Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Feel the Anger!

Then the Spirit of God came powerfully upon Saul, and he became angry.  1 Samuel 11:6

I had been studying the Bible with a James for several weeks. He was always happy, optimistic, and passionate about life. I thoroughly enjoyed the hour we would spend together studying God’s Word each week. But then there was the day that James came to my office with a heavy heart, a downcast spirit, and a sense of hopelessness in his eyes. He wanted to pretend that everything was okay, but we had bonded over God’s Word for too long for him to keep his hurt and pain inside. So he finally told me about his experience of being bullied on the school bus. The more he described, the angrier I became. I had grown to love James. The thought of a group of boys saying and doing cruel things to James broke my heart. I could see the pain in his face as much as he tried to hide it. My anger motivated me to spend extra time with James, give him advice, dig deeper into God’s Word for the promises of love and acceptance that James needed to hear. From that day forward, James and I talked about how to respond to the boys who would mistreat him, how to find himself in the midst of the rejection of others, and how to grow in God’s grace.

Saul had been anointed the first king of Israel. We read in 1 Samuel 10 that Saul was changed by God’s Spirit and that he was given a “new heart.” About a month after this transformational experience with God, Saul was plowing in the field when he was told that King Nahash of Amon would sign a peace treaty with the Israelites on one condition. He would gouge out the right eye of every person in Israel. This is when we read 1 Samuel 11:6 that Saul became angry. I must admit that most of the time I become angry it’s because of my own selfishness. I am concerned about my time, my money, or my reputation. But there are times, as in my experience with James, that I have felt God’s Spirit in me awakening a deep sense of anger due to the injustice around me.

Jesus, Himself, experienced the Spirit descend upon Him causing anger when He cleared the Temple of the moneychangers who were preventing people from worshiping God. There are times when anger is the only response appropriate for the situation. What should be our response to slavery, the sex trade, poverty, orphans, starvation, abuse, racism, and gender inequality in many places around the world? Perhaps if we allowed the Spirit of God to come upon us like Saul allowed in the early days of his reign, we would be angry. Not an anger that consumes our soul, but an anger that motivates us to love, touch, care, and be the hands and feet of Jesus.

I know this is a tough subject. I do not like being angry. And because I don’t want to be angry, I don’t let myself watch the TV ads about the starving children around the world, or the women being beaten in places I have never been to. I want to ignore the injustices in the world because I don’t like being angry. But there are times when anger is the only appropriate response. There are times when I need to care enough about the people around me to understand and feel their pain. There are times when I need to feel the anger that motivates me to love. There are times when I need to open my eyes, see the injustices around me, watch the TV ads, and feel the anger that comes from God.

Is Love Enough?

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.  Acts 8:4

A few weeks ago I saw a picture of a Christian in Syria with a rope around his neck as he stood on a wooden box. He was about to be hung by the ISIS extremists for being a Christian. The man was smiling. It was not a smile of defiance, but rather one of peace, love, and compassion. As I looked at the face of this man, I knew he was much more than a Christian, he was a disciple of Jesus. 

Christian is a name given to people who are disciples of Jesus by those who do not believe in Jesus. The word Christian was first used by the people of Antioch (one of the Roman Empire’s largest cities) to describe those who followed Jesus. You can read about this in Acts 11:26. Jesus, however, calls us to be disciples, followers of Him. The issue is that Christianity is a religion that has been organized around the teachings of Jesus. But a disciple is person whose life revolves around the love of Jesus. One is based on teaching knowledge about God. The other is based on living in relationship with God. 

These two concepts do not need to be in opposition to one another. When I think about it, I actually want to understand someone I love. I want to know what he or she likes and what makes them happy. When a person I trust tells me that yellow is not my color, I choose to avoid wearing yellow shirts. When someone I love gives me a necktie, I find myself wanting to wear it at every opportunity. However, when a stranger whom I just met at a dinner party tells me that yellow is not my color or that I need a new necktie, I do not respond favorably to such information. In fact, I might find myself wearing yellow shirts just to prove that I am not bound by such a person’s opinions.

So when I read Acts 8:4, I know there is something pretty amazing about Jesus. When His followers were put into prison, tortured, and even killed, those who survived did not go into hiding, but rather told everyone who would listen about the Good News. But what is the Good News? It could not have been that you would be persecuted if you believed in Jesus. There had to be something they were sharing that was compelling, something more than facts and data and teachings. Could it be as simple as love? Could the Good News simply be a love story? Could the most compelling concept in the world that can cause a man with a noose around his neck to smile really just be a 4-letter word – LOVE? In a word, yes!

When all we have is love, we have more than we deserve and can give more than we have. When all we have is love, our hearts are united with the heart of God, our darkness is turned to light, our misbelief is turned to truth, our discouragement is replaced with courage, and our weakness is replaced with power. I don’t care if you call me a Christian, but what I really want to be is a disciple of Jesus. 

Are You Afraid of God?

I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.  Luke 19:21

I was a sophomore in high school when Tim’s dad drove us to school early one morning. Tim was my best friend who lived next door to me. We did everything together. And usually Tim would drive us to school, but his car was in the shop. His dad drove up a ramp to take us to the back door. What he didn’t realize is that there was a staircase next to the ramp. As he drove away, Tim’s dad drive down the staircase rather than the ramp. We heard a sound of grinding metal as he got stuck on the landing halfway down the stairs. As you can imagine, this drew lots of attention in addition to taunts and laughter. I was embarrassed. I did not want anyone to know that I had anything to do with that car or Tim’s dad. As silly as it sounds to me today, I was afraid of what others would think of me. I stood just inside the school doors frozen in fear. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to do. I watched a group of guys lift the car and move it far enough to be able to drive away.

Fear is a crazy thing. It can paralyze us and cloud our judgment. And so when we have not experienced God’s love and mercy, we can become afraid of His law and judgment. Jesus tells a story of how we can look at God the wrong way. He described three servants who were given silver by their king before he was to be crowned king in a distant empire. He entrusted them with his riches and instructed them to invest for him while he was gone. He would return one day to see what they had done with the silver. The first two servants invested well, but the third was afraid of the king. His fear caused him to hide the silver in the ground rather than invest it. He was so afraid of the king that he became paralyzed to inaction. He hid his silver. He acted as though the king did not exist and hoped for the best.

As I think about it, there is no difference between my fear of what others would think of me and the servant’s fear of his king. Both fears cause inaction. Both fears prevent loving action to invest our talents in the lives of others. There is a fear of God we are to have in our lives that is an awe of His love and mercy prompting us to action. We read of this fear in Psalm 89:6-7, For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?

You know you have the proper fear of God when you want to be in His presence each morning rather than hiding from Him. You have the right fear of God when you move toward others to lend a helping hand. You know you fear God in a way that gives life when you can think clearly in the midst of temptation. Every time I want my own way, succumb to my own desires, and refuse to take up my cross and follow Jesus, I become afraid of God. This fear always paralyzes. It always prevents us from living freely in God’s kingdom. 

So what’s the solution? Focus on God’s love. Accept His love. Seek His love because we read in 1 John 4:18 , There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Do I Really Love Jesus More than My Kids?

Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.”  “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”   Luke 18:28-30

I’m a dad and I think that every parent would easily say there is nothing they love more on earth than their own children. When my son was only 2 years old, he slumped into unconsciousness while sitting at the dining room table eating lunch. I panicked. I had no idea what was happening. As a physician I knew I needed to check for a pulse and breathing. As a dad I was paralyzed with fear. I instinctively picked him up and took him to my bedroom where I placed him on the bed. I quickly realized I was useless and needed to get him to the emergency room where there would be a doctor who could actually help him. We lived a block from the hospital at the Subic Bay Naval Base so within 5 minutes my son was being evaluated by a doctor who could actually be of benefit. He was diagnosed as having a petit mal seizure. Today he is in great health at the age of 28. But in that moment in the Philippines, I would have paid any price, even my own life in exchange for his life. That is when I realized how much I love each and every one of my children.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells me I need to love Him more than my own children! That’s a lot of love. When I think about what Jesus is saying here, I think about my own kids. I have to ask myself if I really love Jesus as much, let alone more, than I love them. I have walked away from a lucrative medical practice because I love and trust Jesus. I trust Him with my life. But I honestly do not know if I love Him more than my own kids. I’m just being honest. And yet there is no one or no thing on this earth that can give me the peace I receive when I submit my life to Jesus. When I talk with Jesus and hear His voice in my life, there is nothing on earth that comes anywhere close to that experience. 

Perhaps the question I need to ask myself is this, Would I follow Jesus even if my kids said they would never talk to me again? It’s a sobering question. I am thankful I have never been faced with such a decision. But it does makes me think about my relationship with Jesus, which is exactly what He wants me to do. So instead of trying to measure my love for Jesus, I will spend time with Him everyday. I will talk with Him throughout this day and each coming day. I will listen to His voice. I will treasure the time I have with Him. I will do what He asks. I will follow where He leads. I will embrace the journey as I revel in His presence. And I will leave the measuring up to Him.

 

 

Are You Sitting at the Feet of Jesus?

But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”  Luke 10:40

Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem when they went through Martha’s village. Martha had the gift of hospitality. She loved to host a party. And so I imagine she insisted that Jesus and the disciples come to her home for dinner. When they arrived, Martha was already in the kitchen making sure everything would be just right for her guests. But her sister, Mary, had different gifts. Mary was passionate, social, friendly, and energetic. She had to be where the people were. But more than anything else, Mary just had to be with Jesus.  And so that is exactly where Martha found Mary that day, sitting at the feet of Jesus while she was slaving away in the kitchen preparing the meal for everyone to enjoy.

This is when Martha did what we all do far too often. She judged Mary. Martha saw a task to be done, used the talents she had been given by God to honor Jesus, and then assumed that Mary was not using the talents she had been given by God to honor Jesus. You see, we often think everyone around us needs to be doing the same thing in the same way in the same time as we are doing. After all, the meal needed to be prepared, the table set, and a hundred other jobs completed before Jesus could eat. Martha, however, failed to see that we each have been gifted by God to lift up Jesus in our own way and with our own gifts. That day Mary was using her gifts to care for the emotional needs of Jesus while Martha was supplying His physical needs. And so we read in the very next verses, “But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.’” 

Too many times I judge the commitment to Jesus that others have based upon whether they are utilizing the gifts God has given to me. I fall into the same trap as did Martha in this story. I think that everyone else needs to be doing what I am doing for Jesus, or at least helping me do it. But this is actually wrong, perhaps even a sin! Why? Because in that moment I am judging. And Jesus tells me never to judge others. So the next time you are tempted to criticize, dare I say judge, another person for not doing ministry in the way you think they should be doing it, think about Jesus’ words to Martha. And then ask yourself if you are really concerned about the only thing worth being concerned about. Are you sitting at the feet of Jesus?

 

Who is Your Guide?

For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Revelation 7:17

I was in medical school at Loma Linda University when my sister and her family came to visit me during the summer for a week. During that time we went to the usual sites in the area including the mountains and the beach. On one particularly hot day we made the mistake of hiking at Joshua Tree National Monument, which is located in the high desert close to Palm Springs. We shortened our hike to get back to the car where we had left our water. And that’s when I realized I had only brought enough water for one or two people in conditions like this. We were all so thirsty that we had to abandon our plans and drive to civilization where we could find water. It was a painful experience. 

Imagine if I had hired a guide to take us through Joshua Tree that day. She would have brought plenty of water for everyone because she would have been familiar with the trails, the weather, and all of our needs to have a pleasant experience. John paints such a picture of Jesus in Revelation. He came to this earth as a lamb the same as you and me. He experienced the trials and temptations that are present on every hike we take. And He knows exactly what we need. Because He came as a lamb and died for us on the trail of life, He became our Shepherd. He knows the trails, He knows the conditions, and he knows us. And He brings with Him all the life-preserrving water that we need to not only survive, but to thrive every hike we take with Him. 

But there’s more. God the Father is with us too! He is watching over us. When we hike with His Son,  He wipes away our tears. We usually see this as a promise in the future when Jesus comes to take us to our heavenly home. But I have found that He wipes tears away today as well. He wipes away the tears created from our fears, our self-doubt, and the pain from such things as feeling like we are unloveable. Whatever your struggle that is causing the deepest pain, your heavenly Father is there to wipe away those tears and fill you with His love. He knows exactly what you need as your Shepherd empathizes as one who has experienced exactly what you are going through. 

Why not allow Him to wipe away your tears today as you accept the Kingdom of God into your heart? When Jesus is your Shepherd, your Guide, you have an endless supply of water that will transform your life and wipe away your tears.

The choice is ours. We can walk through life on our own or allow Jesus to be our Guide. 

What is Your Picture of God?

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”  Revelation 7:10

When I transitioned from a small two-room school with a total of 30 students in grades 1-8 to a public junior high school with 1,100 students in grades 7-9, it was difficult to say the least. But the biggest problem I faced was what I told myself about the other kids. I told myself that they would not like me or accept me. I told myself that I was different and that I wasn’t smart enough. After all, I had been attending a small Christian school which had given me the idea that the world “out there” was a dangerous place with dangerous people who would destroy me if I got too close to them. This was the picture I had in my mind of these kids.

So when I saw a group of kids in my new junior high school laughing as I walked by, I thought they were laughing at me. When I saw a kid smoking behind the building, I thought all of the other 1,099 kids were smoking at every opportunity. When I saw one kid picking on another kid, that only confirmed that they “all” were bullies and that they were just waiting for the chance to pick on me. So the picture I had in my mind of the other kids affected the way I interacted with them. Over time, I realized my picture was distorted. It took a couple of years to deconstruct this negative picture I had painted in my mind, but by one positive experience at a time I ended up with a more accurate picture that allowed me to have friends and enjoy my public school years. I ended up graduating from the public high school with many friends and an experience I wouldn’t trade.

The picture we have of God is the most influential picture we have that colors our life. If our picture denies His existence, then we see everything around us as occurring by chance and without purpose. On the other hand, if my picture has an angry God who is looking to destroy me, then I live in fear and with pervasive guilt. There are as many pictures of God as there are people on the planet. And I do not mean to simplify the pictures in this short blog. The point I have discovered in my life and I want to share today is that the picture you have of God matters. It matters a lot! It affects your life whether you want to admit it or not. 

And the picture of God that I see in Revelation 7:10 is a God who offers salvation to every one. Yes, Jesus the Lamb came to this earth to live as a lamb, as one of us and one with us. And salvation is offered to us through His life, death, and resurrection. This is the gospel message. But salvation also comes from God the Father! When Jesus was on this earth risking everything by living in a sin-filled world, His Father was sitting on the throne keeping everything running so we could ALL be together one day. It is the Father who risked His Son for you and me. It is the Father that keeps us alive by grace. It is the Father who makes every allowance possible for your happiness, joy, and peace. 

I don’t know about you, but I find it harder to watch my kids go through a painful experience than to go through it myself. The picture of God I see in this short verse is one of love, sacrifice, responsibility, and commitment to you and me. God has done and is doing everything in His power to provide a way for us to be reunited with Him. This is the story of Revelation. This is the story of the Bible. And this is the picture of God – love. And this is why John paints the picture of salvation as coming first and foremost from the Father!

When we actually have this picture in our hearts and minds, we will be able to see the world and other people through the eyes of God. Yes, your picture of God matters. What does your picture of God look like? What if you saw yourself in that picture? What if you were sitting next to Him or at His feet or on His lap or in His arms? How would that change your day? Think about it. Maybe it’s time to repaint your picture!

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