Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Growing Compassion

 


One of the marks of Christian maturity is an increased capacity for compassion.  The longer we follow Jesus, the more compassion we have for people. This compassion even extends to people who are in bad circumstances caused by their own choices.

When I was younger it was easy for me to judge people who were enduring bad circumstances in their lives. 

“After all,” I reasoned; “if they would make better choices they wouldn’t find themselves in that circumstance.” 

Compassion was absent from my heart. 

Over the last several years God has transformed my heart. Rather than blaming people for their difficult circumstances my heart breaks for them. I realize most of the time they are in those circumstances, not because they want a difficult life, but because they don’t know there is a better way to live.

As Matthew put it: they are “confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

I don’t want to diminish the responsibility each of us has for the choices that we make. I do want to point out that the choices we make are hardly ever black and white. Most of the time our choices are the result of a complex mixture of experiences, emotions, and environment. 

The reality is that all of us make decisions based on the information that we have.
1 Peter 1:18 (NLT)
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 
This has been a key verse in understanding the choices people make and one of the reasons I have more compassion for them.

People live the way they were taught to live. The choices that they make sense to them in the light of what they know.

 Imagine how your life would be different if you were raised differently. Things that seem to be “common sense” may not even be known to you. 

Peter tells us that much of the world, instead of inheriting a life of faith in Jesus, they inherited a life given to them by their ancestors, a life that is empty. It is not their fault, it is simply the hand that they were dealt.

On top of inheriting an empty way of life, many people struggle with habits and addictions that are difficult to break free from. Again, it isn’t necessarily their fault. They may want to get out, but they are trapped in a prison of their own creation.

In a real sense people are victims of outside forces. 

When we read the gospels it appears that when Jesus looked at a crowd of people he didn’t see dirty rotten sinners; instead he saw people who were being victimized. Rather than condemning them for their choices and sins, Jesus showed them compassion and understanding. That is not to say that Jesus accepted their sin or acted like it wasn’t a big deal, but it does show that Jesus, the one person who could sit in judgment, chose to extend help to them.

There is a shift in our thinking that we need to make.

With the Bible in our hands it is tempting judge people with God’s truth, rather than to help them out of love. 

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing this very thing. They focused on people’s sin and did nothing to help them overcome it. 

This is a danger we need to avoid.

To have a knowledge of God’s will can lead us to believe that taking a stand for God’s truth is the same as doing God’s work. 

In Revelation 2:1-7 Jesus told the church in Ephesus that they were in danger of being shut out of the Kingdom because of their lack of love. The Ephesians were known for standing up for the truth, but somewhere along the line they had lost their love.

We have to be on our guard so that doesn’t happen to us. Truth shouldn’t overshadow our love.

Compassion, which is a form of love, needs to be mixed with truth. It is the mixture of  truth and love which gives us the ability to influence the people in our lives. Our care and compassion opens up people’s hearts to receive the the truth. 

 The example of Jesus is that he led with compassion. Jesus loved people through healing and helping them. Not only did he demonstrate compassion, he always told them the truth. 

Truth is a lot easier to take when you know it comes from a person who cares for you.

Jesus looked at the crowds of people and He saw people who were lost and with no way to find their way home. What these people needed was a person to show them the right direction, not lecture on how terrible it is to be lost.

As we look around us we realize that the number of people who need help are more than we can help by ourselves. What can we do? 

If we are going to show compassion to the world we have to pray. Prayer gives us a  proper perspective on life and the world around us. It also helps us to align our hearts with God’s heart. 

In our prayers we need make a request: workers for the harvest. There is a shortage of leaders who are able to show the lost the way home.

Compassion is not just reserved for our prayer life. Compassion needs to be a key characteristic of our lives. Jesus lived in such a way to show the people around him that he knew the Way they were to travel. 

As Jesus’ followers we have that same responsibility of living our lives in such a way that it demonstrates a better way to live.

To live like Jesus means we need a change of perspective. Instead of seeing the people as dirty rotten sinners we need to see them as lost travelers trying desperately to get home.

Or better yet, a field ready to be harvested and brought home.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Protect Your Heart

 


Even in best of times it is possible to loose heart. 

Grief, tragedy, and hardships come into our lives and rob us of joy, peace, and hope. Things that make life worth living.

Stress, inconveniences, and busyness, like a drippy faucet, have a similar effect. Our lives don’t have to be crumbling down for us to lose heart.

In these days of uncertainty all of us are at risk of losing heart and living, to some degree, in despair. How can we prevent this from taking place?

Here are a few quick thoughts:

  1. We need to monitor our thinking: Philippians 4:8 (NLT) “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” What we think about has a huge impact on our feelings about life. What determines our thoughts are the things we put into our minds. Our TV watching, internet surfing, and social media lurking all influence what we think about and how we think about them. Limits on time and type of media are crucial for a proper thinking. This is also why Scripture meditation is important. By meditating on the Bible we are putting into our hearts and minds true, noble, and good things.
  2. We need to act on what we know: Philippians 4:9 (NLT) “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” It is one thing to know that right thing to do, but it is another thing to do it. A word of caution here. We have to be intentional and realistic in what we do. Too often we try to compensate for our past failures and inaction by doing all these wonderful things, which adds to our load of stress, and when we fail to live up to expectations, our load of guilt. Small changes, when put together over time, have a big impact. So where do you start? Usually there are one or two things you know that you should be doing. That is where we start. Do the next right thing.
  3. We need to confess our needs to God: 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” Giving God the things that are on our hearts is a way of letting them go. We need to be able to let them go so they don’t dominate our thoughts and emotions. It is important to remember that this takes time. Yes, it would be nice if all we had to do was to give our worries and cares to God once and that be the end of it. Often, because these thoughts and cares are imbedded in our hearts, it takes multiple times to truly handing them over to God for them to leave our hearts.
  4. We need to worship: 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT) “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” Worship is the best way to orient our lives back towards God. Remember, we are created in God’s image and for us to live that image out in our lives, our focus must be on Him. Whether it is through singing songs, journalling our gratitude, or praying from our hearts, worship shifts our perspective from ourselves to God. That shifts allows us to live with hope.
In this world, with all of its hardships and tragedies, we need to protect our hearts. We by living with hope, and hope comes from the intentional action of following Jesus.

Don’t lose heart and don’t despair. Turn your heart and mind towards God and let Him fill you with hope.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Sunday Prayer: Proclamation of Freedom



Many of us take our words for granted and we don't think that what we say has very much authority. Simply reflecting on the reality of how the words of other people have wounded us or have blessed us shows us that what say has power attached to it. 

That is why we need to be very careful about making false promises and statements. What we say is one way we bring things into reality. 

A prayer like this, a proclamation of the reality that we want to live, has the potential to be powerful. There is nothing magically about these words, but the words carry power when we say them with the intention of living a life of faith. 

This proclamation of freedom is adapted from an exercise Pastor Greg Boyd did at Woodland Hills Church on September 4, 2011.  I hope that you find blessing and freedom through it.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

~ Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

Through the authority of Jesus Christ, who died for sin, I declare that I am free. He has rescued me from the kingdom of darkness and He has brought me into His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Light.

On the authority of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead, I declare that I am no longer a slave, that all chains are broken, the power of sin has been defeated, and the bondage to Satan has ended.

By the authority of Jesus Christ, who now stands at the right hand of God, I declare that I will stand fast in freedom, that I will be a good steward of the life given to me, that I will hold on to the inheritance promised to me, and that I will not return to the slavery of sin.

On the authority of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, I renounce all bondage to fear, to insecurities, to greed, to despair, and to depression. We renounce all sexual addictions, all drug addictions, and all people pleasing addictions. And I renounce all bondage to self-centeredness, to the cultural idols, and anything else that has the power to enslave me. For who the Son has set free is free indeed!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Sermon: A Few Good Men and Women

This is sermon 9 in The Story series that I am preaching at Bethlehem Church in Austin, MN. 

 As God's people we are to be separate from the world. 

What can we learn from Israel's example in the book of Judges to help us be set apart from the world?

 


Thursday, November 5, 2020

We Can’t Go Back

 On Monday evening I posted a screen shot of a tweet from comedian and libertarian Dave Smith to Facebook.



I think we need to ponder this reality.

No matter how much we want to go back to “normal” we can’t, things have changed.

Now it is true that things are always changing, but usually they are gradual and you don’t notice the change taking place. In this way you  are slowly conditioned to accept the change. 

Because of social media, reporting around President Trump, and especially the pandemic, the pace of change has accelerated, which has caused us to take notice of it. 

Rather than having these things happen slowly over time, they hit us right in the face.

A good example of this is Sunday worship attendance. Attendance has been trending down for years as congregations grow older and younger people stopped coming. Because of lockdowns, masks, and other restrictions, many churches have experienced a sharp decline in attendance from where they were just last year. 

These people were leaving anyway, the pandemic just made it happen faster.

Since we know we can’t go back, all we can do is to plan to go forward. As we plan to go forward we have to realize that what worked in the past will not necessarily work in the future.

Here are some of my thoughts about moving forward:
  1. We need to think smaller rather than bigger. This is true for the church, where we need to concentrate on smaller gatherings. Smaller gathering are not only helpful in discipleship, but they are also helpful when limitations are put on gatherings. When things are smaller our plans are not as easily disrupted. I also think going smaller is the key to moving forward politically. One of the overlooked checks to the federal government’s power, and I believe the most important check, are the states. Washington’s power is rendered useless when the states decide not to comply with the Feds wishes. We see this as individual states legalized marijuana. The federal government doesn’t have the resources to enforce its laws across the individual states. Washington depends on the states to enforce its laws. As one of my favorite podcasters, Brion McCallahan, says, “Think locally, act locally.”
  2. We need to diversify our thinking. Too many people think in binary terms. Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, racist and inclusive, etc. As someone who tends to live outside the binary bubble, I can tell you things are not that simple. When it comes to following Jesus we need to move past the tendency to judge a person’s faith and commitment to Scripture based on a few pet doctrines like the age of the earth or a premillennial interpretation of the end time. We need these different perspectives to gain a greater understanding of the Bible and following Jesus (now, this doesn’t mean everything is open to interpretation, but it does mean that when there are different perspectives we should be able to listen to them). When it comes to politics we need to break away from the strangle hold of a two party system. Having only two major parties lead to corruption as people hungry for power manipulate the system. Also, there are thousands, if not millions of people who do not line up with either a Republican or Democrat view of the world. I am one of them, and consistently we go unrepresented. Let’s bring more voices to the table and spread the responsibilities of governing to many different parties, rather than just two.
  3. We need come to an understanding of the role social media plays in our lives. This is a new technology, and we don’t understand all the different ways it is effecting us. It is certainly shaping our opinions of things and making it seem like there is a greater divide between people than really exists. That is one of the reasons for the hostility that we are seeing. Social media is being used to divide us and cause us to see the other side as evil. The responsible use of social media is key to moving forward.
No matter how this election turns out, we need to understand that we aren’t going back to the way “things used to be”. 

Things have changed, and rather than complaining about that reality, we need to find a way forward.


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Vital Importance


I have been trying to write this pondering for many days now, but it just hasn’t come. 

So to move on from it, let me bullet point my thoughts on this quote:
  • Many Christians see the main benefit of salvation and following Jesus as “going to heaven” when they die. This causes them to miss out on the difference Jesus makes for our lives today.
  • When we believe that faith is mainly about believing the right things and that believing these things is the key to salvation, then we have little to no motivation to change the way we live. Instead we become concerned about having the right doctrines and less concerned about living the right way.
  • It is crucial for us to understand what God is up. God doesn’t need to save us so we can spend eternity with Him. Remember God created a good universe. He created human beings in His image so we can rule this world along side of Him, displaying His goodness and demonstrating His character along the way.
  • Jesus is the perfect sacrifice because He alone was able to display God’s goodness in the way He lived. For us to live out our design, for us to be true to the image of God, we need to be conformed to the life of Jesus.
  • To be conformed to the life and teachings of Jesus takes intentional effort and time. This is the role the spiritual disciplines play in our lives. The disciplines are like the drills during basketball practice or the scales that are rehearsed during piano practice. The drills are not the game and the scales are not the performance, but they help the player and the musician be better prepared for the game and the concert.
  • It is vitally important that we take following Jesus seriously and don’t just sit around waiting to go to heaven. God created us for so much more. In fact, we prepare for eternity with God by conforming to the life of Jesus now.
Just some quick thoughts on this passage.

Hopefully they were helpful to you. If not, you got a peek at how my mind works.



Monday, November 2, 2020

Voting Advice

 

One of the great questions that I have wrestled with in my adult life is the relationship Christians are to have with politics. I think politics hold a danger for followers of Jesus that isn’t widely talked about or even acknowledged. It is just assumed, at least in the United States, that Christians should be politically active and vote.

To merely suggest that there might be a different way to look at things invites comebacks such as, “Elections have consequences.” 

That is true, but that doesn’t answer the question about the proper role politics is to play in the lives of Christians. 

Remember, what we think most about naturally becomes the most important thing to use. Thinking too much about politics and allowing it to become the most important thing about life (which it has, because we live in a culture where every things is political) is just one of the real dangers Christians face when getting involved in politics.

When thinking through these questions I find it useful to go back and discover what earlier questions thought and taught. Recently I came across the above advice from John Wesley and thought it was worth considering.

What can we apply to our lives from this advice from John Wesley?

First, our vote must be a principled vote and not given because of what a candidate has promised. Government in the United States is based on constitutions. There are the individual state constitutions and there is the federal constitution. Rather than voting for the person who promises to do the most stuff (which I would consider voting for a reward), we should cast our vote for the person who promises to remain true to the Constitution.

Second, we judge a person's worthiness for political office by two factors. The first factor is whether or not they follow the constitutions that are the restraints placed on the government. Romans 13:1 says, "Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God." I believe that in a Constitutional Republic, the governing authorities are the constitutions. That is why a person's worthiness to represent you should be based on their willingness to uphold and defend the constitution. The second factor is their integrity. A person's character is an important factor to consider when determining whether or not they should represent you.

Third, it is crucial to remember that everyone is created in the image of God and therefore deserves our respect. You may not agree with the other side, but that does not give you the right to talk evil about them. In the long run, it is far more influential to provide a reasonable defense for your ideas then it is to declare the other side's candidate as evil.

Fourth (which I think is the most crucial piece of advice on the list), guard your heart. There is a danger that is lurking in politics for us who follow Jesus. We have to be very intentional to not dehumanize people or see people who disagree with us as the enemy. This happens all the time on Facebook, people who follow Jesus, yet when it comes to politics, they call people who disagree with them politically idiots, mentally ill, and even demonic. This is wrong. Christians need to do what we can to avoid falling into the trap of making enemies out of our political opponents. Not only does it damage our ability to demonstrate God’s character in this world, it also opens our hearts and minds to the corrupting influence of Satan.

Politics, like all things of this world, needs to be approached carefully. Followers of Jesus need to remember that there is a danger in putting an emphasis on voting and politics, because when they are mishandled they end up warring against our soul. This is why it is important for each of us to think through the role politics has in our lives.

John Wesley provided good insight for how we should vote, may we have the ears to hear what he has to say.


Saturday, October 31, 2020

What We Think About Most

 

On Thursday I wrote a post about being a persuader.

Last year I had a Barnes and Nobel gift card and one of the books I bought was Win Bigly by Scott Adams.

Win Bigly is a look at President Trump’s ability to persuade. Whether you like him or not (I personally do not support President Trump, but I am willing to admit he has done some good things).

After writing the post I Thursday I took Win Bigly off my shelf and flipped through it, looking at the  highlights I made. The above quote caught my eye.

In persuasion it is important to get people to think about things you have said. The more they think about what we say, the more it influences their thinking. 

This is why repetition is not a bad thing. When we repeat something there is a better chance of it getting lodge in the mind of someone. 

There is a secondary reason why I shared this quote with you. It reminds us that we need to be mindful of what we allow ourselves to think about.

Remember, the key to transforming our lives is changing the way we think:

Romans 12:2
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Changing our thinking is key to changing our behavior.

This is the reason that I am concerned about the person who shares only political posts on Facebook or the person who only talks about sports. This reveals that their thinking is dominated by “the behavior and customs of this world.”

One of the key disciplines that God’s people have practiced over the years is the discipline of meditation. In earlier times meditation was crucial because they did not have access to their own copy of Scripture. They had to rely on what was said during their times together, and then remember what was said.

In this way they were able to memorize God’s word and bury its wisdom in their hearts.

Because of our easy access to the Bible the practice of meditation has fallen by the wayside. We are content to get our daily Bible reading in so we can move on to the next thing on our agendas. In the process we are not really thinking about what we read and how it applies to our lives.

I have found it helpful to do a longer reading of Scripture (I have been reading the the New Testament in 90 days, which is about 3 chapters a day) and then a shorter reading, which is just a few verses. With the shorter passage I can take time to think about it, ask questions about it, and even pray it. That way it has a chance to become a part of  the way I think.

I challenge you these next few days to pay attention to what you are thinking about. 

Are your thoughts godly and loving? Are they based behaviors and customs of the world? How can you be more intentional in directing your thoughts to things that are good, noble, and pure (Philippians 4:8)?

Understanding persuasion can help us be better persuaders and it helps us to identify things that are working on us.

Be mindful of what you let persuade you.

 

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Spirit and God’s Image


The opening chapter of the Bible tells us a very important truth about humanity.
Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

To be created in God’s image means that we are designed to demonstrate His create in this world, to rule with His love, grace, and wisdom (here is the Bible Project video on the Image of God). 

How are we able to do that?

To correctly bear God’s image in this world requires that we are connected to Him. We need God’s wisdom, love, and grace coming into our lives so it can influence the choices we make and the things that we do. 

This is why God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. That was essential for Adam and Eve to live out God’s image in their lives.

The problem is that sin severs that connection we have with God. 

Through our sin we declare that we have the ability to define what is good and bad, what is right and wrong, and in the process we turn our back on God.

This is why we need to be rescued.

God needs to pursue us and make a way for reconciliation, a way for our connection to Him to be restored. All the different covenants we read about in the Bible remind us that God is making it possible for us to be reconciled to Him.

Jesus opened up the way for us to be reconciled to God. Through him we are able to once again experience the life God created us to live.

John 15:5 (NLT)
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus is not saying we can do nothing useful apart from him. We constantly see people who are not followers of Jesus do things that are useful, loving, and gracious. What Jesus is saying is that we can’t fulfill our work for the Kingdom apart from him. 

In order to bear God’s image we have to be connected to Him, like a branch is connected to the vine, so we can receive His life. 

What is the life that we need from God?

His Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Look at the description of the fruit the Spirit produces in our lives. To live guided by the Spirit means that we are empowered to bear God’s image in the world.

This is one of the main themes of Scripture, to restore humanity to this place. That can only happen by repenting of sin, trusting Jesus, and being guided by the Spirit.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Being a Persuader


Part of my job is to persuade people.

That is what I seek to do when I preach or when I teach (yes, there is a difference, but that is for another post). I want to convince people that there is a change the need to make in their lives.

This is not an easy task. 

If I had to base it on percentages, I would guess more often than not I fail to persuade people the way that I should. Yes, they may leave agreeing with what I said, but they won’t be led to make in changes in their lives.

At the end of August Michael Malice tweeted this:



I have pondered this thought off and on since then.

Here are a few of the thoughts I have had about persuasion.

First, persuasion happens when a person is ready to make a change. That is what happened to me when I shifted away from a standard Rush Limbaugh conservative Republican worldview to a libertarian/Christian anarchist worldview. It was 2008 and I noticed more and more inconsistencies with what the Republicans were doing and the limited government beliefs I was told Republicans had. I remember a phone conversation I had with my brother when I told him about my frustration and he said, “Check out this guy named Ron Paul.” I did and the rest is history.

That change happened because I was ready to make a change.

Second, persuasion is easier when there is a trusted relationship. All my brother had to say was, “Check out Ron Paul,” and because of our relationship I did it. This means a good relationship is an important part of being able to persuade another person. When you trust the other person you are more likely to listen to what they have to say.

Persuaders need to do what they can to build relationships with people.

Third, there needs to be a level of expertise involved. It is hard to persuade people when a quick Google search reveals the holes in an argument. Two people who have influenced me intellectually have been Tom Woods and N. T. Wright. Part of the reason is I accepted their arguments is because of a level expertise they bring to their work. That helps me trust what they have to say

Persuaders need to demonstrate that they have a good understanding of the subject they are talking about.

Fourth, persuasion is a journey. More than likely, the beliefs you hold didn’t magically develop overnight. Rather, the came into place over a period of time as different influences shaped those beliefs. We can’t expect people to take they same journey that we took in the course of a single conversation or a 30 minute sermon. We need to be willing to take people along one step at a time. In my early days of being a libertarian I was quite obnoxious, everything seemed so clear to me, and I thought if I could just be loud enough people would see it too. Big mistake.

Persuasion takes time as we walk people through the process of changing their mind.

Fifth, persuasion takes integrity. When we see that the person lives what they believe, it helps us to listen to them. In college, my Christian Ethics professor’s wife had Alzheimer’s Disease. He brought her to class  each day. The way he treated her made an impression on the group of friends I was a part of and we all talked about having that level of love for our wives someday. He influenced us because he lived the Christian life that he taught.

Persuaders need to have integrity. Nothing causes a person to loose influence faster than discovering that he/she doesn’t live what they teach.

If you want to persuade people to make a change in their lives, take some time to think about that process. Persuading is not as easy as it sounds, but it is worth the effort to figure out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Sermon: The Battle Begins

 This is the sermon I preached on October 24, 2020 at Bethlehem Church. It is sermon 8 as we go through The Story.

The Discipleship Road: Providence

 I am preaching a sermon series called The Discipleship Road  at Bethlehem Church. The series is loosely based on Eugene Peterson’s book A L...