Hashtag

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8

I don’t use Twitter. I have never tweeted and probably never will. Maybe I should, but it doesn’t interest me. What does interest me is the fascination with the term “hash tag,” or “#” as millions of tweeters type. I have asked my IT expert, my son, to explain to me this concept of “hash tag.” He does his best, but I think I am too dense to grab this concept. The best I can gather is it is used to sum up a thought, or provide a phrase that prompts others to go looking for the all-important tweet. This concept has even creeped into conversation with tweet-savvy folks. They add it to the end of their sentences to emphasize their pontification.

Ok, let’s give it a shot. How about we end our statements, letters, communications with #JesusLovesyou. Imagine the possibilities of another way to convey that awesome truth. Again, please understand I have no clue how tweeting works, and the truth is some may already be using something similar. But, wouldn’t it be cool, if we all started using #JesusLovesyou? What if we made sure that in every conversation that aspect of God’s grace came through? Sure, we don’t have to use the symbol, or even the word, but we can definitely grab the concept.

Paul and other writers of the New Testament continually communicated this basic truth of grace. In his letter to the church in Corinth told us that without love our works are meaningless. Of course, the source of that love is Jesus, the Christ. Paul goes further to say that God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We don’t have to wonder if God loves us; we don’t have to hope that Jesus loves us; we are assured of that truth.

I don’t know about you, but if God through Christ loves me, He can love anyone. We should find some place to include this truth in every communication we have. The trick (it’s not really a trick) is to find that way.  Find a way to convey all He has done for us and the love He has is beyond our ability to comprehend. We can’t define it, because it is not definable. But we can share it. So, try it. Give it a shot, find a way to say #JesusLovesyou, and see what kind of response you get. I dare you.

Not a Suggestion

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus was not offering a suggestion in His command to go. He didn’t allude to what we might want to do. The clarity in what we are to do is unavoidable. “But, evangelism isn’t my gift” some might say. “It’s too hard”, “It’s too awkward”, our excuses run the gamut of why we just can’t do evangelism. We have to take a step back and ask this question…would God the Son really tell us to do something that we weren’t able to do. The answer is obviously “NO”. He will always give us the strength, the words, the ability to spread the gospel of Truth.

The question then comes up, how are we to perform this command. How do I take such an important message and not mess it up? How can I do it “right”? The answer is that it’s more simple than we try to make it out to be. There are essentially two components to how we proclaim the message of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. First, we have the inerrant truth of God’s word. The message doesn’t change. It’s not an evolving thing that is hard to grasp. The truth that Jesus was sent by Father God to live a perfect sinless life. To go to the cross as a sacrifice for our sin debt. To take on the wrath that God has toward sin. On the third day, resurrected to show the power of God and now sits at the right hand of the Father. Because of this sacrifice, those who have put their trust in Christ as Savior, have life everlasting. Restored into a right relationship with God. Secondly, we have our own experience. This is why Jesus calls all of us to proclaim this message. None of us are the same. We all have a unique experience coming to the Lord and the life He empowers us to live. I can’t share your message, and you can’t share mine. That’s it, those two components are all that Jesus calls us to spread.

We live in a world that is hostile to the message and that also gives us pause to share, but Jesus tells us in Acts that we have the power of the Holy Spirit and that power will overcome the world. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8. Let’s take the power that Jesus has assured us of and use it for His glory. Pray today that God will reveal those that need to hear this message and empower us to share.

The Problem with a Pinto Bean

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, – James 1:19

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. – Psalm 28:2

My mother, my wife and my sisters make the best pinto beans in the world. Yes, yes, I know your (mom, spouse, sister, girlfriend.) make the best pinto beans too. The point is that the best “mess of beans” you will ever eat, took a long time to get that way. Pinto beans don’t cook in 20 minutes. They are cooked for hours. According to my wife, they have to be soaked, the water has to be flavored (ham bone, whatever), and then the beans themselves are cooked, sometimes overnight.  And as any self-respecting Texan will tell you, they are much better the next day. So, then you ask what is the problem with a pinto bean? Simple, it takes too long. Now, when we are eating the beans (with cornbread of course), we know that it was well worth the wait.

So then, why don’t we approach other problems in life like the problem of the pinto bean. This happens a lot with men, but we are not the only ones. We see a problem and we want a quick fix. Often times, we don’t even wait until the problem is fully explained to us before we launch off into a solution. Now some will say, “sometimes an emergency exists and needs an urgent solution”. True, but how often do we really find ourselves in that situation? Even firefighters approaching a blaze want to make sure they know the situation before they run in. Sometimes, it takes a while to fully understand the situation. We need to comprehend the issue from many sides.

We need to weigh the ramifications of any action before one is taken. In short, we need to think before we act. Of course, the reality is there is a major step needed before we even begin this thought process. Can you guess what it is?

PRAYER!

Would any one  of us launch into a dangerous situation without making sure we were protected, supported and notified of any issues along the way? Nope. It really doesn’t matter how big or small the situation may seem, we need to hesitate just a moment before we act on our “solution” to the problem. Have you ever seen a situation, sized it up, acted on it and felt “oh so proud” of your resolution and then discovered that you weren’t even asked to help? I have and it leaves a sting on the person who was having the issue. Slow down, gather intel, look at it from other view points, ask for insight and feedback, most importantly pray, seek Godly counsel, and look into the Word. Those steps will not only help find a true and God directed solution, it helps us see Him at work instead of ourselves.

Next time we are faced with an issue, let’s approach it like a pot of beans. Slow to prepare, but oh so good to enjoy.

Like it or Not

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:57

We, which includes you and me, were born sinners. Bound to behave in direct obedience to God’s will. Please don’t misunderstand, this does not mean we had no choice. We absolutely chose to engage in sin, however, we didn’t have the ability to understand the nature of bondage that sin had on us. Many people will try to justify actions by stating, “well that depends on how you define sin”. If we use that logic, there would indeed be many definitions of what sin might be. But we don’t use man’s standard to define sin, we look to the perfect God Almighty and His set of standards. It’s interesting how many of the same people, including me at one time, claim that life isn’t fair, but then want to live in a world where ethics are situational. Wouldn’t it be more fair if everyone lived by the same set of rules? Imagine a sporting event where one team played by one set of rules, but the other team played by the rules that felt right to them. Ludicrous, isn’t it? Understanding this idea of one set of rules for everyone, we must admit that we have all fallen short of following those rules, so like it or not..sin is a reality.

If we have absolute rules, we must have an absolute ruler. If we agree that one consistent set of standards has been set, we have to ask ourselves, who made these rules? It wasn’t a committee, not a vote, not an agreement on what should be right and should be wrong, NO! We have an absolute ruler because we need someone with the authority to enforce those rules, even when we might not agree or like the rule itself. If the rules had been established by some committee, we could demand amendments. Form a new committee, let’s change the rules that are too hard to keep. See how quickly we can go down that road. We must come to the understanding that, like it or not…God is sovereign.

I hated algebra in school. The process of solving a problem was complicated and many times nonsensical. That is until a very patient and talented teacher showed me how algebra truly works. In summary to our combined level of understanding, A+B = C. Let’s look at the two previous paragraphs in that way. If we are born into the bondage of sin and God is the sovereign ruler, then…like it or not, we have broken the relationship of harmony with God Almighty.

God is not only a loving God, He is the source of love and the only one capable of pure love. In His love, He wanted to repair the relationship that we broke. If a relationship is broken, it must be repaired, and the only way to repair the brokenness of sin against the sovereign God is sacrifice. If it’s perfect love that God offers, the sacrifice must be perfect as well. God’s absolute rule states that only the shedding of blood can be the payment of sin, again that blood must be pure. Jesus the Christ, came to this earth for two reasons. The first was to model what a perfect walk with God. Complete obedience to His will. Knowing that we are incapable of perfection in ourselves, the second reason for Jesus’ perfect walk was to provide the atoning sacrifice for the relationship that we broke. Like it or not…the sacrifice of Christ is the only way to restore a relationship with God.

The relationship has been restored, now we can walk in perfection! Wait, isn’t that the way it works? Through the sacrifice of Christ, we can model His walk of perfection, isn’t that the way it works? How often to we beat ourselves up because in some way we believe that to be true. There are times when we have committed a sin that we are shamed because we didn’t meet God’s standard. There is nothing wrong with understanding that we missed the mark, again. There is nothing wrong with feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but we are never to walk in shame. If we do, we completely misunderstand the complete Grace through Christ that we can claim in salvation. Like it or not…we will fail in our walk.

How many times have we thought, “if I just try harder to follow the rules”, “if I pray harder, if I go to more church events, if I just do more”, then I will make God love me again. WOW, that thought process sure gives us a lot of power doesn’t it? But, it has to be me doing better doesn’t it? Well, frankly no. We can’t do enough good things to make God love us more, if we understand He loves us completely and purely. On the same note, we can’t mess up enough to make His ashamed of us. See, we don’t have the power, He does. Going back to algebra for a minute, if He is perfect and we aren’t and perfection is the requirement, then I better rely on Him to provide that perfection. Our victory doesn’t originate in our behavior, our victory originates in who we are in Christ. He is our victory. Like it or not…only in Him can we find the victory over our faults.

CLAM CHOWDER FAITH

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1

A good friend and a dear brother suggested that I write a book on “fine dining” in American airports. I wouldn’t consider my dining experience one day in the past as fine, but it did bring up an interesting thought process, at least in my mind it was interesting. There I was, in Boston, and the soup of the day was New England Clam Chowder. I ordered a bowl with a sandwich and thought nothing of it. Half way through my bowl of clam chowder (which was neither bad nor good), it occurred to me that I took  a big step of faith in ordering that soup. I have been told that seafood is a tricky endeavor. It must not only be cooked correctly, but you have to start with fresh clams, in this case. The cook or chef must have a good deal of experience in cooking seafood and even with all of that, there may be issues. In short, seafood is not a matter to be taken lightly. There I was eating the chowder, not knowing if the cook washed his or her hands. I didn’t know where and when they bought the clams. I didn’t know how long it cooked or has been warming up. I didn’t know anything about this chowder and yet there I sat spooning it down my throat like there is no tomorrow, with a long flight ahead of me.

Conversely, my faith in our Father is not at all like that, or at least it shouldn’t be seen that way. I have never met and still don’t know the chowder cook, but I know my Father intimately. I don’t know the chowder cook’s state of mind, but I know my Father’s mind is set on nothing but things for my good. There is no way that the chowder cook can be consistent in the preparation process, the cooking process, and especially not his health. My Father is not only consistent, He created the thought process of consistency.

As His Word says, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I was going to be cooped up in a plane for the next 5 hours, and I had no idea what effect, if any, the chowder would have on me, but I know without a doubt that my time in that plane will be an absolute blessing from my Father.  I might not understand it at the moment, I might not even enjoy it, but I know that my Father has it already planned for me.

As I faced the rest of this day, the next and the next week, am I going to face each day with a “clam chowder” faith, or am I going to rest completely in the arms of the Father, knowing His will is good, pleasing and perfect for me? It has been said that faith is completely dependent on the object of that faith. Faith in a job, an earthly relationship or even a church fellowship is misplaced. Faith in an eternal, unchanging, Holy Father is the only manner in which we can truly rest assured.

In the Presence of Sinners

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:1

It was not that long ago (22 years), that I not only was committed to a sin life, I relished, bathed in it. If it were not for a few people of God, believers in Christ, I may have never heard the Gospel, but more importantly, I wouldn’t have seen it lived out. It is so easy for me to get comfortable in my circle of friends and family that honor God and follow His ways, but I am (we are) not called to a life of comfort.

We are called to “go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). All nations can mean people groups of other geographic areas, but it can also mean the nation of sinners. I mean, really think about it. Don’t we live in a nation of sinners? I could, as we all can name those sins so easily. But, the sin that Jesus preached the most against, was pride. Pride in those that thought themselves righteous. Righteous in their own eyes, and own ways. As many Christians, we can see that our righteousness is found in Christ alone, but how many people do we invite on that journey. How many invitations did I give today? The answer is none. None in that, I didn’t share the Gospel in my words, I didn’t offer the plan of salvation openly, I didn’t do any of that. Perhaps we aren’t limited to that. WHAT? Surely we must share His grace and mercy daily? Of course we do, but sometimes that sharing can be in a simple smile, an offer of kindness, a hand of friendship.

You see, Jesus didn’t hug and kiss the “righteous”, He didn’t shake their hands and say howdy (ok, just a bit of Texan thrown in there, but you know what I mean). Jesus reached out to those that were bound to their life of sin. It was by His grace, kindness, mercy and love that we are drawn to know more about Him.

That is the invitation we give without realizing it. In short, walk in Him, and the invitation goes out whether we think about it or not.

Christianese

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1

In other words, what we say vs. what we mean (feel free to correct me if I am wrong);

We say “well, I will sure pray for you”, when often times we mean, I don’t have time to really talk to you right now, or feel awkward talking about this, so let me use this to end our conversation. Sure people talk about stuff we don’t always want to talk about, but what about when we need to open up about something uncomfortable? That’s when we know the relationship is real, when we can talk about the junk in our lives. When we can be vulnerable and allow someone else to be vulnerable with us. When we drop the busyness of life and turn our attention to someone in need, we are living out the concept of “brotherhood”.

“I’m saying this out of Christian love”, when we really mean to say something that probably sounds judgmental (and usually is), but if I say this first, then you can’t really argue with it. Yes, there are times when we need to rebuke or confront, but if we are really speaking the truth” IN” love, we don’t have to use a preamble to cover our words.

“Can I be completely honest with you?”, ok I don’t even know why we say this. Are we telling the other person that frankly I lie to you a lot, so get ready for something hurtful? Integrity means that we are honest people. Even if we lie, we are to confess that lie, thereby showing that we are people of integrity. Walking in the Light, means speaking the truth, not differentiating what we say as being “completely honest”.

“I don’t know why this happened to you, but don’t worry, God has a plan”, well of course He has a plan. Of course Jesus tells us that we can’t add a day to our lives by worrying, but we often say this because we don’t know what that plan is (wait did I really just say that I don’t always know what God’s plan is?….duh!). We often say this because we don’t want to just “feel” with our friend. Secular psychologists say this is empathy. The Bible calls it, suffering when another part of the body suffers (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).

“All  you can do is pray for them.”, when we mean, hey give up working with another person. We have all had family members or friends that don’t act in a godly manner. News flash, we don’t always do that either! This doesn’t mean we become enablers, but it also doesn’t mean that we turn our backs. Grace…look it up.

There are others to be sure, but we all see the pattern here. The things we say mean something. The way we live says more. Do we use our “spiritual” words to hide our Spiritual Truth? Many different people have been credited with this quote; “Preach always, and when necessary use words.” I am not sure who originally said those specific words, but I promise you that Jesus is the One, who gave us that instruction. Read the beatitudes  (Matthew 5:1-11). Nowhere in that beautiful sermon does Jesus say “always talk about mercy” or “make sure you talk about being poor in spirit”. No, clearly He is talking about living that way.

When talking to a friend, when chatting with another believer, and most importantly when having a conversation with a non-believer, let’s think about what is being heard, not what we are saying. Most people may not speak in Christian(ese), but most people are able to translate it.

Why Sin Works

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Mark 8:36

Ok, we all agree that sin exists and that we engage in it way too frequently. So, if it exists, and we want to decrease our engagement (or exterminate it completely) in it, then why do we continue? We can say, “Because of the flesh and the fall” and other all-encompassing words, but let’s get to the root. Sin works for a reason.

I am going to focus on pornography in this discussion. I know not everyone deals with this directly, but trust me, we all are involved. Whether you participate directly or know someone that does, we all feel the impact. Why is it so pervasive? Why does it have the hold that it does? Because it hides a truth.

God created our sexuality as a blessing of intimacy to be shared with a spouse alone. This intimacy is more than the physical act, I think we can all agree on that. So, if it’s more, then what is it? Neil Anderson states in Victory Over the Darkness that our spouse is our most well informed critic. We can’t escape their knowledge of us. That knowledge actually forms the intimacy. When engaged in that intimacy, your spouse knows your hurts, your fears, and your passions. You share that same level of knowledge about them. The vulnerability and passion for each other takes that knowledge and expresses it in so much more than the physical act. In fact, it insures that the physical act is AWESOME!

That’s the truth that Satan hides in pornography. When looking at images (video or photographs), we don’t have the intimacy. If we did, we wouldn’t get the thrill. If we knew that the girl in the video was abused as a child, if we knew that the person we are watching is so strung out on drugs that porn is the only way to feed their addiction, if we knew that through sex trafficking the person is forced to act in deviant ways, there is no way we can “enjoy” the stuff we are watching. The same goes for “gentleman’s clubs.” If we knew that the girl dancing on the stage has so little self-image that she sells herself in a desperate attempt at acceptance, we would (and should) feel ashamed for helping her continue that thought process. The hidden truth is that we can’t have the intimacy with the “image,” because we don’t see it.

I will confess that I didn’t come up with this next truth. I would love to give credit to the person who did, but I don’t know who it was. The next truth is that the difference between Satan’s temptation and God’s blessing is this: the cost vs. the result.

Satan always promises the result up front – the “pleasure.” He will never tell you the cost. In sales, they call this the bait and switch. Imagine someone offering you the car of your dreams. We all have one; mine is a 1967 Corvette Stingray. Satan has it right there for me: “Hey Kyle, here are the keys. No money down, you can take it right now.” I take the keys, and I am off. A week later the engine fails. I find out there are over $100,000 dollars of unpaid tickets, taxes and loans that I am now responsible for. I find out it was a 6-month lease, and I still have to pay the full price. Talk about being stuck. You can easily see that sin is exactly like that. Porn, booze, drugs., lying, stealing, the list goes on. The promise of pleasure is up front, but the ultimate cost is hidden.

Our Father tells us the cost up front. Sure you can have a car. It may not be your “dream car,” but it will never fail you. The upkeep costs are fairly low. There are no monthly payments, and there are no outstanding costs or liens on it. It will cost you a week’s wages, and the promise is that it will not be a disappointment. I would take that deal in a minute. See God tells you the cost up front, and when the blessing comes, it far outweighs the cost.

Sin works because the cost is hidden, and the promise of pleasure seems too much to resist. If we look for the truth, the cost is unavoidable. This seems like a simple problem and solution: a simple yes, easy no. God didn’t promise us easy, but He promises truth, consistency, and eternity. Again, wouldn’t you take that deal every time?

Exciting Faith

Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. – 1 Peter 1:21

“you just have to have a little more faith”. How many times have we heard that, or perhaps even said it ourselves? It’s as if the amount of faith we show has an impact on the outcome of an event. Nothing could be further from the truth. That kind of thinking gets dangerously close to focusing on our work instead of the work of Christ in us. Yes, Jesus speaks of the faith the size of a mustard seed and it being enough to move a mountain. Yes, Jesus remarks to the disciples that they are of little faith. But, those comments are not intended to say that the amount of our faith makes or breaks God moving in our lives. Instead the amount of our faith is the meter we are to use to see how much we are depending on Him. When we tell someone to have more faith, we should not use the comment to suggest that their situation is due to a lack of faith. That’s not exciting at all. Exciting faith? How can we show exciting faith?

When Jesus told a woman suffering that is was her faith that healed her (Matthew 9:22), He was not saying that her outcome was dependent on her faith. No! Jesus was showing the excitement of her dependence on Him. When Paul talks about our faith instead of works, he is talking about the excitement of our salvation NOT being dependent on us, but Him, the risen Savior (Galatians 2:16). How can we not get excited about the faith that God has offered us? How can we not be excited about the investment of faith, knowing the return is eternal and not dependent on time and space? When we equate our outcome to our faith, we are limiting God to the outcomes we can perceive.

Look at your own life. How many times has your faith been rewarded in a way that you couldn’t even imagine? Sometimes, the reward of our faith is simply that…the reward of our faith. By declaring absolute dependence on Him instead of ourselves, we can rest in the assurance that He is in control.

When someone is hurting, our suggestion should not be for them to have more faith. Our response should be one of the excitement of faith, in that; He will never leave us or forsake us. That, my friends, is the most exciting thing possible.

Taps

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” – Deuteronomy 31:8


The loneliest feeling I have ever had was my first night in boot camp. Laying there, far away from everything that was familiar to me. Far from home and family, knowing that everything was going to be different from this point on. And as I lay there, in the dark, taps began to play. The solo of a faraway bugle, playing that sorrowful tune, the loneliness was palpable.

I was feeling alone, but the reality was that I was there with about fifty other guys, all feeling the same thing I was. We all were experiencing the loss of home (even though it may be temporary), separation of family and unease of what was to come the next morning. We were all feeling the same things, yet we were all feeling alone. Our Christ walk can be very similar if we focus on ourselves.

We can feel as if we are the only ones dealing with life. We can feel separated from peace. We can feel all of these things, if we don’t engage in fellowship with other believers. Let’s face it, down deep we know that others have lives that are not without stress. We are all dealing with similar stressors. When we engage in fellowship, as we share our heart, we find that we are indeed not alone.

Jesus called his apostles together on many occasions to explain that they were an extension of His message. He called them to proclaim the Gospel, but He didn’t do it in a vacuum. He consistently let them know that they were, and we are, part of His body. We shouldn’t feel alone, because we aren’t alone. When we feel the loneliness, it is a deception from Satan. The Truth is that we aren’t alone and were never intended to be so.

If I had just reached out to others on that night, I would have found that they were feeling the same way I was. I know this because later, we shared that we were all feeling the same way on that first night. When we become vulnerable and open up to each other, we quickly see that we have more unity than we can imagine. Bills too much? We are not alone. Relationship disharmony? We are not alone. Fear of the unknown? We are not alone.

If you are seeing a pattern here, it’s because the truth is…we are not alone. Loneliness is a feeling, Togetherness is a truth. Embrace the truth and negate the feeling. Then we are truly engaged in the relationship with each other, and our God.