Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts from an imperfect disciple.

Love is the Message

love-is-our-message

{1 Corinthians 13:1; NLT}
If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal.

We live in a broken world.

That fact is not hard to see. The high profile murder cases, the heroin epidemic, and to the rise of obesity in the United States shows us that people are hurt, lonely, scared, and hopeless. The addictions and self-destructive actions people have often develop from trying to cope with life.

People who are broken do not need lectures on the evil of sin because they are experiencing its consequences. They do not need facts about the reliability of the Bible because those facts don’t speak to their deepest needs.

What they need is love, compassion, and understanding. In other words, they need to have hope and encouragement. As Christians we believe that hope only comes through Jesus. This means, if they are going to have hope they need to experience Jesus in a real and personal way. The only way a broken world will experience Jesus is through the Church loving and encouraging people.

Remember what Jesus told his disciples the night before he was crucified?

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciple” (John 13:34-35; NLT).

Jesus taught that our love for each other will make it possible for others to know that we belong to him. Reaching out to the world begins by loving and serving each other.

We, the body of Christ, need to learn to love each other and care for one another so other people can see that the love they crave actually exists. Too many people have been turned off to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because the church families they know are not loving.

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay (1 Peter 4:7-9; NLT).

Peter wrote of the importance of love. The power of love is that it helps people look past the Church’s mistakes, bad singing, and poor preaching. Being a loving Church allows people to see the Gospel message fleshed out and this helps people see the difference Jesus can make a difference in their lives.

The Bible makes it clear that Christians are the body of Christ. This means it is our responsibility to live in such a way so that the world can see the love of Jesus.

When we insist on fighting with each other and having power struggles that result in dividing the church we show a hurting and lonely world that Jesus makes no difference in their lives.

To truly have influence in this world begins by loving people. By loving people we demonstrate God’s character, we become lights in a dark world, and meet people where they are. I believe that our love will show the world that there is hope and that there is a different way to live, because they are not only hearing the Gospel, but they are also seeing the Gospel. Our lives of love will act as evidence that the message of hope that we have is true.

Questions to consider:

  • How have seen the brokenness of the world?
  • Why is love essential to the message of the Gospel?
  • What is one thing you can do to love someone today?

Wholeness and Healing

wholeness-and-healingWhen you stop to consider the amount of wealth in the United States it is quite amazing. Think about the luxury many of us get to live in and the technology that we get to use. The comfort and ease that Americans get to live in is not the way many people get to live.

It is quite interesting to me that in spite of our great wealth and ease of life, that there are many people who struggle with depression and other disorders. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) the percentage of Americans taking antidepressants basically doubled (6.8% to 13%) between 1999 and 2012.

Now there are many reasons for this, but one thing is certain: money and wealth cannot fix all our problems.

It is great to live in luxury, to be part of the first world and experience first world problems, but that doesn’t mean we will experience wholeness in our lives. The reason for this is sin. Wealth does not fix the problems sin causes in our lives.

Erwin McManus in his book Uprising wrote; “He [God] invites us to find our purpose and our healing in serving others.” (p. 144)

All of us are broken to one degree or another. This is why the self-help section at the book store is so large, we do want to find healing and wholeness, but we don’t know how.

I think many of Christians understand that their purpose is found in loving and serving other people. McManus correctly points out that purpose is key to experiencing wholeness in our lives.

On the face of it this idea seems to be contradictory to us. How can healing and wholeness be found in giving our lives away?

Conventional wisdom tells us that we need to take care of ourselves first before we can take care of someone else. Many people will even make this claim regarding the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” After all, they reason, you can’t love neighbor if you can’t love yourself.

That is a misapplication of the verse. Jesus isn’t saying we need to learn to love ourselves, as if he was a modern day pop psychologist, but rather, he is emphasizing that the love, respect, and honor you want to experience is what you are to give to other people.

We need to follow the example of Jesus:

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14; NLT)

Jesus did not experience the brokenness that you and I have, but Jesus did experience the various emotions that are common to human life. In this passage Jesus heard the news of the death of John the Baptist, his relative and forerunner, and he is experienced grief. It is appears that Jesus wanted time alone with his disciples, but the crowds were determined to follow him. In a time of personal need, Jesus showed compassion for others.

Once again we see the paradoxical nature of the Gospel. Wholeness is found in giving ourselves away. Healing is found in serving others.

One of the huge consequences of sin is that it damages our relationships. We were created to be in relationships with both God and people, and the reason we are broken is because the relationships that we desperately need are damaged by sin. A lack of healthy relationships leads to broken and sick people.

So how do we build healthy relationships?

It begins by reaching out to people in love. This is the example that God has given to us. Remember God took the initiative to have a relationship with us, and that is what we must do. I think one mistake that we often make is to wait for people to reach out to us. The example God gave is that we are to reach out first.

By reaching out first, not only are we following the example of God, but we are also demonstrating our trust in God. We are trusting God to provide for our needs as we seek to love people and we are trusting God to bring healing and wholeness into our lives.

Now I don’t what to sound like there is no need for professional help: counseling, medicine, etc. I have benefited from talking to a professional counselor, so I know that they play an important part in our healing. Rather than down playing professional help, I want to point out the missing piece in our healing: loving service to others. The path to healing always includes reaching out to others in love.

Personally, the times I experienced the greatest healing are the times I removed the focus from my pain and started to care for others. Sometimes it has been as simple as praying for others and other times it has involved becoming an intimate part of another person’s life.

Whenever we show concern for others we stop being consumed with self and we allow our heart time to heal as we experience God’s love through our love for other people. God’s love is made most real to us when we are showing love to others.

Here is the thought I would like you to remember: Wholeness is found in giving ourselves away.

The Fourth Branch

the-fourth-branch

Every four years, during the presidential election, we are told that this is the most important election ever. We are made to feel like the very existence of our nation hangs in the balance.

Usually these elections have the highest voter turnout, followed by the elections for Congress, and the elections that focus solely on state representatives and local issues have the lowest turnout. This really isn’t a surprise, because most of the media that we receive is national media, and so the reporting will focus on the elections that effect the nation as a whole. One of the downsides to this reality is that it has helped reinforce the idea that the greatest power and authority lies in Washington D.C.

For this presidential election there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Neither Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton seem to be popular candidates. I know that many conservatives are wondering what they will do. In good conscience they can’t vote for Trump, because they believe he doesn’t hold their principles. On the other hand, they can’t vote for a third party, because then Hillary will get elected and she will appoint progressive judges to the Supreme Court.

What are we to do?

I want to suggest, it doesn’t matter who you vote for for president. If you are interested in liberty the way forward is not found in electing the right people to national office or having conservative judges on the Supreme Court. Liberty will never be restored from the top down. The Federal Government will not let go of the power it has stolen from the people.

There is hope, it is a slim hope, and it will take years for it succeed. This hope begins by remembering this truth: the Federal Government was created by the States.

The Federal Government did not come and divide up the different territories into states and then established their local governments. No, the original 13 States created the Federal Government. We forget that the States have the ability to reign in the out of control Leviathan that is the United States Government.

The United States Constitution begins with these words: We the people of the United States…

The Federal Government exists at the consent of the States. It was the States, the men who represented the people of those states, who created the Constitution. The Constitution is clear about what powers and authority the Federal Government was to have. Through years, as the Federal Government has slowly but surely exceeded its authority, we have come to not even question it. Any time an objection is made, we are given precedent after precedent to show us the Federal Government is within its authority.

Precedent is not the same thing as legal. Just because the Federal Government has over stepped its bounds in the past, doesn’t make its use of power legal. This is why the “checks and balances” we were taught about in Jr. High are insufficient in securing liberty for us. Our Founders knew this, and made sure that there was another way to keep the Federal Government in check: Amendment X.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

In school we were taught that there are three branches of the federal government: legislative, executive, and judicial. I would suggest to you that there are four branches of the federal government, and that fourth branch is the States. It is the duty of our States not to comply with federal laws and regulations that exceed the authority the Federal Government was granted.

I am not sure of all the reasons why the States have not been more active to standing up against the Federal Government and its abuse of power. My guess is that part of the reason lays at the feet of President Lincoln. Though Lincoln is seen as hero, by both people on the right and the left, he crushed the idea of state sovereignty. The Civil War was not primarily fought over slavery, but over the rights of States to ignore Federal decrees.

If the government truly exists by the consent of the governed, then the Southern States were totally in their right to leave the Union and start a new government. The Union was not intended to be this monolithic nation, but a cooperation of free states. Lincoln’s war to preserve the Union killed that idea.

The good news is that there are glimpses of States resisting Federal authority. One of the ways we see this resistance is in legalizing marijuana. Another way is through lighter gun restrictions. What this tells us is that the most important elections are the elections for state and local office. The States, and even County Sheriffs, have the ability to resist the Federal Government. They can declare that their State will not corporate, will not support, and will not enforce unconstitutional laws and regulations.

Liberty can be restored, but it requires state and local governments having the courage to stand up against the tyranny of the Federal Government. The most important election you will vote in this year is not for president, but for your local representatives. Give them the voice to stand for liberty.

The Proper Response to God’s Will

responding-to-gods-will

Wednesday June 1, 2011

This morning in my devotional reading I read this from Oswald Chambers:

“It is much easier to do something than to trust in God; we mistake panic for inspiration. That is why there are so few fellow workers with God and so many workers for Him. We would far rather work for God than believe in Him” (My Utmost for His Highest, p. 153)

There are opposite extremes that Christians make in their relationship with God. The first extreme is that we sit and do nothing and call it waiting on God. I know that this is the extreme I am most guilty of doing. I will fill my life with reading, meditating, and praying to avoid what I know God has called me to do. Why do I do this? This is my response to the fear I experience in the face of obedience. I justify my lack of obedience and trust in God on my dedication to hearing His voice.

The other extreme is what Oswald Chambers talks about. It is being so fearful about what is happening around us that we decide that doing something is better than doing nothing. Rather than waiting on God’s timing we try to create our own perfect opportunity. The classic example of this is Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Abraham and Sarah’s fear of being childless overtook their trust in God’s timing and so they decided to give God a hand rather than to wait on His plan.

So how can we find the balance in the midst of these two extremes? I am not really sure I have an answer for that question, but I think it would begin with daily surrendering our lives to God. One of the passages I that I have kept coming back to is Romans 12:1-2. In this passage the apostle Paul writes:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (ESV).

I think part of our daily prayer needs to be a time when we surrender our lives, our bodies, as living sacrifices to God, to be used as He sees fit. In this act of surrendering we open ourselves up to discovering God’s will. Once we understand what God’s will is it will still require us to act in faith to do it according to His plan, but it does help us understand the type of response God desires us to have.

Imitate God

imitate-god

The primary way we learn is through example. This has nothing to do with IQ or with logic, but everything to do with our ability to imitate other people.

As I have gotten older I recognize more and more of my dad in me. Sometimes it comes out in the way I phrase a sentence, other times in the tone and infliction of my voice, and other times in the way I respond to my children. There are many times when I stop and think, “That is just like Dad.”

This is not a bad thing, rather it is a testament to the influence he has had on my life.

Similarly my children are picking up some of my mannerisms and sayings. When my son comes to me with a scrape, bump, or bug bite sometimes I will respond with, “You are fine.” The other day he was playing doctor with his sister and after giving her a shot he rubbed it and said, “You’re fine.” My wife looked at me and said, “I wonder where he learned that.”

When I am frustrated and something doesn’t happen as smoothly as I think it should, I will often “growl”.  Last week when my mom was here helping us with the new baby, my daughter dropped something on the floor and she growled. My mom said to her, “You sound just like your dad.”

Much of the way we learn how to live life comes through observation and imitation. I know we would like to think that we logically developed the most rational way to live, but the reality is that we are just following in the footsteps of those who came before us.

This is important to accept because imitation plays a crucial role in following Jesus.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us  and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2; NLT)

If we are Christians then our identity is rooted in the reality that we are God’s children. Like my children imitate me, Paul wrote that we are to imitate God.

One of my fundamental beliefs is that the purpose of our lives is to demonstrate God’s character. We can only demonstrate His character if we imitate the way He lives.

Now this sounds all well and good, but how do we imitate God?

After all, we can’t see God and we are unable to have a relationship with Him the way we have a relationship with our parents. We spent years living with our parents, and it was only natural that we would pick up on their mannerisms, actions, habits, and beliefs. How do we do that with God?

Now it is true that the fullness of God is revealed in Jesus, but when we are talking about observation and imitation it is a little hard to observe Jesus since he hasn’t walked this earth in 2,000 years. This means imitating God doesn’t happen naturally like it does with a parent and a child. To imitate God requires intentional action on our part.

Let me suggest two actions we need to take if we are going to be children of God and imitate Him.

  1. We need to study the Bible. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 the Apostle Paul explained the importance that Scripture has in our lives. Scripture is important because God uses it to prepare and equip us for the work God has called us to do. In the Old Testament we have the Law. It is the Law that guided Jesus’ life and was the foundation of his teaching. The Gospels reveal to us the way Jesus lived out the Law and the rest of New Testament reveals how the early church lived and taught the way of Jesus. The Bible helps us imitate God because it reveals His heart and character to us.
  2. We need to study other Christians.  Remember observation is an important learning method. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians to, “imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1; NLT). Paul followed Jesus, and the Corinthians who had no contact with Jesus, could observe the way Paul lived. This same pattern continues to this day, as the younger generation observes the older generation to gain an understanding on how to live a life of faith. We also have biographies and stories of Christians who have gone before us, and in our imaginations, we can observe how they lived. This is why being part of a local church family is essential to our spiritual formation.

You and I were created to imitate God. The way we imitate God is to follow Jesus, who reveals to us the fullness of God’s character. Jesus taught us how to demonstrate God’s character in this world.

If we are going to imitate God it requires intentional action on our part. We have to study the Bible and the lives of other Christians to gain the insight we need to follow Jesus.

We are God’s dearly loved children, and the expectation on our lives to reflect God’s character into this world. This will not happen by accident, so be intentional about imitating God. Read the Bible, be with other Christians, and follow Jesus.

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