Sharing but not comparing

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:1-5

I’m encouraged by stories of people giving to their communities. Tyler Perry, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, just to name a few. None of the readers of this blog, few in number most likely, have that kind of money. How do you feel when you hear of other Average Joe’s loving people in this time? How do we apply Jesus warnings to OURSELVES?

First of all, it is our job to be aware of our own motives, not the motives of others (though we can certainly ask the question). Jesus warns us to be aware of “practicing your righteousness in order of being seen,” and he knows the exact motivation of the group in question here. We don’t have the luxury of knowing the thoughts of others. But in another passage, Jesus also calls us to let our good deeds be seen before others so that they may give glory to God.

So should we share or not share? What’s the difference? Motivation. Two of the same deeds done by two different people can have completely different motivations. So it is our job to check why we want to share anything good that we’re doing, with others.

1.) Sharing is caring. What you’re doing can be a wonderful encouragement for others to jump in. If your motivation is not to gain favor from God or others, but to give because you already have favor from God through Christ, then share away. I think that there is much that we can do during this time, but really don’t know how or what to do. Sometimes we just need ideas.

2.) Sharing can’t lead to comparing. In a discussion with some good friends, I confessed that I often feel stressed out when I see others sharing good because I’m comparing myself with them. The problem isn’t in their sharing, it is in me. I take the good they do, and compare myself with them. Am I doing enough, either in quantity of quality? But we all have different gifts (and time for that matter). I can’t make things. Sometimes I can catch fish to share, and sometimes I can’t. Some folks have made masks, made resources known, baked and brought meals, grocery shopped, taught others new technology, shared devotionals online, lead zoom groups, communicated well with others, etc….

When others share, be encouraged. God is at work through people in this mess. His image in humanity is on display. But don’t compare yourself to others. You are free to love differently than others, and don’t need to keep up with the Jones’ generosity or creativity. One of my friends shared with me, “Social distancing IS loving your neighbor.”

Let’s be encouraged, creative, and resourceful. But the moment you feel stressed, or less of a Christian, or less of a neighbor, teacher, parent, just relax. Jesus wasn’t just the best neighbor, he was the best neighbor FOR the Christian. Therefore we can relax, recognize unique opportunities, and enter into them without the burden of comparison. His yoke is easy and burden is light my friends.

 

Wisdom and Words from James 3

There are a variety of ways to personally read, study, apply the bible. I’ve used a number of different methods over the years and have found certain ones helpful in different seasons of life. For greater background information on story-lines, genres, themes, the bible project has some wonderful resources here. If you are following along with Harbor’s Bible reading plan, we are currently in the book of James. A number of methods, as one shown here, basically frame the study time with some variation of questions related to A.) God B.) Humanity C.) Jesus D.) Repentance, Faith, Application. So here is one way to read with that framework in mind as I go through James 3. Hope this example helps you dig into and apply God’s word on your own!

What does this teach me about God (Father/Son/Holy Spirit)?

God calls people to to teach, but not all people. Those whom he does call to teach should expect greater accountability before Him and even others. True wisdom is not simply knowing more information, or even the skill of relaying that information, but is always defined by character and actions.

What does this teach me about humanity (Sinfulness as well as Dignity)?

Our speech can set the direction of our lives, therefore we need to be aware of how our words are used. We cannot speak something true of God or praise Him with our lips, while speaking evil to, or about our fellow Christians and  neighbors. All people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicity, political affiliations are made in God’s image and therefore, it does matter HOW we talk to or about those whom we disagree does matter. Pastors are not immune to narcissism, as are any sort of teachers or leaders in a church setting. Character will distinguish those who should and shouldn’t lead.

How does this passage lead me toward Jesus and increase my affection for him?

Jesus’ life was a perfect display of meekness. He was strong and challenging with words to the self righteous and yet gentle with those who felt overwhelmed by their sinfulness. His words were words given to Him by His Heavenly Father. He was aligned with His Father’s Kingdom, and therefore so were His words. He spoke these words for me, but now I can hear them spoken to me. Thank you Jesus for giving me the rebuke in my self-righteousness, calling me back to your grace. Thank you even when it is hard to hear and comes from others whom I don’t want to hear it from! Thank you for the healing and comforting words in my fears, uncertainty, and self-loathing. You forgive my words of hate and give me words of hope.

How will life today be different if I repent and believe the truth of this passage?

When I want to respond harshly toward others in their perceived sin or perceived stupidity, I will immediately bring that frustration to Jesus and ask him to do something with it. When I’m tempted to gossip today, I will remember that this is an affront to God’s special creation. I will take to pray for our country’s leaders, asking God to grant wisdom that is from above, that is humble and impartial, that leaders will lead us in respecting the dignity of each person. However, regardless of how leaders react, I will remember that Jesus Kingdom is not OF this world, and I will respond differently.  As a teacher, I recognize that I’m under an even stricter accountability for how I use my words and want to be the same person I am on Sunday as I am on Monday.

Don’t add anything to Jesus and you’ll be able to add something to others

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. -Galatians 3:25-29

Paul’s main argument in the book of Galatians is that you don’t need to do add anything to what Jesus has already done. Adding anything to what Jesus has already done FOR you, is like taking a sharpie marker to a Michelangelo’s Sisteen Chapel work, and thinking you’ll be improving it. If you try to improve it, you ruin it!

While women may not want to think of themselves as “sons,” at this time Paul chose the word “sons” b/c the sons were only ones who received an inheritance. For folks who have been told, “You need to add more laws, or in essence become Jewish before you could become a “real” Christian,” can you imagine the burden being lifted? Women, slaves, now included, instead of excluded? Yes! Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to add anything to what Jesus has done for you. Not their personal preferences, performance, politics, patriotism, profession. He is sufficient by His own merit.

In Christ, there are only those who have received full inheritance based solely upon Jesus. We each have gifts, a background, a history, a culture, and skills to bless our church families and the family of God spread across the globe. We don’t lose all distinctions, (I’m still an American middle aged dude and not a woman), but those distinctions no longer divide us, because they no longer take priority to our ultimate identity and union with King Jesus. We add to each other, but add nothing to Jesus work.

No matter the future, we have a promise today. Let us hold on to Him, who holds on to us.

The City that is to come

14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

In these strange times, I have come out of blogging retirement and wanted to share with any Harbor family and friends some thoughts to keep us zoomed into God’s unshakeable word. This passage is from our Harbor Bible Reading plan (technically its yesterday’s reading) found in Hebrews 13:14-16.

In times of mass pandemic, which by the way, is nothing new for this world, Christians have often found great comfort in the hope of a new city. The “city” referred to is not a city which we build with human hands, but one that “is to come” when Jesus returns. In Revelation 21, we see Jesus descending from heaven and bringing the heavenly Jerusalem down to earth. So….this heavenly city doesn’t stay in heaven forever, but very much comes down to Earth! Its physical and tangible. We pray now, as Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”

In some ways we borrow the phraseology of workers on strike who claim, “What do we want ? This city….When do we want it? Now!” We don’t settle. We long for, and we pray for, more of God’s will done perfectly in heaven, to come down to earth.

While we may borrow the phraseology of those on strike, Christians have a different attitude than striking workers. Instead we lift up our prayers, not in anger, but in lament and desperate petition. We lift up our voices in songs as we gather (even if online), but also as we sing when we scatter in praise (vs 15). There’s no greater sound than hearing one of my children sing the songs during the week that we sung that Sunday.  We say “How long O Lord,” but we also do so in thanksgiving for Jesus’ sacrifice, that we can be assured of this city and our place in it through repentance and faith.

Finally, we act nothing like striking workers. With our hope fixed on the city that is to come, we don’t stop working, we continue to love our cities and neighborhoods where they are and for what the could become. We love people where they are, and are hopeful of what they could be. It has been noted that those who think most deeply about the city that is to come, actually do the most good in their cities and neighborhoods where they currently find themselves. I see this in my neighborhood, and we see it throughout history. In addition to praise, we are instructed in verse 16, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

One of the most “spiritual” or “heavenly-minded” things you can in that city is to tangibly do something good for your church family AND your neighbors around you. How appropriate is this verse today, when hoarding is so common, when toilet paper is rare? In the words of Seinfeld, “Can you spare a square?” Let’s find ways to do good and to share with each other. It may not be your presence unless you are 6 feet away, but it could be your words via text or phone call or video conference. It could be your service. Let’s get creative. Remembering the city that is to come is the best thing you can do for your church family and neighbors during this season.

 

The Fall

While God was satisfied with the good world he had created, He was very satisfied after the creation of man and woman. Perfect harmony between man and God, with man and woman, and with nature. That’s a picture of the Hebrew word “Shalom.” But, sin entered the world when Adam and Eve freely chose to eat the forbidden fruit. Looks can be deceiving, and our senses are not often helpful in determining what is good, true, and beautiful. That fateful decision reverberated throughout creation, causing disharmony in all the aforementioned relationships.

In the 4th-5th centuries, St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (Northern Africa), argued, from personal experience, what Paul claims in Ephesians 2: this fall into sin left him, and leaves all of us, spiritually dead. We need someone outside of us to graciously come and rescue us. We can’t naturally reason our way to faith in God.

You probably remember the deadly predicament of the soccer team from Thailand trapped in underground caves. Their coach led them into a labyrinth of caves during the rainy season and soon the team found themselves trapped deep underneath the earth. They could not rescue or reason themselves out of their situation. They were essentially dead men walking, without hope – unless somehow, someone, someway, could make his way into the caves and lead them out.

The first Adam led us in to that cave of death and despair. But the cave was not too deep for Jesus, nor were the riches of heaven too much to leave behind and arrive in poverty. The second Adam, Jesus, came to lead us out.

Amazingly there were no casualties among the boys in the caves. But one man did volunteer for the rescue mission, and freely paid the ultimate price. Like that man, Jesus volunteered for this rescue mission, compelled by love, despite the great personal cost to himself. In the end, he considered the horrendous cost to be worth it comparedto the gain. The “gain” was losing none that the Father had given to Him (John 6:39). While Adam’s sin brought death, Jesus death brought life.

Hallelujah what a Savior! We’re not too far lost, too dead, too confused, too self-righteous for His rescue. Even that person that you’re thinking of right now. Even him or her. No one is! If the caves of sin were not too deep to keep Jesus from entering in, remember that neither are your falls, doubts, secret struggles, or obvious weaknesses!

Simeon My Way

Before I jump back into Harbor’s reading plan for the New Year, I’ve been reflecting a good bit on Simeon’s reaction when he comes across the infant-yes Ricky Bobby, the cute little 8 lb baby Jesus. Here’s the passage in Luke 2.

 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant[e] depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon had been told that he would witness this new Savior first hand before he died. So at the end of his life, when he finally gets to meet this cute little Savior, how does he respond? I mean, he really would not live to see all of the benefits the Savior would bring to him, his countrymen, and the world. And yet Jesus this snippet of Jesus was plenty. He rejoiced. How cool is that?

Today we see so much of what Jesus became, with his life, death, resurrection, and His church moving forward to all parts of the globe. And yet we haven’t seen ALL that He will do. There is still a future component, of which we will most likely not be alive to witness firsthand: Jesus’ return to renew all things. But even now, we, like Simeon can rejoice for what is to come, not just what has come to pass.

Why is this? Because the past, present, future of “salvation” is so tied up in the person of Jesus, that to experience him now, means that all parts of our salvation (freedom from sin’s punishment/power/presence) bring us joy today. Just like with Simeon. Our past, present, future are tied together in His past/present/future.

What brings us peace? Is it a promotion, a relationship, a success? No! We know those things never deliver, but Jesus never fails. If our concept of salvation revolves around Jesus, not Jesus so-I-can-get-what-I-really-want, then we can expect interactions with Jesus in weekly worship, bible reading, community groups, to be joy filled experiences.

Who is salvation for? It is for the Jew AND Gentile. It is for the racially/radically excluded people to be racially/radically included in God’s people. Salvation is not simply for us, but for others. When we think of salvation primarily in personal terms, it becomes self-absorbed and misses Jesus. And thus misses joy. When we think of salvation primarily in terms of what it brings us, and not others who are yet to believe, it misses Jesus. He came for the near and the far off. The religious and the irreligious. The “good” and the “bad.” The rich and the poor. It is good news for those inside the church and the offer extends to those outside the church. It’s good news for the individual and good news for the community.  Do we see both and, or either or?

If Simeon had a snippet of Jesus, then we have the whole picture. How much more joy and peace is there in store for us today? We can depart in peace and we can live in peace, not looking for anything/anyone else to save and satisfy us than this Savior. He’s that good.

God’s Patience is Not a Bad Thing

“God’s Patience Is Not A Bad Thing” – This is an excerpt from Harbor Community Church’s Devotional. The full PDF version can be found here.  My answers are provided in italics. Just use them after you think of an answer for yourself.

Wednesday, December 4th II Peter 3:1-9

Other suggested readings: Psalms 148, 149; Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 7:28-35

On some two lane highways, there are signs that declare “Patience pays, 4 lanes in ¼ mile.’ These signs alert the driver not to rush to the judgment of passing the slow car in front of him/her. Instead, it will be safer to do so in a little while when another lane is added. Only a 20 or so years removed from Jesus’ resurrection, many were becoming impatient with Jesus’ return. Since he hadn’t returned yet, they lost patience, and rushed to a rash judgment: he isn’t coming back ya’ll! Peter reminds us to stay patient and not to rush to bad decisions based on impatient faith.

1.) What does Peter warn against? Scoffers who come and follow their own evil desires

2.) What are the scoffers saying? That the world is the same as it always was.

3.) Are they right in their assertions? No! Name some events which prove they are wrong. Creation, Flood, Exodus, God redeeming a people for himself through Covenants, Jesus and miracles, resurrection.

4.) To what should we appeal when false assertions are made? The words spoken in the past by the Holy prophets and the commands given by Jesus through his prophets; THE BIBLE.

5.) Their assertions are based upon observation of the world, without the aid of the scriptures. They “deliberately forget” (vs. 5). Their main argument is time: nothing has changed over time. But is time a good argument for our Lord Jesus not coming back? His concept of time and ours is not the same. A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. God doesn’t see time like we see it.

6.) How should we interpret his not coming back for 2000 years? He is patient allowing more people to come to repentance. Over 400 years occurred between the two Testaments. That’s a long time, but God didn’t forget. He’s never late, but always right on time.

7.) When have you been angry with God because he seemed to slow to respond? Be specific and discuss/reflect

Application:

  • Confess that we are often like the scoffers and very impatient with God
  • To prepare yourself for Christmas, turn from your impatience and remember a time when God has been patient with you.