Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

The Light of the World

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.   Matthew 5:14, 16

The church was the center of our lives in my family. It was rare for us to do anything with people who were not part of our church unless it was with Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren. The crazy thing is that Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren were the coolest people I knew, but I was taught to feel sorry for them because even though they were Christians, they went to the “wrong” church. When I asked my mother why we didn’t hang out with anyone other than people who went to our church, she told me that we are the light of the world. This is when I became acquainted with Matthew 5:14-16. 

The thinking went something like this: Come to church, stick together, and let your light shine from within the walls of the church and somehow everyone in the community will see your light and realize they need it. That’s when they will decide to come to your church. Even as a kid I didn’t quite understand how that would happen. After all, when we are IN church, how can people OUTSIDE the church see or feel the light?

Through the years I have found this “we” versus “them” mentality to be arrogant and counterproductive. When I think I have it all together and you don’t then I have already lost the love God wants me to share with you. The truth is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. When I accept Jesus as Lord of my life, I also accept His mission. He came to this earth to be WITH us. Jesus took it the extreme by incubating in Mary’s womb for nine months and then worked as a carpenter until he was nearly 30 years old before beginning His mission. Talk about mingling with the world! It is when I live as Jesus did that I experience His love. When I walk with others, He walks with me.

And so I believe we have missed the point of the light in this passage. Jesus tells us that the light affects those around us only when we are WITH people, no matter where there happen to be. I can only shine my light on the path I happen to be traveling upon. If I want the light of Jesus to help others, I need to be walking on the same path they are walking on. In actuality, there is no difference between the light and the salt metaphor Jesus gives us to illustrate how we are to share His love in the world. They both require proximity to be effective. The “good works” in this passage can only be done as I mingle with those around me. If you want to know what Jesus considered to be good works, read Matthew 25 where He tells us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.

I believe the church is the hope of the world. But it can only be hope as we are led by God into the back allies and the out of the way places to share His light with His people in His world. Where will you shine the light God has given you this week?

Are You Honoring God?

But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  Malachi 1:11

I grew up in Indiana thinking my state was not only the best in the U.S., it was the best place in the world. I would hear of fellow Hoosiers like the legendary John Wooden who coached the UCLA men’s basketball team for many years and wonder why he didn’t coach at Indiana University or Purdue. I mean, how could someone from Indiana live anywhere else on earth? But I didn’t just feel this way about my state, I also felt this way about my church. We had the “truth” in contrast to every other church or belief system that was somehow deluded into believing lies.

It is easy to think and behave as if the world revolves around me and the “us” I choose. It’s easy to look at anyone who is different from me as someone who does not have favor with God. And yet God loves all people. We read in Romans 2:11 that “God shows no partiality.” God told Malachi that the Israelites were defiling His altar by bringing offerings to God that were blind and lame. In other words, they gave God what they didn’t want themselves. They were hoarding their wealth and giving from their abundance rather than sacrificially from their heart. God looked around the earth and saw people from other nations other than Israel who were honoring His name far beyond what His “chosen” ones were doing. But they were smug in their assurance of being better than anyone else simply because they were from Israel.

It is my experience that the Christian Church is too often like Israel of old. When I rode my bicycle across the country to raise awareness and money for diapers in 2012, I often found the Church of Jesus uninterested in helping the disadvantaged while those outside the Church were donating their time, money, and talents to relieve suffering all around them. I was humbled to see people giving to others rather than taking a vacation or buying another car. In Malachi we read that God’s name is honored when we sacrificially give our best talents and our most treasured gifts for those we would otherwise judge and condemn. I often imagine how God must hang His head in distress when He sees those of us who profess His name refusing to honor His name. We have opportunities every day to honor Jesus. He told us in Matthew 25:41, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” 

What would it look like in your life to truly honor God? How are you treating Jesus? 

The Wall

Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate.   Nehemiah 3:1

Every summer my family would go to Riviera Beach, Florida for two weeks. One of my favorite pastimes was building a sand castle on the beach. The first time I tried to build one, I would just begin to see it take form when a large wave would come to destroy the whole thing. I tried building further from the shore, but there wasn’t enough moisture in the sand to hold its shape. So I finally learned to build a large wall and a moat before I even started to build the sand castle. This then prevented the waves from destroying my precious, but vulnerable, work of art. 

The Israelites returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed some 70 years earlier. Nehemiah tells us that the process of rebuilding the temple began first with rebuilding the Jerusalem wall for the same reasons I learned to build a wall and a moat around my sand castle. Israel had many enemies who would love to destroy the temple at the first opportunity. The same is true today. In 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul writes the “…we are the temple of the living God.” And just like in Nehemiah’s day, we are to build a wall of protection around our temple. But what does that look like? Does that mean I need to withdraw from the world and build a physical wall of protection between me and people who do not believe in God?  That doesn’t make any sense when we remember that Jesus tells us to the salt of the world which requires contact with those who do not have God’s amazing flavor in their lives. The answer lies within Nehemiah’s decryption of how the Jerusalem wall was rebuilt.

We discover in the third chapter of Nehemiah that the high priest began the work on the wall by rebuilding the Sheep Gate. The high priest began the process, not the chief architect or master builder or head deacon or building committee chairperson. No, it was the high priest who started to rebuild at none other than the Sheep Gate. In Luke 23 we see that Jesus, our High Priest and Lamb of God, began rebuilding the wall of  protection around the temple to be built in each one of His followers as He withstood the attacks of the earthly high priest and the Roman governor. Jesus went to the cross and nailed our sins to that cross as He died for you and me. There is no greater protection than rendering our sins powerless in our own lives. Jesus began the wall of protection that would extend to every human being who had ever existed, did exist, and would exist in the future. But the story of protection doesn’t end there.

Nehemiah chronicles the process in chapter 3 by telling us that THEN the son of this person and that person rebuilt the next section, and BESIDE him was…, and THEN there was…, and BEYOND him was…, and the NEXT GATE was….  This goes on until the end of the chapter when we read in verses 31-32, “Then he continued as far as the upper room at the corner. The other goldsmiths and merchants repaired the wall from that corner to the Sheep Gate.” And so the wall was repaired all the way back to the beginning point at the Sheep Gate.

Jesus involves us, you and me, in the rebuilding and repairing of the wall of protection around the temple. Could it be that Jesus created the church so that His followers would come together in prayer, unity, fellowship, ministry, and service to others for the purpose of building a wall of protection around His people, His temple on earth? That means you help me build the piece of the wall that I need most while I help you build the piece of the wall you need most.  We all have different vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We all have issues and struggles. We are all involved in a spiritual warfare against principalities and powers not of this earth. When I read Nehemiah 3 with the Church of Jesus Christ in mind, I see a picture of this person next to that person beside another person, and beyond her was yet another person. And though they were all working on the same wall of protection, they each had their own specific part to play in a particular area of expertise.

It makes me realize that perhaps we should be asking questions like: What part of the wall am I working on? Who is next to me? Who is just beyond me? And am I working on the wall Jesus is building, or am I working on my own wall?

Are You a Fan or a Player?

So they arrested him [Jesus] and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance.  Luke 22:54

My dad took me to the Indy 500 race track on the second Sunday of qualifications on year. This was the last day a driver could make it into the race. It was exciting. But the place to see the real action was in “Gasoline Alley.” This is where the mechanics worked on the cars. This is the place the drivers would go just to hang out. I wanted to go to Gasoline Alley so I could see my favorite driver, Mario Andretti. It was great to actually walk in Gasoline Alley, rub shoulders with the drivers and get Mario’s autograph. 

Many years later I returned to the track as an adult. I was excited to once again walk through Gasoline Alley. I heard that it had been rebuilt with bigger and better garages for the cars. But along with the new facility came a large fence that kept the crowds at a distance. I could barely see the cars, let alone the drivers. There is something about distance that disconnects people from one another. When I was a kid I felt a part of Mario Andretti’s team. Coming back as an adult, I felt like an observer at best. 

The night of Jesus’s arrest, Peter followed Jesus at a distance. He wanted to see Jesus, to observe what happened, but he didn’t want to be connected. What resulted was disastrous. Peter denied any knowledge of Jesus three times that night. The distance caused a complete separation. The difference between Jesus and Gasoline Alley is that Jesus still gives us full access to Him and His Kingdom. He doesn’t put up a fence. He doesn’t keep us out.

We are the ones who too often put distance between ourselves and Jesus. We build fences and sometimes even walls to keep Jesus at a “safe” distance. We want to see Him and accept His gift of eternal life and we may even want His autograph for everyone to see. But we don’t want to be given any responsibility. We are fans of Jesus. But we stop short of becoming devoted followers of Jesus. A fan is someone who watches the game. A fan may even keep track of the stats of the game. But a fan never plays in the game.

What Jesus is seeking is devoted players in the game. Jesus came to this earth as a player. He suited up and met people wherever He could find them. Jesus did not build fences or walls. Jesus carried a cross to Calvary where anyone who wanted could come and see Him. There were no fences, no obstacles. Just Jesus with outstretched arms of love for you and me. Are you a fan or a player? Do you want Jesus’s autograph or His mission? The choice is ours to be just a fan or a real player on His team. 

Preparing for the Wedding Feast

Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself.  Revelation 19:7

Perhaps the most interesting wedding reception I ever attended was in a northern province on the island of Luzon in the Republic of the Philippines. It wasn’t really a reception, it was an event, a feast. It lasted for three days and included a grand procession through town as the the pigs and the caribou were presented to be a part of the feast. There was music and laughter and conversation and fun and games. There was food for everyone throughout the event, but on the third day there was a feast like I’ve never seen before. The presentation and variety of the food was spectacular and endless. 

And it wasn’t just the feast that was so incredible, the bride was magnificent. I knew her because she was a family practice resident at the US Navy Hospital at Subic Bay Naval Base. I knew she had been preparing for this event for more than a year. She had been thinking about it, dreaming about it, planning for it, and preparing herself for it. And on the day of the feast, she was indeed ready! 

John describes a wedding feast in Revelation 19. We are the bride. Jesus is the groom. Today, Jesus is courting us. He came to this earth, took on our humanity, lived among us, and took on our sins as the Lamb. Though He is a conquering Lion, we know Him as the Lamb. He is inviting us to the wedding feast. But just as the bride in my story, we need to be preparing ourselves for the grandest feast the universe will ever witness. The prospect of preparing myself for such an event would be a daunting task except for one thing – the Lamb. 

You see, in the epic love story of Revelation, the Groom who is the Lamb comes to prepare with us. He doesn’t leave us alone to prepare for the wedding feast. This is what Jesus says about getting prepared for this marvelous event: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20) Jesus wants to sit down with you and me to share a meal together today! 

The only preparation needed for the wedding feast in Revelation 19 is to feast on His Word, listen to His voice, and live in His will TODAY! Imagine, getting a taste of the wedding feast today! Imagine sitting with the Lamb today! Let the love affair with the Lamb begin today!

First Love

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!”   Revelation 2:4

Passion draws two people together. We call it “chemistry.” It’s the kind of chemistry that everyone likes and understands and desires to have.  The problem is that we have come to expect the passion to wane over time. Don’t get me wrong. We desperately want and need to have passion, but it just seems to disappear. We learn to accept life without our “first love” – passion.

But have you ever witnessed a couple who you can tell are completely and totally in love after 60 years of marriage? You can almost feel their passion for one another. I admit that it’s rare, but I’ve seen it. I know it’s possible. When I see a couple like that, I know they have a deep emotional bond formed by actively sharing everything that is in their hearts with one another. I know they are transparent with one another because that is the only way to keep the passion alive. Passion is a fire that must be continuously fed or else it will die out. This is true in our personal relationships, and it is true in our relationship with God.

Think back to when you first committed your life to Jesus. I remember how excited and “on fire” I was for Him. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this meant that I was actually in love with Jesus because I had shared my deepest secrets with Him and had felt the freedom of His unconditional love. This was a big deal to me because I had never felt that kind of love before. And somehow my love for God naturally included love for those around me. The entire experience was almost indescribable.

But in time, the passion waned. The people in the church got on my nerves. I went to college. I began feeling the pressures of college life and the need to succeed. I changed my life plans from theology to medicine. The pressures only increased as I went to medical school. And my love for Jesus was a distant memory. Can you relate to this story? According to Revelation 2:4, I am not alone. 

Many, if not most, Christians lose their first love for Jesus. They lose it because of the time pressures at their job and in their home. Most want to get that feeling back, but the sermon wasn’t so good that week and they just didn’t get that warm feeling at church. But they keep attending and serving. But over time, it becomes a duty rather than a passion. 

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. As with the couple who still were passionate for each other after 60 years of marriage, we can be passionate for God and one another after 60 years with Him. All we have to do is spend some one-on-one time with Him. I guarantee that any couple who are still passionate about each other spend lots of one-on-one time with each other sharing their fears, joys, likes, dislikes, dreams, discouragements, and victories. They connect with one another. They have become soulmates.  

Are you ready to reignite your fire with Jesus? Do you want to have that “first love” experience again? Do you want to feel the “chemistry” that only comes when two hearts unite? Then spend some one-on-one time with Jesus today. Share your hopes and fears with Him. Listen to His voice. After all, He is standing at the door of your hear waiting for you to open it. He wants to come in, sit down with you, look into your eyes, tell you how much He loves you and has missed you, and listen to the longings of your heart. 

Don’t Think Like Everyone Else!

The Lord gave me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said… Preserve the teaching of God; entrust his instructions to those who follow me.  (Isaiah 8:11, 16)

It’s easy to go through life simply reacting to one circumstance after the next. We have bills to pay, kids to feed, responsibilities to meet, and problems to solve. We go to school to learn how to read, write, and use numbers to count our money. We become adults who have been taught to believe that we know everything there is to know about how to live a good life. But then something happens to us or someone we know that rocks our world. It could be betrayal, abuse, failure, or loss. And what we’ve been taught isn’t enough anymore. The world teaches us that we are self-sufficient, that we either have or can find all the answers on our own, that there are winners and losers in this world, and that we have to look out for ourselves to be a winner. 

But God gave Isaiah a strong warning not to think like everyone else. You don’t give a strong warning unless there is extreme danger lurking ahead. The idea that we are self-sufficient and can solve all our problems is dangerous, indeed. If we are going to think differently, to adopt God’s worldview in place of our own, then we must “preserve the teaching of God.” To preserve means to maintain in its original state.

So how do we preserve God’s teachings? It cannot simply mean that I purchase a bible and put it in a place of honor on a hallowed bookshelf so that it can never be destroyed. This doesn’t make any more sense than preserving food to be seen and not eaten. When we realize that God’s Word became flesh and is written on our hearts as we consume the Bread of Life, then to preserve His teachings becomes personal. If I want to preserve His Word in my life, I need to read His Word, apply His teachings, submit to His will, listen to His advice, follow His guidance, trust Him as a friend, and teach others about His grace. Preserving the teachings of God is a daily walk with God. There is no better way to preserve the teachings of Jesus in your life than to allow Jesus to preserve you for life.

Maybe this is why Jesus describes those who follow Him as the salt of the earth. When we preserve His Word in our lives, we become the life preservers in the the world. Perhaps, just perhaps, you will know that you are preserving His Word in your own life when you become the salt in the lives of those around you. Will you heed God’s warning today? Will you preserve His Word in your life? Are you willing to change the way you think?

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