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?

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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.

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.

What do you see in the mirror?

Have you ever looked in the mirror at the end of the day and had that thought, “Wow. Have I looked like this all day?” or “Has my hair been sticking up like that all day?” or “Where did that zit come from? Has it been there long?” Mirrors often reflect back our physical imperfections. The verse quoted below talks about seeing ourself in the right way…

Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
  It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.” – Proverbs 3:7-8

We need to view ourself and God with the proper perspective. There is a certain order that things fit in, and when that order gets messed up things can go drastically wrong. God is bigger and better than you and me. He is smarter, wiser, stronger, and a better planner. There are things that God does that I don’t understand, and I may never understand, but whatever God decides to do, that is the best possible course of action.

If I disagree or don’t understand, that doesn’t mean God is wrong and I am right. I don’t have things figured out better than God. I don’t have a better plan or a better method than he does. So I shouldn’t try to do things my own way, in my own strength, for my own self. That can create in me a selfishness and pride that only brings pain and shame and guilt and heartache.

Instead, the best course of action is to look in the mirror, realize my limitations and small-mindedness and understand that God has no limitations. I should humbly submit myself under his purpose and plan, respect his word, and turn away from evil and do good. If I do this, the Bible proclaims that it will be healing to my flesh and refreshing to my bones.

If I submit myself to God, turn away from evil and sin, then I won’t have anything to be ashamed, embarrassed or guilty over. I won’t have to carry around the weight of my sin and shame. I will be able to experience healing and refreshing because I was able to see through humble eyes that I don’t have things all figured out, but I know the God who knows everything and I can trust him.

A Daily Prayer

Prayer has been a common topic recently in my life. Quite a few people have been talking about it lately. We just had a lesson about it in youth group, and we talked about prayer a lot in the sermon on Sunday morning. When something comes up with some frequency, I think it means God is trying to teach me something. So, I wanted to share a daily prayer of victory that I’ve prayed. I actually got it from someone else, but tailored it to my days.

I hope this encourages you to pray today! Here’s the daily prayer challenge:

“Dear God, this morning I give to you my mind. I ask that You would help me to set my mind on the things that are above, and not the things of the earth. I can sometimes get so distracted by daily activities that my focus comes off of You and is consumed by things of this earth. Keep my mind focused on You today.

I give you control over my eyes today. Help me to see others as You see them; as people in need of a Savior, in need of encouragement, and in need of Your love. Help me not to see the outward appearance, but the inward need of others that I may be able to be a light to them. Keep my eyes focused on You today, and let them not wander to please my flesh.

I submit and give you control over my mouth today. Let my words be pleasing in Your sight. Help me to build up with my words today instead of tear down. Use my words to speak Your life-giving truth into others today.

I submit and give you control over my heart today. I pray that You, God, would be the ruler of my heart. Take away my selfishness and pride and help me to walk humbly in Your will and way today.

I submit and give you control over my hands and feet today. Let my actions be pleasing and honoring to You. As I work through my day today, help me to bring glory to You as I work hard, diligently, and for Your purposes.

Take all of me today, Lord God, and use it to further Your kingdom. Help me to be a light in the darkness I will enter today, and place people in my path today as divine appointments to share the truth of Jesus Christ with.

In the Name of our Risen Savior Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.”

What fills you up?

There are certain things I do on a daily or weekly basis that don’t get me excited about life. They don’t get me to wake up early, so full of excitement that I can’t wait to do them. One of those things is taking out the trash and the recycling. We keep our recycling in the garage which is behind our house and doesn’t have a paved walk way to get there. So if it’s wintertime or happens to be raining, we may go an extra week without taking the recycling out because to me it’s not worth the trip. Another thing is doing the dishes. Dirty dishes have to be a result of the Fall. They are the worst! But, a sink full of dirty dishes is stressful, so I do the dishes (sometimes…just as a last resort :)).

I get it. There are things we have to do each week, and sometimes daily, that don’t fill us up. They aren’t energizing or super fulfilling or satisfying. But they need to get done, so we do them.

6973368368d826531ead9d800d189f16The question for you today, though, is what fills you up? What energizes you? What do you absolutely love doing?
I think too much of our lives is spent doing things that exhaust and drain us, and not enough time doing the very things that make us feel like life is so exciting and worth living. It’s those things that fill us up that I think God specifically wired us to do. They can even become a form of worship to God, because we are doing the very thing He created us for. Often this takes the form of a hobby or something we do outside of work, but hopefully the thing that you get paid to do is something that fills you up. If it’s not, maybe you need a job change. It’s scary and it’s risky, but it might be the thing that opens up opportunities for ministry and sharing Christ that you would never have known about unless you took a step of faith.ab9f8cea936472746926892f5c171c78

Find the thing that fills you up and do it. It’s worth it. It brings focus, purpose, and direction to life. It encourages, energizes, and excites. Figure out what your “thing” is and praise God through it!