How can we be known for our love?

Jesus says in John 13:34-5:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As followers of Christ, I think we are called to be known more for what we are for than what we are against. I’ve written about this before, but I think it cannot be overstated how important this is. Too much of the world knows the church for a religious, legalistic center who is against many things. That’s not what Jesus was known for. That’s not what His disciples were known for.

They preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified rather than a complete set of do’s and dont’s. The young adult group from Calvary is in New York City right now, and were able to visit Hillsong NYC on Sunday evening. While there, one thing was very clear. They did not take political or societal stances. They stood on the side of Jesus and gave an invitation for people to surrender their lives, their pride, their selfishness, and give it all to Jesus Christ.

There were homosexuals and transgenders in the crowd feeling loved enough to show up to church. And they heard the full Truth of the Word of God, that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The tone was grace and truth. We need a Savior, His name is Jesus, and He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

How can we be known for our love for others?

The key is to love God.

Love Him first and most.

The more we love God the more we will love others. The more we love God, the more He gives us the desires of our hearts.

I think that the more we love God, the more we will love others because we will love them as God loves them.

We will see them as God sees them; we will want what is best for them, which is not always what they think is best for them but what is actually best for them.

We’ll be determined to not give up on them, but will constantly be willing and able to show grace, love, mercy and forgiveness.

If we love God and pursue Him, we will become more like Him. If we want to be known and defined by our love for others, we must first love God.

Our love for others is not blanket acceptance or approval of actions, but it is all-encompassing, truthful, grace-filled love. The same type of love that God has shown us we are called to show others.

What do you need to do today to start being known for the love of Christ that is evident in your daily actions?

What’s so Amazing About Grace?

I want to share an excerpt from Philip Yancey’s book What’s so Amazing About Grace? I just finished reading it and wow. It is a challenging book. It is a book that challenges my understanding of the depths of grace that God gives to us. I would highly encourage everyone to read it.

While reading it, I was slightly disheartened at the way he describes the responses of many Christians in regards to culture and the way our society is going. The vitriol of some Christians writing letters to Yancey and others simply astounded me. As followers of Christ, we must be better able to engage the culture with grace and truth. The truth that is not balanced with love can be unloving. Sometimes we can be so focused on pointing out the bad news of someone else’s sin that we forget to also communicate the good news of the salvation of Jesus Christ. Realization of the bad news should lead us to the good news, but too often we communicate only the bad news, which is truth. But love shares the whole story. We are a complex creation, and we need to treat every single person, regardless of his or her actions, as the image of God. We understand and defend this regarding unborn children, but can too easily forget it when, for example, we are across the aisle from someone from the LGBT community.

I hope and pray that you will read these words and consider next time the way that you interact with someone reveals to them who Christ is. Are you proud of the reputation your actions (whether on social media outlets or in person) are making of Christ?

“Jesus came to found a new kind of kingdom that could coexist in Jerusalem and also spread into Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. In a parable he warned that those farmers who concentrate on pulling up weeds…may destroy the wheat along with the weeds. Leave matters of judgment to the one true Judge, Jesus advised.

The apostle Paul had much to say about the immorality of individual church members but little to say about the immorality of pagan Rome. He rarely railed against the abuses in Rome–slavery, idolatry, violent games, political oppression, greed–even though such abuses surely offended Christians of that day as much as our deteriorating society offends Christians today.

When I went to the White House to visit President Clinton, I knew well that his reputation among conservative Christians hinged on two issues: abortion and homosexual rights. I agree fully that these are important moral issues which Christians must address. But when I went through the New Testament I could find very little related to either one. Both practices existed then, in a different and more egregious form. Roman citizens did not rely principally on abortion for birth control. The women bore their babies, then abandoned them by the side of the road for wild animals or vultures. Likewise, Romans and Greeks also practiced a form of same-gender sex: older men commonly used young boys as their sex slaves, in pederasty.

Thus in Jesus’ and Paul’s day both these moral issues asserted themselves in ways that today would be criminal in any civilized country on earth. No country allows a person to kill a full-term, delivered baby. No country legally permits sex with children. Jesus and Paul doubtless knew of these deplorable practices. And yet Jesus said nothing about either one, and Paul made only a few references to cross-gender sex. Both concentrated not on the pagan kingdom around them but on the alternative kingdom of God.

For this reason, I wonder about the enormous energy being devoted these days to restoring morality to the United States. Are we concentrating more on the kingdom of this world than on the kingdom that is not of this world? The public image of the evangelical church today is practically defined by an emphasis on two issues that Jesus did not even mention. How will we feel if historians of the future look back on the evangelical church of the 1990s and declare, “They fought bravely on the moral fronts of abortion and homosexual rights,” while at the same time reporting that we did little to fulfill the Great Commission, and we did little to spread the aroma of grace in the world?”

This was written in 1997. I think the message is timeless.

Can we remain unshaken?

We are reading through the Bible in a year together as a youth group, and we have finally made it to the book of the Psalms. Reflecting this morning on the reading in Psalm 16, one particular passage stuck out to me. There are different times and different seasons where certain verses or passages or even whole books of the Bible seem to impact a little more than they had before; they seem more applicable to the time. Here’s the verse:

“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8 ESV).

David had a foundation that was unshakeable.

“Because the Lord Himself was the main focus of David’s attention and satisfaction, he knew no one would shake him in any major way from his stability in life” (https://lumina.bible.org/bible/Psalms+16).

I found this encouraging in the wake of all the violence that continues to get so much prime time media coverage. It is a daily occurrence. More police officers have been shot and killed this week. There was a truck rampage attack in Nice, France. There was an axe rampage on a train in Germany. There have been bombings, shootings, threats, robberies, and many other things that have not even been reported on. And to top it all off, Pokemon Go is getting almost more news time than some of these.

Then there is this whole “politics” and “election” thing going on. The Republican National Convention just seems to be a joke. They have perfectly set themselves up to be the laughing stock of our nation and have walked straight into the jokes seemingly unaware? Melania Trump giving Michelle Obama’s speech, a room full of white people talking about race problems, and on the list unfortunately goes. Many popular TV Talk Show hosts and TV personalities are ridiculing and making fun of the Republican party, and it looks like Hillary is a shoe-in to win.

Wherever you stand on the issues, I think we need to remember to keep the main thing the main thing. The right perspective on these issues can eliminate anxiety and worry. We know the One who is in control. We know the One who created the heavens and the earth; the One to whom “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). The One who “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding…” (Daniel 2:21).

If the Lord Himself is the main focus of our attention and satisfaction, we can know with confidence that whoever is elected, whatever happens in the world, cannot shake us from the stability of our foundation. Let’s build our house on the Rock, instead of the shifting, sinking sand of societal opinion which changes without warning and is as fickle as the weather in West Michigan.

Put your hope and focus on the right thing. A political candidate will not fix everything. A new law, or series of laws, will not fix everything. New mandates will not destroy everything we hold precious. It will, however, make it more difficult to be a bold, outspoken, true follower of Jesus Christ. But hey, we can have confidence because “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4) and, as Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Every life matters

Yesterday afternoon I got in my car to drive home and was immediately bombarded with the most recent piece of news regarding yet ANOTHER shooting. This one hit a little closer to home, as we live in Holland, MI and this happened in St. Joseph, MI. Three more people died in this shooting.

This recent wave of active gunmen has sparked so much debate, hate, and ridiculous opinions on who is right, who is wrong, and why. Sadly, there were some who call themselves “Christians” that were a vocal minority celebrating those in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando got what they deserved because of the lifestyle they were living (Just a quick side note: No murder should be celebrated. Ever. No lifestyle should be so vilely opposed that one should wish they would go to Hell. That is not a Christ-like response).

Then there came the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It is sad and disconcerting that it appears that cops are more quick to pull the gun and shoot when faced with a black man than a white man. That isn’t okay.

Yes, there are corrupt Police Officers. Yes, there are Police Officers who act wrongly, who react too quickly with deadly force, and who make the wrong judgment call and a black life is taken, like the above examples. Yes, too, there are Police Officers who don’t react quickly enough, or aren’t expecting deadly force to be used against them, who die too often in the line of duty, even during routine traffic stops.

After the killing of Sterling and Castile, there was the Dallas shooting where police officers who were providing security for a protest that was protesting police brutality were being fired upon by a sniper. The sniper killed 5 officers, wounded 7 other officers and 2 civilians.

This is where the polarizing opinions come in. They have been coming in since the first killing. Blacks versus cops. One side or the other. No space in between.. Trevor Noah, who hosts the Daily Show on Comedy Central, weighed in after both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed and very wisely and intelligently communicated to his entire audience that we don’t have to be forced into following the loud polarizing voices of our society.

Noah says, “It always feels like in America, it’s like, if you take a stand for something, you automatically are against something else.” This is a good quote for everyone, and one that we need to keep in mind regarding all of the polarizing topics today in our society.

Just because I stand for something, doesn’t mean I hate the other thing. I like Coca Cola more than I like Pepsi. It doesn’t mean I hate Pepsi. I stand on the fact that Jesus Christ is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. That does not mean I hate any single person who opposes that view. In fact, it means I love them all the more. Because that’s what Jesus Christ, the One I seek to model my life after, would do.

In the wake of murders and snipers and hatred and polarizing forces, we have to stand up and say, “Enough.” As a Christian, I need to have the courage to stand up and speak loudly and boldly that whether white, black, civilian, police officer, straight, gay, transgender, Christian, non-Christian, every individual is made in the image and likeness of the Creator God and therefore every individual has inherent value and worth. I will not love one person and hate the other. We cannot fall victim to the mentality and attitude that we have to join one side or the other in this fight.

The thing that truly matters is pursuing every single individual with the love of Jesus Christ. The only solution to the brokenness, the hatred, the hopelessness, is the Person of Jesus Christ who makes a way for us to be with God and to live in a peace that surpasses all understanding, a joy that is not based on situation, and a hope that is eternal.

Let freedom ring!

Happy fourth of July, and happy 240th birthday America! A lot has happened since 1776. We have cars, air conditioning, a “unified” country of fifty states, and the freedom to do pretty much what we want when we want to. Yeah, we have to obey laws and stuff, but we are still free to do what we want. We just have to pay the price for doing what we want if it happens to break a law.

Freedom is really a special thing. Not everyone in the world gets to experience it, and those of us who do often take it for granted. It can be too easy to forget those who have paid the ultimate price so that we could experience freedom. Days like Memorial Day or Independence Day help us as a country to remember, but in normal day-to-day life, unless we have a loved one who recently served, is currently serving, or who paid the ultimate price for our freedom while serving, we don’t think too often about how we are able to live in freedom.

Today, of all days, let us celebrate well and joyously our country, and those who have given us the ability to live in freedom. Our soldiers have made possible the freedom to worship in the open whoever we want, to walk down the street without fear of a car bomb or being at home and not worrying about a terrorist group rolling through the street taking us captive. We are free to pursue education and careers that many don’t have the ability to do. We have the freedom to sit at home and play video games all day, read books, watch TV or go to the movie theater if we choose. We have the freedom to vote for our leaders and to have a say in how our country is run.

All of this is made possible because of the sacrifice of normal men and women doing extraordinary things.

This is all for our physical freedoms. There is One who paid the ultimate price so that we could be spiritually free. Jesus Christ came to earth, died on a cross for you and for me, and rose again from the dead three days later so that we could have the freedom to choose not to sin. He died so we could be saved from the wrath of God and so we could live in freedom from the power and penalty of sin. He died and rose again so that you and I could receive the free gift of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. – John 1:12

But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. – Acts 2:21

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1

Christ has set us free so that we could have a relationship with God and have eternal life with Him when we die. He also set us free so that right now, living on earth, we could live in freedom from the slavery of sin and so we can live the full, satisfying life that Jesus promises (John 10:10).

Remember today why you and I get to live in freedom. Remember those who have paid the price for freedom. Remember the Ultimate Sacrifice that gives us the ability to live in spiritual freedom for eternity. Remember. And let the remembrance lead you to thankful action.

Grace, Fruit, and Free Gifts

This morning I just want to encourage you with some Scripture. This Fall we are studying through the book of Romans for Youth Group. As I was reading and studying through some of it this week, I was just hit by the simplicity of this passage and I want to share it as an encouragement and challenge:

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” – Romans 6:15-23

We reap the choices that we sow. We experience the negative or positive outcomes of every decision we make.

Let us today accept the free gift of God through Jesus Christ, believe in Him, and begin reaping the fruit that leads to eternal life! There is literally nothing in the world that can bring as much satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, or belonging as being a child of God and following His way every day.

The Progression of the Great Commission

This is a follow-up post to last week’s “The Strategy of the Great Commission.” Not only is this responsibility, this command, for every disciple of Jesus Christ strategic, it is progressional. How? Here’s what the Bible says in the book of Acts:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV)

The progression is in the location of Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and then to the end of the earth. Jesus gives this progression to His followers basically saying, “Start where you are and share Christ right there.”

We don’t have to go on mission trips to different cities or foreign countries to serve and share Christ. We are actually called to first start where we are. Start in your family, with your friend group, in your neighborhood, at your job or your school. Start where you are.

Then, after starting where you are, go a little further. Maybe across town at a homeless shelter or a neighboring city.

After going a little further, going a little further still. And all the while behind you, leaving a trail of sharing Jesus. Everywhere we go, in everything we do, we should be intentionally engaged in sharing Jesus Christ. It is the only thing that truly matters in life.

When we share, we don’t just move on and never go back. We must teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded in the Bible. We must disciple and train and make disciples who can make disciples.

But, before we can move on to the ends of the earth, we have to start right where we are. Who is one person you cross paths with on an almost daily basis whom you can share Christ with today?

The Strategy of the Great Commission

Every follower of Jesus Christ has at least one responsibility. That responsibility is called the Great Commission. It is not something just for someone who has the “gift” or “skill” of evangelism. It is the call to every disciple of Jesus Christ.

Recently I was reading a book by Greg Stier and he was writing about the idea of a Gospel Advancing Strategy. As I was reading I couldn’t get the idea out of my head about how truly strategic Jesus was in giving His disciples the Great Commission.

This is the method that Jesus Christ has given us to share good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set free those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18), to be witnesses of who God is and what He has done through the Person of Jesus Christ, His Son.

So how exactly is this commission strategic? The answer is in Matthew 28:19-20:

  1. Go make disciples
    • The strategy begins with our daily lifestyle and attitude. As we are going about our daily life, we are to make disciples of other people. This means that every part of our lives should point to the Gospel.
  2. Of all nations
    • There is no exception. Every single person regardless of color, language, political party, social standing, or financial status needs to hear the Gospel.
  3. Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    • After sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when someone believes and puts their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, they should be baptized in water. This is a public profession of that new follower of Christ that their life has been transformed and they are committing to follow Christ.
  4. Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you
    • The work is not complete. Now we must train and teach the new believer about the Bible. Bible reading and prayer are key here. We must get the new believer plugged into a church and a community of believers so they can learn and grow together in community. This new believer is now ready to go and make disciples.
  5. And Jesus is always with us to give us confidence and power
    • None of this has to, or can, happen in our own power. God works in us and through us to spread the Gospel from where we are to the end of the Earth.

Let’s be passionate about pursuing the lost with this strategy Jesus Christ has given to us to reach the entire world with the Good News that we are set free from bondage, rescued from the wrath of God because of sin, and redeemed to live a life of joyful fellowship with God.

 

What would happen if you were intentionally vulnerable?

Looks can be deceiving. Sometimes the outside of something can look really nice, but the inside is disgusting. I actually have a coffee cup like that in the cupboard. The outside of it looks normal and clean, but the inside of it is stained with coffee. Even washing it doesn’t clear up the stains! Maybe it has been used one too many times.

Sometimes as Christians we get really good at “the game.” We can look the part without actually being the part. We can look happy or act like our lives are put together when really everything is falling apart. We can act nice to other people but be a tyrant at home. People see us and ask how we are doing and, maybe to avoid the gossip train or prayer chain, we just respond with “good” or “fine” and don’t tell what is really going on. We don’t always do fellowship and intentional community very well, but we can be really good at talking about surface-level topics.

I think we are sometimes too afraid of being vulnerable and known by others that we keep our mask on. That way we our pride is safe and we can keep going smoothly through life.

The Book of Proverbs is full of wise and applicable sayings for us. Here is one that I think is very timely:

“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.” – Proverbs 16:2 ESV

What is the reason behind our lack of vulnerability? Why aren’t we intentional and honest in loving community? Honestly it seems like sometimes the world does a better job at loving others than we do. That’s not how it should be! Jesus says we should be known by our love!

Take the time today to weigh your spirit. What is holding you back from being vulnerable and intentionally honest in loving community? My guess is, if you’re anything like me, there is some sort of fear of being fully known. I want to control my “ways” and how others know and see me so they see the right version of me. That’s not a good thing.

As the Lord weighs your spirit today, allow the Holy Spirit to do a work and convict. Ask God through prayer to bring intentional, loving community into your life and then ask Him to give you the courage to actually be vulnerable and honest.

Honesty and confession bring healing.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” – James 5:16

 

What’s your number one priority?

Certain things in life are more important than others. That’s just how it goes. And when we look at our lives, the things we spend the most time doing reveal where our priorities are. Before reading further, what is something you do every day, or almost every day? What takes up most of your time during the week? Obviously work or school fills that spot, but what other than that? Greg Stier wrote: “What dominates your schedule, dominates you.”

Here is one thing that dominated the schedule of Jesus:

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35 ESV

Prayer.

It’s a word we hear very often, and something that we always feel like we need to do more of. But just because we feel like we need to do it more doesn’t mean we actually do it.

For Jesus it wasn’t an option. Regardless of busyness, regardless of schedule, regardless of what else needed to be done, you could find Him always praying regularly. He made it a habit and was consistent with it. His number one priority was His relationship with His Heavenly Father, and He revealed that in the consistency of His prayer life.

Here are 3 tips to having a more successful and consistent prayer life:

  1. Schedule a reminder every day at a certain time
    • Time is a valuable asset. Use it well. Schedule this time into your day, every day, and make a point of using the time well. Eliminate as many distractions as possible during this time, which maybe means don’t bring any technology with you, but stick with pen and paper and physical copy of the Bible.
  2. Have a specific place
    • It could be the car, the shower, a closet at home, or at the foot of your bed. Find a place and make it the place where you go to be alone with God. Take a journal and the Bible and be intentional.
  3. Work around it
    • When life gets busy, certain things get dropped or neglected. Fight to keep this a priority and work around it, don’t reschedule or wipe it off the schedule. Don’t compromise it.