Talk, talk, talk, #talk

16 04 2014

Do you ever feel like everyone has something to say but no one is really listening? We can have a hard time listening especially if we are talking to someone with a different point of view. I am guilty of formulating my response and just waiting for them to catch their breath so I can start talking instead of really listening and trying to understand them. Of course social media does not help. Just as you are scrolling down the news feed or tweets you get the little icon that tells you there are new stories and new tweets.

We keep talking but are we slowing down to listen? This weekend we will celebrate Easter. This is the central story of the Christian message. There will be lots of tweets and posts. There will be stories on the news and shows that will put their spin on the story of Jesus. Some of us will go to church and participate in special worship services. We will eat lots of chocolate (hopefully) and then Monday will come and we will be back to our normal routine. In all the busyness what will we hear?

In Matthew 13:15 Jesus quotes the Prophet Isaiah right before he explains a parable he told in verses 3-9. He says, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (NIV)

Easter is the most incredible event in human history. We believe God came and walked with us. In order to have a right relationship with us, God took our punishment upon himself. He died for us demonstrating how much he loved us. He rose from the dead demonstrating his power over sin and death. He did all the work and asks for us to put our faith in him.

It is a simple but profound message.

My prayer is that we will take time to truly listen to the story of Easter. We may have to be honest about areas of our heart that have become calloused. Do we have areas of our lives where we have stopped listening to God? Have we closed our eyes to things that we need to look at? As we soften our hearts, open our ears and eyes we will receive the healing that comes from the power of who Jesus is and what he did.

If you need a starting point read the parable Jesus shares in Matthew 13:3-9. He explains it in verses 18-23. Pray and ask God to reveal the condition of your heart. I have a chapter dedicated to this in the Discipleship Curriculum I have on my Discipleship/Mentoring page.

This devotional is as much for me as it is for you. We all need to be mindful and slow down to listen. I hope you have a great Easter and we are refreshed and healed as we listen. He is Risen!





#GodsNotDead

29 03 2014

Yes I have joined the world of Twitter. You can follow me at @DevosByChaps.

This last weekend I had the opportunity to watch the new movie “God’s not dead.” It was a great movie. It captured the reality that belief in God is not an intellectual debate but a personal one. I wanted to offer my thoughts on why people reject God and how to respond.

Pain and suffering. Many have begged God to cure a family member or friend from cancer or have asked for God to intervene in a horrific situation only to experience silence. They may have experienced abuse and begged God for protection only to face more abuse. Tragically some have been hurt by those claiming to be Jesus’ followers.

I don’t think there is an easy answer because they did not face an easy situation. Grace, love and prayer are the best things we can offer. We also need strong healthy churches. A healthy church creates a safe place for people who are hurting and in the middle of pain. When done well, the church offers real hope and true peace to those who suffer from the harsh realities of this world.

Avoidance of accountability. Let’s be honest, there are some things we do that we know deep down are wrong. We either justify it or remove the standard that says it is wrong. If there is no higher law ordained and established by God we can live how we want. We end up living by collective relativism. In other words, we agree as a group what is right and wrong which can and will shift depending on what we think or more often feel in the moment. God forces us to be accountable ultimately to him but also to each other.

To respond I would offer the church has to be a standard bearer of what it means to live a life of submission and obedience. That does not mean we are perfect. It does mean we role model a life of honor and integrity that is transparent. We seek forgiveness when we mess up. We also influence those around us to a higher good. We can’t live by legalism and the world has seen plenty of hypocrisy. This is a hard challenge that can really only be done if we seek to follow Jesus and submit to his leading in our life…wait! That is what we are suppose to do. I love it when a plan comes together.

Experience. We also have to be honest that you don’t need God to live a good life or even make a great impact on the world. Many people experience life apart from God and are happy and content. Then, they hear talking points explaining why God is an antiquated idea and it matches with their experiences. Therefore, those talking points become theirs.

Jesus does not promise an easy life or even a good life. He does offer a meaningful life filled with purpose. He helps us focus beyond the here and now and enables us to have broader perspective. Once again I find myself calling for churches to be healthy places that send out healthy Christians into the world. Our lives and our experiences can present an alternative to their talking points. It can create a space where faith is a possibility. Combined with prayer and an understanding that ultimately it is between God and that person, I believe we can offer a compelling case.

Here is the great part. Our faith has incredible depth. I am thankful for people like Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller who do a phenomenal job of explaining why we can have confidence in our faith. I am also thankful for a movie like “God’s not Dead” that demonstrates we do not need to shrink back from a debate about our faith. We just have to recognize that at the end of the day it is a personal relationship. If all it took to win someone to Jesus Christ was a really good argument it would have been done a long time ago.

So what can you do? Step back and pray about the people in your life who have rejected Christianity. Let God lead and guide you. Trust me God cares about having a relationship with that person way more than you do. If there is an opportunity to have a thoughtful conversation don’t seek to win the argument instead seek to understand the person. If there are questions, know that there are great resources out there. Look at those resources together. Second, be authentic. If you struggle with something admit that you struggle with it. Role model being genuine. Next, pray, pray and pray some more. It will remind you only God changes hearts. Finally, make sure your church is a healthy place for people to come. We need healthy faith communities where we can encourage one another and be a beacon to the world.

It is amazing that God invites us to be his ambassadors to the world. He desires to work through you and me to touch lives and make an impact. It is a great privilege. Oh and in case you were wondering…God is definitely not dead, he is ALIVE!





Agents of Grace

28 02 2014

Have you ever read something and did a double take. You reread it just to make sure it said what you think it said. That happened to me as I was reading Exodus. In Exodus 24:9-11 we are told about Moses, Aaron and his sons along with the seventy elders going up to see God. Verse 11 is what made me pause, “But God did not raise his hand against these leaders…”

The reason I did a double take is God was the one who invited them up. Why would he raise his hand against them? Here are my thoughts.

At the end of the day God is holy. He also has the true “big picture.” As he saw these men walking up, he would have known that Aaron would soon fail as a leader and make an idol for the Israelites to worship (Exodus 32). Aaron’s sons would choose to disregard the requirements laid out by God for proper worship and would put God in the position of maintaining the holiness of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 10). You could add to this the number of times the Israelites would complain and talk about how good life was when they were slaves. The seventy elders never seemed to help lead the people in a better direction. Instead they just went along with the crowd.

Have you ever had a meeting with someone you know is bad? Have you ever gone to a function where a person who makes really poor choices is placed at the same table as you? Thanks to the power of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other internet tools we can “raise our hand against them.” We can fire off that perfect poke in the eye. We can bash them and get “likes.” We can even text while we talk with them making sure people know what an idiot they are.

I am thankful God takes a different approach. God extends grace. At the core we see God’s desire to have a relationship with us. His desire will result in inviting guys like Aaron to eat with him. It also meant Jesus would get the reputation of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19).

Technology is allowing us to set our own borders. We can isolate ourselves with “friends” who are just like us. When we argue, we seem to be crueler and sharper in our attacks with those not in our circle. In an ocean of words we feel the only way we can be heard is if we get creatively ugly.

The world is in desperate need of the unique grace offered by God. I say unique because in our own circles we tend to be really good about sending encouraging and uplifting messages. There is never a shortage of inspirational stories or pictures on my Facebook news feed. What if we extended grace outside our circles? What if we did something kind for a person we despise? What if we took Jesus seriously and loved our enemies?

God never condones sin. There are plenty of examples where God steps in and demonstrates justice and holiness. God also extends grace. God does it perfectly. The rest of us do it a little less than perfectly. There will be times when we need to take a stand because something is immoral or harmful. I would offer there are plenty of times we can follow God’s example and extend grace.

Grace changes the world. Grace tears down walls, restores relationships and offers hope. Ultimately it was God’s grace that opened the door for our salvation.

Will it be hard? Yes. Will we be misunderstood? Likely. We will always get it right? If you are like me, no. However, if we focus on grace and extend it to others then I think we can have the opportunity to truly impact our world.

There is also a blessing that comes back to us. I wanted to write about grace. God is awesome in bringing things together. Where I ended up is different from my initial thoughts. I wanted to remind us that we live by grace. God tweaked my message to focus on offering grace outside our circle of friends. However, I believe as we offer grace the byproduct will be a reminder of the grace given to us. God loves you and me not because of what we do. As we meet with God, he knows how we will blow it next week. However, he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t raise his hand against us. Instead, he extends grace and offers us a seat.

Our challenge for this upcoming week is to be an agent of grace. Some of you need to accept God’s grace. All of us need to be intentional about looking beyond our circle of friends and finding a way to show grace. I am going to trust God on this one. Say a prayer and ask God who you need to give grace to.
Warning: God is most likely going to bring up the one person you absolutely do not want to give any grace to. He does that to grow you. Trust me it will be worth it.

What will it look like? It may be going out to lunch with someone you normally would not eat with. It may be saying an encouraging word to someone you normally ignore. It may be asking forgiveness for your part in why a relationship has soured. It will be critical that there be no strings attached. You are simply following Jesus.

My prayer is we will be agents of grace in the weeks to come. It will give God an opportunity to work through us bring hope, peace and reconciliation. If you are like me you are very thankful and humbled by God’s grace. Those we give grace to will hopefully be grateful but no matter what you will have given them a snapshot of God’s heart.

PS. Yes God has prompted me on who I need to extend grace to. I am praying about how to do it well.





Life on Purpose

26 01 2014

Have you ever come to the end of a week and you ask yourself “what did I accomplish?” I usually say this after a week that may have been busy but not productive.

One bad week is not the end of the world but what if after a month, a year or even a decade you felt you were busy but not effective.

If this happened in our professional life, we may be in danger of losing our job. If it is in the pursuit of our education, we would have lots of classes but no degrees. We see the need to have a plan and be focused so we can feel productive and accomplished.

What about our faith? It is easy to take this area of our life for granted. Often when someone mentions reading their bible they use the “whatever passage I open my Bible to” approach. While there is nothing wrong with that, it can result in our faith becoming stagnate. When it comes to church we either say yes to everything because we feel we have to or we don’t do anything because we have no passion or focus.

When I talk about having a plan and being focused, I am not talking about something you generate. There is a classic joke “if you ever want to make God laugh tell him your plans.” So what am I talking about? I am saying we should be like Jesus.

Please read Matthew 16:21-28. In this passage Jesus talked openly about the plan he was on earth to accomplish. Peter pulled him aside to correct him and Jesus told him “you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (verse 23 NIV). Jesus went on to say it would be pointless if you gained the whole world but lost your soul. He said this with a warning if you choose to follow him you need to be willing to face hardships.

Jesus lived a life of purpose and focus. He had confidence and trust in his Father. He invites us to do the same. The only way we can do this is if we are intentional. Life can be busy and it can also be distracting. The result is our faith being set aside while we continue to be busy. In the end we feel frustrated because we have a feeling we are missing out on something better.

You and I have the incredible opportunity to make a difference in this world. We can only truly be effective if we are being faithful to what God has called us to do. This means that from time to time we need to pause and look at what we are doing. It is easy to get distracted and get lost in the business of life.

I encourage you to take some time this week to look at your personal time with God. Are you letting God lead and guide you? Does your prayer time include time to listen for God’s direction? Do you have a solid knowledge of the Bible? If you go to church are you serving? If you are serving why are you serving? Is it just because you feel guilty or is it because you are serving God with the gifts he has given you.

The result will be that you may need to adjust some of your day to day activity. You may need to be more intentional about how you read your Bible and what you do in the community. It will be worth it as you begin to see God at work and get the huge privilege of being a part of it. So let’s commit to living life on purpose.





Fighting Indifference

7 01 2014

We have arrived at the highest level of human achievement. Last week we ate in a sports restaurant. It had large screen televisions everywhere but that is not what made this place special. My son came out of the restroom with a look of awe on his face. Yes, there were TVs in the restroom so you didn’t miss a moment of the game. What else could we ask for?

We have to acknowledge the excess we have in our country. Many in the world would have been in awe of the plumbing and stable electricity. Some would be amazed at the TV. Some would just have been happy to not being afraid. Even in our own country some would have been excited at having a full plate of food.

By now you should be feeling guilty. However, I have found operating by guilt is not sustainable and more importantly it is not a healthy way to live.

What we need to do is fight against an attitude of indifference that easily slips in. It is not because we don’t care but because we often don’t experience hardships faced by others. The lack of experience can cause us to go on with our daily lives without pausing to consider the needs of others. This is compounded by our ability to get lost in our “cool stuff” even to the point where a guy wants to go to the bathroom. We end up being more worried if we are connected to Wi-Fi than we are about the poor.

James tells us “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, NIV)

Does this mean I can’t go to a sports restaurant with TVs in the bathroom? No but it does mean that I need to be intentional and not become indifferent to the needs around me.

The Church is the best place to help you fight indifference. Just to brag a little about our church, we encourage people to have bags in their cars with basic essential items to give to homeless people and we go as a group on a regular basis to feed the homeless. We also have a team that will be going on a short term mission trip to Ethiopia and one of the things they will be addressing is Human Trafficking. Our church is not unique. There are lots of good healthy churches that seek to engage the community and invite you and me to participate.

On our own we tend to slip into indifference. Be honest. When was the last time you helped a person in need? When was the last time you gave to a charity? When was the last time you volunteered? Having just finished the Christmas season, we had more opportunities than normal to give and help those in need. As we settle into the regular routine, we won’t have as many opportunities handed to us and the chance of becoming indifferent will increase.

So let’s commit to fighting indifference. If you are not plugged into a healthy church find one and seek to serve in an area that helps the community. If you are plugged into a healthy church it is time to get involved. For those who don’t go to church, I encourage you to be intentional about volunteering and giving to an organization that helps make the community stronger.

The price for indifference is that we will have a really cool place to go the bathroom but we will miss the opportunity to make a difference and live a life that counts.





A quick check up

25 10 2013

The Navy loves metrics. We love to be able to quantify data and it is even better if we can put it on a fancy PowerPoint slide. Of course, there is value in getting a clear picture of how we are doing.

When it comes to spiritual maturity, it gets a little more difficult. I don’t think any of us want to go to church and have a PowerPoint slide quantifying our spiritual growth. Our picture would be in one corner and a couple of graphs would fill the rest of the slide. “Well it looks like Paul wasn’t as effective this week. He only took 7 of 15 opportunities to show the love of Jesus.”

Our dilemma is there is value in looking at our spiritual maturity from time to time. It can also be very helpful for new Christians to have some tangible goals and ways to measure if they are on the right track.

I had the opportunity to attend a Bible Study that looked at 2 Peter 1. In the passage is an incredible list that I think really captures spiritual maturity in a very fundamental way. I offer it as a way for you to do a quick check up and see how you are doing.

Here is the passage (2 Peter 1:5-7)
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (NIV)

If you took the seven items on this list and used them as a measuring stick with the first item, goodness, being the lowest level of spiritual maturity and the last item, love, being the highest level of spiritual maturity I think you will get a good snap shot of how you are doing. This isn’t the whole story and please don’t use this on others. Simply ask yourself where you are at.

Here is our scale:
1. Goodness. One of the best things we can tell a new believer to do is to do good things and stop doing bad. In Luke chapter three when people who repented asked John the Baptist what should they do, he gave them simple tasks. He told people to share and tax collectors to stop taking extra money and soldiers to stop extorting people. These were simple basic acts. We also see this in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19). The first thing he did when he understood what Jesus had given him was to pay back those he had wronged and give to help others. It is a great starting point and the first step on this chart.

2. Knowledge. The next thing we do as we mature is start reading our Bible and learning about our relationship with God. We also learn why we are doing the good things from step one.

3. Self-control. As we learn we become aware of areas we need to change and things we need to stop doing. This requires discipline and self-control. When we start having self-control, we start to see growth and maturity at a deeper level.

4. Perseverance. You know if you have self-control when you see you are having to persevere. Asking someone on a diet how they are doing day two verses asking them how they are doing after week two tells you if they were serious about the diet. At this point in our spiritual maturity the rubber is hitting the road. Our faith is deepening and we are finding ourselves focused on the long haul.

5. Godliness. The next step is to have a sense of devotion and loyalty to God. Our character is is being changed to be more in the likeness of Jesus. The things that are important to God are important to us.

6. Kindness. When it comes to things that are important to God, humanity is very high on the list. How we view other people and our desire to help those around us deepens to the point of being our very nature. We no longer ask “should I help this person?” Instead, we ask “how can help this person?”

7. Love. This is unconditional love. We love to throw around the word love. The best way to understand this love is to compare the love of someone who has been married for a year to someone who has been married for fifty years. Both truly love their spouse but trust me the one who has been married for fifty years has a much deeper understanding of what means to love unconditionally.

So how are you doing? Are you doing good things but have not progressed beyond that and really learned about your faith? Are the things of God important to you but when it comes to others you are not very kind?

This is not all encompassing or the only way to look at it. However, I do hope it helps you pause do a quick check up and challenges you to continue to grow and mature in your faith.





God’s restraint –He wanted us more

13 07 2013

My wife is on a diet.  (This is when good husbands insert the comment, “She already looks great and does not need to diet but I will be supportive.”)  One of the keys to success in dieting is self control.  I watch Andreya have self control as she eats her lunch while three…okay four hungry boys eat a much different lunch.

Self control is critical to being successful in life.  I also believe it is vital to grow as a healthy Christian.

There seems to be two primary ways to get self control.  One is by establishing habits.  The other (and the one I want to focus on) is when we want something more than whatever we need self control for.  For example, if you really want an “A” in a class you will not watch TV but instead study.  Andreya wants to be at a healthier weight more than she wants that piece of chocolate cake.  (Sorry honey for reminding you of chocolate.)

Many people will try to have self control but fail.  I believe they fail because they either don’t have good habits or they are more focused on what they are giving up rather than on what they want.  When I keep thinking about how I am not suppose to watch TV, all I want to do is watch TV.  However, when I focus on the fact I want that “A,” I am not thinking of TV but I am focused on my class.

What do I want more?  That simple question seems to be a powerful tool to help me develop self control.

Here is the amazing part.  God never asks us to do something that he has not done.  God wants us to have self control.  What about God?  Has God ever demonstrated self control?

Walk with me through the gospels.  Luke 4:9-12 gives us some insight into the power available to Jesus.  Satan tempts Jesus to jump and see if the angels will do their job and catch him before he hits the ground.  Jesus turns him down by quoting scripture.  Just a little while later in Luke 4:28-30 we see Jesus walk through a crowd of people who wanted to throw him off a cliff.  He walked right through because he had the power to do so.  John 18 is about the arrest of Jesus.  Verse 6 shows the soldiers falling back as he spoke. Later in the chapter, verse 22, we see Jesus getting slapped by one of the officials.

Pause with me right here.  It is safe to say every angel in heaven wanted to pounce on that official.    Imagine all of God’s army at the ready begging to step in and save Jesus.  (There is a similar picture in 2 Kings 6:17.)

Instead of releasing the angels to protect Jesus, God restrained them.

Jesus wanted us more.  He demonstrated self control in the face of humiliation, beatings and ultimately the cross.  It is very humbling.  It is also inspiring and amazing.

If you are like me you will struggle with self control in some area.  Sometimes we will get self control by building good habits.  Other times we may need to pause and ask ourselves what we want more.  In that moment remember what God wanted more.  If you are like me it will put things into perspective.  You will be grateful and it will be easy to pick what you want.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 565 other followers