Thursday, August 23, 2012

What Brotherly Love Looks Like

This is a challenge based on our lesson from last week:

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, honor one another above yourselves.” 

Below I’ve pasted a section of Acts 20, and I want you to read it and see how much you can discover about Paul and his relationship with the Ephesus church of God… and then ask yourself:
  • “Am I behaving like Paul toward my brothers and sisters”? 
  • “Am I behaving as Paul told their shepherds to behave”? 

These questions are very important, because this text shows us exactly what it looks like to be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  This is an accountability check.

Let me set the stage for you.  This is Paul talking to the shepherds of the church.  He didn’t start this church, but he built it up and now he's going away, and he knows that he will never see them again.  This is Paul’s good-bye, but also his encouragement to carry on without him.  Examine this closely and see what Paul did (and didn’t do) and how his relationship with them is revealed in this section:

“And now, behold, I know that all of you (among whom I went about preaching the kingdom) will no longer see my face.
 Therefore, I testify to you this day that I’m innocent of the blood of all men.
For I didn’t shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock,
(Among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore:
Be on the alert,
Remembering that night and day for a period of 3 years I didn’t cease to admonish each one with tears.
 And now I commend you to God(And to the word of His grace, which is able to build up and to give the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.) I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my needs and to the men who were with me. In everything
I showed you
That by working hard - in this manner
You must help the weak& remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said,
‘It’s more blessed to give than to receive.’
 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again.

I hope you can see here how much they loved each other, and how that came to be.  Paul worked hard – incessantly, night and day for three years to “admonish” them with tears.  He preached the kingdom.  He declared to them the whole purpose of God.  And all of this he did without coveting their material goods.  And then he sums it all up by saying that the whole of his work was summed up in this one statement from our Lord: “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” 

That is what it looks like to “be devoted to your brothers in love,” and “Honor them above yourselves.” 

So … are you doing that this week?  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Exhilaration of Confession

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.  James 5:16

I've taught about confession a lot, and I’ll try to post more lessons here about it soon.  Our ability to “confess our sins to one another” is one of the great gifts God has given us, but it’s also one of the most frightening. 

Confession is how we can lighten our load, and allow our brothers and sisters an opportunity to help us bear our burdens.  It is – always – a prerequisite to God’s forgiveness.  When we confess, we no longer have to live in fear that we will be exposed.  This is the idea behind “walking in the light” as found in several scriptures. 
This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn’t come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3.19-21

Walking in the light (living a life that is constantly confessing) is what some call being “transparent.”  It’s a beautiful amazing thing, because then we have no temptation to lie or cover up, we have no burdens to bear, we get to be clean and free from guilt, and we are no longer subject to the devil’s blackmail that coerces us to get worse and worse.  (Isn’t much of politics these days just a challenge to expose the other guy’s secrets?)  

But confessing (or walking in the light) also has a ‘dark’ side, because when we walk in the light, our deeds are exposed.  Now they see that we have some pretty disgusting things in our lives.  If we confess to some of these things, people may stay away from us, they may not like us, will not trust us, and will likely not listen to us.  Even among the best disciples, there will be an almost overwhelming desire to gossip about our issues.  And when we have a quarrel, they may bring up our sins and slap us in the face with them.  And so … most people rarely confess their dark stuff.

This frightening side of confession is what keeps us from doing it, even though the rewards are so gigantic.  This is a time when our faith gets tested – do we trust God enough to confess to one another as He commands, or will we allow our fears to blind us and quench our faith? 

This is why I call it “exhilarating.”  Confession is like the spiritual equivalent of an extreme sport.  It’s like skydiving or big wave surfing.  There’s a very great reward waiting for us if we succeed, but it comes with a huge risk. 

But there’s a difference: God has promised our success!  I cannot expect to survive if I tried to surf a giant wave, but God can be trusted 100% of the time! 

I have, very recently experienced this thrill.  I always try to walk in the light, but there are some things I tell myself I can just “fix,” and then I won’t have to confess them.  If we don’t confess our sins, we are hiding behind a lie, and in my case – that’s what was happening.  But fear of what someone may think, or how others may react – forces us to clam up.  I hereby testify that God is always faithful – ALWAYS.  He can be trusted all the way for everything.  And if He could not … then who would trust Him for eternity?  Might as well eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die (or as the world says, ‘carpe diem’). 

I’m high from a rush of confession.  I’m walking around in the light and free.  My burden is lighter … my steps are quicker … my zeal is given an outlet … and why?  Because God put my burdens on the back of Jesus, and He is faithful always to do so when I confess. 

Will you join me in the light?  It’s scary for sure … but man, is it awesome.  Come on, you chickens … no guts no glory - or rather: without faith it’s impossible to please God.
If we say that we have no sin, we’re deceiving ourselves and the truth isn’t in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make Him a liar and His word isn’t in us.  1 John 1.8-10

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Like a Rock

Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.  1 Corinthians 15:58

This is one of those verses religious folks love to teach, preach and explain … but we do not like holding each other accountable for it.  Let’s be different.  Let’s make this command of God via Paul real in our lives.  I’ll give you a quick (for me) explanation of this verse, and then you should do a three column study of it – and do it with someone.  You will need accountability for this, because our failures in this area are self-deceiving. 

 “Steadfast” in this case is like our word “dug-in.”  Think of a US Marine who has dug his foxhole for the night, and now he’s locked-in and stationary.  “Immovable” is what the same Marine is the next morning when the bad guys attack his position.  A determined, dug-in Marine is tougher to move than Mount Rushmore.  Then one more thing you should notice about this verse – twice Paul mentions ‘the Lord's work.’  We are supposed to be “always abounding” in His work.  Always?  No breaks, no vacations, no rest?  Abounding?  Is that abundant work?  LOTS of work?  Piles of work?  And in the second mention of work, we see the payoff: this work is not in vain.  It’s not for nothing.  Work in an office is for nothing but physical stuff.  Housework produces temporary benefits.  Doing the Lord’s work produces eternal rewards, treasures in heaven, mansions in glory.  (And by the way, when the proceeds of our office job and housework support the Lord's goals - even that can be the Lord's work) 

What is the Lord’s work?  You can deduce the answer by looking down a few verses in 16:10. It’s what we all do – when that’s what we’re doing.  In the verse above, Paul commands ‘regular’ disciples to always abound in the work, and then in this verse he shows that it’s what Tim & Paul do full-time.  Their support – financial and otherwise – in Paul and Tim’s work is also the Lord’s work, as we know from other places. 

So now – right now – find a partner or two, and take a half hour and three-column this passage.  It won’t take more than a half-hour, and you can even do it over the phone, including time asking for God to help you in prayer.  But do it.  And don’t take this command any more lightly than commands to be faithful sexually or free from drugs.  This is a command … make no mistake.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Count the Cost Attitude

"'Beach volleyball is not going to be my career anymore,’ May-Traenor told reporters shortly after the match.  ‘It's time for me to be a wife. I want to be a mom. I want to share this time with my family.  All of us athletes sacrifice more of the family than people maybe realize. It's getting back to that.’”

These southern California girls are amazing.  I've watched them play in person and followed their careers loosely for a long time – even before they were partners, when Misty partnered with Holly McPeak (another OC girl).  My fascination with them started when Anne and I happened to catch a few tourneys at Manhattan Beach, and have seen some pretty amazing athletes there.  But my interest grew because these girls have some special gifts:

  • Natural ability

  • Work Ethic

  • Sacrifice

  • Attitude

  • Fun
I once watched a video about their training.  Their skills, strength, endurance and flexibility are amazing naturally, but they combine it with astonishing hard work and sacrifice.  Sacrificing family time is mentioned by Misty above, but seeing how hard she works when she’s sacrificing that time makes it almost incomprehensible.  And if you just watched that, you’d come to the conclusion that it’s just unattainable by anyone but them.

But then there’s Kerri.  She was a good volleyball player in college, but that’s indoor, on a team with coaches, etc.  She had NO experience on the beach at all.  So her game grew from nothing but natural ability to arguably the best in the world in very short amount of time.  How?

It all comes down to attitude and fun.  Most people look at their sacrifices and hard work and it seems just too hard, too much, and not pleasant.  Most people would complain and gripe and whine.  But Misty yells at her trainer to make it harder!  Why?  Because they enjoy the sacrifice!  They find the work fun!  They have an attitude that makes them different from all other gifted athletes, and it’s that they LOVE their work.

Paul had the attitude:
“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I‘ve suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him … that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:8-11)
Do you see it?  Paul saw the “surpassing value” of knowing Christ & his power … he wanted to be partners with Jesus in suffering!   That’s not a sickness Paul had, it’s an attitude.  It’s all about attitude.

Now read these words of our Lord, from Luke 14, and read them very carefully:
Large crowds were going along with him; and he turned and said to them,
“If anyone comes to me, and doesn't hate his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and even his own life, he can’t [is unable to] be my disciple.

Whoever doesn't carry his own cross and come after me can’t [is unable to] be my disciple.  

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and isn’t able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him….

So then, none of you can [is able to] be my disciple who doesn't give up all....  

Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned?
It is useless … it’s thrown out.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus says this to the “Large crowds” who are going along with him.  Luke didn’t say “following” him – and there’s the clue.  These people were curious and interested in Jesus and what he could do – especially for them.  Jesus’ harsh teaching finishes with the warning: “He who has ears to hear….”  That’s because Jesus knows what his lesson will do: it’ll separate those who have the attitude from those who don’t.

Some people see the value of being Jesus’ disciple, we don’t want to be “useless,” but rather we WANT to know Christ and His power!  But others count the cost of the work, sacrifice and effort … and simply refuse.  They will say they “can’t,” but the truth is - they won’t (will not).  Again, look at Jesus’ words and see that Jesus says “does not” hate father, etc. and “does not” carry his own cross.  That’s something we can DO – all of us.  But when we refuse to do what he has asked us … then we don’t get the ability that comes from it.  (re-read that last sentence)

In the bible, the word for attitude is almost always “heart.”  Nobody enjoys doing all the things God asks of us – nobody.  Jesus didn’t enjoy His cross, Misty didn’t enjoy her training, Paul didn’t enjoy beatings, and we won’t enjoy everything, either.  But we can have fun, peace, and revel in what we can do.  We can take up our cross like Jesus “for the joy before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12.2).

Count the cost, establish your own attitude, and then learn to live with it.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Matthew 7:13-14
Choose life – choose the “hard” way - and let's find that narrow gate!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Getting It

Here’s an excerpt from an article and interview with Ryan Lochte (the Olympic swimmer):

Just one of the jewel-encrusted items that often adorn his teeth is reportedly worth $25,000.

"I am taking this seriously, but there's so much more to life than just swimming," he said. "That's what I want to have people know: You know what, I'm having fun doing this."

Still, free time for the 28-year-old -- who has been called one of the Olympics' most eligible bachelors -- has been severely limited over the past decade.

When asked "who gets more women," he or rival and fellow American swimmer Michael Phelps.

Consider the way the champion is different than those who interview champions, or those who buy and read interviews.  The public apparently wants to know about his grill, his bling, his dating habits, his financial rewards, and how he does all the stuff that appeals to the typical person.  But the typical person doesn’t get in to the Olympics.  the typical person doesn’t even come close.

Christians are asked also about their sex lives, their dating habits, and all sorts of stupid things.  We love to debate whether or not it’s okay to keep some of our money, or do we HAVE to give 10%, and if so – is it of our gross or net income.  We deal with a barrage of issues that almost all revolve around rules - what we are not allowed to do, and what we get for it.


Like the interviewer in the article and the public who have their typical shallow thoughts, many people just don’t “get it.”  Or as Isaiah and Jesus would say, “Having ears, they cannot hear; having eyes, they’re yet blind.”

Being a disciple means that we actually believe (have faith that) it’s more blessed to give than to receive – and the results are obvious!  I’ve heard from some fellow disciples lately who are frustrated they cannot give more: money, time, assets, more of themselves, and just more, more, more.  The cool thing about being a disciple is discovering that the more you give, the more blessed you really are.  And as we grow like that, we discover that God really does give more to the one who already has.  Did you notice that it’s only those who gave the most that got to see Jesus transfigured?  Only those fully-committed saw Jesus walk on water, or calm the storm.

The world wants to debate whether it’s possible to calm the storm or walk on water, and Jesus fans think it’s neat that he supposedly could do stuff like that … but true disciples ask Jesus if they can get out of the boat and walk with him!
“Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.”  For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he’ll have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.  Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Matthew 25:28-30

 For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.  The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows (How?  He doesn't know.  The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.)  But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.  Mark 4:25-29

 To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.  For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.  Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  Matthew 13:11-13

Thursday, August 2, 2012

One Thing

A local Christian wrote this today in her blog:
The amazing athletes may falter and fail entirely…. Even if an athlete momentarily reaches perfection, at the end of the day it’s temporary. This thought struck me as I evaluated my current situation and day-to-day life. How often am I working, struggling, and striving for perfection in my work, home, bank account, happiness, health, etc…the list is endless!”
She goes on to suggest that the solution to our problem of dealing with so many things is to accept our imperfections and be happy, anyway - the usual stuff about passive living.

But: we know her frustration.  Trying to be “perfect,” (or at least good) in so many areas of one’s life will drive us crazy.  This is the Martha lifestyle:
A woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her home.  She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to his word.  But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up and said,
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Tell her to help me.”

But the Lord answered and said to her,
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

      Luke 10:38-42

Many of us try to adapt to the “Martha” lifestyle.  We are having the Lord in our home, so we must have everything perfect!  And then our Lord says, “Only one thing is necessary.”  And as it turns out, Jesus is more pleased with the woman doing nothing but concentrating on his word than he is with the busy bee in the kitchen and her fancy preparations.
(Aside: Can you imagine how Martha must have felt?  She must have felt devastated that everything she thought she was doing so well, wasn’t even what he wanted!!  Remember that the next time you’re busy doing something ‘nice’ or ‘good,’ and seeking approval)

Olympians know this.  That’s why they only do ONE sport.  Swimmers and runners may do several events, but each person does only one sport.  And, as the commercials show … many of them have missed out on family functions, dates, hamburgers, sitting around watching TV, and all of that … so they could be nearly perfect in ONE thing: their sport.

And if you look back at Luke’s words above … you’ll see that he described Martha as “distracted” with her preparations.  From Martha’s point of view, Mary was the one negligent and distracted – but from God’s point of view, it was Martha!

We run the race to win, but must stay focused on our event: teach, heal and reproduce.  Sure, we have to do all the other stuff of life, but we can minimize that by being completely focused on serving God.  We can also share tips with each other on living a simpler life.  The less stuff we have, the fewer entanglements (friends/family/relationships), the better we can focus.  Paul wrote:

No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.  2 Timothy 2:4

This is why Christians are unfruitful (Mark 4.19), it’s why they are stressed (Matthew 6:31-34), and it’s why they will miss the great banquet (Luke 14.18-20).  It’s why God advises us to abandon family, friends, money, marriage, and even our own selves.  We just cannot serve two masters (yet many of us try to serve more than two!).

I’ll end with this by putting two passages for you to read.  But first, walk away with this … burn it in your brain, and make it true of your everyday life: “ONLY ONE THING IS NECESSARY.”
None of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
Luke 14:33

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

Drop your load, and pick up Jesus’ yoke.

Sell your pearls and buy only ONE of great price.

Sell your soul to God.

Seek first the kingdom.

God alone is sufficient for all

Psalm 23

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Everyone Who Competes in the Games

I do all things for the sake of the gospel,
So that I may become a fellow partaker of it
Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?
Run in such a way that you may win.
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.
They “just do it” to receive a simple prize, but we serve others to receive a reward of eternal glory, where we will reign with Jesus forever.

Therefore I train hard, and run with purpose
I box – not for nothing, but to win.
I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself won’t be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9.23-27 (KPV)

The Olympics give us disciples a lesson on commitment and excellence.  It is not something anyone can learn from a typical church.  There, people are expected merely to attend and be basically ‘good’ people.  But to learn how to be a true disciple of Jesus, these days look to athletics.

I’m going to try to make a few posts here during the games … hoping you’ll understand the true meaning of discipleship as seen through the “parable” of the Olympics.

Let’s start by thinking of the rewards.  Paul observed that in his day the Olympic champions got a wreath that would dry-up, but we work for a permanent reward in heaven.  Our reward cannot be taken away, it will not decay or rot or fall apart or rust – it’s the one true reward.

Spend some time today thinking, praying and studying about Heaven.  And when you’ve imagined the greatest place you can … then believe it’s even better than that!  And remember this line from Amazing Grace:
“When we’ve been there 10,000 years … we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”