Compassionate Advice

Posted in Love, Scripture on January 6, 2015 by nmpreach

The last few months, I’ve been convicted to have more compassion for others.  My wife and I were having the discussion again regarding compassion and she asked, “So what makes you think you’re not compassionate?”  My answer: “I just want to see people the way Jesus saw them.  Were there people who pushed His “buttons”?  Most likely.  Yet He never sinned.  He was never cynical regarding their circumstances.  He wasn’t short with them.  In fact, He often took a longer time with those who were struggling with something.”  Sadly, that’s not the case for me.  I desire deeply to love the way Jesus loved.

I had another thought regarding compassion.  Too often, many of us view compassion, love, etc. as speaking into another’s life.  For those of us who have a gift of encouragement or discernment, we’re quick to offer what we would do in the given situation.  At first glance, that seems commendable.  In other words, when we counsel we rationalize it as ministry.  But is that the case?

The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to be clear.  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” (3:1, 7 ESV).  It seems to me we act upon the latter while disregarding the former.  We speak quickly but are rarely silent.

An example might be helpful.  A man named Job is described as wealthy before losing virtually everything.  He was considered “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8).  Yet Job experiences loss and extreme suffering.  Job’s friends eventually arrive and perhaps we expect them to solve the issue or at least minimize the pain.  But that’s not the case.

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, …They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him…And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great (Job 2:11, 13 ESV, emphasis mine).

No one spoke a word to him – for at least seven days.  That’s sympathy?  It appears so.  Sympathy.  Compassion.  Love.

Once Job speaks and describes his pain, his friends begin to offer advice.  But if you know the narrative, you know their theology and the advice they give is flawed.  Job remains on the defensive and eventually has his own dialogue with God.  It’s as if his friends would have been more helpful if they would not have spoken.  Sit with me.  Be here.  Show your concern.  But maybe it’s better you don’t speak.

Here’s the point:  We’re quick to speak because we equate busyness with good things.  What if we were just there?  What if we showed our concern and support by sitting and saying nothing?  What if we thought it was okay to say, “I don’t know why, but I know God is faithful.”?  What if we really believed God is good all of the time?  Sure, there are times we should speak.  But there are times when speaking is not compassion, nor sympathy or love.

My Bucket (2015)

Posted in Grace on January 2, 2015 by nmpreach

bucketDepending on who you read or the numbers you believe, 75-80% of those who make resolutions will fail – many in two weeks or less.  Those are horrible odds.  And because of past failures, many people look for the proverbial white towel and give up and/or become cynical to goals or any attempt at change.  At times, people say things like, “I used to make resolutions.  But because I failed so often, I just don’t make them anymore.”

The famous quote “I yam what I am” from Popeye comes to mind.  For what it’s worth, that phrase has been used to rationalize immorality, settle for mediocrity, and to simply coast through life.  How many people do you know live six or seven decades only to look back on their life and say, “I should have… I wish I would have… If only I could have…”?  I know several.  The good news is it’s never too late.

A new year brings new opportunities – opportunities to invest in what matters.  In recent years the phrase “bucket list” has become popular.  In a 2007 movie, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman encouraged us to live life to the fullest.  “Do something you’ve always dreamed of.”  Etc.  As I see it, the trouble with a “bucket list” is the bucket is often limited to this world.  In other words, the parameters of the bucket force one to focus on worldly things.  The list may include jump from a skyscraper, travel to exotic lands, build the perfect house, drive the greatest car, paint the white picket fence, etc.  But as those things are added to the “bucket,” one finds the bucket to have several small holes in the bottom that allows the contents to drain.  The fulfillment found in worldly goals or possessions is fleeting.

Jesus once said, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matt 6:19-21 ESV)

Did you catch it?  Jesus attempts to define the “bucket” for us.  Why focus on things that will one day be gone?  Why not invest in things that will last forever?  For some reason, I think the bucket God offers is without holes.  Remember John 15?  IF you remain in me… but if you don’t…

Of course Christians are far from immune to the ways of the world.  A popular preacher has asked believers to consider, “What would you do if you only had thirty days to live?”  The book and preaching series was popular for a time.  People began to do things they had been called to do years before.  Relationships were restored.  Faith grew.  But too often even those things that were once “hot” became “lukewarm.”  The passion was there for a time and then simply gone.  Why should it take someone describing our life ending in thirty days to cause change?

It seems to me that we need goals – whether we call them resolutions or not.  We must be reminded to “look towards the finish line.”  It’s much too easy to see all of the things around us and lose focus.  For that among other reasons, God offers us new seasons, new days, and even new hours.

In this new season, year, month, day, I resolve to:

1) Let God define the “bucket;”

2) Invest in things that will last rather than those things that are limited;

and

3) When I fail, lose focus, and fall, I resolve to receive God’s grace and get up.  Cf 1 John 1:5-10

I’m grateful for new seasons and another chance!

Love. Really!

Posted in Discipleship, Love on December 3, 2014 by nmpreach

What does it mean to love God?  You might be thinking, “Come on!  That’s an easy one.  We should love God with all of our heart – with all of our mind – with all of our soul.”  Right.  But what does it mean to love God?  On the other hand, you might be thinking, “This must be a trick question.”  I can assure you it’s not.  For some time, I’ve tried to consider what it means to love God.  Maybe you have some thoughts.  Consider these:

If I love God, shouldn’t it change the way I live?

If I consider myself a follower of Christ, shouldn’t I be different from when I wasn’t a follower?

1 John 3:1-3 reads,

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.  (ESV)

Perhaps there’s a few things to consider from this text:

1)  God’s love for us despite who we are.

2)  The phrase “children of God.”  Let that sink in for a bit.

3)  Followers of Christ are to be different from the world.  At this point, I would ask you to consider the original question.  Take the time to read the bold text above.

4)  Becoming like Christ is a process.  It doesn’t happen over night.  In fact, culmination happens “when he appears.”

5)  Following Christ compels us to become more like Him.

Of course there are other things to notice.  But that’s a start.  I have other texts and thoughts in mind.  But maybe a conversation can begin.

It Matters!

Posted in Apologetics, Discipleship on November 12, 2014 by nmpreach

 

thinkerRecently, I had a discussion with another believer concerning the necessity of apologetics in the Church.  Before going further, perhaps a definition of apologetics is necessary.  Apologetics is simply a defense of the faith.  In other words, knowing what one believes and the ability to articulate those beliefs.  The person I was speaking with mentioned his concern over arguing or what he called “debate” within the local church.  The apostle Paul speaks of irreverent babble and avoiding such things while writing to Timothy.  While I’m not interested in an unproductive discussion, I do believe it’s important that one determine what is truth and defend truth accordingly.

It doesn’t take long to determine we live in a society that holds to truth being relative.  According to the ideology, what might be true for you is not true for me.  I pray you can see the problem with that way of thinking.  To form the issue in a question might be helpful.  So here goes: What can we know for certain?  Why do we know 2 + 2 = 4?  You get the point.  If truth is relative…fluid…constantly changing for the benefactor, can it be absolute truth?

Just before Paul warns Timothy of irreverent babble, he writes these words.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (1 Tim 2:15, emphasis mine).  A few words require a second glance.  The words “approved” and “rightly” must mean something.  In other words, “approved” means there is a standard Paul expects Timothy to attain.  The word “rightly” declares the standard to be concrete or unchanging.

As Christians, we believe we must start with the absolute truth.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus of Nazareth is reported to have said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”  (14:6).  Later in the same Gospel, John records Jesus answering Pilate, “…I have come into this world – to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (18:37).  Those words are not fluid.  They don’t have one standard today and another tomorrow.  Truth is truth.

Sadly, relative truth is not something just for the secularists.  The influence of the world has penetrated the walls of the Church.  For that reason, there are just as many who gather to worship who believe in some level of relative truth.  It’s easy to say “Amen” when one is not tempted in a certain way.  However, when the standard hits “too close to home,” it’s much more difficult.

Might part of the problem be that we’ve forgotten the importance of critical thinking?  Is it possible that even believers are influenced towards relativity rather than absolute truth?  After all, we’re told to be tolerant and love our enemies.  That said, often times we display a huge misunderstanding of tolerance and love.  Speaking truth is love to the nth degree!  In regards to critical thinking within the Church, apologist William Lane Craig offers, “Our culture in general has sunk to the level of biblical and theological illiteracy.”  That seems harsh at first glance.  But at times, love means hearing what we don’t want to hear.  Something to consider is what will the Church do about it?

The gentleman I was visiting with believes apologetics is something for the spiritually elite.  The thought goes “The Gospel is simple.  Leave the minutiae to those in academia.”  On one hand, the idea of a simple Gospel is correct.  However, when one chooses to never go beyond the “surface,” many blessings will never be realized.  Discipleship includes loving God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.  Without absolute truth, a healthy starting place will not exist.

I would offer the healthy starting place must be Jesus.  But convincing an unbeliever of the starting place might be more difficult than you can imagine – especially if your starting place changes from time to time.  I have no right to determine truth for you or even for me.  You haven’t the right to do the same for me or others.  You see, truth has been defined.  Truth is named Jesus.  It matters where we start.  And it matters that we continue a relationship with He who is truth.

 

 

His Plan or…?

Posted in Scripture on November 4, 2014 by nmpreach

idolsWhen the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us.  As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'”

Because we know the end of the story, most of us know what will happen in just a few short verses.  This might be a challenge, but think with me for a second.  What if all we knew was Exodus 32:1-2?  What if the only thing we knew was what the narrator recorded for us regarding the Israelites dilemma in the first two verses of the chapter?

Here’s what we know they understood:

1)  We know the Israelites had knowledge of Moses going to Mount Sinai to speak with YHWH.  Check out Ex. 24:14-18

2)  We know they were concerned about worshipping a God/gods.

3)  We know they were an impatient lot.

4)  We know it sounds as if they put more faith in Moses than in the God he was meeting with.

Often times, we read Old Testament texts and are quick to condemn.  How foolish!  How dumb could they be?!?  Why didn’t they just wait for Moses – one they considered their deliverer?  If they don’t know what has become of him, is anyone willing to go look?

Consider these:

1)  Any parallel between Moses going up on the mountain and Jesus praying to His Father in the garden?  In the Old Testament text, the elders were told, “Wait here for us (Moses and Joshua) until we return to you” (24:14).  In Luke’s Gospel, the physician records Jesus withdrawing to pray and returning only to find His disciples sleeping (Lk 22:41-46).  Prior to withdrawing, Jesus warned them of temptation.

2)  The Israelites had spent four hundred years in bondage.  However,  once provided their freedom, they weren’t concerned so much with God’s direction and timing as much as their own.  They might be considered religious by tradition.  But what does that have to do with a relationship with YHWH?

3)  Be still and know…!  Psalm 46:10 is a verse we like to quote from time to time.  Life experience tells me it’s a bit harder to live consistently.  We’re quick to chastise our ancestors for their lack of patience while believing our timeline to be flawless.  Not many have the gift of patience.

4)  “As for this Moses, the man…”  I don’t want to read too much into the text, but I’m led to believe because of their lack of relationship with YHWH, they focused too much on Moses rather than the God they should serve.  In fact, they were quick to write him off, consider him missing, and replace him with someone/something else.  In the Church today, how much faith do we place in a preacher, elders, a committee, or a program – rather than the one true God?  If something goes wrong, let’s replace the preacher, obtain new leadership, and/or start a new program.

Bottom line, is we’re much like the Israelites who left Egypt.  We’re quick to forget God’s faithfulness and revert back to our plan.  Thoughts?

 

The Dark

Posted in Uncategorized on October 30, 2014 by nmpreach

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to hear Episcopal priest, author, and professor Barbara Brown Taylor. Although her talks weren’t long, I (and I assume others) were intrigued from the very beginning.  One of her God-given gifts is the power of words.  Being read to is not one of my favorite past times, but Taylor’s voice, and more importantly, her subject matter was what drew me in from the beginning.  Taylor spoke regarding Genesis 14, and particularly on the identity of Melchizedek.  Although she was willing to let the vagueness of the text speak for itself, she also offered a few principles I thought simple yet powerful enough to jot down.

“God works through religious strangers.  Some people are different, yet God chooses them to affect you and/or your circumstances.”

“God blesses through all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.”

I left that talk thinking maybe we search too hard for a meaning in texts that are vague.  In other words, could it be the narrator of Genesis (1) didn’t know the details of certain historical accounts, (2) didn’t think them important to the “take away,” or (3) intentionally left them vague for a bigger reason.  Defining God contains a bit of mystery.  Maybe that’s the simplest sentence you’ll read today.  But it’s important.  The point is:  Can we ever be okay with simply saying, “I don’t know.”?

The vagueness is what Taylor would call “the dark.”  Examples in Scripture are numerous but include the exodus at night, and Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisee Nicodemus (John 3).  Blaise Pascal once spoke of a “God-shaped hole” within each of us.  Taylor would proffer the search for what fits in the hole is part of the gift.  In other words, there’s an intimacy found in the dark (vagueness); whereas we’re never promised certainty – at least this side of paradise.  Finally, Taylor stated, “Practice faith in the dark until something blooms again.”

Although we’ve been taught (and perhaps teach others) about the things that “go bump in the night,” what might we learn about God’s character within the darkness?  I’m currently reading Taylor’s latest work Learning to Walk in the Dark (Harper Collins, 2014).  More on that later!

If God is sovereign (I believe that He is), He is even bigger than the dark and those things contained in the dark.  He remains sovereign even in the midst of storms.  Maybe the darkness is offered not only to teach us about ourselves but to encourage us to appreciate the light even more.

 

Community, Sin, and Love

Posted in Community, Love, Sin on October 28, 2014 by nmpreach

Community

Most of us know the story of Creation and The Fall.

God creates. Everything good. God creates man in His image. Everything very good.

“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him'” (Gen. 2:18, ESV, emphasis mine).

Don’t miss what’s going on here.  Being alone without a helpmate was less than God intended.

God creates woman from man. A helpmate.  Man excited.

“Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man'” (Gen. 2:23, ESV).

The narrator of Genesis then offers readers an interesting declaration. Read it slowly and as many times as needed.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, ESV). Other translations use words such as cleaved, united, or joined, where the English Standard Version uses the phrase “hold fast.”  The point the narrator is making is they were in communion.  They had a relationship with one another and with God. Enter the serpent.

Sin

Serpent offers doubt and accuses God of wrong doing.  Woman rebelled and ate from the tree.  Man did likewise.

Everything changes!  Shame and guilt arrive.  Man blames woman.  Woman blames serpent.  God is heart-broken.

The communion once enjoyed by the first family was destroyed in a single second.  God tells the woman in part, “…Your desire shall be for your husband” (Gen. 3:16, ESV).  But this is no longer as it was.  Read on!

“…and he shall rule over you” (ibid).  Sin changes everything.  The narrator now describes an authoritarian relationship that didn’t exist prior to sin.  But it didn’t stop there.  Man and woman are forced from the presence of God.  Walking with Him on a daily basis is no longer possible.

The Apostle Paul writes of sin, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12, ESV).

It’s obvious communion/relationship was part of God’s original plan – communion between God and man and between man and man.  However, sin destroyed the innocence of community.  The consequences of sin include a severed relationship between man and God and constant struggle between mankind for relationship.

Love

The question becomes, “Is there anyway to restore communion/relationship as God intended?”  In other words, “What would it take to walk with God daily or love one another with no boundaries?” That’s the process we call sanctification.  Loving as God loves means becoming more like Jesus.  As we become closer to God and His character, loving those around us becomes second nature.  That said, it’s crazy to think we can love our brother without loving God first.  We know love only because God loved us (1 John 4:10).

God created.  Everything as intended.  Man screws it up.  Jesus offers restoration.   Man chooses!