Loving to Life Pt 2

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?

Being Known

Read Acts 9:32-43 here.

What would you like to be known for? This is something I believe we all think about more than we care to admit. Now, I’m not talking about how we want to be remembered after was pass away and move on to life eternal. I’m talking about here and now. How would you like people to talk about you? To know you?

We see this all the time. People want to be known for something, so they’ll start a new business, donate to charity, be active in church, write, work in certain jobs. It is important to us, at least on some level, for us to be known. We want to be the people others come to. But we should be careful too. If we are trying to be known for something, it is too easy to be jealous for what we perceive other people to have, strive to be perfect and refuse to show imperfection, work more for ourselves than for our family or improving society.

As we grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ and commit our work to Him, suddenly what we do have greater purpose and joy. It is incredible how God uses the work we do to bring Him glory and give us everything we need. Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.” (CEB) and Proverbs 16:3 states, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (NIV).

Continuing on with our study through the book of Acts, we come back to the Apostle Peter. Peter as committed his life to the Jesus Christ. He has committed all of his work as well. There was no separate designation because Peter knew that his entire life is better lived when it’s lived with and for Jesus Christ.

Too often we miss that point. We can go on thinking and living in ways that say we are working for a purpose and what we do after work is for another purpose. To be known in our communities is to understand that everything we do is connected. For example, if at our “job” we do not smile, are not happy, undermine or talk bad about our co-workers, it will be difficult for people to believe you can do great things in your free time. On the other hand, if we work hard (whether we like our job or not), are courteous, give praise where it’s due, etc., people will gravitate toward that attitude.

Peter had challenges with his pride before Jesus was crucified. But now, we come to the book of Acts and see his life radically transformed. He has a greater mission and purpose within himself and it is played out in his everyday life. When he is around, word gets around.

Because of Peter’s life, and his dedication to live his life for Christ, he has become a person known for his love of others. He has become known as a person you can trust, count on, and call to be with you in times of heartache and grief.

In the end, what is more important: having someone with you to help encourage and build you up, or having someone guide you to be able to be the materially wealthiest person out there? Often times, if we live for a greater purpose than just ourselves, we find we are better known and people come to Christ because of the lives we live.

Revisit the passage today and see how Peter was known in the areas he travelled. I challenge you to think about if you are known for doing good? If so, what?

Peter did not get that way over night. He committed his life to following Jesus Christ which led him to experience incredible joy and work he would never imagined would be possible.

 

 

REDEEMED: A Strange Love

We have begun the season of Lent, a time of reflection, repentance, and turning our lives back toward the gospel. Whether you practice the season of Lent or not (the 40 days before Easter not including Sundays), I invite you to begin this practice this year.

Ash Wednesday is the day that begins the Lenten season. In the Methodist Church, there is an invitation to the observance of Lent. This observance to Lent invites us to observe a holy lent. It puts it this way, “the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty–day season of spiritual preparation…the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith…in the name of the Church…observe a holy Lent: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.”

Today, we begin a six week series called “Redeemed” where we focus on what it means to be redeemed by God through Jesus Christ and empowers us with the Holy Spirit.

Our passage today comes from the minor prophet book of Hosea. Take some time to read this passage. (Click link to read Hosea 3:1-5.)

So, reading this passage may seem a little strange. But, what did you notice, what stood out? Why do you think we begin with this passage?

To begin with, let’s think about the characters. The prophet Hosea was sent to be with an adulterous woman. Why would God send Hosea to her? As it says in the passage, it was to show that the people of Israel had lost their way.

Think of it this way. The people of Israel had gone astray from their love for God and chose to live for themselves and worship other idols, and gods. But God did not give up on them. God does not remove any of the consequences for their actions and lifestyle; but He does go to prove He desires for them to be redeemed.

We see this action of redemption through the actions of Hosea. He had to “buy” the woman so she could go with him. Why did he have to buy her? Does this mean she was choosing that lifestyle? Not necessarily. It does mean that she was in a place, a situation, that she needed to leave and be redeemed from.

This is the same with God. We find ourselves in many circumstances and situations in our life. Some of which we put ourselves into and some we are in this state by choice. God does not turn his eye from us. How do we know this?

Look toward the cross. Jesus Christ, God in flesh, lived on this earth. Get that? God came down to redeem, to save, to bring to restoration those who are lost. The good news is that this is us. Jesus Christ offers us new life and chances to turn our life back to God.

Will you take this opportunity? No matter what is going on in your life, or in what situation you find yourself in, God has already paid the price for you and I to be free from our slavery to sin. Get that? You and I are free because of Jesus Christ.

Lent is so much more than just thinking about how good this truth is. Lent is about turning our lives back to God. Always remember the core of the Gospel:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16)

May this Lent be meaningful and bring you closer to the throne of grace. Jesus Christ has done so much. Repent and believe the gospel!

NOTE: This is a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

Giving It Up

Lent is coming upon us. No, this is not the lint we find in our pockets or in our dryers. This is a special time within the Christian Church calendar. This is a time of sacrifice, self-denial, repentance, self-reflection, etc. so we can be fully ready to experience the joy that comes on Easter Sunday when we celebrate the truth Christ has defeated our last enemy, death, and we can joyfully proclaim “Christ is risen!”

To get to that place of complete joy, we have to realize there is a time of preparation that should take place. Easter doesn’t just happen. Christ didn’t just rise from the grave. He made preparations. Jesus went with intentionality to Jerusalem, prepared his disciples, went through public humiliation, flogged, died, and was buried. So much happened in the life of Jesus before he rose.

The 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) is a special time. Many people, around the world, participate in some sort of fasting. Fasting is supposed to be challenging for us. One of the aspects to remember about fasting is that we are removing anything that takes us away from experiencing the joy of God’s presence that is with us always.

One of the practices I have done each year is to add something new to my days. This has been a great practice for me because doing a new spiritual discipline or a new kind of devotion or prayer has taken time away from doing something else. Adding something new each lent has been a powerful way to more fully focus on the life of Christ and how we have the opportunity to experience Christ daily and in new ways, if we’re open to his presence.

My question for you is, “what is part of your life that takes your attention away from God?” This is what we should give up for Lent. When we give up something, it is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to remind us that, just like we are tempted to partake of what we gave up because we think we need it, Jesus Christ was tempted in the wilderness. He overcame the power of temptation from the evil one and remained focused on his life calling and his life mission.

Now, here is the challenge. Instead of giving up something like chocolate, or similar, I challenge us to give up something more challenging. (Note: If you crave chocolate and have to have chocolate everyday, this might be a good challenge to give up because it might take your attention off Christ.) Some ideas are giving up a certain TV show each day/week, and spending time in a spiritual discipline (prayer, worship, silence, solitude, etc.) either on your own or with your family. We can also fast from food, whether it be one meal a day or only eating in the evening. There are several ways we can cleanse our hearts and lives by giving something up in order to fill our hearts more with heaven. I am including some additional articles, at the bottom of this post, that could prove helpful for you to fully immerse yourself in the season.

Now, after Easter, whatever we gave up, we do not need to begin again. This is where it gets really difficult for many. Giving something up in order to fully experience God should become part of our everyday lives, even after Easter. If what you give up really does take your attention off Jesus Christ, then keep it out of your life so you can more fully have your life devoted to God.

The day that begins the season of Lent is Ash Wednesday. Many people go to worship, go to a church building and get the sign of the cross on their foreheads in (usually) palm ashes. This is to remind us that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” Just like we are only dirt when we don’t have a physical body; we are truly nothing without the grace of God in our lives. The ashes are supposed to remind us we need Jesus Christ daily.

I pray Lent this year helps you fully prepare for the joy of Easter. May Jesus Christ continue to make himself known to you daily, and may you know more fully the presence of God in your life.

ARTICLES:

“19 Things to Give Up For Lent that Aren’t Chocolate” http://www.dailyworld.com/story/opinion/2017/02/16/19-things-give-up-lent-arent-chocolate/98005614/

“10 Ideas for a More Meaningful Ash Wednesday” http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/10-ideas-for-a-more-meaningful-ash-wednesday

SENT OUT with Identity

This week, we began a 5 part series in worship called “SENT OUT.” Jesus does not call us to live comfortable lives, be comfortable in our worship, or expect everything to go just right simply because we follow him. He calls us to go out into our communities and out into the world to follow Him, make disciples, show grace; and this all begins by knowing our identity.

If I were to ask you, “Who are you?,” would you be able to answer this without stating what you do or describe your personality or preferences? We live in a culture that wraps our identity up with our job and what we like to do. This is not the basis of our true identity. Our true identity is a child of God, a person who has been made in the image of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 3, Jesus goes to be baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. I invite you to read these words now:

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.””
Matthew 3:13-17 NIV

Jesus is on his way to be baptized. He is determined to follow through on this decision. People were coming from all over to be baptized by John the Baptist and repenting to turn their life over to God. Would Jesus have just been another person in the crowd? Would you be able to recognize Him? John recognized Jesus when He went in the water.

When we get baptized, we go with a resolve to publically declare what God has been doing inside us. This is not done lightly and we should not take baptism lightly.

In doing research for this message this week, I came across a story of a baptism in East Malaysia.
When Texas pastor Jim Denison was in college, he served as a summer missionary in East Malaysia. While there he attended a small church. At one of the church’s worship services, a teenage girl came forward to announce her decision to follow Christ and be baptized. During the service, Denison noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the wall of the church building. He asked the pastor about it. The pastor pointed to the girl who had just been baptized and told Denison, “Her father said that if she was baptized as a Christian she could never go home again. So she brought her luggage.”(Raymond McHenry, Stories for the Soul (Hendrickson, 2001), p. 48; submitted by Steve May, Humboldt, Tennessee)

This teenager knew she would not be welcome back home after being baptized and knew this meant she had a new life to live because she knew God had great plans for her life. How many of us would be willing to do the same thing?

Jesus was not made more into the Son of God after He was baptized; but His identity was confirmed and affirmed by the heavens opening up giving the divine revelation (Ezekiel 1:1, Revelation 4:1), the voice from heaven that proclaimed His identity and showed His authority for the work He was about to enter.

So now we have to ask the question, what does this mean for us today?
We get to be affirmed in our identity as children of God and share this truth to those in our family, and others around us.

We should always approach worship and the presence of God (which is all around us) with determination that God will do a great work within us and through us.

We get to share this message of grace and truth because we know our identity: Child of God made in His image. This means we go into the world and tell the gospel message with confidence. Remember, there are really two types of people in this world: those who know they are God’s children, and those who do not know this.

As we leave the waters of baptism, realize we are in the presence of God, we are changed and should allow God to continually change us. Remember these:
Why the Jordan River? The Israelites crossed the river with Joshua leading them after Moses died. They left their old way of life behind and entered into a new life, one that God desired them to have.
Put on Christ and clothe yourself with Christ (Colossians 3)
It is no longer I who live but Christ in me (Galatians 3:22)
It is God who does the redemptive work. This is where the power in baptism comes from. (1 Corinthians 1)
We have been equipped by the Holy Spirit and have been given gifts for reaching out to this world. (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4)
From the beginning, God called His creation “good” (Genesis 1:26-27), and we get to join in the redemptive work with Him.

Trust that God is doing a great work in you and will do great works through you. Child of God, know who you are and know you have a great purpose and mission for your life. But, just because you decide to follow Jesus Christ, does not mean your life will not be easy or comfortable because we want it to.

Right after Jesus was baptized, He was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit and was tempted by Satan. Because He knew and was confident in His identity and purpose, He was able to withstand the temptations. You and I have this same power over temptations within us if we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within you and live through you.

Above all else, remember it is God who does incredible works and have given you the identity of Child of God. Stand firm in this identity and go into the world to make disciples for Jesus Christ.

Putting Out Fires

We are all busy people. There is just too much to do, too much to handle, too much to fix. It never fails that we cannot get ahead in our schedules. Why does this happen?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about having too many “irons in the fire.” Today, let’s focus on why we feel like we constantly have “fires” to put out at work, at home, etc.

First of all, we should realize there is always stuff to do. There are always issues and problems to be taken care of. If we are constantly trying to fix everything around us, or even going behind people to make sure the job or task gets done, think of all the stress that will be on us. We were not designed to handle as much stress as we put upon ourselves. Stress will take a toll on us: physically, emotionally, relationally, and even spiritually.

It is recommended to prioritize what really has to be done. This way, we can constantly see what really matters. So when an issue or problem arises, we can see the tasks we need to work on personally and can find another person to take care of the problem.

There are also issues or problems that just need to “burn out.” By this, I mean these types of issues are not necessarily the ones we need to take care of right away. When you join a team or a committee, we can easily find what needs to be fixed and taken care of. Often times we focus on the minute details that do not matter as much as some people might think they do; but there are some things that just need to wait to be fixed. For example, if there is a policy that really and truly can wait, then create opportunities to examine the issue and find a time to have it set in motion after everyone understands (for the most part) why this policy change needs to happen.

Things take time to be repaired and to be fixed. We should not be in a hurry to try and fix everything. I have heard it said that when we started something, treat it like a marathon not a sprint. In other words, get in the mindset you’ll be there for awhile. Longer term planning and visioning will help to sort out which issues and problems need to be addressed right away and which ones can wait.

Above all, trust that God has equipped you to do the tasks at hand. You and I have been gifted in certain areas and this is where our focus should remain. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reminds the church in Corinth they are part of the body of Jesus Christ. You and I are part of this same body. We do not need to do everything; but we should take care of the tasks we are truly gifted to do.

Other people have been placed in our lives to help us accomplish, together, all that God desires done in our lifetime. We are not “lone rangers,” nor should we feel like we are. We have this incredible opportunity to join the Holy Spirit’s work in our world to build up and usher in the Kingdom of God.

May we evaluate what is important to take care of now so we do not get consumed with anxiety and stress which helps us forget we are working with God the Father through Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 12

Brothers and sisters, I don’t want you to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. You know that when you were Gentiles you were often misled by false gods that can’t even speak. So I want to make it clear to you that no one says, “Jesus is cursed!” when speaking by God’s Spirit, and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, 10 performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. 11 All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.

12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted.19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. 27 You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.28 In the church, God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, the ability to help others, leadership skills, different kinds of tongues. 29 All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they? 30 All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they? 31 Use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way.

Take Away Everything…What’s Left?

We plan and plan and plan. We attempt to bring the best that we can to whatever event or party we throw. We’ll get anxious is something doesn’t go right, if something doesn’t go according to plan. What do we do? I have tried to figure out how to make things happen in the midst of situations not working out. I have often wondered “what now?” or even “what’s left that I can add to make this successful?”

I have even tried to plan for the future and things fall away or I have to change my plans with a quick decision. I often wonder if I made the right decision or not. I will even go through a period of doubt when it comes to planning events at the church. Am I doing enough to attract all different people? Do we have enough offered? Is there enough to hold their attention and satisfy their physical hunger? It is difficult to do everything to please everyone.

A couple years ago, we were planning a revival service for the community. In the planning process I began to wonder “what if we didn’t have all the games, the light, the stage, the food, etc.?” Then, in a time of personal prayer before I would leave to go to the planning meeting, something dawned on me. What would be left if everything was taken away? What would be left?

Take away the food. Take away the games. Take away the stage, the lights, the sound system. What would be left?

I began to think about this more and more and then I felt drawn to Colossians 1 where these words are written:

Colossians 1:15-20 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation, Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him. He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything. Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him, and he reconciled all things to himself through him—whether things on earth or in the heavens. He brought peace through the blood of his cross.

So, if all of the frills and entertainment were gone, what would be left? Jesus would be there! He is the basis for us doing what we do. He is the focal point for all of our tasks, projects, life goals, relationship goals. If all of our comforts and entertainment were taken away, Christ would be there. So a question I have to answer (and I believe we all should look at how we answer) is “if it is only Jesus, is this enough?” That’s a convicting question. If Jesus is enough, then everything else will be used for His glory and bringing people to faith in Him. If the “stuff” and planning is required to make Jesus more attractive and entertaining to others, we may be putting more faith in our abilities.

Trusting in Christ is difficult at times because we want to know everything we should do and how we should do it. But, Christ doesn’t work that way. His call is to simply follow Him. If we stay connected to Him, everything else seems to fall into place. We will not always have people understand why we are doing what we’re doing. But Jesus is enough. He has been enough from the beginning and holds everything together.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

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