Do you remember the 1977 Mel Brooks movie? If not I’ll shed a bit of light, it is a satire on several Alfred Hitchcock movies where the scariest scenes, ones that have terrified us for decades are turned into hysterical (and a bit irreverent) scenes where knives are replaced with newspapers and blood with ink. It takes us to the edge of anxiety, ramps it up a few notches then lets us fall down laughing at how we were taken in by what seemed to be something terrible, and turned out to be nothing at all. Sound familiar?
Proverbs tell us, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good words makes it glad.” (Proverbs 12:25) In the amplified Bible it expands the meaning to anxiety weighing a heart down. Anxiety can weigh us down, cause depression and ultimately whatever we’re obsessing about becomes the lens by which we see everything else in life.
While reading recently I was reminded, “worry comes when we lose our awareness that God is our Father. That He created us, and He cares…deeply loves, that which He created. If we are truly aware of who we are in Christ, we should be more confident than any other people on earth. Here’s the stinger…does that mean that we’ll never experience any kind of fear or anxiety? Does that mean that we will walk through life, and no matter what is thrown at us, we’ll just shrug our shoulders, and think ‘it’s all good’, and move on unflustered? Does it mean that if we do experience a moment of anxiety that we are living in sin?
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6) This is a verse we’ve all read…but have we understood? In Luke we read, “ The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” (8:14) Allowing your fretting, anxiety, fear to drive the direction of your life is a sin and can choke the life out of you, but experiencing a moment of stress or anxiety does not mean you are sinning.
I recently had a situation at work where I was faced with having a difficult conversation with a colleague. The thought of having this conversation was both freeing and anxiety provoking, I had knots in my stomach. You never know how the other person is going to respond, will it negatively affect our working relationship, how will it change our team dynamic? All these things were running through my head and heart as I was preparing myself for the conversation.
I sat down to pray, “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.” I gave the situation to God, not with a heart of vengeance (this was not about me being right and they wrong but of clarification), I asked God to be in the conversation so we could hear and understand each other, move forward together, to be stronger and more effective in the future.
I believe in God’s word and the power and freedom that we find in obedience. I believe that we can life a life that is not weighed down by anxiety where our joy is choked out by the cares of this world. I do not believe that our lives will be, in this lifetime, free from anxiety provoking situations. In all the scripture I’ve read it states that when we experience anxiety, it is our response to that situation that determines the outcome. The scriptures say, ‘be anxious for nothing’ it does not say ‘you’ll never experience anxiety about anything’.
I will own that I struggled with this as I prayed about having the conversation. Did being anxious about the conversation mean I was in the wrong, that I was sinning? Did that mean that I was being sinful in the situation? Was the situation caused by my sin? Perhaps the anxiety was due to my being in the wrong. No! You can be completely in the right and still feel anxiety about a confrontation! It’s how you deal with that anxiety that determines where your heart is.
When Jesus sent out the disciples He said, “You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:19) Jesus did not say, ‘you will not experience fear’ He said do not let fear overcome you and thus choke out your ability to hear the Holy Spirit.
We will all experience fear, anxiety, and stress in life; anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome, that happens a lot, especially in these seemingly uncertain times. Experiencing anxiety does mean you are sinning! When you allow those feelings to become a state of being, a driver of your live that affects all areas of your behavior, feeling of self worth or belonging, then you are living contrary to God’s will.
Be anxious for nothing, knowing that anxiety will happen. But, hand it over to God through prayer, and thanking Him for all the times He has stood by you, saved you, guarded and protected you. Remember who you are, and whose you are, and anxiety will not be able to control your life.
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A couple of weeks ago we attended my youngest son’s school play. They did a rendition of School House Rock where a new teacher was having some serious conversations about whether or not he could cut it as a teacher. Throughout the program the School House Rock songs were used to illustrate how much this teacher really knew and build up his confidence to start his first day. It was a wonderful production and my synopsis doesn’t really do it justice. However, one of the songs they played, truly brought a tear to my eye, not just because of the childhood memory it invoked, but because of how far we have fallen away from the very concept. To see a group of almost 100- 3rd graders from incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds holding hands, and singing The Great American Melting Pot, filled me with joy and sadness at the same time.
I don’t think I realized at that moment, how much the moment affected me until this morning. The drive to get three of my kiddos to their various schools each morning takes me about an hour. During the second half of that drive, we travel through an economically depressed neighborhood. The street is lined with mobile home parks, and at the time of the morning we drive through, it is also lined with children walking to school. There are children from Somali families taking refuge here, there are Hispanic, African and Dominican children walking to school in large groups; the older children keeping an eye on the younger children. Many of the parents are walking with them.
What struck me this morning were the smiling faces not just of the children but of the adults as well. Many of them wearing yellow crossing guard vests as they man the street corners where children will cross to get to school. They smile and wave as many of the cars pass by. Then there are those who take this street as it’s a cross between to major roadways. They are booking it down the road, way over the speed limit in their high end cars. They don’t like the crossing guards, they don’t like the school speed limit signs, they like to slam on their breaks and honk their horns…schools crossings are an inconvenience to their very busy and very important lives.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10
I think that we’ve forgotten, that unless you are a full blood native american, you too probably come from a refugee family. Somewhere in your background either distant or recent, someone came to The Great American Melting Pot to start a new life, for a better chance for your children, to escape tyranny and oppression, there are so many reasons why. When did we become so much more important, more valuable and more entitled than everyone else?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
This morning broke my heart! I felt nothing but love for the incredible people living in this city who, to some, are nothing more than a commute slowing bother. I applaud the courage it took to leave behind everything they knew, to start over, and work for something better for themselves, and their families. I am so grateful to be an American, my family came here, some on the Mayflower, to start a new life and to build something great, to be a better example for the world. Sometimes, I think we need a reminder of that. I’m a French, German, English, Irish and Native American Indian, American and I am so proud of that.
Christ called us to be disciples of ALL nations, not when it’s convenient, not when it’s safe, not when they look like us; ALL nations. How can we possibly be the people we are called to be if we are just rushing by at 55 mph in our cars with tinted windows, wearing our dark sunglasses, not making eye contact?
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
As I write this, I am praying that it will be received in the spirit with which it was written. It is written in love, for everyone, love takes time, intent and compassion. Please, don’t lose sight of who we are called to be.
God holds up my life?
Driving home after a bowling trip with my two youngest, my son made a random statement while looking out the window, “God holds up my life”. I quickly replied, “yes, son He does.”
I’m not sure why he felt prompted to make that simple statement, but it got me to thinking. How often do we hear statements from people, but don’t really listen to them? My son just made a profound statement and I thought it was cute.
I remember a time when my oldest daughter, who was then all of 4-years old, tell me that she wanted to accept Jesus as her Lord. I smiled down at her and said, “that’s wonderful Alex, we can talk about it more when we get home.” We were at a youth rally, I was serving at that time as the youth pastor and trying to corral 12 teenagers. My pastor walked up to me and simply stated, “are you going to take her down to pray or am I going too?” Yup, I assumed she was just repeating something she’d heard someone else say, but when my daughter got down to alter she sat in a circle with a few other younger children and led them (didn’t follow them, lead them) in the sinners prayer.
Our children are an incredible source of inspiration, they have amazing discernment and they speak the truth…always, even when we really don’t want to hear it.
Jesus knew how special children were when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
I am amazed on an almost daily basis by what comes out of my children’s mouths; both solicited and unsolicited.
This week during Friday Night’s at Tucson Central; our youth were reading John 3:16-18. Of course we all know this as the most popular verse in the bible. We learn it almost as early as we learn how to say Amen and or interrupt the pastors sermon at the most inopportune time.
I asked the youth to try and explain to me why this verse is so popular. I got all kinds of answers ranging from; it’s short, it’s easy and it’s written everywhere to it’s cool and Pastor say’s it a lot; then my 14 year old son says, “it explains the whole gospel”. WHAT!!!
It was yet another wake up call or at the very least get the wax out of your ears. We are surrounded by people who ‘get it’, we constantly read scripture and yet miss so much. Are we really listening or in our straining to hear God are we failing to hear the tree falling in the forest.
I want to be open to all that God has for me. That means that I need to be open to all He says to me. Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks to me through my children, through strangers sleeping on the sidewalk, through scripture and even through individuals who make us uncomfortable or we don’t particularly want to listen too. The thing is, if we want to hear God we need to be prepared for his voice to come from anyone, anywhere at anytime.
Jesus didn’t just listen to the people around them, He heard them with ears full of love and compassion and mercy. Several times, even Jesus was surprised by what He heard.
“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.” Matthew 8:5-13
I want to listen with expectation of how the Holy Spirit is going to speak to me today, I hope you do too.
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Hospitals, I grew up in one, and no that is NOT an exaggeration. It’s also not a stretch to say that it was partly because my mother worked there and partly because I was the clumsiest tomboy that ever waltzed through the Verde Valley, (notice the emphasis on was).
My mother worked at our community hospital for over 37 years. She held just about every non-clinical position possible. From unit clerk, nursing assistant and financial services representative to patient advocate. Needless to say if you ever found yourself there, you would have probably met my mom. The most memorable of her roles, for me, was when she was the admissions clerk in the Emergency Room. She would come home with stories, (never sharing identifying information as my mom has the highest of integrity when it came to hospital rules even before HIPPA was HIPPA), that seemed almost too odd to be true. We often joked that one day she needed to write a book because reality is so much more interesting than fiction.
She would enthrall us at the dinner table with stories about people with strange pets hidden in their clothing, obscure illnesses, gory injuries and sometimes people who just wanted someone to talk to. My mom was the first person they met when they walked through the sliding glass doors with “Emergency Room” written in big red letters. I can still remember the sound of those doors, both coming through as a patient as well as visiting my mom.
I was talking with a friend this week about how churches today are like hospitals. Jesus didn’t come to heal and save the well, but the sick and broken. In Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus stated that it was not the healthy that needed a doctor but the sick. This same statement is made in three of the Gospels, perhaps it is an important concept He wants us to grasp?
Matthew 9:11-13 – When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:16-17 – When the scribes who were Pharisees saw Jesus eating with these people, they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Luke 5:30-31 – But the Pharisees and their scribes complained to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
We all need to see our churches for what they are, hospitals, full of the sick and the broken. Our front doors should read “Emergency Room” in big red letters.
Most of the time mom’s stories were of the usual suspects, drunk driving, sick children, motorcycle accidents, and the occasional broken bones, injuries and illnesses that were easily diagnosed and treated. Then there were the stories that baffled, the patients who come in covered in blood that would bring everyone running to the rescue, only to find the cause to be a small cut that was quickly repaired, no stitched required. Then there were those who came in looking ok, walking in on their own looking relatively healthy, who then collapse on the floor, almost dying in the waiting room from internal bleeding.
“You just never can tell”, she would say, “until the doctor can take a close look.”
Our doctor is Jesus. The Healer, The Great Physician, He raised the dead to life and restored the broken to their families and communities. Hospitals are no place for the faint of heart, they are messy, often loud, emotional, chaotic, and full of sick people. But, that is what we are here for isn’t it?
Luke 6:32-36 – “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and the evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”
We talk about being accepting, we create ministries to reach out to the broken and lost of our communities, but then we complain about the mess. The Kingdom needs more hospitals, we need to be ready, willing, and able to accept everyone who walks through our doors, no matter how bloody or messy they are. It’s not easy, Christ told us it would not be easy. However, He was also very clear with our job description.
Matthew 28:19-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
As a follower of Christ, this is my job! It’s not always easy. I ask daily for God to give me His heart, His eyes and His hands to work in His hospital. I love nothing more than to see His people turn to Him and be healed. That, in and of it’s self, is worth every uncomfortable, chaotic and messy moment.
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When I was a child, I liked to talk. To say that I liked the sound of my own voice would not be an exaggeration. My dad likened my verbosity to a torn pocket flapping in the breeze…and it was always flapping.
My mother would be trying to tell me something and I’m chatting away as if the only person in the room worth listening to was me. She would raise her voice to get my attention and tell me, “Elizabeth Rita, close your mouth and open your ears!”
I am happy to report that after 40+ years, I have learned to close my mouth and open my ears. Through the often loving and sometimes stern coaching of many a mentor, I have become a much better listener. I have come to really enjoy listening to people, their stories, their struggles, their lives. I love helping people connect to their purpose, to each other and to their calling. You can’t do that without listening, but you have to do it with more than your ears.
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15-16
Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Jesus didn’t make a move, a decision without consulting with His Father. They were one, of the same mind and heart because they were in constant communication. And not just casual, ‘”hey how ya doin”, conversation but real in-depth, relational conversation.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone. Matthew 14:22-23
It is when we are in real communication with The Father that we best hear His voice, share His heart. It is very difficult to do that in the midst of the hustle and bustle of our daily routines. We need to be intentional about our time with God, asking the Holy Spirit to help calm our hearts and minds to hear His still small voice. If we aren’t making time to spend with Him how can we have a relationship?
How did your best friend become your best friend? Was it through quick 5 minute conversations between meetings or getting the kids out the door? No, it was through spending long hours of intimate conversation and shared experiences, growing together over time.
My best friend and I have known each other since we were 16 years old. We can finish each other sentences, our kids are friends, we vacation together. Did I mention over the long years of our relationship, we only lived in the same state for 2 years. We made our relationship a priority, we were intentional with our communication. Now 30 years later I can pick up the phone and have a conversation with her as if we lived next door and no time had passed.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
If we make time for our family and friends, can’t we make time for God? I know it seems like a simple statement, however in application it’s not easy. We need to be willing to MAKE time for Him, real time, in a place where we can quiet our hearts and minds to focus on Him. Not so easy in today’s world. I am married (17 years), we have 4 children, I work full time at my day job and part-time at my church. MAKING time to be with Jesus can prove challenging in my schedule.
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. Luke 6:12
I am a morning person, I love getting up early and starting my day before the rest of the house is awake. This summer I challenged myself to give my first morning hour to God. I get up, go outside and sit in my backyard reading my Bible and praying. I can’t begin to tell you the difference it makes in my day. So much so that when I don’t make that time for God each day, it is so evident. I can feel it in my heart, thoughts and actions. Giving that time to God to build my relationship with Him, getting to know His Son Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit has made a tremendous difference.
Now when I listen to the words of others I am listening with my heart, His heart and speaking with His words though the power of the Holy Spirit. This is only possible as we make time to be with God each day, closing out mouths and listening with our hearts.
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And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:13-14.
I loved growing up in the 80’s. We had great music, awesome clothes, less than awesome hairstyles and the best movies ever! I know, I know, what does this have to do with being careful what you ask for, well there is a saying that is quoted throughout one of my favorite moves, The Princess Bride these words are spoken by a poor young peasant to his beautiful young mistress. At a point early on in the movie she miraculously realizes that every time he responds to her requests with these words, “that what he is really saying, is I love you”, deep sigh. How romantic right? Yes teenage girls across the nation swooned and dreamed of their Wesley finding & rescuing them and falling madly in love.
The words spoken in this movie express more than just the romantic love we associate with these characters. These words express a willingness to sacrifice everything for each other. Walking away from what is secure, known and safe. Wesley will sacrifice his very life for the opportunity to be together…sound familiar? The love that Christ feels for us is such that He gave up everything…EVERYTHING, so that we would not be separated from Him. He left heaven, came to earth as a man, lowly and simple, sacrificed Himself in the most unimaginable way, so we could experience real relationship with the Father.
And if that weren’t enough, he promises to give us whatever we ask for in His name. He wants to give us exponentially more than we could ever comprehend. Jesus’ love is such that He sacrificed Himself to reunite us with the Father, but also such that He WANTS to give us every good thing, not everything we want, but every good thing.
Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. James 1:17
His love is such that he won’t give us any less that what is the very best for us. We ask for what we want and His response is, “as you wish”. However, just like when our children ask for a second helping of ice cream or an extra hour after curfew, we aren’t going to give them what we know is NOT in their best interest…no matter how much they beg and plead for it.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11
Recently my prayers have been along the lines of, “God give me patience!”, or “Jesus make me more like you”, or my best one yet, “Lord give me your heart toward others”. These prayers, He loves, these prayers, He answers…sometimes in ways that aren’t comfortable or easy. You know what His answers have been, here are the children I gave you, now let’s stir them up into a frenzy…practice that patience. You want to see people, to love them as I do, go to where you are uncomfortable going, see how they live, see their struggles, now go and love them, right where they are.
He is answering my prayers by refining me, allowing me to enter into situations that will test my patience, bringing me into relationship with people who may stretch my comfort zone. Showing me how He sees the world and not allowing me to judge with my own eyes but to love with His. My heart has been broken, my eyes have seen what I cannot un-see, my patience has been tested to the point of breaking…I have grown.
I used to be afraid of these kinds of prayers, I would make them halfheartedly then wince at what I expected to be the ensuing pain of it all…it didn’t come. Oh don’t get me wrong, when you ask God to refine you, He will and it’s not always comfortable, but He isn’t out to hurt you or break you or beat you down. He wants you to grow strong and mature into the person He created you to be. He will never allow you to be pushed beyond a point you can bear.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Scripture also tells us how God will work alongside us to help us on our journey toward becoming more like him.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30
Never be afraid to ask God for anything. His answers will shock and amaze you, no prayer will go unanswered, sometimes the answer may be no, or not now or, OK hang on to your hat and see what I will do. No matter what you ask, expect an answer…always.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40
I shared this scripture as part of a youth lesson recently and made the statement, if we follow these two commandments, having everything we do come from a place of loving God first and others second, we would never sin. My youth took this as a challenge, and now every time I see them they are coming up with scenarios they think would prove this premise wrong? Needless to say, it hasn’t worked yet, but I love that I have them thinking… thinking about how to be motivated to love, instead of being motivated to not sin.
If we were to focus all our efforts on loving and let all our actions stem from that, imagine what kind of world we could create. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
I love it when God makes His will very simple. If we love Him first and everyone else as we love ourselves (yes we are supposed to love ourselves as God’s beloved children), then we will be aligned with His will.
I was reminded by a conversation I’ve been having with my youngest child. I keep a list of Tootie-isms. I love how children are able to see through all the complications of life to the simple answer. My list of Tootie-isms has become some what reminiscent of the book written by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
- Be nice
- Play fair
- Include everyone
- Don’t hit
- Say your sorry, even when it’s an accident
- Listen to mom and dad…you’ll stay out of trouble
- Put things away when you’re done with them
- Family comes first
- When you get angry, remember #1 always be nice
Reading through this list reminds me how simple being a Christian really is. If we can find a way to look at things through a child’s eyes our decisions would be very different. I would never hear my 6-year old daughter saying, “that girl looks different, let’s not include her”, or, “this situation is more complicated than that”, “that’s not my job”, “I don’t feel like being nice today”. As adults we have so many, ‘yes but’s’. None of what God tells us comes with a but. Love God first, and second, love everyone else like yourself. God does not follow those commands with, but only when it’s convenient or on Tuesday’s or when you feel like it. Nope He just says do it!
In my work I am often confronted with people and situations that make me uncomfortable and push the boundaries of my patience and my sense of fairness. It is in those situations I frequently ask myself WWTD (What Would Tootie Do). I find that when I stop for just a moment and ask that one simple question, I make more loving decisions.
Charles Sheldon wrote a book in 1896 titled In His Steps. I first read it in 1996, I had come across it in a used book store (I love old book stores) while I was attending college in Flagstaff, and it had a profound impact on me. The premise of the book, in all our lives and interactions, what would change if we asked ourselves one simple question before making any decision, what would Jesus do (WWJD). The impact it made on the characters in the book was profound and aligned with what scripture teaches us; that when we are obedient to God’s calling on our lives, He blesses our socks off, often in way’s we’d never expect. More than that however, an entire community was transformed by a hand full of people what made a daily conscious effort to love God first then, everyone else as themselves, and let that color every decision in their life.
I know it’s difficult for us to view life in such a simplistic way. I know we have all kinds of challenges and situations and exceptions we could throw out. Our God is not a God of exceptions, He is a God of absolutes. He doesn’t tell us to love when it’s convenient but to love all the time, especially when it’s inconvenient.
What would happen in our families, our jobs, our churches and our communities if we just took a deep breath and committed ourselves to making Jesus part of every decision. What do we possibly have to loose…better question, what do we possibly have to gain?
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“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8
God is not relative, He is and always has been relevant; yesterday, today and tomorrow. We don’t have to guess about which scriptures are true, which are relevant for today, which ones are for ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. The God we serve is bigger than our speculation, doubt and fear. He is absolutely, absolute.
Matthew 28:20 “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Lamentations 3:22-23 “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”
John 4:14 “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
I could go on and on but, I don’t think that I need to. God is who He says He is, He will keep the promises He makes, and will do the things He says He will.
I’ve been noticing with myself and my children that absolutes are something we throw out all the time. “I always tell the truth”, “I would never do that”, “I am faultless”, “the situation is ideal”, “It’s perfect” and of course my favorite from my children, “I need that!”
One day I was talking with my oldest son, I believe that he was 10 at the time and he told me he needed for me to buy him something; at that age it was more than likely Legos. Having heard him inform me more than once over the years of something he ‘needed’, I asked him to look up the meaning of the word. This is what he read, “to require something that is essential or something one must have to survive.” He looked at me with his sweet face and very quietly said, “I would like to have them mom?” From that point on, anytime one of his siblings requested that I purchase them something they ‘needed’, Nik would look them in the face and ask, “are you going to die if you don’t get it?” Hysterically enough, often the answer was yes, but again, story for another time, you get the picture.
Absolutes in our world have become so commonplace that they have lost their meaning. They have lost their meaning so much we feel compelled to add words to the absolutes to be more emphatic; “I promise to never ever do that again”, “I swear I will always do that from now on”, “I swear there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you”. It’s as if our word no longer holds any weight. So, then it doesn’t surprise me that in a world where absolutes mean absolutely nothing we have the same doubts of God. If our word doesn’t mean what it should and the word of the people around us doesn’t mean what it should, and we were created in God’s image then does His word mean anything?
James 5:12 “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.”
Absolutes exist for a reason, they don’t need embellishment to convince us. God didn’t use fancy words to convince us what He said was true. He just did it, his actions are enough; He upholds every promise and follows through on every utterance; you don’t have to guess with God, you can take Him at His word.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
I challenge you for one day to listen to the words that come out of your mouth. What are you saying to your family, and friends, to your peers and co-workers; how often do you use absolutes in situations where it is unnecessary? How often do you say the words always, never, promise, swear; are you doing it because you think the people you’re speaking with don’t believe you… or are you saying it because you don’t believe you?
In either case, perhaps we need to take our lead from the Psalms, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”. Psalm 19:14
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Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
Driving home today from our family vacation, I thought I was going to grab a pillow and nap while the children were sleeping…that didn’t happen. So, I decided to work on my lesson plan for our Wednesday night bible study…yea that didn’t really happen either. So I sat there, half wanting to sleep, half watching the clouds roll in for yet another breathtaking monsoon storm over the desert and half (yes there are three halves in this story I don’t do math on Friday’s) feeling like I should do something productive, I see the words JESUS SAVES pained in huge 8′ tall letters on a billboard by the side of the freeway. Then further down the road a billboard advertising “The Cool Church”, and no its not referring to the temperature in the sanctuary.
I counted around half a dozen various signs along the freeway over the course of about two hours. There were even a couple of large empty train cars with Jesus name painted on the side of them.
This got me thinking, REALLY? This is how we proclaim our Savior to the world; billboards, hip messaging (can’t use the word cool twice in the same blog, that is not cool apparently), talking about our houses of worship as the newest cutting-edge option to hearing the gospel? What happened to being set apart? What happened to not conforming to this world? I get it, we want to stay relevant, we want to get the word out and a billboard on the side of the interstate with literally hundreds of thousands of people driving by each month, seems like a good way to do it…doesn’t it?
What happened to discipleship, what happened to authenticity, what has happened to genuine relationships? I think I need to state this is not a treatise on the evils of modern communication or technology, I love my smart phone and social media and being connected. Nor am I saying that billboards on the side of the road are a bad thing. We know from scripture that God can use anything, anyone and any mode of communication to spread the gospel and to further His kingdom.
I think it’s important to remember that real relationship begins face to face and person to person. Relationship is the way in which two or more people or organizations regard and behave toward each other. Relationship can’t happen outside of interpersonal interaction. I think kitschy signs are funny, and finding new ways to get the word out about who you are is fine. However, if we are not actually touching people where they are with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are just words flying by at 65 mph.
The truth is Jesus didn’t write a bunch of scrolls and send them out to the masses asking for them to attend synagogue. He went to the people who needed him most. What seems to be a trend with some churches, as they experience attrition they advertise, doing whatever they can think of to ‘get their name out’, then hoping people will walk through their doors. Since when has our example ever been waiting for people to come through our door?
Jesus came to earth to save us, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me but raise them up at the last day.” John 6:38-39
Jesus came to us, just as he came to the woman at the well, the blind, the lame, the broken and the dead in body and spirit. Jesus came…He didn’t wait for us to figure out how to save ourselves and fix our brokenness (as if we could). He came and found us in the gutter, living in spiritual squalor and gave us His hand and pulled us out of the mud, and washed us white as wool.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
He sent us out to make disciples of all nations…but here we sit waiting for people to walk through our doors.
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