Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Called to One Other

"Finally, brothers and sister, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you"
(2 Corinthians 13:11).

Human tragedy has a way of calling out to the sense of goodwill that God has created each of us with. September 11, 2011 was a day that changed America as the nation saw the face of evil and the devastation that followed. What also followed was the overwhelming outpouring of love, supplies, volunteer hours, and prayers from across the country. People responded to the needs of another. Differences in political ideologies, religious preferences, the color of skin, and economic classes paled in comparison to the reality of heart's breaking, a nation hurting, and the need to know that someone cared. Since that day there have been further glimpses of goodwill. Hurricanes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, and the like have provided opportunities to come alongside one another.

We are called to one another. More than in times of tragedy, we are called to be there, to build up, and to belong to one another on a basis that surpasses the circumstantial. There are times to acknowledge the differences we have and to deal with them. Paul stresses that we are to rejoice! There is so much time taken for useless debate, futile argument, and senseless criticism, cynicism, and sarcasm. Paul reminds his readers that each of us have fallen short yet have been redeemed by the restoring love of Jesus. We should seek to do the same. Our aim should be to restore, to comfort, and to encourage. Though it is so easy to major on the negatives within relationships, there is no restorative value, no revelation of God's love, no comfort or confidence in partnership. There is no rejoicing in that.

Paul calls us to agree with one another. No, this is not suggesting that we compromise, water-down, or accept anything less than the standard that God has called us all to. We are going to disagree. In the scheme of God's master plan, however, we must ask ourselves how important some of the things we disagree about really are? Beyond that, there's a way to disagree while still maintaining an attitude of love, encouragement, and unity. In our conversations, our motivation, especially with those that believe in Jesus, should be to allow our words, actions, and attitudes be guided by the agreement we have that the love of Jesus is the greatest catalyst for change we will ever encounter.

In driving, the student is taught from the very beginning that where ever you focus your eyes is where you will steer the vehicle. If you look to the right, it is natural that you will pull to the right, leading your car in that direction. To limit the danger of driving, you stay focused on what it is ahead and most important. Don't get distracted by focusing on the negatives, the differences, and the conflicts within relationship. Ask God to give you wisdom when confrontation is unavoidable. But, ask Him to guide you to aim for restoration, comfort, encouragement, and love. Remember to rejoice in the Lord with everything. Don't wait for tragedy to point out the call that God has placed upon your life to love other people. Agree that the love of Jesus overwhelms the power of all that try to divide. Agree that it is His love that serves as the best argument that will ever be given. When you remember, live out that love in the calling to love one another.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In God We Trust

"But He said to me, 'My grace
is sufficient for you, for my power
is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me"
(2 Corinthians 12:9).

Take a coin out of your pocket, from the console of your car, or from in between the cushions of your living room sofa. Look at it and you will see the words obviously engraved and often overlooked, "In God We Trust." Now, look around you at the culture and society that surrounds you. Do you see it? Do you see the results of a people that are trusting God? Perhaps you see a people who are trying so hard to no avail to pursue the "American Dream," trying to make sense out of economic times that seem to make no sense at all. You find people trusting in Wall Street, Capitol Hill, the White House, their jobs, and themselves. To be fair, take a look at yourself. As one who possible professes a belief in the Almighty, how do you compare? Are you more apt to cling to a hope in the God that you cannot see during the times of trial and uncertainty that you are certain to face? Or do you then cling to what appears to be more real, quick, yet unstable and fleeting in the wisdom from the minds of people that helped to create the mess you might find yourself in?

Have you ever been outside the culture that has become your norm? It's life-changing. I will never forget the first time that I went to nation that has been rocked by communism. Freedom, as has been taken for granted in the 'Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,' is a dream that seems so unreal. However, what is so real to them is the freedom that they have found in Jesus. To experience a worship service with these dear friends is to encounter the Living God in ways that I've never seen. Why? Why is it so different? Why do they seem so full of joy, so rich in the Spirit of God, though they seem to have nothing. They live in poverty, under persecution, and without the luxuries that have become normal staples of comfort in my everyday life. Yet, they seem happier, more content, less stressed and frustrated, and more at peace. What they really need, they really have. Nothing else matters. They've come to understand the truth that matters the most. When Jesus is all you have, then you realize that Jesus is all you've ever needed.

It is so easy and so common to pray for that perfect life without struggles, tragedies, or pain. But think about this: if that was reality, who would need Jesus? Paul learned the reality of this truth in a manner that required his dependence upon One greater than himself. He prayed. More than once he prayed that God would deliver him from this "thorn in the flesh." Whether it was a physical ailment or some mental/emotional turmoil is a matter for theological debate, but the point is made clear. Paul learned the sufficiency (the powerful "more than enough" of God's presence) of God's grace in his life. It was this strength of Christ that made Paul complete during his weakness.

You face, and will face, moments of weakness in this life. Don't give into the call of your culture to depend on yourself, or the counsel of systems and ideologies that would lead you to believe that all you need is you. In yourself, you have nothing to offer. By now you've probably come to know that truth more than once.  But "IN CHRIST," you have access to more than you've ever known. When you are weak, you are strong...because He is strong. You are weak when you rely on you. You are strong when you rely on Him. God allows things in your life to remind you of your need for His all-sufficient, more than enough, more-than-able-to-get-it-done grace so that in Him you may find rest. Remember, when Jesus is all you have, then Jesus is all you need.

As you begin or continue today, be challenged to take a minute and return your reliance to Him. This is a prayer that is often heard from my lips to God's ears. Pray this with me: "Lord, help me to rest in your peace and in your grace. Oh how I need You. I thank you for every trial, because they all have served to remind me of your faithfulness and love. Amen."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Exit: He Makes A Way

"In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands"
(2 Corinthians 11:32-33).

In the 2012 movie, A Joyful Noise starring the unlikely duo of Queen Latifa and Dolly Parton, a powerful and universal and timeless truth was presented on the silver screen. In a heartfelt and moving scene, choir director Vi Rose, played by the Queen, is having a conversation with Caleb, a member of the choir facing a time of confusion, discouragement, and not "feeling the spirit." Says Caleb, "Seems like God's been using me for target practice these days...makes it kinda hard to feel the spirit." Vi Rose responds ever so quickly, "Caleb, He is God. If He wanted to shoot you, He wouldn't miss."

I remember years ago taking a trip with my mother to Six Flags Over Texas in Dallas. The excitement was intense. We were on the Texas Giant, the tallest wooden roller coaster in the world at the time. The coaster began to move and we began to make the climb towards to first of several falls. My mothers excitement quickly transformed into a cross between fear, anxiety, and uncontrollable hysteria. She began to scream to me that she wanted off, that her heart was failing, and that she wanted me to make it stop, all as we are climbing to the top of one of the most thrilling rides of the times. Of course, as any good son would do, I laughed and prepared to go down as we had come up! The entire ride, my hands were up, I was shouting with great excitement as my mother continued to shout, "Christopher, get me off this thing!" And, I continued to laugh. As we were climbing out of our coaster car, she turned and looked at me and said, "that was horrible...let's do it again!"

Sometimes it does feel as if we are sitting target waiting to fall prey to the shots being fired all around us. For every one step forward it seems almost destiny to take two steps back. There's that moment when we know that God is right by our side. We "feel the spirit" and have this confidence that everything's going to be OK. Then, all of a sudden, the feeling changes from light to dark, and we feel as though we are on some ride that is spinning us in circles that just won't stop. We look for a way out and wonder if it will ever appear.

2 Corinthians 11:32-33 is Paul's way of expressing his own experience with a familiar thought. With Paul, there was a plan to remove him from the effective work God had called him to do. No matter how they tried, God made a way for the furtherance of the Gospel of Truth. Paul faced betrayal, rejection, straight-on attacks. This was all for doing exactly what God had told him to do. Where was the way out? Sometimes the way out is to ride it out. God will use every situation to teach us what He wants us to know.

Ultimately, the lesson is simply this: God makes a way! Look at your life. You may not understand or agree with all that's happened in it. But, look at how God has used, or is using, every moment, every mistake, every wrong thing done to you as a way of teaching you. He's continuing to show you His love, His forgiveness, His comfort, the fact that He can use you no matter who you are, what you've done, or where you've been. Your destiny is still designed by the works of His hands. Hold on to the Truth that God loves you. You don't have to live in anxiety or fear over some fictional target practice or where the roller coaster of life is taking you. God will show you the way. He will guide you and protect you. And if you're still looking for that way out, look to Jesus. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Real Deal

"Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present"
(2 Corinthians 10:11).

Why do people seem to dislike politicians so much? OK...maybe that question is too open ended, and perhaps there's not enough time in a day to give all of those answers! But, one feeling is fairly predominate among many. Politicians are voted in on the platform of what is said, but then live-out on a platform doesn't match what is said. They say what needs to be said, and sometimes even believing it themselves, to be elected. After election, they are viewed as men and women who are saying what needs to be said to stay elected. Politicians today are seen as deceitful, hypocritical, do-anything-say-anything-be-everything-to-everyone type people that have traded principle for popularity.

Paul was accused of being a heavy-weight in his letter and a light-weight in his life. His letters were filled with a power-packed punch that emphasized and encouraged others how to live a life that honored Jesus. However, there were those who tried to bring accusations against him and attacking his commitment, his consistency, and his character. Paul was very much consistent. What he said matched what he did and how he lived. The articles of his life served as the greatest defense to the headlines that were being featured. Paul was living life as the real deal.

There will always be people in your life that will attack you. At times, those attacks will be baseless, out of insecurity, or out of personal pride. The take-a-way from all of this is simple, yet so easy to miss. Be aware of what you say and how you live. What do you believe? Live it out. Let what you believe and what you say you believe match what you live. The fruit will always reflect back on the focus. Yes, you will make mistakes. Learn from them. There will be moments where you might find that you've veered off course. Take notice, check your heart, reach out to Jesus, and return to the path that has been marked for you. How you live is the greatest indicator of why you live. Jesus has given you a reason to live. He was, is, and will always be the real deal. Allow His love for you to change your life for Him. Purpose today, in how you speak, in what you think, in how you spend the moments of your day, to be the real deal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Attitude of the Heart

"Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!"
(2 Corinthians 9:15).

"Giving" can become as controversial a topic to discuss with other Christians as can be talking of the differences of political parties leading up to an election. Opinions trump the heart of Scripture, emotions are driven to an all-time high, and perception on what is said serves as a greater gauge for reality than the heart of what was actually said. So it has become, at times, with the topic of giving. There are so many who have become very uncomfortable and somewhat disillusioned when a pastor, evangelist, or the like speak on the top of giving. There is an immediate wall that goes up, cynicism that sets in, and pocket books that close tight. Yes, a lot of it has to do with abuses by those that have claimed to have spoken from God. However, in all that we ever do, let us be brought back to the attitude of our hearts.

Paul, in this letter to the Church in regards to giving, was seeking to enlighten their understanding that their motivation in regards to generosity should be an overflow response of the generosity of God. It was His gift of love, grace, forgiveness, and salvation that had given them the hope to continue, persevere, and succeed.

There's not a single one of us that deserve this gift, this love. Jesus came because of love. He didn't come because we had earned it. He came and He gave because He knew that we couldn't earn it. John 3:16 wraps up the purpose of Christ and the heart of God so perfectly. "God so loved the entire world that He gave His only Son..."  We can love others because He loved us first. We can give because He first gave. When we give, let us be reminded to give in the likeness of the generosity that He gave.

Don't allow cynicism to infect your heart to give. Although it is wise to be a good steward of your finances, your time, and your life, you have been called to generous living. When you give, don't see it as giving to a person, a church, or even a cause. Give as unto the Lord, for He first gave. If God calls you to give, then give. It's not yours. If the gift you give is mishandled, misused, or mismanaged, it is up to God. The gift becomes God's property and God's problem, and He is much better at avenging and setting the record straight than you or I could ever hope to be. Choose to allow your life to be marked by a loving, cheerful, and radical generosity that helps to paint the picture for others to see of the generous, undeserving, life-changing gift we have in the love of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Generous Life

"But since you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you - see that you also excel in this grace of giving"
(2 Corinthians 8:7).

A friend of mine's wife was once battling cancer and had chosen to take a more natural and holistic approach to treatment. Her therapies included vast amounts of juicing several times a day. My friend, who had taken time off from to take care of his wife, eventually had to go back to work. Immediately, there was a woman named Sally that stepped into the picture. Sally committed her time, her energy, and her heart to helping my friend's wife. Like clockwork, Sally would come over to the house, juice the fruits and vegetables, take her to the grocery store, and liberally give from the heart of love that God had given to her. Her compensation? Gratitude, and the refreshing satisfaction that generous living brings.

Paul's writing in this part of his letter epitomizes the very life of Jesus. Jesus lived to put others first. He modeled the virtue of showing love, selflessness, and generosity. Paul speaks of those who were facing their own seasons of struggle, yet were still passionate about being a part of blessing others. Paul challenges them in their commitment to excellence in all areas, including in the area of living a generous life.

The greatest temptation in life is to think, whether you'll admit to it or not, that the entire universe and all that it holds revolves around you. Perhaps you don't buy into that fully, but as you take an honest look back, you will find it easy to see all of the decisions that have been made that first revolved around you. Taking care of yourself is not wrong. However, resist the strong currents of popular culture to look out for only you. The life you have been given is a gift from God. How you choose to live it and share it is your gift back to God.

Purpose to make generosity a priority in your life. Be generous, not just in a financial sense, but in every way and with every part of who you are. Be generous with your words. Encourage someone. Let someone know that they matter, that you appreciate them, that you were thinking of them. Be generous with your time. Don't allow your "busy-ness" to rob you from the opportunity of showing up in the lives of those around. Choose to connect. Be generous with your money. Do something nice for someone. Do something anonymously nice for someone. Pay for someone's gas, someone's coffee, or pay for the meal for the people in the car behind you in the drive-through that you've frequented more than you probably should have. The point? Let generosity be one of the key identifiers of your life. Be generous as God has been generous to you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cards on the Table

"Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God"
(1 Corinthians 7:1).

I'm not much of a card player, but I'm very interested in watching other people play. I like to watch their faces and how they strain to keep them from looking strained. Their goal is that there opponent never knows which cards are actually in their hands. The thought behind is that if the "other side doesn't know which cards I'm holding, or not holding, then I might have a chance to pull this off as a win."

How much of life is lived with the same mentality before God. We hold back cards for fear of what those cards might cost us. We are so focused on "winning" on our terms, that we put on our poker face, attempt to bluff our way through with the hopes that we might have a chance to pull this off as a win. What we lose sight of, is that in Christ, we've already won. He already knows where we have fallen short. He sees the cards we have in our hands. We fool ourselves into thinking we're holding back the truth of our lives from Him. In fact, we hold ourselves back from the healing and restoration He desires to bring to our lives. But, we must be willing to lay the cards on the table.

God's desire is to take us through ever circumstance, challenge, and conflict that we face. When Jesus came to die for our sins, He knew the risks that many would chose to reject Him. He calculated that with those He knew would receive Him and deemed it to be worth the cost. However, for us to fully receive what He has to offer, we must be willing to recognize that we are incomplete with out it, and surrender to Him all that has been standing in the way.

The choice to be on the right path with God is left to other person but you. Are you willing to see the areas in your life that are less than God's best for you? Have you been playing a hand that is less than winnable, but attempting to bluff your way through with a poker face that longs for peace, but it so busy trying to hide the pain? Don't fall into the trap of trying to hide what is so painfully obvious. Recognize it. Surrender it. Deal with it. Learn from it. Move on past it. Purpose to let every word, thought, and action bring glory and honor to God. Let it be a reflection of the awesome reverence you have for Him.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Who Do You Follow?

"'Do what you think is best,' the youth replied. 'I'm with you heart and soul'" (1 Samuel 14:7).

In 1995, I was on a ministry trip with our youth group from our small rural town in northeast Texas to the big city of Dallas.  How exciting.  17.  A driver's license.  A car.  No idea where I was going.  These were the ingredients that made up for one incredibly long and interesting night.

Our team was going to be ministering in a church that weekend through music and drama, and we were at the church that evening to practice for the next morning's services.  The idea after the practice, was that we would all caravan back to the house that we were to stay.  Being from a small country spot on the map, I was to follow the lead car for our safe and quick return.  However, I got distracted with friends in the car, forgot that I was following and was driving like I was leading.  When exit after exit began to pass me by, I realized that I was on a major 5 lane freeway, at night, with no idea where I was, no idea where I was going, and no cell phone.  I was lost.

Though this makes for a humorous story at my expense, there is a great truth to be learned.  It matters who you follow.  In addition to who we follow, it matters how consistently we follow.  The power of this verse is rooted in its context.  This was the story of Jonathan, the prince of Israel, passionately in pursuit of God, and to see His victory achieved in the lives of the people of his nation.  Enter the armor bearer.  He was committed heart and soul to one who was committed heart and soul to the One.  It mattered who he followed.  It mattered that he trusted his leader.  His own course and destination rested in who he followed, where he followed, and how he followed.

You are called to and created for living life surrendered to God in Jesus Christ.  Like the importance of following someone who knows where they are going in a large city at night, you are to follow Christ.  He will lead you through the twists and turns, the exits and the on ramps, through the night and the traffic, because He knows the way.  He's traveled the road.  Don't give into the popular mindset of your culture that beckons you to make your own way or to follow your own dream.  Lean on Him.  Trust in Him.  Follow Him heart and soul, from the core of your being, and with all that is within you.

Let today be a day of rest, reflection, repentance, and restart.  Rest - slow down the pace and check your GPS.  Are they His coordinates or yours?  Reflect - who's trying to lead who?  Is He leading you or are you trying to lead yourself?  Repent - ask for forgiveness for not living in the total surrender that He calls for.  Repent for trying to do it your own way, in your own time, and based on your own limited understanding.  Restart - get moving.  He's not done with you.  He desires to lead you in a direction that will take your farther than you've ever known before.