Your Love Will Define You

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“You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.”

1 Peter 1:22, NLT

This defines us as believers. We will easily admit to falling short in this matter. I know I’m sharing in God’s love for Steve, a backslidden Christian who I meet on the streets. I’m aware that Jesus loves him so much and it seems to burst out of me. I can hardly contain it. The Father loves Steve, and I get to share in that same love when I talk with him.

Love takes on many different forms. But it always is giving. It simply can’t be thinking of itself; it exists for others and takes no thought of itself. That magnificence that is God’s love gets funneled through us (we can hardly contain it) and we’re compelled to share it. We are simply called to be ‘the transfer point.’

“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows.”

1 Thess. 3:12

God initiates the love to be shared. Some of us are weaker than others; we are physically or mentally handicapped. But as believers we are to turn to God to saturate our hearts. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how flawed you are, what matters is the vast ocean of God’s love. Weakness only makes it easier because we’ve quit relying on ourselves to love others. (And it only makes you ‘believable’ and gives God the glory.)

 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:35

Our calling is to be ‘naturally supernatural.’ And that will take the dealings of God.

But please remember the joy that is present when you’re communicating His love. The book of Philippians is saturated with Paul’s joy at sharing God’s love. He sees it as his privilege to share it with the Church. And oh how God loves His Church! The Holy Spirit can teach you, how to do this, if you’re teachable.

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When Faith Doesn’t Seem to Work

by Terry Powell

I am not a Christian because my faith “works” for me. Talk to a devout Mormon, Muslim, or Buddhist and he’ll extol the here-and-now benefits of his faith. He’ll cite a serenity of spirit, or a sense of order that believing brings to his life. Yet his belief system contradicts mine, so logically these various faiths cannot all be true!

If I were a Christian just because faith has utility for me, because my days are more likely to unfold in a smooth, trouble-free manner, I’d be a pragmatist, pure and simple. And I’d be prone to shuck my commitment to Christ the moment a different philosophy or religion appeared to offer me more.

Don’t get me wrong. Following Christ is not without rewards in the present. My faith often sustains me, provides perspective for decision-making, and injects happiness rooted in a biblical worldview.

But not all the time.

There’s the inevitable warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with. And in my case, either chronic depression or other weaknesses of temperament sometime get the best of me. I’ll keep praying for relief and I’ll strive for sound mental health, yet I don’t want to be among the growing number of Christians who expect God to give them on earth what He only promised for heaven.

From a theological perspective, I’m a Christian because God chose me and initiated a relationship with me (Eph. 2:1-10). From a human perspective, my faith is in Christ not because it works, but because I believe Christianity is true. And truth is objective reality, not a subjective experience. No matter how I feel, or how my day goes, truth doesn’t change. Truth just is. I wrote this poem to convey this point.

Nature of Truth

When all hope yields to despair

and I doubt that God is there;

when my heart is cold, unfeeling,

and my prayers bounce off the ceiling;

when depression takes its toll

and winter winds assault my soul;

when the race seems all uphill

and dying grows in its appeal;

when things don’t go as expected—

still, God’s Truth is unaffected.

In the long run, faith works in the sense that I’ll enjoy eternity with my Savior (thanks to His works, not mine). But being a Christian doesn’t shield me from affliction in the here and now. It does assure me of God’s compassion and healing presence: “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

Love, Terry

 

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

Doing Exploits

“Nothing paralyzes our lives like the attitude that things can never change. We need to remind ourselves that God can change things. Outlook determines outcome. If we see only the problems, we will be defeated; but if we see the possibilities in the problems, we can have victory.”

 –Warren Wiersbe

“…the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”

Daniel 11:32

 

 

Little Pieces of Obedience

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“It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.”19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.”

Hebrews 11:17-19, NLT

The faith of Abraham is understood by believers everywhere. This simple man followed God to a obscure mountain in Judea. He came fervently, and yet logically to the command of the Lord. Abraham’s confident assurance would carry him to Mt. Moriah were he would sacrifice his son. He would prefigure God’s own sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His only Son.

There were many steps Abraham had to take: the knife, the rope, the firewood, the donkey. There was a dozen details to arrange. Abraham would have had to plan ahead of time to prepare. I’m relatively certain he had ample time to consider what he was doing. The enormity of it all would’ve been staggering.

Hebrews reveals that ‘faith’ was what enabled Abraham. It was faith followed by a dozen little obediences that strengthened him to follow God’s instructions. Abraham would obey God, through faith, by doing many little things. All would lead up to the ‘big thing,’ the offering up of his only son.

I believe that no act is too small. Heavy doors swing on small hinges. Tiny obediences make for big ones. And sometimes we can’t tell them apart. It seems that several times during our daily grind we face little choices that often determine a far greater meaning. I’ve been told that there are flowers in alpine valleys that no man will ever see. Their sole beauty is visible only to God. Obedience is often like this. But the Lord knows.

God meets every act of obedience to Him with a smiling grace.

Hebrews 11 is known as the believer’s ‘hall of fame’. In its verses we’re pounded by the idea that the faith is visible only through obedience. What we do is as significant as what we believe. It has always been so.

“…but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.”

Daniel 11:32, NKJV

Little obediences prepare us for big ones. If we won’t obey in the small ones, how will we in the big ones? The prophet Daniel spoke of a remnant that would do astonishing things, and that the core of their fame would come from knowing God. This is faith made visible. The ‘great exploits’ spring out of a faith in a strong God. To be regarded in this way would be wonderful, but faith needs those little obediences to be able to do the great ones. 

We must reclaim the reality that the details of our lives are not trivial.

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Working in the Time of Grace

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 “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”

Matt. 20:12, NIV

Matthew 20 irritates me.  People are working the entire day, and along comes people who have only worked for one hour.  This discrepancy drives the believer nuts.  How in the world could such a thing take place?  It is foolishness to us who insist on a ‘grace of appropriateness.’  We want grace to be fair, recognizing the person who has worked very hard.

The problem is that God is outrageous with His grace and love.  He completely expands us to a point where we must embrace a grace that is completely beyond us.  We have to break down and accept what is available to us.  Grace completely dumps us upside down.

We can only proceed if we accept His definition of Grace.

Those who have labored the least are made equal to those who work the hardest.  This seems incredibly unfair and we revolt against such extravagance.  It strikes us as outrageously unfair.  How can those who worked only an hour receive the exact same amount as those who have labored a full eight?

The miracle of  this shockingly outrageous grace is that we are confronted by a profound freedom.  We basically get brought to the point where we get stripped of these illusions and need to walk out the scripture.  It has the tendency to eliminate the issues that could block us and bring us to a most receptive position.

“But he replied to one of them, ‘My friend, I’m not being unjust to you. Wasn’t our agreement for a silver coin a day? Take your money and go home. It is my wish to give the latecomers as much as I give you. May I not do what I like with what belongs to me? Must you be jealous because I am generous?’

16 “So, many who are the last now will be the first then and the first last.”

Matthew 20:13-16

We must admit that God’s grace reaches out to everyone. 

That He has the deep, deep desire to see that each of us connect with His love.  This is indeed the radicalness of the gospel.  It is outrageous and astonishing.  That He would love us who have hated Him.  Our sense of equity is completely undone.  His grace completely turns us upside down. I think that is a good thing.

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Like Well-Watered Gardens: Isaiah 58

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Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.”

Isaiah 58:10-11, NLT

This is the precise key many need for this moment. It just could be as vital as your next breath.

You see our faith was never intended to be a personal ‘spiritual make-over.’ Discipleship was not meant to be about becoming a ‘new-and-improved’ person. That simply is not the message. There can be an emphasis placed on a selfish preoccupation with becoming better (and nicer) and we miss out on God’s real intent for His redeemed people. The difference is subtle but significant. We cannot sanctify our selfishness— no matter how hard we might try. 

For years I travelled under a misconception that God wanted from me ‘a better Bryan.’ I felt like a juggler trying to keep the balls moving. But by making this my focus, and not on others, I only exacerbated my mental illness. For me, my depression is only intensified when I look inside. Often I can’t see the needs around me. All I can see are my own issues (which are formidable.)

Isaiah prophesies a spiritual ’cause-and-effect.” If a person will only reach out to others will there be a spiritual blessing. Often we struggle because we don’t realize the implications of being spent for others. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ if we will only reach out to others. If we would only learn that it is when we give out— we receive. The kingdom is reciprocal in the way blessings come.

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Acts 20:35

The entire chapter of Isaiah 58 makes it a vital point to the people of God. Our own healing is contingent on becoming a blessing to others. If we will pour out we will be poured on. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ when we begin to serve others. Our own ‘healing’ will come when we reach out to the desperate needs around us. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about?

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A Blessed Discomfort

Love One Another

What follows is NOT an ordinary, run-of-the-mill blessing.  Some would undoubtedly wish for one, and others anticipating what follows, will skip this blog.  It happens all the time.  But, at distinct times, the Holy Spirit surgically slices through our foggy-ness and illuminates us to ourselves.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers,
half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.

 

May God bless you with anger at injustice,
oppression, and exploitations of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

 

May God bless you with tears to shed for those
who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and to turn their pain into joy.

 

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

–From a Franciscan Benediction

Blessed with discomfort, anger, tears and foolishness.  Too often, we often think our discipleship as a massive undertaking for a personal renovation.  And when that does happen, thank God!   But we must drive this home, spiritual make-overs are not the point of holy living! 

We are directed to engage the world and to hammer away at the lies, in order to free people, under the direct supervision of the Holy Spirit.  When we serve, give, love, we will be surprised to find that our own lives will change, almost as an after-thought. Just maybe, that is what God intends? Maybe.

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Matthew 25:40, NLT

 

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