Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who is NOT Your Neighbor?

Who is NOT Your Neighbor?

Though we likely do not know each other, we share a mutual love. It is a sentiment that is tough to admit but harder to deny - the evidence is overwhelming. Not only can I “marshal verses” to prove we possess this passion, but our family and closest friends would gladly testify against us confirming this trait.

This pervasive passion? We love ourselves – bunches. No doubt, we all do some serious self-loathing at times– some far more than others. However, on the whole, most of us feed and care for ourselves pretty doggone well. If you are in some measure sitting upright, clothed and in your right mind (see Mark 5:15), you show evidence of healthy, God-given self-love.

Here is a twist for you to consider: even some of our low self-esteem is evidence of self-love. If I did not love me, it would not matter that I thought badly of me at times. Let that soak in. It is my deep concern for me that alerts me to my needs, be they physical, social or emotional.

Good news. This is not meant as a guilt trip, but a sweet hook-setter. When Jesus set the standard of love for us to show towards others – the second greatest commandment – He chose our love for “little old us.” No 10% tithe here. This is an all-out, deep, spare-no-expense love.

When asked which commandment was most important, Jesus answered: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” As a bonus, He added that the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as you love yourself. There are no other commandments greater than these, said He (see Mark 12:28-31).

If I would love others as much as I love me, and if you would do the same – whoa! Our self-partiality is an incredibly high standard to set for our practical care for others. It is not simply “do others no harm” as lofty as that would be. No, it is do good unto others the way you want them to treat you.

“Yes” we say, “but who is my neighbor? That is a big, broad command.” Great question! A Jewish Law expert already asked it of Jesus. Hearing Jesus’ summary of the Law, he got defensive and felt a need to justify his lack of love for others, especially non-Jews (Luke 10:25-37).

Jesus answered this question with the story of “The Good Samaritan.” Your neighbor is the person in your life that has a need, not just your family, friends and favorites. Jesus did not narrow the scope, but kicked out our safe parameters.

Our neighborhoods are much bigger than we think (or like). It includes many we would rather exclude, be they the wrong - I mean different - race, nationality, economic or educational strata or people pursuing life style choices we find offensive.

The Second Commandment is much simpler than we may like. When God puts someone in your life, tell them “welcome to the ‘hood!” and then love on ‘em, just like you love you. We do not want to be like murderous Cain, who smugly asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Able’s blood answers, “Yes,” as do the unmet needs of many we encounter but ignore. Here is a dare: Read James 2 and 1 John 3:11-24.

A fully developed neighbor-love-to-the-max includes not just the lovable. It is a love in “3 – D” that includes Distant People (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 10:12-17), Different People (Acts 1:8; Rom. 16; Rev. 5:9-13) and Difficult People (Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-38; John 13:1-17).

Whom do you find it hard to love: the poor, the rich, minorities, majorities, Muslims, homosexuals, men, women, family, next door neighbors? God controls who is part of your neighborhood. He brings people across our paths for a purpose. Remember Ephesians 2:8-10? (See also Romans 12:9-13; Hebrews 6:10-12; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:3-9.)

The Christians in Rome were exhorted: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments… are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10 – NIV). See also 1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Matt. 9:13; 12:7.

To a church that was already great at loving people – something churches strive for and many pride themselves in - Paul wrote: “And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more” (1 Thess. 4:10 - NIV).

Ironically, it is your love for yourselves that gets in the way of your love for others, as mine does me. In a sentence, Jesus made it clear that if I love me and you love you – and we do – then we are to also love each other in like manner.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

When WWJD becomes WWJK

Do you pray for missionaries? Add safety to the list - or ramp it up. After all, they are part of a movement that wants to kill off Presidents. Pat Robertson, acting like a radical Muslim cleric, has called for the asassination of the Pres. of Venezuela.

Imagine being a missionary in Venezuela right now? Life just got easier. Instead of explaining that Jesus died for sinners... Indeed, it has become WWJK - Who Would Jesus Kill?

Paul addressed this nicely in Colossians 4:2-6

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (NIV - emphasis added)

Monday, August 22, 2005

God's Dress Code- Sun. notes

These are Sun AM hand-out sermon notes - I am not sure the format will work (cutting & pasting), or reading them with no context (the sermon). The dress code I refer to is from a local high school that has caused a stir by implementing one this year. It made for a nice connecting point as we talk about fulfilling the "one anothers," and "putting on" these godly traits for the church, esp. bearing wth & forgiving one another. Here ya go:

God’s Dress Code for Church
“one another-ing” one another

With all the talk of dress codes, what does God have to say about this area? Per His custom (nature), He is most concerned with inner clothing: the attitudes, commitments and character of our inner person. In Colossians, we see a list of things to put on to be ready to – not go to church - but live as the church. To survive as the diverse body Christ He has made us (His heterogeneous holy habitat), we need to dress for the occasion. These clothes are far more important than what we fuss over on Sunday mornings.

“ So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” - Col. 3:12-14 - NASV

Our Identity - (Singular & Plural: You & Ya’ll):
· New Creatures Who’ve: laid aside the old self with its evil practices (vs. 9)
put on the new self (vs. 10 - see 2 Corin. 5:17; Rom.6-8; Eph. 4-5)
are being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of Jesus

· Diverse: “Greek & Jew, circumcised & uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave & freeman” vs. 11

· Unified: but Christ is all, and in all. (vs. 11 & Eph. 4:1-6)

· God’s Very Own People: Chosen of God, Holy, Beloved (vs. 12; Eph. 1 & 2; Rom. 8:33; Tit. 1:1)

God’s Dress Code for Church (His People): “Ya’ll Put On:”
· a heart of compassion σπλαγχνα οικτιρμου
· kindness χρηστοτητα
· humility ταπεινοφροσυνην
· gentleness πραυτητα
· patience μακροθυμιαν

Note: these are inward attitudes / clothes that will have outward impact

Family / Church Responsibilities: Since You’re all Dressed up:
· Bear with one another (vs. 13) ανεχομενοι αλληλων
Endure, be patient with, give patient attention to one another

· Forgive each other (vs. 13) χαριζομενοι εαυτοις - Matt. 6:12-14; Eph. 4:32-5:2

- forgiving—concerns past offenses - forbearing – deals with present offenses

What: Forgive - Grant, bestow upon; deal with generously or graciously, pardon;
hand over or release (a prisoner); cancel a debt (Luke 7:42, 43); be returned (Phlm 22)

Who: Whoever has a complaint against anyone: a cause of blame or complaint.

Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you forgive others

· Put on love (14) the Ultimate Fashion Accessory - it is the perfect bond of unity

Do you put equal concern over getting dressed in this fashion?

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” - Col. 3:12-14 - The Message, by Eugene Petersen

Sunday, August 14, 2005

An Honest Bias - Not So Good Science Alert

Harvard is out to show God He wasn't needed in creation... okay, that' my head line for this article.

Here is a prime quote:

"My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention," said David R. Liu, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard."

I can't wait. I trust the Lord ain't sweating it too bad.

Loving One Another: HOW - the Sun. notes

Here are this Sun.'s Sermon notes (the handout "da people" get.) This sermon is a follow up of - a rabbit trail from - Mark 12:28-34. I am not sure how it will love / read as a "copy / paste", but here it is.

Loving One Another: HOW

Applying God’s #2 Command from Mark 12:28-34

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. … Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Gal. 6:2 &10 - NKJV

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

“The person who refuses to love doesn't know the first thing about God, because God is love--so you can't know him if you don't love. 9 This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him…. 11 My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. 12 No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us--perfect love!” (Mark 12:30-31 - NIV & 1 John 4:8-9, 11-12 – Message)

Love One Another: The Reciprocal Commands:

Here are many of the “one another” passages: John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10, 16; 13:8; 14:13, 19; 15:5, 7, 14,27; 16:16; 1 Corin. 9:11, 11:33; 12:25; Gal. 5:13, 15, 26; 6:2,6; Eph. 4:2, 25-32; 5:21; Phil. 2:3; Col. 3:9-13; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9, 18; 5:11, 15; Heb. 10:24, 25; James 4:11; 5:9, 16; 1 Pet. 1:22; 4:9; 5:5; 1 John. 3:11. Look them up!

Heb. 10:24 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” - NIV

Col. 3:12 “God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. 13 Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. - CEV

Gal. 5:13 “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” NIV

John 13:34, 35 “But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples. - CEV

1. If this were a test, how would you do? Passing? Good marks?

2. Is it obvious that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35)?

3. WHO in our church family can you show love to THIS WEEK?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pondering Public Prayers and Pray-ers

One of the privileges and duties of pastors is to say public prayers. In the past week, I said two such prayers: one at a recreational event, one in a civic setting - unspecified to make lawsuits harder. Just curious: are such prayers said, offered, prayed, given, invoked…?

These two occasions stirred thought and created a few good questions. I trust I am not over-thinking this, making a simple matter complicated. (My children have on rare occasion accused me of doing that.) Shouldn’t one just get out there and pray?

The God we serve and the people we seek to lead into His presence in the few moments of prayer deserve careful thought, prayer and some level of preparation.

At the ball game, I prayed for safety, good sportsmanship, the satisfaction of doing one’s best, and all of it to be done to the glory of God. I had no written text, no notes – other than mental. Just simply, as a friend at the game said, throwing out the first pitch – verbal.

At the civic event, I had / used / said / read / offered a written prayer: eyes open, Bible open (to hide the notes – is that lying?), voice louder to be heard by all, in Jesus’ name. And yes, I wrote it – it was not an "Internet special."

It used to bother me to see – why were my eyes open? – people reading prayers at public events: inaugurations, dedications, weddings, and funerals. Yet, having been in some of those spots, I can appreciate going the text route.

More than once I have been tired enough to start a bedtime prayer with "Lord, thank you for this food..." How terrible does it sound to say special occasions call for special prayers? Not to impress either people or God –as if we could– but to fit the moment, meet the need.

Certainly the prayer said before cake and ice cream at a child’s birthday party is different than one said at a child’s funeral. One requires much less thought than the other.

Should public prayers be written, rehearsed, reviewed and edited before the event? Or should they be spontaneous, Spirit-lead (false dichotomy alert), from the heart (alert #2), and sincere (#3)?

Why is it seen as relying on God when one waits until they stand up to pray, trusting Him for words for the moment? Is not the same Spirit able to lead in quiet moments of preparation as well? Is He not willing to guide hours or even days prior to such events? One could argue that waiting until the moment is presuming on Him.

When Jesus said to not worry about what you would say in front of civic leaders, He was referring to when you were dragged there for your faith. Not about being invited to express faith and seek God’s merciful help and guidance.

When Nehemiah appeared before the king to request permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, it was after weeks of prayer and careful thought. What he said was critical, his life was on the line.

The Bible is full of written or pre-thought out prayers, ones crafted to the occasion (see Ezra 9, Nehemiah 1 and 9, Luke 2:46-55, the Psalms, Revelation, Jonah 2).

While prayers should be heartfelt and never mindless repetition, that does not preclude making use of a written or memorized prayer ("Our Father, which art…").

Are public prayers times to preach, to speak for God as one speaks -pretends to? - to God; the role of the prophet. Or are they times to speak to God on behalf of all present; being a priest? Is it an invitation for an invocation or an opportunity to impugn and indict?

A closing note of humor and irony: at the game, a teen from my church took great delight in telling me the microphone went in and out and you could only hear half of what I was saying. (Yo Josh, 50 % is better than you usually do. Sorry. Just remember who bought you that slice of pizza.)

Josh’s gleeful report reminded me to remember to Whom I was praying. Though I was praying to be heard by all there, what mattered most was being heard by God.

In case you are interested, and since it is already written, here is the prayer I used / lifted up / read / gave (which is it?) at the government function:

Almighty God, Lord of villages, towns, sprawling suburbs and vast urban areas, we pause to purposefully be mindful of You and to seek Your wisdom and mercies.

Thank you for the sacrificial service of each of our public officials; those elected, those appointed, those hired on. We honor You for their important and tireless work, much of it unseen and under-appreciated.

Thank You that all of our efforts are before You, and that they are noticed and rewarded.

Keep each of our leaders mindful of the needs of those they represent and serve. Help each of us to humbly set aside any selfish or pride-driven agendas. Make us unyielding where necessary and flexible where needed and appropriate. May our desire to win or garner recognition be transformed into a passion to please You and do right by others.

Grant grace that each of us, as fellow citizens, would act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with You, our God. These things we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Changes a foot - Our School House is Rocked

Our four boys - all four of them - will be in public schools this year. We (MY WIFE) has home schooled them in part or all of them some years. Karter went to Middle school last year - great experience. Kamron went to public school for K (repeated - had his first dose at home) & 1st grade - also a great experience. Other than that, it has been Robin & the Krew. She is ready for a break.

Karissa - our 16 year old will be home schooled for her Sr. Year, but she is very "low maintenance" - meaning she is incredibly self motivated, and does most of it herself. She has an awesome work ethic. She will be taking college classes again.

So, pray for Robin - my beloved. Life is about to change for her. She will be refocusing, redefining her pursuits, the use of her time...

Pray also for our boys to be ambassadors, good friends, discerning, bold, gracious and diligent students.

We will have kids in five different schools (Elem., Middle, Sr. High, Home & College). Can you say PTA?