All posts for the month January, 2011

Something happened, in the first church, that caused the crowds (the uninitiated, non-Christians), to come together. In Acts 2:6 it says, “And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.” What caught my attention is that they did not come together and celebrate or repent. The first response they had was confusion. Other translations use the word confounded or bewildered.

In the original language this word means to stir up the mind or to disturb the mind. It’s almost like what was happening was so outrageous or so unbelievable that it disturbed the minds of those in the gathering.

I recently heard someone ask why we can watch a 3 hour movie and be completely in tune with it and then we fall asleep in church? It made me laugh thinking about it. And then I thought, maybe instead of boring everyone to sleep, we should allow God to do what He wants and in doing so maybe people will stay awake. Whose fault is it that people are bored in church? What I see in the book of Acts is that church was exciting, engaging, controversial, and sometimes even scary.

The leaders were more facilitators of God’s presence than orchestrators. I don’t think leaders should get out of the way and let God do what He wants (something I often hear people say). Rather, leaders should be so in tune with God that it is fairly clear in their minds what God is going to do in any particular gathering.

Don’t settle for boring. Don’t manipulate for exciting either. Be more in touch with what God is planning and then walk in step with Him. That takes much more time in His presence. Be willing to feel “out of control”. Don’t worry about controversy and confusion, as long as it is clearly God. Help people understand what is going on and what God is up to. Don’t leave them in their confusion.

I was reminded this morning that sometimes greatness only comes through hardship and often both are part of God’s plan.

Think about Joseph. God gave him dreams of being great. He gave them to a young boy who did not know how to keep his mouth shut. God knew that Joseph would take those dreams, his brothers would become angry and then do something rash. All that led to Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt. But if Joseph had not been sold into slavery in Egypt he would have never had the opportunity for the dreams to come true.

Life is not about avoiding suffering, but about leveraging it. When you face overwhelming circumstances begin to ask God what is the purpose. Ask him to reveal his will in it. Don’t waste your pain. Let it build character in you and let it encourage others as they watch you go through it.

Yesterday I wrote how we are no better off than the worst of our society. Then today I read this: “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled (Luke 14:23). I was reminded, that not only am I to turn my back to my self-centered ways, but I’m also to help others find their way to God.

The one word that I don’t appreciate, but I cannot escape, is the word “compel.” That’s a strong word. My evangelistic methodology probably can be described better as “suggest” or “if you’re already interested.” The word compel gives us a picture of someone convincing someone else that there is another way and another place that they can find hope.

For many Christians the first step is to simply get out to where the people are, the highways and the hedges. But for me, in this season, I have so many friends that do not go to church. I’m already on the highway. I just need to be more intentional and bold.

What helps me in this is to understand what it is I’m compelling people towards. It’s not to come to my church, though that’s not a bad thing. It’s not to even believe what I believe. It’s to compel people to take a step towards God. Maybe it’s asking people good questions that get them thinking about their spirituality. Maybe it’s quoting something you recently read that was challenging or inspiring. It doesn’t have to be the gospel story every time. Just answer the question out loud, “what has God been showing me lately?”

In one easy stroke Jesus puts humanity in its place.

He said in Luke 13:4-5, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

For anyone who thinks they are better than someone else; for anyone who thinks they are good; for anyone who thinks they will escape judgment, Jesus comes along and says “all will perish.”

One of the great challenges of our day is the misplaced confidence we have in ourselves. We approach life with an arrogance and a disregard for what comes next after this life. So many choose to ignore this reality or believe this life is all there is. But there is more. And how we view our own mortality will affect how we spend eternity.

I’m no better than anyone. I make mistakes. I am selfish. And our society wants to tell those who are self-deprecating, “No, you’re not. Everybody makes mistakes. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” But the end result of this thinking is an acceptance of sin and a rejection of the consequences of wrong-doing.

Is anyone of us better than the man who shot and killed innocent people in Arizona? Am I better? Does my eternity some how look brighter than his? Jesus clearly says, “no, it doesn’t.” Unless we repent, which simply means to turn back from the self-centered direction you are going and to rely upon God who is waiting for us to turn to Him, we are no better off than even the most crazed lunatic of our day.

So, when you are confronted with tragedy and with evil, what is your response? Do you too quickly judge and bring condemnation upon others or is your first response something like this: “I am no better off, but by the grace of God.” Will you choose today, with me, to turn back to God and turn your back on your selfish tendencies? If so, simply pray this prayer with me:

Dear God, the Father, I have been wandering and putting too much emphasis on my own desires and needs. My greatest need is to turn away from myself and re-discover Your grace. Thank you for Jesus who covers all of my sin. I renew my commitment to Him and I find myself under His covering where I am forgiven. Help me live my life, not for myself, but for others. Your grace is sufficient for me. Amen.

Have you ever gotten stuck trying to help two people reconcile? Oh my, it can be rough territory. Especially when it involves family. Inevitably, even with your best intentions, you find yourself landing on one side of the argument rather than remaining neutral and trying to help both parties.

Jesus gives us an out. In Luke 12:14 it says, “But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” His statement helps us see that it is not our responsibility to help settle disagreements between people. If you read the whole chapter you find that Jesus does speak to principles that, if followed by both parties, will result in reconciliation. But he does not dig deep into their issues and the history of their problems.

Every person will face this dilemma at some point, including me, and I need to remember, stick to principles. Keep the conversation to truth and insights that, if applied, will bring about the desired outcome. But also realize that most people who come to you don’t want you to talk about principles. They want you to take their side. Resist that temptation and stay above the fray.

In Genesis 23:4-6 Abraham says, “Here I am, a stranger and a foreigner among you. Please sell me a piece of land so I can give my wife a proper burial.” The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Listen, my lord, you are an honored prince among us. Choose the finest of our tombs and bury her there. No one here will refuse to help you in this way.”

This exchange between Abraham and the people he was living among could have gone another way. Instead of being welcomed and helped the people could have turned their backs on Abraham and not been so generous in their response to Abraham’s need. In this story we see a picture of how God’s people should live in their respective cultures.

Just like Abraham, we are foreigners and strangers in our own lands. Hebrews 11:13 says of those who followed God that they were “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” The Apostle Paul reiterates this in Ephesians where he tells us that we are citizens of heaven primarily. There is a sense in which Christians live in this tension of being part of a culture, but separate from it. And in this light one can easily see how we could be rejected by the culture in which live.

This is why the response in Genesis 23 is so interesting. Abraham, an actual foreigner, is treated with great respect and even called “an honored prince.”

As I read this I asked myself, “should this be the way Christians are treated?” There will always be critics of Christianity, especially from those who are threatened politically by our views. But what about the general population? I believe, and Abraham shows us, that Christians can have a very positive and ingratiating relationship with those in our communities. What were some of the characteristics of Abraham that caused him to be so embraced by the culture around him?

He played by the rules of the day and did not expect special treatment. Notice that he did not expect to be treated any differently than anyone else. Not only that, but he insisted on buying the land to bury his wife for full price. He also was consistently honest about his shortcomings and He always gave God the credit for his prosperity.

What can you learn from this? For me I know I sometimes think I am owed something by this world. And that belief will sometimes come off as arrogant or separatistic. Christians have a distinct way of separating themselves from what’s going on around them and in doing so they create a chasm between their faith and the reality of those they live among. The cool thing about Abraham was that he lived out his faith in front of these people. They saw how he almost sacrificed Isaac and how he constantly treated people fairly. They saw that when caught in a lie (like pretending your wife is your sister) he would quickly own up to it.