When Love Came Down

Since Christmas Day has come and gone, do you feel any different? Or do you feel the weight of cleaning everything, paying bills, or having to pack the gifts to come back home?

The time after Christmas can be really stressful for many people. The logistics of how everything will get done can be very complicated and frustrating. But, is this how we are supposed to live our lives, even after we practice being kind, loving, compassionate, even if for just a few days?

Something else gets to be stressful. The new year is quickly approaching. So, what new year resolutions are you going to make? How many are you actually going to be able to keep? How many are actually going to be beneficial for your life?

I have started to notice something at the holiday time frames, and at the start of something new – we always seem to over commit ourselves, which means we sacrifice something we all desperately need – TIME.

Does this seem like you?

As I was preparing for the Christmas season and studying the scriptures to preach, I noticed something I have never noticed before: the greatest gift God has given us.

Yes, God did give us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, people are healed, fed, hopeful, peaceful. These are all incredible gifts God has given us. But I think we are missing something when we think about what God has given us.

God has given us the gift of His time. That’s something awesome and I am astonished at how I have missed this before.

We always talk about how spending time with the people we love is important. We also talk about how spending time with people changes their outlook and helps to put them on the right track. This is what I noticed God has done for us, in the gift, the person of Jesus Christ.

He has shown us what it means to give up the time we desire, to spend with the people who need our time the most. Jesus was always spending his time with other people who needed food, healing, miracles, teaching, love, grace. I wonder how many of us get worn out because we would rather be doing something else so we miss out on the joy that comes when we truly share the time we’ve been given with others?

Since God has come down to earth, the greatest power in the universe, Love, has been instilled in the people. God is still spending time with his people through the power of his Holy Spirit.

As we wind down from all of the festivities and activities and gift giving of Christmas, let us always remember to praise and thank God for the gift of his time he spends with us. Let us always look for ways to joyfully spend the time we have been given with others to help them experience the greatest force in the world.

If we really want to experience and witness real change in the world, pay attention to how much time you have been given and how the time is spent. Carefully, and prayfully using the time we’ve been given, wisely, will cause us to utilize God’s gift of time for the transformation of the world.

When Love came down, we learn how much God thinks about his people and creation. I pray we can all have eyes to see the world as he sees it and have the heart for the world as he has. May we use the gift of time we have been given to share his love with all we can. That is, after all, what God has done for us.

It Is Clean!

Read Acts 10 here.

“Are these dishes clean or dirty?” This is a common question in our house. Most of the time I can answer with confidence the dishes are clean. But there are sometimes I am not sure because I don’t remember running the dishwasher.

My kids are usually the ones who ask that question. Sometimes they will look to see if the “clean” light is on so they know if they could use a plate, bowl, or cup; other times, they ask as they’re rinsing their dish so they know where or not to put it in the dishwasher.

Knowing what is clean is important so we can be healthy. But, much of the time we tend to take this kind of thinking and apply it to people as well. This is not a new mindset: who is “clean” meaning who is like me that is worthy to be around me. All throughout the history of mankind, people have fought because deep down they felt the other side with inferior to them. As I write this in the morning, I automatically think of the historic feud here in America between the Hatfields and McCoys.

Prejudices and stereotypes have been developed because we still like to be with people like us and want to think others are not worthy to be near us, or us associate with them. This way of thinking about people has caused great harm to many families and causes distrust and hatred.

In the Acts passage today, a non-Jewish person (Gentile) who worshipped God has vision to have the Apostle Peter summoned to talk with him and his family about God. At the same time this was going on (and the servant was on his way to get Peter), Peter was hungry and had his own vision prompted by the Spirit.

This is one of those famous passages people tell a lot (in fact it is told twice in the book of Acts in two consecutive chapters so it might be important to pay attention to). A sheet has come down from heaven and Peter is told to eat the animals more than once. Peter sees there are animals that were forbidden by the Torah to eat. I think he felt like it was a test, so he answered like a good Jewish man would by saying he would not eat the animals that are unclean.

Can you blame Peter for this? All his life he was told to stay away from certain foods and now the Spirit was telling him to eat the animals he wasn’t supposed to.

Now, think about our lives today. How many of us have been told not to go around certain types of people simply because of x, y, z? Often times we’re told it’s because we need to stay safe.  We live in a world that is divided on so many levels and many groups of people will not associate with another group because of underlying prejudices and teachings.

But God told Peter not to call the animals “unclean” after God has called them clean. Just as he awoke from the vision, there was a knock at the door. He was asked to go to Cornelius’ house.

Had Peter not gone, the story would have ended there and we would not have found out anymore. But, instead, he chose to go to see what would happen and what was going on.

Imagine how different the world would be if we all did this same thing? How much division could be brought down by just talking with the other “side.”

Peter found out Cornelius and his family wanted to learn more about God. So Peter told them much more than they anticipated. He told them about Jesus Christ, God made flesh. Lives were changed because of the willingness to break down the barrier between Jewish and Gentile people.

Jesus Christ came for all people. Every person needs to hear the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Do not be surprised if (and when) God calls you to talk with a person you don’t like, flat out hate, or don’t like because of other reasons. You may be the very person God is using to break down barriers to spread his message throughout the world.

We do this because we love God and have had his transforming grace change our lives. Now, we get to go into the world and work with God to change and redeem the world and show what true love really is.

From 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

Unheard Voices 

I am not one to engage in political or any form of attack or criticism via social media because I see too much negativity and very little building up of those who did incredibly horrible, insensitive, and just plain wrong things. It hurts when people get hurt, especially people I know because of what it is done.

I am part of the group that appears to be silent on social media, and is criticized for not “speaking out” and blasting people all over Facebook, Twitter, etc. There is truthfully many people who are getting the point across over what is happening in our communities, our cities, our nation, and the world.

One of the things that is difficult for me to witnesses is the method that others are using to try to bring about change. Changing legislation, rioting, protesting (more specifically non-peaceful), calling people hurtful things and dumping people into a large group and stereotyping. The laws can change to make people more aware of what’s going on; but this is not the way people really change. Change does not happen instantly. Some people, unfortunately never experience the change in society, in our culture, in their lifetime. It is a very noble and important task to bring attention at a national and world level for the injustices that happen each and everyday. People are shot for no reason. Racism still comes out. Blind eyes and non-helping hands are all around us. If we really look at what is wrong, we see this is really a problem of people’s hearts. This is what needs to change first and foremost.

Too often we result to name calling and threatening when a person acts a certain way. Too often we put blame in objects or the situation. Too often we try to change people by making it illegal to act a certain way. Change does not happen in this way. It is pretty much impossible to change someone by demonstrating anger toward them. If anything, I have seen people become numb, angry, stubborn and resistant to change when another person comes back and attacks.

People are murdered, theft happens, kidnappings happen because we as a people do not value human life as much as we say we do. Look at our thought process. We go from thinking that a person said or did something wrong; but then we keep focusing on that and vent to others, becoming so angry that we begin thinking that person IS evil and IS wrong. This is just a step away from hating the person / group which makes it easy to say they do not deserve to live and therefore it makes it easy for a person to come out and kill. All because human life is not valued.

We see this kind of thinking and behavior everyday. Many based their hatred on snap decisions and feelings rather than trying to look a what is going on, what is at the heart of the matter. Again, the actions and the objects get blamed and punished and we forget to see what is going on: that human life is not valued like we think it is. Our media, and social media makes this possible. Because of the 5-30 second sound bites, it makes it easy for our opinions to be sueded, mostly in a negative way. Then we can and do share the short clips and memes that do more harm.

I find it interesting, and disturbing, that the same kind of mindset we are told not to act upon in 6th grade is the same thing we do today. We get hurt, and we try to hurt other people. Hurting others does not really teach why something is wrong, rather it is retaliating for vengeance, for revenge. Revenge has never gotten complete justice; instead it seeks after retribution.

The way that I see people change is one-on-one or in small groups. I have found that most people, though there are ones who won’t and that’s something they have to work through, will listen is they feel listened to. I am not on a national stage so I don’t have a platform many others do. It seems we need to go back and follow Jesus’ example of how He worked to change the world. There were times large groups were around; but he really did it by starting one-on-one and with his small group. He challenged their hearts to experience the Kingdom of Heaven that is already here, if we open our eyes and our hearts to it. People are not changed from trying to change what is going on around them. people are changed from the inside out. Like Jesus does, we have to work with him to change a person starting with the heart. Every life matters. All people have value.

Do I do everything I can to work with Jesus to bring change in my community, which I pray spreads out to the world? I try. I am nowhere near perfect, and I know I still have biases of my own; but I praise God for the transformation he is doing in me and for the transformative work I see happening in this community. When we can build people up, instead of insulting and tearing down, God’s love and grace is able to come in. People are valued. People realize they are loved and need love. People see how they have been gifted to make a change in this world.

I know there are people who would read this and say this is not good enough. I know I could be criticized for this post in some form or fashion. My prayer is that God keeps working here, and in my heart, so we all can experience the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. God’s presence is already here. I believe God is waiting for us to stop thinking only of what is wrong and is waiting for us to join him in the true work which is the heart of the matter: the human heart. Changing this makes all the difference. Real, lasting change happens from the inside of a person first then is shown through their outward words and actions. The task is to allow Jesus Christ to work in and through us for the transformation, not fixing, of the world.

Image of God

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NIV)

From the very beginning, human beings have been a unique creation and have had a unique role in caring for the earth. The sun, moon, land, fish, birds, animals, vegetation, all fill the earth; but humans were the only part of creation said, by God, were created in the image of God. Man and woman, as stated in Genesis 2, were created out of the same substances of the earth as the plants and other animals and living creatures; but something was different. God breathed the breath of life into him (Genesis 2:7)
What is the image of God? This is a question that has been discussed for many centuries. John Wesley described the imago Dei (image of God) using three dimensions: the natural image, the political image, and the moral image. It was the moral and natural images that Wesley discussed more often. “The natural Image of God in humanity referred to those characteristics or faculties definitive of being human, while the moral Image of God referred to the ‘character’ of holiness and love that God intended for humanity.” (Maddox 68) Humanity has been given the Image of God through the characteristics of God, such as love. The Image of God shows people how we are supposed to be in relationship to God, to other people, and to creation itself.

The idea that part of our identity is for us to be in relationship with God is important to understand why the Image of God is vital to our being. People were designed from the beginning to be in relationship. We are to be careful stewards of creation and to help build people up so they can experience a life with Christ. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

The benefit of understanding what it means to be created in the Image of God gives more clarity and purpose for people. If we can understand our purpose, we understand why we were created. Many people do not have this kind of mindset, that they are made in the Image of God. 

Holiness is the main quality of God, so it is easy to think that we have to have everything perfect because God is perfect. This can create a skewed way of thinking and cause people to step off the path God designed for them or to create a false sense of who God is and how God works in the world. Throughout the scriptures, especially the Gospels when Jesus speaks of God, the Father, and the letters of John in the New Testament, God is defined as love. people are created to love God and love people. The Image of God imprinted in our souls shows us we are made to be in relationship with God. It is out of God’s love for us that we exist. It is out of God’s love for us that we can experience the feeling and lifestyle of ones who love others.

One of the fun ways to teach and talk about the Image of God with children is by asking them to use their imagination. It is fascinating to watch children begin to create new and interesting objects, or by watching them bring objects to life while they are playing. God has a great imagination and we can see this through everything that has been created. God is constantly up to something and is creating something new everyday. When the children have the opportunity to use their imagination, something new is created. 

God, in Genesis 1, had a grand imagination when the words, “let there be light” came forth and light happened. Then, carefully, planning and designing the rest of creation from the sky to the land to the plants, fish, and land animals, we can see God causing the plans and designs come to life. 

Teenagers begin to develop complexes about their appearance. The important thing we should always remember is to meet people where they are, so God can work in and through them in a new way. So, mirrors would be a good object to use. The reflection in the mirror is not the same as the actual person, but rather the likeness of the person looking into the mirror. Because of sin, there is a distortion (look through a broken mirror). We don’t always see the original image, but we do see pieces of the original image. 

As we look at ourselves in the mirror, do we always love what we see? No. We see the imperfections. We see our flaws. We see the places that “need” to be fixed or improved. Adults are very similar to teenagers in this fashion. Each one of us needs to understand that we are designed to be in relationship with God and this is the foundation of the Image of God within us. 

Since God is love (1 John 4:18), this is who we are as well. One of the best descriptions of love is found in the 1 Corinthians 13 passage. A challenge that has been used for teenagers and adults shows how we can misunderstand love. If we take the time to replace the word “love” or “it” in this passage with God we can see more of God and more of the character of God. We are all made in the image of God, so this means this is who we are supposed to be as well. The challenge comes in to play when we replace “love” or “it” with our name.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)

Sin has caused us to fail in many of these areas. But God, has done something greater than we could have ever imagined. God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth. He lived a life in perfect communion with His Heavenly Father so we can see first hand what God’s original intent for us was when humanity came into existence. It is through the lens of Jesus Christ that we can experience and see anew the Image of God imprinted on our hearts and lives: to be in relationship with God, with other people, and with creation.
Bibliography

Campbell, Ted. Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials. Nashville: Abingdon, 2011. Print.

González, Justo L., and Zaida Maldonado Pérez. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002. Print. 

Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville, TN: Kingswood, 1994. Print.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Get ‘Em

James 5:19-20 “My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

James has been a great series to be in for this month. The ending is not what we might consider “normal.” After all, what has James been doing the entire letter up until these verses? Getting the community of faith to live their lives in the manner they speak and worship.

There have been ups and downs, as with all aspects of human life. Living to a higher standard, is difficult. It is possible to try and live a decent life through good works; but it is because of our faith and living out our faith are the works we do elevated to give God glory.

Prayer is a communication between man and God and God and man. This is one of the most powerful things we can do in our lives. When people get together as a community and pray, souls are aligned. This is one reason I believe Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” (Matthew 18:20). There is just something special and powerful when we get together as a community.

There are times when there is a rift, a division within the community of faith and a person has abandoned the faith. People will run off and do there own things. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that he handed people over to Satan for their benefit so they would come back to God anew. When someone decides to walk away, James says to go get them!

Now, we do not go bring them back so numbers will be higher, or giving will increase. We go because God desires all people to have a saving knowledge of Him. We grow in our faith because of the community of faith we are part of. If a person walks away, it becomes easy to hold on to the parts of our life we are ashamed of. We miss out on the opportunity to take the burden off our hearts and confess sins, confess wrong doings.

Confession, repentance and forgiveness is something powerful that we cannot ignore. Going to get people who walk away, or who have never known the faith helps us maintain relationships and walk with people through their hurts, their joys, their life.

Who do you believe God is leading you to go get?

Stories

James 5:17-18 “Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

There are incredible stories of God answering prayers throughout the Bible. Sometimes I think we do not think that God answers prayers in the same way as recorded in scripture; or we may believe that we are not as good as the people who had the answers to prayers.

One thing is for certain, the people mentioned in the Bible are real people who did their best to keep their hearts in tune with God. We do not have to worry about them being better than we are. They made mistakes as well; yet they still stayed faithful to God and hearing from Him.

There are people who have incredible stories of prayer and God’s answer to them. We can praise God for any answer He give: yes, no, not yet. Often times we hear of how a person prayed and God miraculously stepped in to deliver them from several kinds of situations (health failing, finances, work, etc). But what about those stories that do not get as much press or media attention?

Think for a moment about the times you know God has answered your prayers. Were they always the way you wanted them answered? Most likely not. Yet, we still have stories of how God answered prayers, even when we didn’t like the answer, to be an example of faithfulness to our Creator.

Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken away from Him; but He still followed through. You and I can be examples to show how we keep communication open with God, through our prayers, in all aspects of our lives.

What kinds of stories can you tell about God’s answers to your prayers? If this is something challenging to think of, I invite you to begin a Prayer Journal. In this journal, record the date, time, prayer you prayed and leave a space for answer. Every now and then go through this Prayer Journal to recall your prayers and see how many answers you received. This will be an incredible story of faithfulness that will make an impact not only on your life, but on the lives of your family and friends that will be able to help them in their walk with Jesus Christ.

Prayer of the Righteous

James 5:15-16 “Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.”

Do you believe in the power to be healed by faith? I do. Before someone tries to counter this, let me explain. First of all, we have to consider what “sick” means. I believe this can affect so many aspects of our life (physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual).

Physical healing can be done by God, and there are cases this has happened. Most of the time, I believe God works through doctors and medical professionals. It is amazing the work they do and I believe it is a gift of God they have the wisdom, giftedness and the calling to do that work. I say calling because I think it is a calling that someone answers whether or not they know it is God. Through the prayers of the community, it is amazing what God can and does in and through people who are physically sick.

Now, physical healing can take place instantly; but it can take time too. Sometimes complete healing comes after this life. But there is a kind of healing that can take place instantaneously. These verses can and should take us back to the healings Jesus did. Most of the time when Jesus healed a person physically, he also forgave their sins.

A question we should ask is, “does sickness come from sin?” The answer is yes and no. Not all sickness or diseases come from sin. We live in a fallen world, so diseases are prevalent among us. There are sins that do cause diseases. If we knowingly do something that is bad for our health, then we live with the consequences.

When Jesus forgave sins, he was doing something that happens instantaneously. The condition of the soul can manifest itself physically. For Jesus to forgive sins, he was healing the person from the inside out, not just the outside appearance. This kind of healing can and does happen instantaneously.

When we are forgiven of our sins, we no longer are bound by the sin that held us down. We have been given the chance to leave a way of life that was not healthy for us and move into a new way of life, one that is filled with joy (even though life is tough at times), filled with peace (even among the turmoil around us), filled with love (even though we don’t see people acting out of love).

This is why it is important to confess our sins to one another. A simple reminder that we are not in this life alone and that our actions do have consequences that affect more than just us. Confessing our sins puts us back on the path that God intends for us. Not only that, we have people to walk alongside us!

This can happen all at once and it is amazing the power of God at work in and through a community of faith.