all of our possessions, the source of our life, the source of our entire being. He still came across those who just wanted to be told they were living the right way, or have Jesus tell others how wrong that person is living. Does this sound familiar to anyone here today? How much do we judge other people and completely miss out on the blessings—the peace, joy, hope, love—God has in store for us. All because we hold on to this world more than we seek the Living God.
Jesus has to give hard messages, at times, to remind the people it is not about us getting into heaven, it is all about heaven getting into us. It’s all about joining in the mission of heaven here on earth.
That is the whole point of this stewardship series. If we continually seek and allow God to fill our heart, soul, mind, our whole being, with heaven, then we do not have to live with worry (anxiety). We realize there is nothing, in this world, that should hold us back from fully following God with everything we have and everything we are.
In our passage today, Jesus tells the parable of a rich man deciding he needs to make more room for his stuff. So, he builds bigger storage units to keep his stuff safe until he decides to go and retrieve it.
Did you know the storage industry is a $38 billion dollar a year industry with
- 44,000-52,000 storage facilities (approximately)
- 3 billion square feet of storage space
- 06 square feet of storage space per person
We are spending billions of dollars each year, as a country, for rented space that doesn’t belong to us, to store stuff we don’t have room for, and truthfully will not go back to get, or use in the future. We store stuff simply because we feel it has sentimental value and don’t release the hold it has on us
What do we save up for? Is it good to save? How much is too much? How will I take care of my kids after I’m gone? These are all great questions, and important for us to ask.
John Wesley taught about the use of money to the early Methodists. Wesley realized the people called Methodist were becoming so faithful to Christ that they were becoming prosperous. He knew that if the Methodists became too engulfed in their material goods and finances, they would lose the power of the Spirit of the faith they started out with.
In his sermon, On the Use of Money, Wesley coined the phrase, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
When Wesley preached this sermon and taught on money, he was doing so to make sure the people called Methodist were not wrapped up in what they had or what they could earn. Wesley’s heart was that the people called Methodists kept the focus on the main thing: advancing the Kingdom of God wherever they go.
We live in a time when it seems the church is dying. This really can be further from the truth. The church seems to have lost power in America but is thriving in many other parts of the world. What is the difference?
Here in America, we like our stuff. We like our homes. We like our vocations. We like our lives just like they are. The sad reality is many people live as practical atheists. They live in a way that they profess Christ on their lips and do what they can as if God was not even in the picture.
This is what Jesus was warning against in the parable of the rich man and the barns. Jesus was showing that God had provided a harvest so great, there was not enough room for it all to be stored.
Earlier, Jesus told his disciples, “the harvest is plentiful…”See, whenever we realize God is involved, we pay attention to the incredible work that He is doing. There is so much work by the power of the Holy Spirit and we miss it because we get worried about how we’re going to take care of ourselves.
Jesus was teaching that when we do what we can to get our “needs” met, we miss out on the life God is offering. We miss out on the blessings God is providing each day. This is why Jesus taught, “take up [your] cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
Let us not live as practical atheists. Let’s be the people who give God thanks in all circumstances. Consider the life you have and how God is living in and through you to be a blessing to those around you and to the world.
What have you thanked God for today?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I held back by my possessions? In other words, do I have an unhealthy preoccupation with my possessions?
- Do I have more security in what I can do versus what God is providing?
- Do I try to earn more than I really need?
- Am I focused on only enjoying the fun things in life?
- Am I working toward and giving toward things that have an eternal impact?
Over the course of these past few weeks, we have talked about tithing. This is giving 10% back to God. Most of the time, as we have mentioned, we tend to think of tithing as only financial. I have also said, I believe people are, for the most part, more generous with their money than they might realize.
When we have talked about tithing, we have talked about that it is really in all areas of our life. (Money, gifts, talents, time). We remember that everything we have is from God and is God’s. When we give, especially to the Church, we are giving back to God what really belongs to God. We are showing that we trust God is and will provide what we need in order to survive.
It is challenging for us to realize God is the one who provides for our food, and everything else we need. After all, we can go to the store and get bread and any food or drink we want. We do not have to worry if there is going to be enough food to feed our family because we can just drive to the store. But remember that it is God who gave you the gifts/talents in order to do your work so you can have the income needed to provide the food. It is God who worked through the farmers and ranchers to makes sure the crops were what they needed to be. It is God who created all the plant and animal life. It truly is God who provides for our needs. So, we give back to God what is really His to begin with, trusting we have enough to live off of after we give.
We talk about the concept of tithing in all areas of our life. Do we think much about our time? Every day we wake up, remember it is God who has given us air to breathe. We are alive because of the grace of God who gives us breath each day. This means that the time we have is all because of God. Yes, even our time belongs to God.
So, here is a convicting question, “How much of our daily time is devoted back to God?”
If we have 24 hours a day, and we tithe off of that, this would mean 2.4 hours a day devoted to God. Do we think we could do this?
Now, this does not mean that we pray for 2.4 hours, or read scripture for 2.4 hours, or serve on mission/outreach for 2.4 hours, or talk with people about Jesus for 2.4 hours a day. It is all about devoting what we do to God and God alone. Praise God in all situations because God is with us always. There should not be any difference in our life with God and our life with people.
If we shift the focus off of what we’re giving to God and, instead, focus on what God is giving to us and through us, we can experience more freedom from the power money, possessions, fame, greed, etc. have on us. We can live as the people God called us to be. In all we do, we work with God to make an impact that will last beyond this week, beyond our life.
If we have read the book of Revelation, or paid attention to people preaching on the street corners or in the church, we have probably heard of the door in Revelation 3, where Christ is standing at the door and knocking to come in. But there is another door we should pay attention to. It is in Revelation 4:1 where Christ is standing in an open door and inviting us to join his world and his mission.
The mission of the Church throughout history has been focused on transforming the world and making disciples so everyone can experience and live in the Kingdom of Heaven here and now AND in the life to come. This is how we can make an eternal (never-ending) impact in the world, and in the lives of people.
Making an eternal impact means we give so that people have the opportunity to live. We share our faith in God through Jesus Christ because we know this is the true source of our joy, peace, hope, love. We share the life God has given us with the world because we are not in this by ourselves. We are in relationship with other people because of the relationship God has with us and we have with God.
So, what do we do?
Look at where your money is being spent. Is it being spent on things that will be here for a long time? Or do we spend our money on things that will be broken tomorrow, or even a few years from now? How much do we give to the church? If we increased our giving to the church, could we see more ministry and mission happening?
Look at how you use your gifts/talents God has given you. Are they being used to further yourself, your “brand”, your life? Or are they being used to build others up so they can be encouraged to live a life that God has for them?
Also, look at your time. How is your time spent? Is it focused on yourself and your life (including focusing solely on your family)? Or is it spent to help people know their value in Christ and help others understand their worth to us? Is what we do with our time glorifying to God all the time?
I love the stories I hear from people about how heaven is being shared in everyday life. Especially in times of illness or heartache.
There are many ways the Holy Spirit is working through people to make an impact in the world.
God has invited us to join him in the work he is doing here and around the world.
Yes, it always seems like a lot to do. It always seems like we’re asked to add more to our lives. It is true the mission is a lot, but we do not do this alone. We participate in God’s mission (because he’s already working where we are) with God and with other people. When we give our financial tithe to the church, give joyfully because Heaven will be experienced through the work being done in and through the church body.
It is false that we are asked to add more to our lives. The goal of talking about the spiritual discipline of stewardship is to realign, not just our finances, but our entire lives to the mission and life that Jesus Christ offers.
The Holy Spirit sustains us and gives us all we need to do the work he is doing.
So, give the worry over to Christ. Take not the burdens of the work and people upon yourself. Give them to Christ because his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We are not really doing our mission anyway. We are actually participating and joining in Christ’s work that he is already doing.
The generous life is more than us giving stuff and money away. The generous life is joining Christ is his mission to our community and to the world.
Always remember: WITH GOD, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.
Mark 1:15b NIV
Luke 10:2a NIV
Luke 9:23b-24 NIV
“Why do people get uncomfortable talking about stewardship?” This was a question we talked about last week.
Last week we started a 3-week series on stewardship. We talked about not worrying about what we don’t have, or controlling our resources because everything we have is because of God and really is God’s anyway.
Here is a video that sums this concept up:
We are all being challenged to look at where and how we utilize the resources (time, talents, gifts, money) God has given us. The topic of tithing was brought up. I know this is a topic most people do not like to hear about, but tithing really is important for our spiritual life. I mentioned that I believe people are more generous, for the most part, with the money given and time/talents used. It is easy to say, “10% is too much to give away,” but I bet if we really looked, we would see we are giving away 20% or more (especially if we count cash given). Now, the challenge is to look at where we are giving the money. We should always be asking, “is this going to help the Kingdom of Heaven? Or will this only be here for a very short time?”
This past week, I asked a group of people online, why don’t people give to the church? What was interesting is how most of the responses were about the people not liking the ministry or mission being done, so they withheld their money and said the church was not using the money wisely even though the church was being the church.
Our giving really does reflect how much we allow Christ to have control over our lives. As we pay attention to and assess our giving (in all areas of our life), let’s see where we are holding on to control.
Our passage today shows an interaction with a rich man and Jesus. He wanted to know how to have eternal life, but on his terms. His life was what was holding him back.
So, now we ask, “what holds us back from fully following Christ?”
READ SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:17-31 NIV
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
There are a few things we have to pay attention to here:
First, the rich man called Jesus “Good Teacher” this means he already has respect for Jesus and his teachings.
How many of us have respect for Jesus’ teachings? If we think about it, Jesus never said, “Respect my teachings and live your life.” No, Jesus said the simple words, “Follow me.” This is the calling each of us has on our lives.
Sunday mornings are easy to profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and respect what the pastor says in the sermons and during worship. But are our lives truly changed by the message of Jesus we hear on Sunday mornings? Is this reflected in the way we live our lives Monday morning?
We have to keep asking the question:
WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?
In other words, how do we align our lives to reflect what we profess Sunday mornings? I know there are people who would hear these words and say, “I live my life for Jesus each and every day.” Still, others would say, “I live my life how I choose. This is why I don’t like ‘organized religion’. It’s just people trying to tell you how to live.” Have you heard or thought either of those responses?
When we profess Jesus Christ as our Savior, it is so much more than only respecting the words we hear and say each Sunday. It is about having all parts of who we are completely being transformed by the message, person, and Spirit of the Living Christ in the world and in our lives.
When we profess Jesus as our Lord, we make sure that, in everything, we give him the glory and recognition he deserves. We take the time to live our lives as Jesus lived, loving, serving and giving to the exact people who are different than us and whom we do not agree with.
Did you notice the rich man was looking for Jesus to tell him that he was a nice guy and was doing everything “right.” Notice, Jesus did not answer him the way desired. Instead, Jesus did was Jesus does best and asks him a question in return,
“Why do you call me good?”
Now if I were to ask you, what is “good?” I bet we would all hear many different things and the reasons behind them.
Why would we call Jesus “good”? Take a moment and write down, a thought, of why you would call Jesus “good”.
I often wonder if the rich man was trying to butter Jesus up by giving him a compliment, hoping a compliment would be given in return. Do we do this with Jesus? Do we do this with other people?
As we go through and hear the conversation between Jesus and the rich man, we notice the man’s inflated sense of himself and his character traits. What’s holding him back? His pride, in one respect. How many of us have been caught in the trap of not letting our pride get hurt?
Pride can do so much harm to our lives if not properly checked. He was trying to be told he was “good enough” just because he did not break a few of the commandments. Jesus took him deeper than the rich man was willing to go. He challenged the rich man to look at what he was lacking.
I am one of those people who continually reminds us not to focus on what we perceive to be lacking; but, instead, focus on what God is providing.
But this is a perfect example of how we should look at what it is we are lacking. Do we lack the desire to give up the control of our possessions and finances have on us to truly follow Jesus? This is an area I struggle with because the stuff I have makes my life easier in many ways. But dig into the question further.
Jesus is not only asking the rich man to sell everything he has, but he is challenging him to realize that “an unrestrained appetite for wealth or clinging too tightly to what we possess can hold us back and cause us paralysis in our following of Christ.”
Just as the saying goes “you don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse;” we understand that Jesus teaches we cannot be weighed down by what we have in order to follow him. We cannot be worried about our stuff so much that we do not fully and faithfully follow Jesus in our day to day lives.
Another way of putting it, “we do not work for the stuff we have, we work to make sure what we have is utilized for the Kingdom of God.”
Following Jesus is not as easy as we would want to make it out to be. It is more than just saying a simple prayer and leaving it at that. Following Jesus means we listen to what he says and follow him with nothing holding us back.
Throughout this entire exchange, we see Jesus speaking in extremes. Do you really think Jesus was asking the man to really sell everything he had? I don’t think so. Jesus was doing a heart assessment and the rich man did not like what Jesus said, so the man went away sad.
So, what is holding you back from fully following Jesus? How can we have the same excitement for a new TV, football game, clothes, etc. as we have for following Christ? What is something you possess (object, a feeling of pride, knowledge, etc) that is grabbing your attention more than Jesus is grabbing your attention?
I would be a big liar if I told you I had all of this together and nothing was holding me back. In many people’s eyes, pastors are supposed to be perfect people and have no issues. But the truth is, we are all human, all in need of grace, all in need of healthy relationships. We are all in this together.
This life is not easy. In fact, when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”He meant it.
But always remember and believe:
JESUS MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE, POSSIBLE
We cannot try to get our way into God’s graces by “trying our best” or “being better than other people.” We can only get into heaven because of Jesus Christ.
It really is impossible to get into heaven by pleasing God because when we project something (action or person) as good, we are bringing God down to our own level. But instead, we should continually seek the Kingdom of God because God is the only One who can call something good and get it right.
We cannot do enough to get into God’s good graces on our own. But Jesus tells us, “With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
When we give, we are demonstrating the work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. We are showing to the world, truthfully ourselves, that we are willing to do everything necessary to follow Jesus. We are showing that the only thing that has our complete devotion is, not our stuff or talents or anything like that, but that we only seek to follow Jesus in our daily lives.
When we give to the church, we have the opportunity to be part of the work of the collective Body of Christ in our community and around the world. Yes, the Gospel message is free to give; but the transmission and spreading of the Gospel message takes resources. There is a whole world looking to see churches fail. Many people are constantly trying to prove God is not real.
Do we ever wonder how we can show people that God is real? One big way is to give. Give away financial resources. Give away our time. Give away the talents and gifts God has given us. Give everything away possible because God is continually providing and pouring out his blessings and his presence on all of creation, especially his most valuable creations: you and me.
Bishop Robert Schnase puts it this way:
“Giving makes following God real. We can live a God-related life, or we can live without attention to God’s presence and will. The God-related life means our relationship with God influences all we do. When we seek to do the things God would have us do, including giving, our practice intensifies our love for the things God loves. Then the material possessions that can serve as a distraction or impediment to following Christ become an instrument for our serving Christ. Our material good, consecrated to God, nourish our desire to serve God. Generosity feeds our love for God.”
Tom Chapman, in his book, Make All You Can Give All You Can, writes, “When God calls you to a major task, you will always have other options, and His plan is usually the most difficult one. Many times, it’s also the one that makes the least logical sense.”
We all have things that are holding us back from completely and fearlessly following Jesus every day and in every way of our lives. So, what is holding you back? For me, it really depends on the day and what I have going on and how much sleep I got the night before.
Last week we ended with a piece of Psalm 51. Today, let’s read verses 6-12 together as a form of prayer and praise to God for all the ways he is working in and through our life:
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
As we go through this week, let nothing hold you back from following Jesus every day. Let your love for him be evident through your actions, words, and giving.
Seek Christ for the life he offers and pay attention to the people he loves and how he spends his time, energy, and resources. Praise God for how he is continually working in and through our lives for the transformation of the world!
Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 61
Mark 10:25 NIV
Mark 10:27b NIV
Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 62
SHOW GOD’S LOVE DAILY
As we continue in loving people and organizations to life, we remember we have been praying and seeking God’s direction, we have been allowing the people to be their real selves without judgement, we have been meeting with people in small groups, and we have begun a visioning process for the future of the church/person/organization.
This may all seem like a simple, easy-to-do process (it really is); but it will take time. It can take as long as God is needing. We have to be patient when things are not going as well as we would like right at first.
With this in mind, the saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is very true. When we are in a new area, the temptation is to go ahead and begin new steps, new vision, new processes without really taking the time to learn the history, the passions of the people, or really loving the people.
Our mission is to show people the value and worth they have in God through Jesus Christ. Because the people have value in the eyes of God, they also should have value in our eyes.
I have dared congregations and people to pray a very dangerous prayer: to ask God to break our hearts as his heart breaks. Why is this a dangerous prayer? Because, if we begin to see the world, the redemptive potential of the people and the world, we will find ourselves being more compassionate, and therefore, more loving. This goes against the flow and MO of the world.
We hear messages all the time of how evil people are, how many times people do bad things, how we should distance ourselves from those unlike us. The only issue with this is Jesus never did such thing. He was always with the people no one liked, or who were outcasts, and made them experience and live into the worth God has placed in them.
Helping people moving from a place of being stagnant means we have to make sure we love the people and then we show people love through acts and words of grace.
What are some ideas for this?
Number one is to simply spend time with the people and continue to listen to their stories. This is very important because you can simple be present with the people. We all love to know other people have interest in our lives. Now, we may not be able to get to everyone, at first, but this is okay. There are still many ways to try and interact with as many people as possible (many of which we have already talked about in the past few weeks.
Some other things we could do are:
- Personal, handwritten notes: Have you noticed how many handwritten notes come through the mail now? When you get one, how do you feel?
- Phone calls or texts just to check on the people
- Visiting when sick, or at least calling
- Showing up to important events with them
- Thank you notes
- Words of encouragement
- Of course praying with and for people
These may all seem like small things, and they are; but they have a huge impact on the lives of the people we are around. As we continue to work through a process of loving people to life, keep in mind the great love God has for the world, for the people.
Ask God for help to love the people as he loves them. Seek to do everything, within reason, to show people God’s love through you. Show and remind them of their value in the eyes of Christ. Help them remember the worth they have because they are created in the image of God.
Then, watch God’s love begin to take over in you and see how much you care for the people you are working with and living around.
This is one of my favorite things to do – visioning for the possibilities of the future.
I have said before that I do much better in bigger picture planning and thinking than I do when it comes to the minor details. The details are important. Visioning is not just about long term planning or thinking how an organization/person/church can be in the next generations. Visioning is about taking the plans and putting them into action.
A vision without action is really just a day dream. In this aspect of helping people/organizations/churches live for the future, we are doing a few different things: 1) we are looking where they have been, 2) where they are now, and 3) what is possible with the current resources (and also resources that will become available)?
Visioning has to be covered in prayer from the beginning, during, and execution. I have also learned that listening to the hopes and dreams of the people is another place God is speaking about the future. As we have been listening and learning from the people in our small groups, we have an incredible chance to hear the passions of the people. This is where I think we should continue with the visioning process.
As we have been praying, and seeking God’s direction and focus for our new endeavor, we are also searching for the places God is at work. If we pay attention, we can hear God speaking through the passions of the people.
Visioning is a big picture activity and requires looking at the big picture. Right now, I would ask you to pause and write down what you consider as part of the big picture.
In my experience, we tend to sell short the “big picture” for only what we can see. The challenge here is to look beyond what is seen. Look at the organization, the people involved, the culture in and around, what has been done, what is going on, the resources in the past, the resources in the present, targets and goals for the future.
This is really just a small list, but it does give us some greater things to think about and consider; but it should help us expand our horizons to think about more than just the amount of people and bottom line. Visioning requires us to dream and act toward a goal of how the organization/person could be in the time frame you decide. This helps us with acting upon the vision.
As far as time, we tend to focus more on the next year, five years, or ten years down the road. How would it impact and affect your vision to think about how things could be in the next 50-100 years? Does that seem like too far into the future?
Think about this. Everything we do is either going to last for a short period of time or it will last for a long period of time. When we think more about the next 50-100 years, it helps us focus more on the next generations to help make sure there is something for them. This means we work toward something that may or may not be comfortable to us here and now.
As you spend time in prayer, listening to the people’s passions, and learning about the past to see future potential, praise God for the opportunity to be in the place you are in the time you are.
God has given and will give vision. Pay close attention and continually talk with other people so it is more of a community effort of prayer and work. Watch to see all God will do.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- How have you typically planned for the future in the past? Is there anything written here you haven’t considered before?
- What are you excited about in the new area/position?
- What do you think about the idea of planning for the next 50-100 years instead of just a year, 5-10 years, down the road? What is challenging about this? How can you work through the challenges?
MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE
Last week we began a series to help us love people to life. When we go to a new place, it it easy to assume we know what people need to do. In many cases, we may be right.
The best thing to do is to pray, and listen, to see where God is working and how God is working in the new area we’re in. Go night to a new place and driving forward our plans, without seriously paying attention to the work of God already in progress, can create some issues. This is not saying God will not bring redemption through work we do; but the work could actually take longer.
So, we’ve prayed and we believe we have listened carefully to God’s voice and have opened our eyes to see the work in progress. We must be careful not to give into the temptation to get to work right away. I know this seems odd to say. The truth is we would do so much better if we took our time.
Taking our time means we begin the process of getting to know the people. Plus, it gives us a chance to “meet people exactly where they are.”
Think about that for a minute. How did Jesus Christ begin working with your life? He met you, the person you were, in the exact situation you were in. I would also bet to say that when you realized Jesus was right there with you, he did not start off by saying, “I’m here to fix your life, so you need to do these steps right away!”
Instead, I believe Jesus first said to you, “I love you. Come and see what your life can and will be like with me.” That’s basically what he said when he called the disciples in Matthew 4, Mark 1-2, Luke 5, John 1. He invited the disciples to join him, just as they were. That’s when the transformation begins.
Our number one priority in this life, aside from loving and worshipping God through Jesus Christ, is to love the people God created.
Now we have to ask the question, what does meeting people where they are look like?
This is really one of the hardest things we will ever do. This involves simply listening to their stories, what they say about other people, how they say they live their life, anything they want to tell you…without judgement. It involves us learning the area, past customs, past traditions, history of the area, learning what dreams people have. All of this is done at the same time we are praying for God’s wisdom, vision, for the area while we are there.
I have found that, most of the time, you will hear people begin to say things that are very similar to what God has been speaking to you. And, when we take time to get to know the person and witness their life, trust is formed through this relationship. Then, we can begin to see the work of Christ in their life. Afterall, this is how we would want other people to treat us.
We may have a grand vision, grand ideal, for an area, for the life of a person, or people group; but Jesus may be working on something deeper than what we can see and experience at the surface. This is why it is so important to meet with people where they are, as they are, so we can see how God is using us to work with him in that person’s life.
Here is something I have had to learn to consider in every situation: maybe it’s not just about working to make change in other people’s lives; maybe it is also about God’s redemptive and transformative work within our own life.
How is this sitting with you, right now? What did you know about this concept? What do you not agree with?
Additional questions to consider:
1) What do the people do/act like, that is hard for you to be around?
2) Do you think you have to patience to continue this work for getting to know people for months or even years without getting frustrated or impatient?
3) What do you sense God working on in your life, as you get to know new people and their stories?
You’re in a new organization, work, church, community. You have studied the demographics and have learned about the history of the area. You are excited about the possibilities.
Maybe you move to an area that you are not as keen on living in. You see a bleak future, or maybe one that seeks to keep things as the status quo. You moved there because you sensed you needed to, so you went where you were sent.
No matter where you are, take time to discern whether the people are trying to survive so their community, organization, etc. doesn’t die; or are if they trying to live. There is a difference between the two. One simply wants to maintain by not losing anyone or anything; the other wants to ensure their sustainability for the future and to still make an impact in the world.
Whatever situation you’re in, there are some things that should be done ahead of time, and during your first few months. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some thoughts on working with people who “want to live.”
I’m already reminded of the words of Jesus, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b NIV) Even if it seems the organization simply does not want to die, there is incredible hope because of the promise of Christ to give the fullest life possible.
The first step:
What is the first thing we should do may seem obvious. This is something we say we should do before everything. It is so obvious that we can easily overlook it.
Prayer should be the first thing we do. Right now, I wonder how many people are going, “duh! Of course prayer is first!” I would also believe there are people reading this now who are thinking they haven’t taking the time to pray.
I love this quote, “When we pray it does not nudge God to move more; it instead opens our eyes to God’s activity around us.” This is what we do when we communicate with our Creator, we pay attention to His work and activity all around us so we can join right in.
When we pray, it is very easy to fall into the trap that when we say “amen” that they prayer is over. Remember the Apostle Paul writes, “pray continually.” This is not just about finding ways to talk with God what’s going on with our world. It is also about being in tune with the voice of the Creator that is speaking constantly. Prayer is a communication where we should be listening to God more than always just talking to God.
Prayer opens our eyes to the work that God is doing all around us. Several years ago, I heard a story about people praying for their food in a restaurant. The prayer kept getting interrupted because another person was not doing well. They were visibly upset and sitting alone. The people praying kept their eyes closed, finished the prayer, and enjoyed their food. All the while, the person sho was upset just sat their nursing an almost empty cup of coffee.
Paying attention to the voice of God, even during our prayers, is important. God maybe speaking to us to go and tend to the hurt of another. We may be the answer to another person’s prayer. We can miss so much if we do not pay attention to what is going on around us – to what God is doing in the midst of the situations of the people around us.
As we take time to pray, it is easy to ask God to “bless our work.” God is always working and is asking us to join Him in the work. This is a great chance to seek to bless the work God is doing by joining is and show His glory through your and my life.
In the community, organization, church you are in, or moving to, how many times have we assessed the situation and have said, “I know what needs to happen. Let’s just get to work!” I am completely guilty of doing this many times.
See, when we walk in and “get to work” we tend to focus on our own agendas and seek to make everything the way it should be. Yes, there is always work to be done; but what if God has sent us to where we are for something greater, something more important that just restructuring? What is God sent you there to simply be a reminder of His presence?
Yes, we are all reminders of God’s presence in the world; but what if God is simply wanting us to work on loving the people where they are exactly? If we begin by focusing on the organizational structure or focus on what’s wrong, we can easily miss the people there.
Prayer is the most important thing we do. It is what guides our steps, helps us understand and see where God is working. Prayer helps us see our mission, especially when we are actively listening.
Remember these words from Hebrews 3, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
I pray your new venture is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit working within you. I pray the people around you are seeking to live life to the fullest and seek the Kingdom of Heaven each day.