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.

Advent at Harbor 2017

I don’t think I’ve posted anything in close to six months but am excited to break the blog silence with something so near to my heart: Advent.

Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming.” Each year, for 4 weeks leading up to Christmas Eve-though some traditions go for 6 weeks-many churches throughout the centuries have joyously celebrated Jesus’ first coming (his birth) while also leaving space to long for and remember His promise to return to Earth and finish what he started.

Advent helps us balance the joy and celebration of all that Jesus has done for us and in our world, but also reminds us of what He has yet to do. Let us not forget the penultimate verse in the bible:  “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Advent helps us to live in the healthy tension of honesty and hope, thanksgiving and longing, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. This intentional time helps us keep our eyes on Jesus when everything around us screams, “Look at me,” and vies for our time and affections.

At Harbor we’ll be celebrating Advent this season through a variety of means.

1.) Devotionals: I’ve written some short daily devotionals designed for singles or couples to get you into God’s Word for about 10 minutes each day. Each week of devotions centers around a corresponding sermon/candle theme of hope, faithfulness, peace, joy. Even if you rarely ever read the bible, would you commit to read and reflect from Dec 3rd-25th? We also have short devotionals which parents can do with their children. Kristy has done a great job picking some solid ones out for us. I can’t wait to start.

2.) Sermon series called “Close Encounters” in which we’ll see 4 Old Testament personal “God encounters” with Abraham/Sarah, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua, and how we can encounter Jesus in a fresh way this season.

3.) Decor: We’ll be adding some more visuals to worship each successive Sunday as an anticipatory buildup to Christmas Eve. We have four different Harbor artists contributing pieces to help stimulate our imaginations.

4.) Candle readings: Each week we’ll be getting folks fairly new to Harbor up front with a responsive reading from the prophecies about Jesus in Isaiah. Each week we’ll see a new promise unfold, while lighting the candles of Hope, Faithfulness, Peace, and then Joy.

Please take advantage of these means to help you celebrate and anticipate each Sunday, and each day of Advent.

On leaving, goodbyes, and answered prayer

Just last week, Amy and I re-watched the latter part of The Office Season 7. If you’re not familiar with the show, the boss and main character Michael Scott, bids farewell to his work “family” to start a new life in Colorado with his fiancee. It’s really kind of a sad episode, mainly because in all his quirkiness, immaturity, insensitivity, and insecurity, he really was a good boss who loved his employees and got the most out of them. I felt the same way! Because he wanted to avoid the difficulty of goodbyes, he penned Friday as his last day while Thursday afternoon plane tickets remained hidden in his pockets.

I didn’t lose a Michael Scott per se, but an influential mentor in my life and at Harbor just moved away from us. And, that rascal pulled a Michael Scott-esque type exit. Jeanne was sick and so their supposed penultimate Sunday proved to be their last. Though it wasn’t planned this way, I would be surprised if Larry would have written the script any differently!

Church folks move away, and that has always been quite sad for me. Yet I know, it will bring a great deal of happiness to others (in their case family) as well as their new church family. Strangely enough, or perhaps more appropriately, Larry will continue to run Pro Presenter for a church plant which meets in a YMCA. Sound familiar? That church prayed for such a person. So our loss is their gain, and another church gets a good one. Or rather a good two.

Making some people happy will always make others sad. That’s the deal with love: you will always have to love some people less, and some people more. I get it. The same thing was true for us when we left great friends and a great church in West Virginia.

And of course I’ll miss Jeanne, who proved to be a great mentor to my wife Amy, among the many things she did for our family/church in the course of their time at Harbor. It was really her first mentor since college, so for her I’m incredibly grateful.

One last little anecdote. Larry and Jeanne came to Harbor’s final core group training, the one where we read names of people we had been praying for  (many of whom eventually did come to Harbor and stay). Each person read about five, and Larry actually read his own name (we didn’t use last names). Too funny. Sometimes, in the strange providence of God, we  we can become answers to our own prayers without realizing it.

Fortunately for me, he ALWAYS checks email. I can still send questions his way.

In the mean time, I’ll continue to pray for more visitors, more members, more people plugged in, and more volunteers. Without volunteers, we simply can’t get this  job done. I’m thankful for all of you who give of your time, talent, treasure to labor alongside each other in order to see this work grow, bless, serve, and one day, multiply.

Lord, please send us more workers, for the harvest is plentiful.

 

What the Blacklist can teach us about Predestination

I’m never able to preach everything that I’d like to preach on a Sunday morning. I know that some folks might not believe me, but I actually edit out a ton of stuff on Saturdays. I promise. And not only that, I just can’t mention everything which I’d like to when covering large portions of scripture as we’ve been doing on Sunday mornings through our “Footloosed” series in Acts.

A few weeks ago, I was unable to get to properly cover this verse in Acts 13:48.

 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

The NIV, New King James, and ESV all translate the word “appointed.”

What this teaches us is that many heard the gospel message, but only some believed. Why? I can’t see any other way to interpret this than God had already chosen them to believe.

But what about those who didn’t believe? Did they simply not believe, because God had not chosen them? No.

“When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”  Acts 13:45-46

We are told that they rejected the message not because they weren’t appointed for life but because “they did not consider themselves worthy of eternal life.” Left to our own devices we will not choose Jesus. In C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce he imagines an after-life conversation betwixt a Christian in heaven and one who has recently passed on. Just as the Jews did in Acts 13, the liberal priest still chooses to reject Jesus as THE answer.

These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way. If there were such a thing (there is no need to interrupt, my dear boy) quite frankly, I should not be interested in it. It would be of no religious significance. God, for me, is something purely spiritual. The spirit of sweetness and light and tolerance— and, er, service, Dick, service. We mustn’t forget that, you know.’

C.S. Lewis, who as far as I know does not believe in Predestination, actually draws out the logical conclusion of Reformed thought. Unless the heart is changed, it will never choose life but remain hardened. Even when proven otherwise. Something must happen for him to believe.

Now you might think that would make one arrogant, to believe in such a doctrine. And honestly, for many, it has. So I get why many people do reject the doctrine up front. I don’t blame you.

But would you be open to considering that the opposite doctrine could also have the same result?

In the show The Blacklist, there is a very elusive character who seems to fly under the radar of any place he goes. Finally the FBI (I believe) catches him. The unit director then begins to boast in his own abilities. We found him. The main character on the show quickly retorts, “If you found him, it is because he wanted to be found by you.”

This “being found because he wanted to be found” belief was intended to humble them, not make them feel prouder of what they had accomplished. This concept, the humility it can produce and the glory which can then be given to God, is the main reason why I would commend folks to not simply thrust aside this doctrine.

Everyone does have to make a choice whether to put faith or not put faith in Jesus. But consider that there might be a reason that you “chose” Him and someone else hasn’t. Can you chalk that up to your spirituality, your foresight, long range planning, wisdom? Or perhaps you found him because He wanted you to find him….?

Regardless whether or not you hold to this doctrine, the fruit of what we believe must lead us to love. If Reformed Theology doesn’t make you more humble, than you are definitely living inconsistently with it’s purpose (bring all Glory to God), and drawing illogical conclusions. In the end, we are ultimately not to be known by our doctrine but by our love for one another (John 13:35). And our motivation to love is because he first loved us, even while we were yet enemies (Romans 5:8).

In the end, where ever we land on this controversial doctrine, let us love well, and be very charitable to others with theological differences. If we look to the Son, we are all on the same team (John 6:40).