Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hello, my name is Gomer and I am a…



Wanderer.  Prostitute. Whore.
I actually wasn’t even reading Hosea, I was reading Joshua.  But in reading Joshua I came across 10:25 in which Joshua relates God’s instructions to Israel and says, “Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged,” Joshua told his men. “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is going to do this to all of your enemies.”  After finishing my reading I started journaling all the things that I’ve been afraid or discouraged about.  There are a couple things on that list, but one of the main ones was how discouraged I am with the amount of (or lack of) time that I give to God on a daily basis.
Immediately God took my thoughts to Hosea, but more specifically his wife Gomer.  If you’re not familiar with the story, the short of it is this:  God told Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer, and bare children with her.  After marrying Hosea and having children with him, Gomer returned to her life of prostitution.  Upon doing so God sent Hosea to bring his wife, out of her filth, back into his home and make her his wife again.  God had Hosea do this to illustrate the sin of idolatry Israel had committed.  Israel had turned their back on God and began worshipping other gods.  God used Hosea and Gomer to show the extent of Israel’s sin and that even in their adultery with other gods, He would be their God and return them to Him.  In 2:20 God says, “I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord.” Then 14:4 says, “The Lord says, ‘Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever.”
 So here is how God related that to me.  I’ve previously mentioned that the things of life can sometimes highjack our time with God.  Of course I’m not worshiping “other gods”, but recently I’ve put some things before my time with God.  What God asked me is this:  Is my putting time with friends, TV, other hobbies, functions and meetings before time spent with God any different than Israel’s sin of idolatry?  If I’m honest the answer is, “No it’s not.”  In that aspect I share in Israel’s sin of idolatry.  This isn’t to say that I’ve spent no time with God, but it gets easier and easier to make excuses for missing devotional time or to hurry through that time with God as opposed to soaking in His presence.
The bottom line is this, even though we don’t view the things that draw our attention from God as “bad” as Israel’s actual worship of other God’s…it’s not at all different.  Our back is still turned and our affection for God is drawn away from Him.  And God just wants to be faithful to us and make us His, so that we may finally know Him as Lord.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

REPOST: God Heard His Prayers Because… (By: Jeff Maness, Lead Pastor, Element Church)

I was reading Pastor Jeff's blog and his post on Dec 1st about prayer (HERE) really got to me.  Lately I've realized that I pray but recently it hasn't felt the same.  Recently it seems so rushed, so hurried.  Almost as if it hasn't been an intentional act of submission or this time of intimate connection surrounded by deep respect for who my God is.  Then I read Pastor Jeff's post and...well God shined His light on it.  In the verse Pastor Jeff mentions (Hebrews 5:7) the word "reverence" is used in relation to how Christ prayed.  

To get this, understand that reverence is defined as honor or respect felt or shown or a gesture of respect.  What God showed me through reading Pastor Jeff's post not only had to do with how my heart was focused in approaching God in prayer, but for me it also revealed how I physically approach God in prayer.  

In the past couple months I've gotten to a point where I have let everyday life high-jack my time with God.  For me prayer time has always been very much about intentionally submitting myself to God, both spiritually and physically.  Not just in the time I gave Him, but in the way that I gave it to Him also.  As an act of reverence I spent all of my prayer time (during morning devotional and prior to bed, then if I felt it necessary and had the opportunity throughout the day) on my knees.  Sometimes I would bow low, but I was ALWAYS on my knees.  It was my "gesture of respect."  But recently I'm so hurried that 5 or 10 minutes sitting in a chair was "good enough."  Realistically, it just doesn't suffice and with God there should NEVER be a "good enough."  

Here's the original post:

On Sunday, I was doing my normal quiet time with God before heading to church and I read a verse that I saw for the first time, or at least saw it in a new light.  I’m in Hebrews right now, which by the way is an INCREDIBLE book.  So rich and deep.  Anyway, I came across Hebrews 5:7 which says this 7While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.”

Now think about it.  Theologically, Jesus WAS God.  God incarnate.  God in the flesh.  THE God man.  So you might think that the verse should read “And God heard his prayers because HE WAS GOD”.  But NO!  It says God heard them, because of his “deep reverence for God.”  (We won’t get into the lengthy and unending discussion of “If He was God then why did he need to pray, and was he praying to Himself?”)  It just made me think.  If Jesus’ prayer was heard because of His deep reverence for God…what does that say about me?
I think sometimes when I pray I have a deep regret…or a desperate situation…or adeliberate request…or a demanding requirement…and there isn’t anything bad necessarily with any of those things.  The problem is, I often feel like God will hear me because I have the deep regret.  Or because my situation is desperate or my request is deliberate or I’m facing a requirement that’s demanding.  And I’m not saying that God doesn’t hear us, it just struck me that JESUS was heard because of His DEEP REVERENCE for God, not for ANY of those other things.  Not because of his pleadings, loud cries or tears…but His reverence.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be the kind of prayer that comes to God out of deep reverence for WHO He is, not WHAT He can give me.  I get the feeling from Hebrews 5:7 that that is why Jesus went to God in prayer.  And because of that, God heard Him.
Learning,
Jeff
Good stuff.  God deserves our physical acts of respect, submission and praise AS MUCH AS (I'd say if not more than) our verbal ones.
Back on my knees,
Bruce

Monday, November 29, 2010

REPOST: Hurt People, Hurt People. Loved People, Love People. (HPHP/LPLP - Part 5)

Here is the final blog in the 5 Part Series. The first 4 can be seen here (Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, & Pt. 4). This is a repost of the original posted on July 8, 2010. I wrote it initially as a stand alone post, but there was so much more to this (hence posts 1 through 4). So this is the precursor & culmination of this series...enjoy.

I was listening to a song by Manafest called "Wanna Know You" and there is a line in the second verse that really got me. It says, "Loved people, love people. Hurt people, hurt people." I recently read a book (for one of my counseling classes) by Dr. Sandra Wilson called, "Hurt People, Hurt People." It was about understanding why people that have been hurt continue to hurt others.

With that and for the last six months God has been really working on me about what it means to love people and ultimately Him. So that line in the song really struck me as something that is important for everyone that claims to follow Christ to understand.

Hurt People, Hurt People

I'm not actually gonna say anything about why or how hurt people, hurt people. I am, however, gonna direct this toward those that have accepted Christ's love (the secret is - and it's actually not a secret - Christ loves us all, all the time...we just need to accept it).

I get SO tired of hearing how Christ's people are "done" with someone because they hurt them while they were "trying to love them." News flash...people that are hurt are not there to love you, it's the other way around.

Here's the thing, in going in to love someone that is hurting, you have to expect some resistance. You have to expect them to be somewhat leery of your intentions, because they were just hurt. People that are hurt or hurting are that way because someone they cared for either left them (whether it be intentionally i.e. divorce/break-up or unintentionally i.e. death), betrayed them or broke their trust some how. So you have to understand that they may not be so readily accepting of what you want to give them.

We are called to love people, to comfort the hurting and even pray for those that persecute us. If you are the recipient of Christ's amazing love, you have a responsibility to give it away to others and you have to understand that in trying to love them, you may get hurt. My friend, Grant Clark, has a saying that goes, "Where there's people, there's poop." The idea being that caring for people can get messy and if you are actually engaged in their lives, you WILL get messy.

On the other side of that coin...

Loved People, Love People

If you are a person that has surrendered your life to God and seeks to follow Christ, this is you. If you are actively engaged in a relationship with Christ, in which He is pouring out His love on you, you will love people. In John 15:12 Jesus says, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." Jesus was telling us that the way He loved us was an example of how He expected us to love each other. If you are truly the recipient of Christ's love, you WILL love others.

The Bible is very clear on this point. 1 John 4:20-21 says:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

So, loved people, love people.

I'll close with this...How badly did we hurt Christ (and still do at times) while He was trying to love us? What if He would have given up on us because He got hurt?

I Will Love Regardless,
Bruce

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Loved People, Love People. (HP/HP, LP/LP Part 4)

So here it is…the last installment of Hurt People, Hurt People. Loved People, Love People. Here are parts 1, 2 & 3 (PART 1, PART 2, PART 3). For me, this whole last year has been SO much about what it means to love people. Do I always do it well? Nope, but I realize I don’t and I seek Christ to change that in me. I’m a work in progress…


So in original blog (HERE) I said,


“In John 15:12 Jesus says, ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’ Jesus was telling us that the way He loved us was an example of how He expected us to love each other. If you are truly the recipient of Christ's love, you WILL love others.”


As I’ve thought about (and I’ve had 4 ½ months since the original post to do so) I found myself asking, How did He love them? What were the things that Jesus did that we could follow after Him in doing; things that proved our love the way He did?


So in John 15:13, Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends.” I'm fairly certain that what Jesus meant was that the greatest love is displayed in the laying down of one’s life for a friend. The idea being that true love for another means that you would literally do ANYTHING (even die) for that person. The point is that Jesus willingly laid down His life for those he loved (us). If we love Jesus we have to be willing to do the same for Him and by proxy for those He loves (everyone else). For the record, it’s not a foreign idea…thousands of people have laid down their lives for the sake of Christ. So this is what Jesus said about true love. BUT, He didn’t just say it; He followed it up with action.


The fact is you can say whatever you want, but if your actions don’t support it, it’s pointless and meaningless. There are three parts to the events leading up to and after Jesus’ crucifixion that, I think, displays the depth of His love for us and that I think are examples meant for us to follow.


The first were the pre-crucifixion events. The arrest, the poor excuse for what was called a trial and His walk up the hill in which He would pay our penalty. During that entire time Jesus was whipped, punched, slapped, spit on, had His beard torn out and beaten beyond being recognizable as a human. He was utterly humiliated. And He did it for us. At any time He could have ended the torture, after all…He’s God…but He chose not to. Instead He willingly endured humiliation for our sake. With that said, how much humiliation are you willing to endure for Christ? How much will you be humbled for the sake of your Savior? Looking at it deeper, how much will you allow that to translate to those people you say you love? Are you willing to be humiliated for the community that God has placed you in simply because you love them? Christ did and I have to believe that He expects the same from us. After all, where would we be if He’d have said enough?


The second is His willing surrender to the cross. I think I’ve already made that point. Actually, Jesus did. He said, (paraphrasing), “You show the depth of your love for your friends by what you’re willing to do for them and frankly I love you all to the point that I WILL die for you.” Then He did. The greatest display of God’s justice is seen at the cross, but in it we also see the greatest act of love. It’s the willingness of our savior to lay down His life as a ransom for ours simply because He couldn’t bear to be without us.


The last act has to do with His ascension. In John 16:7, Jesus said, “But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.” Jesus was telling the Disciples that He was leaving them in order that the Holy Spirit could come. Jesus followed this up by explaining why it was necessary for the Holy Spirit to come. He said (v. 8-11), “And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.” In essence, Jesus knew that in order for God to do what He need to, in the Disciples and throughout the world, He had to leave. He told them that if He didn’t leave the Holy Spirit wouldn’t come. And because of His love for them (and us) and His deep desire for God’s will for us, He willingly departed from us and ascended into heaven. How does this translate to how we love others?


There are times that in giving to someone else we block the presence of God. I once had a friend tell me (in reference to giving to a person that is obviously taking advantage of your desire to be Christ to them) that there is a threshold in which you are able to give to a person and they are still able to see Christ. But eventually, there comes a point where they no longer see Christ working through you, but rather only see you. It is at that point that it is essential that you step out of the way of God and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. Sometimes stepping aside for the moment is the best way to love someone. You have to ask yourself, “Do I love them enough to step out of the way and allow God to do what He needs to do in them?” If the answer is “Yes” then move.


But you don’t just leave them. There will come a point that, if you truly love them, you step back into their life…you have to. The Holy Spirit will make it evident when that time is. The point of stepping back into their life is to be community for them. To encourage that person in the work the Holy Spirit has done in them. Jesus even set that before us. In John 16:16 He said, “In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.” Jesus was saying that even though He had to leave, so the Holy Spirit could do His work, a time would come when the Holy Spirit has completed that work and Jesus would return. That’s our example.


Loved people, Love People. It all comes back to the idea that people that are actively receiving the love of Christ just love people. They are compelled to; it’s their nature and character. The bottom line is this, words are meaningless without action. If you love Christ and others, you have to willingly lay down your life for Him/them (that is do WHATEVER you need to do to prove that love), you have to be willing to be humiliated for His/their sake, you have to be willing to step out of the Holy Spirits way to allow Him to work in their lives, all the while looking for that prompting to step back in and encourage them in the work He’s done in them.


In Him, 
Bruce

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dreams...And All That Come With Them!

This post will be a slight departure from my usual writing style & topics. All with good reason of course...writing isn't intended to be stale. Think of this as a literary vacation. The Greece to the written state in which I live, if you will.

I've recently had a few conversations with a friend that broached the subject of the future...the plans of God and the dreams of man.  Obviously I have hopes and dreams for the future, but I also have a heart to be submitted to the plans of God for me (even if they’re contradictory to mine...I should actually say, especially if they are).  But with the recent passing of my friend, Ricky (Let me pause here and take a moment to say that TSgt Ricky Smith was a great friend and an even greater Patriot if ever I met one.  I had the distinct honor of escorting him home to Pennsylvania.  My deepest sympathies are with his wife Calyssa, his parents Rick and Caren, and the rest of his family.  My heart cries for you...Ricky, you will be missed.) I’ve been thinking about just how fleeting life is and what that means to the dreams that dwell in the same places of my heart and mind that hope is cultivated in.

I sometimes wonder if we dream too small or if we too easily dismiss our dreams as unattainable, ridiculous, or irrational.  I’m not sure when it became not acceptable for adults to dream the same way we did as children.  I think back (and I look at my 11 & 13 year old sons) and as a kid I had some (and they do too) amazing dreams.  It’s not that I wanted to do or be everything, but that I totes (heh, totes) believed I could.  It’s that right there that made the difference...I (we) believed I (we) could.  Because I believed I could, I was willing to dream big. Whoa! Dream big!

Sadly, at some point that all changes.  We’re told to be reasonable.  We’re told to dream rationally.  The ability to dream big is conditioned out of us and replaced with acceptance for what the world says we're capable of.  I don't for one second want to give the impression that we can dream big, then have the ability to achieve it.  Some people are able to achieve great success and make it "big" and NEVER give a second thought to God.  But, they also never reach the fullness that God intended for them.  Our humanity comes with a limit to the "fullness" we can experience, a thresh hold if you will.  Christ meets us at that threshold and allows us to cross it, into complete fullness.  <----That's another blog.

When we get to the place where we realize we can still dream big and God can still move us toward those dreams, there are a few things that come connected to those dreams and need to be realized.  Things that if not realized can send us crashing back to rational.

1. Hope
Dreams are built out of hope.  Hope is that thing we can only see with our heart.  It is attached to things unseen and unrealized.  Our logical side would call it silliness for us to hope.  But, here's the rub...dreams also build hope.  When you dream of the future it gives you a hope of what's to come.  The bigger the dream the deeper the hope.  A "dream" that is rational and easily attainable requires little or no hope.  Without hope we begin to lose faith in bigger stuff.  Hope is what our faith is built on, but not hope in the dream.  Hope in the God that can fulfill that dream.

2. Expectancy
With any unfulfilled and longed for notion there is an anticipation of it's coming...an expectancy.  Whether it is known or not as to when the desire will come to fruition, anticipation still hangs low.  Dictionary.com defines expectancy as anticipation and anticipation as hope.  It all returns to the idea that hope is the basis for all of this.  Essentially the idea remains that if we are to dream big, we should hope in God big.  We should be taking our desires and dreams to God in the deepest sense of the word.  When we depend on our own strength and ability to see our dreams through, the results are mediocre compared to when we let God meet our expectations.  Why settle for average when we have amazing available to us?

3. Disappointment
I didn't want this post to be negative, but this next part is a reality.  Sometimes, sadly, our dreams are not only unrealized, sometimes they're shattered.  Although it is amazing to dream big, if we live in a state of delusion in which we cling to the idea that just because we dream it, we can have it.  When the dream is shattered and disappointment comes (because it sometimes will) devastation surely follows.  And because your hope is tied up in the dream itself, there is no comfort.  On the other end of that, if you live in a state of surrender (in which you see the One that can fulfill the dreams and not the dream fulfilled) then you place hope in the one that can comfort you when disappointment comes.  I don't  say this to cause you to dwell on the fact that that your dream may end in disappointment.  I say this to draw you to a realization that although what we dream may not ever be realized, if your hope is correctly place, so to will your openness to be comforted by the One your hope is in.

Dream BIG, hope deeply, expect the amazing and realize that disappointment is not synonymous with devastation.  What was is not the best there is...so dream dreams that make your memories jealous.

Dreaming Big,
Bruce

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Loved People. (HP/HP, LP/LP Part 3)

So I’m almost totally done with this series and it’s only taken me FOREVER to write. Honestly I’ll probably reread these and rethink them a number of times until I’m satisfied that I’ve got everything God put on my heart out in an orderly & sensical fashion. This is Part 3 of the 5. You can read Part 1 (HERE), Part 2 (HERE) and Part 5 (HERE).

I don’t think I can…correction…I cannot talk about “loved people” without talking about the Gospel. When I talk about loved people, technically I’m talking about everyone. Loved people are defined by the God that loves them and our God loves every single one of us. Sadly the real fact is that most people don’t realize or accept this to be truth. Because of that and for the sake of this blog and the whole Loved People, Love People idea, the loved people I’m talking about are those that believe and accept the truth that God loves them and embrace that love with the intention of reflecting it back to God and those He loves.

The entire Bible tells us how God loves us, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” In this verse we learn that God loves us, the price He paid for us and the promise associated with our belief in Christ. But many still question why? The answer is simply that He loves us. No matter what we've done or do, He loves us. Romans 5:8 tells us, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Loved people understand this. They understand that while we are still filthy, dirty people and on our best day what we have to offer God is filthy rags, He still loves us. They understand the mercy and grace aspects of God. They get that though we deserved what Christ received, God compassionately and undeservedly held that justice back from us. He extended to us unmerited favor and kindness...simply because He loves us.

But God does not aim to love and leave us where we're at. God’s true desire for us, the foundation of the Gospel is so beautifully delivered in 2 Corinthians 5:21 which reads, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The Amplified bible explains "the righteousness of God" as - "what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness." Us being separated from God was not ever an option for God, He took His perfect and blameless Son (a beloved part of Him) and literally MADE Him to BE sin for us. Then He was beaten, killed by crucifixion and buried, receiving the punishment we deserved.

Loved people understand that because of what Christ did on the cross, we are brought into right relationship (RELATIONSHIP...this is important and will be seen in the next part) with God. God aims to change us into what we ought to be and not without reason.

Bottom line is this: If you claim to love God and are allowing God to pour His love into you, you WILL be changed by it and you'll understand that there is one reason that God fills you with His love. It's NOT to horde it or to be set stagnant. It's to be emptied out. Emptied on those that don't get it. Emptied on those that need to be loved. Sometimes you may feel as if it's wasted on certain people, but it's NEVER wasted. Whether you see the fruit or not, it isn't wasted and it's not yours to protect from being "wasted." If you pour it out and it's rejected, you did your part...you've only "wasted" it at the feet of Jesus. Ok, this kind of got into the next part, so I'll end with this (which is the title of the next post), Loved people, love people.

Loved,
Bruce

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hurt People, Hurt People. (HPHP/LPLP - Part 2)

So here is Part 3, which is actually Part 2 of the 5 Part series on Loved People, Love People. Hurt People, Hurt People. You can read Part 1, which is actually Part 5 (HERE) and Part 2, which is actually Part 1 (HERE). Now that you’re thoroughly confused…we can start.

Just to preface this, hurt people, hurt people, in that people that hurt people are generally hurting themselves. Obviously I am not a counselor, but I’ve done some study on this. I don’t plan on going into the deep psychological aspect of this idea, and I’ll only mention why this happens briefly, the rest of the post will be focused on what this means to those that aren’t hurting.

So the verse that, for me, confirms that hurt people, hurt people is Proverbs 10:12a. The NLT says, “Hatred stirs up quarrels” or as the MSG says, “Hatred starts fights.” The concept being that those that hate are going to cause dissension among others. So it should follow that those that are sad, bring a spirit of sadness with them (we have all been there when we’re having a good time and someone that is locked in this sadness shows up and it changes the whole spirit of the room), anger begets anger and so on.

Now, I don’t want to speculate as to why any of this is the way it is, because I’m sure there are many reasons. I suppose that some are comfortable functioning in environments that are unsettled, some may figure that others should feel what they do or need others to relate to them, and some may not even realize their behavior causes others to hurt. What I do know is this: There is a world of hurting people and a lot of them don’t see any hope for a life different that what they have.

My frustration in this comes when others, namely Christians that are called to LOVE others, say things like, “I tried to love them, but I just can’t, they’re too hard to love.” This is a cop out. Here’s the essential understanding that needs to be had about hurt people: THEY…ARE…HURTING. Hurt people are by definition hurting. Often times, especially if they’re trapped in that hurt; they cause others to become hurt. And sometimes the people they may hurt are the same people that are trying to love the hurting person through that hurt.

When dealing with a hurting person, there is potential for them to lash out at you, maybe turn their anger on you and maybe, quite intentionally, seek to hurt you. They may seek to belittle and criticize your attempts at love, but the Bible says, “Bless those who persecute you. Don't curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Romans 12:14

Now, I’m not saying to let them humiliate you and walk all over you, even though Jesus did… But, far too often it is convenient and easy to walk away from some one that is in desperate need of the love of Christ that you already possess and have been commanded to share. They are looking for the cure all, we have it, and their “hurt attitude” is too much for us to bare. In a word that’s…Crap!

Here’s the bottom line: Part of the nature of hurting people is that they are going to do things, either intentionally or inadvertently, that hurt others and sometimes it might be the person that is trying to love them. But that doesn’t matter. We are called to the hurting. We are called to love them and bring them the love that surpasses all understanding and is the source of all comfort. We don’t have to have all the answers or solutions to their problems…that’s not our job, we’re not their Savior. Sometimes we just have to be willing to “Be” with them. Sometimes that's the love they need, but the point is, they need you.

In Him,
Bruce

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Relevantly Wrong

Ok, so this idea of being relevant in the church is driving me crazy. There are some that have the idea of relevance as it pertains to the Gospel and the church all wrong. When something is relevant it has “bearing upon or is connected with the matter at hand.” I’m not saying that relevance is unimportant, on the contrary, it is, but many have it backwards.

Here’s what drives me up the stinking wall…there are those that believe we need to make the Gospel relevant to where we are so that it fits into our life and culture. During the three years of His active ministry, Jesus Christ NEVER attempted to make the message that He preached relevant to His time. It simply was not a message that people related to. He was telling people He was God, that regardless of how “unclean” someone was God still desired them, that prostitutes and thieves were more important to the Kingdom of God than the Pharisee that spent decades dedicating his life to the law. This was not a message that related God to the culture they lived in. It was NOT relevant to their culture, how can we be so pompous to believe that it’s relevant to ours. The Gospel message spans eternity. It exists outside of time. How can something that existed before time was created (and thus before there was any culture) be made to relate to any culture.

The idea that Christ gave us the Gospel to relate to us, suggests that God was sitting in Heaven and had no idea what we suffer or go through. It suggest that the only way for Him to know was to send His son, so that we could relate to us and once He figured out that earth was a cesspool, then He hatched His plan of a sinless sacrifice to atone for our sins. NO! His plan can be seen in Genesis (Gen 3:15). The fact is that God sent Jesus to earth to show us the visible image of our invisible God. He came down to us, to lift us up to His Father. He didn’t come to just be with us, but to show us THE example of a life lived to glorify His Father. He didn’t come down to relate to us, but that we might relate to God.

Sadly relevance in our churches has become a catch phrase that allows people to sit in their Christian infancy, never graduating from spiritual milk to meat. Relevance has become our way of excusing ourselves from the uncomfortable parts of the Gospel. The parts that say, Ask and you shall receive are easy because they're for us and who better to relate to us than…us. But the parts that say, die to yourself, take up your cross and love others without exception or expectation demand of us and don't benefit us, so all of the sudden those parts are not relevant to our culture.

Like I said, I am not against relevance. My church (Element Church) makes it a point to be relevant…in their practice! The method by which we deliver the Gospel is important for the culture you’re reaching. Even Jesus was relevant in His practice. He did stuff that was relevant to that time. The parables He told contained elements that the culture would understand. The stuff He did, eating with tax collectors, washing His disciples feet, riding in on a donkey colt (prophecy fulfilled), were all things that were relevant to the culture He was teaching in. BUT, the message NEVER changed!

The bottom line is this: When you attempt to make the Gospel relevant TO the culture you're teaching in, rather than delivering it in a WAY that is relevant, then you end up with something that isn’t the Gospel. You end up with things like the prosperity gospel. I heard Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church, say that adding anything in front of the Gospel (Prosperity Gospel, Social Gospel, etc.) makes it NOT the Gospel. The Gospel is revolutionary not relevant (prelude to another blog).

In Him,
Bruce

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Year Two...

So it’s been two years since that fateful day. That day that turned my world literally upside down. This is the two year anniversary (can I call it that) of my awakening. I say it like that only because had things not happened that way, I’m not sure what it would have taken for God to get my attention…I shudder to think.

So where am I now? I’m in a far different place than last year, to say the least. First and foremost, I don’t teach in Elevate (Element Church’s 1st through 5th grade students) anymore. I do miss them so, sometimes. Then I peak my head in on a Sunday morning and remember why I’m not called to children’s ministry. God bless Pastor Derek… (BLOG)

Shortly after the last post, at the end of October 2009, my divorce finalized. At first I thought I was free and released. Then God started stirring my heart for something I really couldn’t define. In February God made it painfully clear that He desired reconciliation between my ex-wife and I and that He was capable of restoring us. If I’m honest, at the time I wanted NOTHING to do with it, but because I desired to be in God’s will, I began praying for reconciliation and in short order God birthed in my heart a deep desire for reconciliation.

Around that same time, Curtis Marshall, theSHIFT Pastor at that time, was scheduled to move to New Mexico. So theSHIFT was facing a slightly uncertain future with no actual leader in sight. Sure we had the roundTABLE in place, but that couldn’t sustain forever. Soon after giving me the desire for reconciliation, I felt God saying that I was supposed to talk to Curtis about leading theSHIFT and unbeknownst to me, God was telling Curtis the same thing. So Curtis and the Element Lead team talked, then he and I talked and viola…this past Easter I was officially announced as theSHIFT Interim Director. (Since then, I’ve been told the Interim part has been dropped…I love that God lets me be a part of this.)

Over the next few months there were moments that my ex-wife would contact me and my anticipation for reconciliation grew, but it never panned out. At the time she was living in Casper, WY, but moved back to Cheyenne in the beginning of June. Shortly after that, I began to feel this disconnect from the deep burden (and yes I mean it that way, my heart was burdened by it; lots of sleepless night and sick feelings) and desire for reconciliation. I think at the time it was essential that my heart be devoted to what God was calling me to in my personal life for me to lead theSHIFT well. The months went on and I felt as if I was in this “waiting” pattern. I had made it known to my ex-wife that God could fix anything and really it was on her shoulders. I prayed EVERY single day and night for God to get her heart and for His will to be done in reconciling us. I wish I could say that a miracle happened and God got her heart and reconciled us, but that’s not what happened. On August 27th my ex-wife married the man she’s been living with for the last two years.

But here’s the thing on that. Understand THIS…God did NOT fail me. He was and is still faithful, He still desired it, and I was obedient to what He called me to. He is my portion, He is enough and He is my prize. Just because my ex-wife rejected reconciliation, doesn’t mean God abandoned me in that desire. He grew me into the man He needed me to be through that and fulfilled His promise to sustain me. He is still God and He is still Good.

So, in that time here’s what happened. Even though I had already forgiven my ex-wife, I really got the opportunity to release her from any residual anger I had held on to. I got to confess absolutely everything to her and ask her forgiveness. I got to help and bless her a few times, which was often quite humbling. I got to tell her, then boyfriend, I forgave him for his part in what had happened (also quite humbling). And I got to look at my responsibility in the whole mess, accept it and hand it to Jesus (also humbling, but so freeing). Through all of that, God has allowed me to lead this AMAZING, out of control awesome, group of people called theSHIFT (BLOG). I have a team that rivals any team I’ve ever seen (they’re ALL volunteers and they pour every ounce of their heart into what God has called them to). I love them and am so lucky to serve in ministry with them. Oh, I’ve completed 8 of my 15 classes for my Master of Arts in Religion, but I’m taking the next school year off to focus on my boys and ministry. There are other things coming down the pipe that I won’t share quite yet, but I’m so excited for them.

Although I learned a boat load of stuff, there are two things I want to focus on.

1. Last year I said, “Obedience is the axis on which everything in God spins.” and quoted John 14:15 in which Jesus says, "If you love me, obey my commandments.” I WAS WRONG! The key to that verse is not “obey my commands,” but “If you love me.” Here’s the way it should have read last year…”Love is the axis on which everything in God spins and the foundation on which everything in Christ is built.” Obedience, like everything else, is simply a byproduct, a result of our love for Jesus. It’s also the action that proves what you say. If you truly love Jesus, everything you do will teem with the obviousness of that love. It will permeate every part of everything you are, have and do. He just wants to love you and have you love Him back.

2. Ministry is NOT about you. And more than that, your relationship with Christ (while there is a selfish part that you must be concerned with) is not about you either. I’m in the middle of a series on this subject so I won’t go too far into it, but Christ pours His love out on you so that it will flow though you (had a great conversation with Thomas BLOG about this) out to others. He loves you and expects that with the love you receive, you will love who He loves…which is everyone else. So many times he said, you feed them, love others, love each other, and take care of my sheep. He wants you to give to others, to serve them, to die to yourself and BE for others. He did. I’ll save the rest of this for another blog.

All in all it’s been an amazing year. Didn’t see most of any of that coming and wouldn’t have been able to plan it better (God saw it though). I’m excited for the year to come and the year after that more (I separate from the military that year – 2012…if the world doesn’t end, heh!).

So Stoked,
Bruce

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hurt People. (HPHP/LPLP - Part 1)

Quite some time ago (specifically July 8th) I posted a blog titled, Loved People, Love People. Hurt People, Hurt People (HERE). I originally intended for it to be the only posting on that subject, but a couple days later I (and I mean that God impressed on my heart) decided it would be the last (created first like in the Star Wars Saga) of a series of 5 posts. I hadn’t figured out how I was going to put it together until this morning after a friend posted a verse from Ecclesiastes 4:1. That verse broke my heart and sealed this post.

The last few months God has been wrecking my heart about some very specific stuff, culminating in a Holy Spirit induced melt down last Thursday morning. Some great conversations and amazing appointments came from submitting to what I strongly felt God telling me to do. In the coming weeks I’ll share what that stuff was, but for now…I’m going to watch God unfold it. What I can tell you is this…man does God want us to love the hurting and man are there a lot of hurting people out there to love.

Ecc 4:1 says, “Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless.”

I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. There are SO many people that are hurting. I look around and see family after family ravaged and torn apart by divorce; children trapped in violent and vile situations; women told that they are worthless and useless, abused and mistreated, men trapped in their addictions to pornography, helpless to get out and incapable of leading their family; young men and women told that they’ll never amount to anything because of the part of town they live in and they are all helpless. They are bound by their oppressor, ensnared in the lie that there is no hope and it tears my heart to shreds.

As if all that isn’t heart wrenching enough, what about the other hurting people? What about the people that don’t even look like they’re hurting? The people that on the surface look like they have it all together, but deep down they are a mess. They are broken, rejected, torn apart by life and bitter against it. What about those people? The earlier mentioned group might be easier to spot on occasion, but how do you see the other group?

Sadly our culture has allowed us to become content with just showing up to church. If we do that, then we can check it off our “Christian To Do List” and go about our week feeling good about our “holiness.” But there is no commitment in that, ZERO! Just because you drug yourself out of bed at 8:30 to make the 10:00 service so you can get on with the rest of your day ISN’T commitment, it’s self righteous and self serving (key word SELF). The problem is that if we do anything more than that, if we get too close to people we may realize they are hurting or have issues. If that happens we may be obligated (maybe even compelled) to step outside of ourselves and give to that person. We may have to care about someone else and that takes away from our “me” time.

While we sit in our cozy homes, watching NFL ticket on or 50 inch flat screen, eating our coma inducing junk food, there is a world of hurt people literally right outside our doors. I’m not saying that you can’t have that stuff, but at what point does that stuff become pointless? At what point does the fact that people are hurting matter?

Here’s the bottom line, there are hurting people all around us…some sitting literally in the chair next to you. They are helpless victims in a world of oppressors. They are crying out, tears not always visible, but there nonetheless (sometimes those are the worst kind). Without Christ they are hopeless. Without hope, there is nothing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

You Don't Get to Choose

I also posted this on theSHIFT Insider (HERE).


The last few weeks at theSHIFT we’ve been in a series called Back to the Basics. The series is focused on the most basic and important command that Jesus gives (that being Luke 10:27 - Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor). Steven Frausto (BLOG) is leading the series and will write a series reCAP blog, so I don't want to take away from that by going too deep into it, but I wanted to address one specific thing that we talked about this past Sunday.


The topic was “Loving Each Other Through the Holy Spirit.” We got into a lot of great discussion about what that means and what it looks like to worship in spirit and in truth, but one of the most poignant moments of the discussion (for me) revolved around 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 in the context of loving other. It says:


"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again."


While studying for this lesson the word that hit me was “compels.” I was pretty sure I knew what it meant, but looked it up anyway. It means “to force to a course of action.” Then I started thinking, “So Christ's love forces us to do stuff.” So I looked up “force,” which means, “power to influence, affect, or control.”


When we accept and have Christ's love it powerfully influences us to a course of action...that being to love and serve others. It doesn't just force you into an action, but actually changes who you are at your very core. It no longer becomes a matter of what you should do, but what you ought to do. It becomes who YOU are, or rather who CHRIST is in you. If Christ lives in you, you have no choice in the matter, you WILL be a new person. Romans 5:17 says,


Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.


That transformation can only come from Christ in you and only when you choose to submit to Him. So with all that said I can get to the real point...Christ replaces you. He destroys who YOU were and replaces it with who He is.


One of those ways of submitting to Christ is through prayer. There is a TON that can be said about prayer and I'm not gonna even scratch the surface of it. But since we're talking about loving others, prayer is a huge part of that. Prayer is one of the ways that we can lay aside our desires and seek those of God.


I’m going to confess something and it may make people gasp in disbelief, but understand this…I’m a flawed and fallen man (just like everyone else), constantly in need of God’s grace and mercy and through my daily seeking of Christ He makes me the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21) and causes me to look more like Him. So here it is…I don’t always like everyone. There are some people; they have even been in theSHIFT, that I’ve thought, “Man I do not like that person. I wish they would leave.” With that said I know that’s not ok and I seek God to change that in me daily.


BUT…EVERY time I’ve felt like that (and some took longer than others), because I love Christ and I desire to love His people, I didn’t just let those feelings settle. Instead, I would seek God on it, ask Him to reveal the deeper issue, pray that God would lead me through it, sought wise counsel from those in authority over me and those close to me, and then I would go to that person. But I would go to them in love, not to attack them. Here’s what I found…through all that God didn’t change the other person, He changed me. He changed my heart for the person, exposed my short comings as they related to that particular person and changed the way I saw that person. Every time I sought God (with the right motives and truly seeking His heart) I changed, not the other person


Here’s the bottom line: Some of those people are still doing the same junk that annoyed me before, but that’s not for me to be concerned with and really it doesn’t bother me anymore. My concern is that there are things that God still needs to change in my heart. Because I love God and I desire His heart, I submit myself to Him and allow Him to replace me. In submitting to Christ and seeking His character, the Holy Spirit changes you and you start seeing people as God sees them: as the object of His affection and love. If you submit to Christ and accept His love, you will be compelled to love others the same way He loves you…you WON’T have a choice.


Glad I don’t get to choose,
Bruce

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Way It Was

Being in the military something I hear often is, “At my last base we...” or “The way we used to do it was...” The impression is that the way we used to do things is always better than the way we are doing them or are leading toward doing them. That way of thinking never made sense to me. As if the type writer was a better, more effective method of doing paperwork than the computer. Or propeller planes were more effective than the amazement of technology that we call jets.

What I've realized in the last few years is that those type of comments are not exclusive to military life. It seems that it is a prevalent way of thinking in most areas of our culture, ministry being no exception. The more I hear that stuff lately the more I wonder if the Apostles longed for “the way it was”. Specifically, when they were years into their ministry, facing persecution and imminent death, did they long for the days of old? The days that they physically walked with Jesus or the days of the early church when 3,000 people were added to the church in one day. I think they probably did. I have to believe that at the moment Stephen was facing death from stoning, while Peter was being crucified, as they were getting ready to throw James from the temple roof or the years Paul spent chained in prison, one if not all, longed for the “good old days.” Who wouldn't miss lounging with Jesus as opposed to stoning? But here's the thing...even though what they were facing was, well...death, they NEVER recanted on their faith. Their service to Jesus, their calling from Christ to advance His kingdom trumped EVERYTHING else. And it's because He changed them. Peter was no longer the same guy that blatantly denied Christ, Paul was no longer a murder and persecutor of Christians. They were different men all together.

That's the point of what Jesus does in us. We are to die to our old selves and be made new in Christ. In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul tells them, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 In Romans 12:2 he says, “Don’t copy [conform to] the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” We are NOT meant to stay the same, He means to transform our hearts, our minds, our whole self. He did not come so we would remain the same selfish, self seeking, hurtful and hurting people that we were before Him.

He came to save us, to love us and to reconcile us into the arms of His (and our) Father. 2 Corinthians 3:8 says he came, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” He came to change us into people that look like Him and reflect His glory. If we stay the same, we don't reflect Him. Jesus' love and everything else about Him says revolutionary, not relevant. He didn't come to relate to us, but to introduce a radical change in us that allowed us to relate to Him.

Bottom line is this...Christ came with the intention of changing us. That change is meant to draw us to a place that we desire to love people, advance His saving grace and see others changed by Him. We are NOT meant to hang out (that's a club) and we are not meant to focus on “the way it was.” We are meant to be so impacted by the love of Christ that we are transformed (made into something entirely different) for His sake. If your relationship with Christ is based on what was and not focused on what He's doing now, then you're not advancing His kingdom. No one that has ever sat on the side lines, ever scored a point. The aggressive player is the one that helps to advance the team. After all, “from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it.” Matthew 11:12.

His kingdom is being attacked everyday, are you just gonna keep “sitting this one out”?

Seeking His Transforming Power,
Bruce

Update: My Son The Teacher

This is actually the first time I've done an update on a previous post, but I thought this was worth sharing.  I probably should have wrote this last month when I realized it, but I was pouring through some old blogs, came across "My Son the Teacher" and felt I needed to follow up to share the amazing things our God does.

Back on April 9, 2010 I wrote a post titled "My Son the Teacher" (HERE).  In that post I talked about a kid in my sons 5th grade class that was so desperate for friends he brought money and was willing to pay other kids to be his friend.  This boy was often reluctant to answer invitations to play with what the other kids were playing and instead often chose to walk the playground by himself.  My son didn't take the money and concluded that he would just walk with this kid until he was ready to accept him as a friend.

Now, understand that both my sons are amazing young men, but Andrew has this heart for people that can only be given by God.  He also hands out church invite cards by the dozens because he wants to see his friends in church. So after a couple weeks of just "walking" with this boy, Andrew gave him an invite card.  Soon this boy and his family began attending Element Church (probably some time in the beginning of May) and Andrew was STOKED (really that's an understatement, but he was super pumped about it).

After a few weeks of attending Element, Andrew told me that his friend accepted Christ in Elevate (our children's ministry - lead by Pastor Derek, Blog HERE).  Again...super stoked!  So as if that weren't enough, I had the opportunity (I think during Element's Stripped Series - Sermon HERE) to witness the father of Andrew's friend answer the invitation to surrender his life to Christ.  SO STOKED!!!

So here's the bottom line...two kids, one that just wanted some one to walk with him and one that was willing to, changed an entire family.  That's God.

Super STOKED,
Bruce

Monday, July 19, 2010

Somebody To Love?

This post is kind of a follow up to my last post, Loved People (HERE). Not really intended to be a part two, but more of a continuation. I've been thinking a lot about the whole "Loved People, Love People. Hurt People, Hurt People" idea lately.

Without argument, as I'm sure many would agree, that trying to show love to someone that either doesn't care or blatantly rejects it, is often very difficult...who talks like that, it outright SUCKS. So recently I found myself wrestling with that idea and actually said out loud to God, "This is hard. I just want to love someone that will reciprocate that love!" God's response to my heart was, "Me too." Ouch...straight punch to the face. That's when He started speaking this idea of loving without expectation to me (He spoke it through a friend). The intent being that you love people without any expectation of them. Not that they'll love you back, not that they'll be grateful, not even that they'll come to Christ. In fact, not only do you love them regardless, but we should expect to be rejected or hurt, at least in the beginning.

So then I started working on theVISION series for theSHIFT (website HERE). We’re talking about: Who We Are, What We Do and Why, When God Calls-How to Answer and Where We’re Called To. In preparing for this series, God keeps bringing me back to this unexpectant love idea. This week we talked about “What We Do and Why” and God broke my heart, like His does every day, for His people.

Without going too far into detail, here’s the jist of what we talked about.

God has called theSHIFT to do three things for the college/20 something in Cheyenne (Laramie County), WY.

They are:

1. To connect with them where they’re at in life.
2. To provide a community of acceptance, where love is experienced.
3. To challenge them to grow.

After that I really struggled to put to words why we do what we do and this is what God revealed (again, three reasons).

1. We love them.
2. We’re called to it.
3. We see a need.

Reason # 3 (above) is what broke my heart. In researching the need for Christ in this area I came across a 2007 report that listed Wyoming #4 in the US (we moved from #1 in 2006) for suicides. Of those, about 10 percent were between the ages of 15 to 24. Aside from that I poured over report after report that talked about hundreds of thousands of college age adults that (self admittedly) drink enough to be diagnosed as alcohol abusers, almost half a million that routinely have unprotected sex (a quarter of which were too intoxicated to remember if the even consented), and identified nearly 2,000 that die in unintentional alcohol related accidents every year. I also read a report that 76% of college age adults admit that they are looking for meaning and purpose in life.

Here’s the truth, 76% of college age adults are searching for meaning and when they don’t find it, they turn to drinking, sex, and some of them give up looking and end it. They are hurting each other, hurting themselves and they are literally DYING for what we have! We CANNOT and will NOT keep Christ to ourselves! That is what we are ALL called to…to share the love that Christ has poured out on us without exception or expectation.  You want somebody to love?  Look around...they're right next to you.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hurt People, Hurt People. Loved People, Love People. (HPHP/LPLP - Part 5)

So I haven't blogged in what seems like forever. And the last time I did blog, I was on this "community" kick and had a series of 5 blogs that revolved around what community is supposed to be. I am still on that kick and still intend to write those blogs, so soon I hope.

With that said I had to make time to write this one.

I was listening to a song by Manafest called "Wanna Know You" and there is a line in the second verse that really got me. It says, "Loved people, love people. Hurt people, hurt people." I recently read a book (for one of my counseling classes) by Dr. Sandra Wilson called, "Hurt People, Hurt People." It was about understanding why people that have been hurt continue to hurt others.

With that and for the last six months God has been really working on me about what it means to love people and ultimately Him. So that line in the song really struck me as something that is important for everyone that claims to follow Christ to understand.

Hurt People, Hurt People

I'm not actually gonna say anything about why or how hurt people, hurt people. I am, however, gonna direct this toward those that have accepted Christ's love (the secret is - and it's actually not a secret - Christ loves us all, all the time...we just need to accept it).

I get SO tired of hearing how Christ's people are "done" with someone because they hurt them while they were "trying to love them." News flash...people that are hurt are not there to love you, it's the other way around.

Here's the thing, in going in to love someone that is hurting, you have to expect some resistance. You have to expect them to be somewhat leery of your intentions, because they were just hurt. People that are hurt or hurting are that way because someone they cared for either left them (whether it be intentionally i.e. divorce/break-up or unintentionally i.e. death), betrayed them or broke their trust some how. So you have to understand that they may not be so readily accepting of what you want to give them.

We are called to love people, to comfort the hurting and even pray for those that persecute us. If you are the recipient of Christ's amazing love, you have a responsibility to give it away to others and you have to understand that in trying to love them, you may get hurt. My friend, Grant Clark, has a saying that goes, "Where there's people, there's poop." The idea being that caring for people can get messy and if you are actually engaged in their lives, you WILL get messy.

On the other side of that coin...

Loved People, Love People

If you are a person that has surrendered your life to God and seeks to follow Christ, this is you. If you are actively engaged in a relationship with Christ, in which He is pouring out His love on you, you will love people. In John 15:12 Jesus says, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." Jesus was telling us that the way He loved us was an example of how He expected us to love each other. If you are truly the recipient of Christ's love, you WILL love others.

The Bible is very clear on this point. 1 John 4:20-21 says:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

So, loved people, love people.

I'll close with this...How badly did we hurt Christ (and still do at times) while He was trying to love us? What if He would have given up on us because He got hurt?

I Will Love Regardless,

Bruce

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

commUNITY: Love

Lately God has really challenged me to look at how I love Him, specifically what the outpouring of that love looks like. Through that I found myself kind of lost on how I actually show God my love. God's question was completely rhetorical and He eventually showed me that we are to show our love for Him by pouring it out on His people. Essentially, if we love God, we'll love the ones He loves (basically that's everyone else). He clarified through a number of ways (my devotional time, my youngest son) and I was able to flesh that out in a few previous posts. (My Son the TeacherYou Feed Them)

After clarifying the loving Him part, God started moving me toward what it means to love well and what forum is required for real, genuine love to exist. At theSHIFT we have a set of core values that revolve around four "Cs". They are Connection, Community, Challenge and Christ (my friend Thomas [BLOG love] has a great article on this if he'd ever post it). With that said I knew that community was important, but God began to show me just how important it is to this love relationship is. The idea is that when you connect people to each other and Christ, they begin to develop community with each other and Christ. Within community is where love, fellowship, accountability, worship, sacrifice and service to others occur. When that happens, Christ begins to challenge you to a place where you want to connect more people with Him. Then the cycle continues.

So, this post is meant to talk about community (there will probably be a few of them). I think the first thing that is important to get about community is that it's not just a place to hang out. Gospel community is a place where people that love each other, live openly with each other. They are honest and transparent within their community. They care about decisions others make and offer wise council and accountability. They gently, lovingly and firmly call each other out when one is engaged in sinful behavior. They worship, pray and fellowship together. They provide for each other generously and without grumbling. They don't backbite or seek to hurt others.

The key to community is love. Love is the foundation for everything. Christ identified two commandments in Luke 10:27, "You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And, Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus reiterated the need for love within community in John 13:34-35, which reads, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." If you want to really know what community is supposed to look like, read 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, that's love and that's community. The New Testament is filled with places that the Apostles tell various churches what it means to live in community with each other and all of them say to love each other. In Galatians 5:14-15 Paul says, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” In 1 Peter 3:8 Peter says, “Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.” And in 1 John 2:10, John says, “Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble.”

The point is this: Love is what community is built on. If anyone says they are a part of a community and does not display the action of love, they are a liar and are only there to under mind what Christ is building. Once community is developed and love flows outward from it, everything else comes naturally; accountability, servant-hood, fellowship, worship, and sacrifice.

The last thing I'll say about love within community is this:  the love within community should also draw and invite others in. The lost, unloved, unloveable and hurting should be attracted to community as a place where they will be accepted and loved. If people from the outside see your “community” and see jealousy, back-biting, gossip, selfishness, distrust and bitterness, they're gone. They won't come near you. That isn't community, that's the same thing that others, in the world, are trying to escape from. People should be able to find refuge, not refuse, in Christ's church.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Son the Teacher

This kind of goes along my post from the other day, You Feed Them, but it's been the thing that God has been trying to get across to me.

A few day ago my youngest son, Andrew, told me about a kid in his class that is so desperate for friends that he brought $100 in $20 bills and began handing them out to other kids to be his friend.  I asked my son if he took it, he said no and that all the money was retrieved, the Dad was called and given the money.  But I asked Andrew why couldn't he just be the kids friend and he said, "Well, I tried but all he does is walk around the playground.  He won't play anything."  So I said, "Maybe you could just walk with him.  Then once he sees you're willing to just do that and really be his friend, then maybe he'll play." Andrew replied, "Yeah, I don't have to play all the time.  I could just walk with him."

The thing is, that's all people want.  They want you to walk with them.  As The Church it isn't our job to wait for people to come to us, nor is it our job to drag people to where we want them or think they should be.  People want us to walk with them and we have to be willing to go to where they are and just be with them.  Once they see that our agenda involves no other item then to love them, then they will trust that we actually love and care about them.  We are called to bring Christ and be Christ to them.  Jesus told us to seek out the lost sheep and bring them home, but he wasn't saying to just make sure they made it through the church doors.  He also told us to care for and feed His sheep and that must be done where they're at.  If people don't recognize His voice, they won't follow Him. It's our job to introduce Him to them, where they are at, so they begin to recognize and find comfort in His voice.  Then, and only then, will they follow us to the foot of His throne.  If we know the way, we HAVE to share it with others and that can only be done through loving them to Christ.  As Christ walks with us, so we should walk with them.  They just want you to walk with them.  Will you?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

He's the Same!

Last week I was in a class and there was some scripture that was presented. One was from the the Koran and the other was from the Old Testament of the Bible. The question was presented as to whether they were scripture from the same God. The argument was that the verse from the Koran was very similar in feeling as many Old Testament Bible verses. The verse from the Koran spoke of the wrath of God being poured out and read something like Jeremiah 25:31 which says,

“His cry of judgment will reach the ends of the earth, for the Lord will bring his case against all the nations. He will judge all the people of the earth, slaughtering the wicked with the sword. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

The Old Testament verse is unimportant, except that it dealt with God's love. The comment was made about the belief that the Old Testament is the portrayal of God's wrath, anger and justice and the New Testament is the portrayal of God's love and mercy. First let me put out there that the God of the Bible and the God of any other religion are not the same. Without accepting Jesus Christ as God, it cannot be God. With that said, I get so frustrated with the theory that the Old Testament holds one half God's character and the New Testament hold the other half. If you read the Bible, I mean really seek God in it, you cannot miss the fact that God is the same from Genesis to Revelation.

Yes the Old Testament is a reflection of God's wrath, justice and anger, but it is also riddled with God's true desire to be Israel's God and to pour out His love and mercy on them. So many times throughout the OT God pleads with His people to return to Him, so many times He promises to restore them, so many times He gives them the chance to turn from their evil ways. So many times He says stuff like “I - yes, I alone - will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.” Isaiah 43:25 or “And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:28. These are undoubtedly signs of God's love and mercy.

On the other side of that, the NT is a reflection of God's love and mercy, but the NT also holds the greatest display of God's wrath and justice. Read about the crucifixion in any of the four Gospels (Matt 27:34-44, Mark 15:21-32, Luke 23:26-43 or John 19:16b-27), and you'll see God's wrath poured out. But you'll notice that His wrath was not poured out on His people. Instead it was poured out on His son, Jesus Christ. Romans 3:24-26 says,

Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Here's the bottom line...the OT and NT are not two halves of the same God. God is unchanging throughout the Bible. He continually displays a desire to love and restore us to Him, and yes some times that means He disciplined His people (sometimes pretty harshly), and He still does today. But the difference is this, He saved up His greatest outpouring of wrath and justice for that moment when His son hung on that cross, beaten, bruised and broken. He withheld the full force of His wrath from us, knowing we were not capable of baring it and instead poured it out on the most precious part of Himself. And He did it for no other reason than because He loves us. That's it...He Love Us!

Knowing He's the Same,
Bruce

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You Feed Them!


This morning during my devotional time I was reading in Luke and noticed something I hadn’t gotten before.  I was specifically reading the story about Jesus feeding the 5000, found in Luke 9:10-17.  As I read I came to verse 12 which says,

Late in the afternoon the twelve disciples came to him and said, “Send the crowds away to the nearby villages and farms, so they can find food and lodging for the night. There is nothing to eat here in this remote place.”

Then I read Jesus’ response in verse 13.  It smacked me right in the face.  Verse 13 reads: But Jesus said, You feed them. 

Most of us know the rest of the story involves the disciples collecting a few fish and loaves of bread, in which Christ blesses them and everyone was able to eat their fill, with a lot left over.  That part is amazing and I’ll address that in a minute, but today (for me) the main point of the story was not (as it has been in the past) that Jesus can do a lot with a little.  Or that even a little faith can be multiplied, or that Christ can do the miraculous.  All those are true and I assume others have learned so many other things from that story, but today the message in this story lies in three words found in verse 13 – YOU FEED THEM.

After reading those words I thought back to all the times that I (or someone I’ve seen or known) have come across or had a need brought to me and my first instinct was to send them away to somewhere or someone that could help them.  I so easily identify with the 12 that said “send the crowds away.”  Unfortunately, I think this is the church's response more often than not and that's not ok.

I’m not saying that it is the churches responsibility to actually feed EVERYONE who is hungry (although we should be trying to make a substantial dent in the number of people that are), but I am saying that it is our responsibility to “feed” those that are hungry for Christ (regardless of whether they know they are or not).  What God spoke into my heart today is that those 5000 were out in a "remote place" because they knew that Jesus was there.  They may not have understood why at the time (some may have), but they knew that they needed to be in His presence no matter what, even if it meant not having any food with them.

Instead of sending them away, we should be ushering them to His feet.  When we do that Christ will not leave it to us to figure out how to feed them.  He will provide the sustenance they need, just as He did with His disciples on that day.  It is our job to know and understand where the provision comes from, then to lead people to Him, not send them from Him.  We have to KNOW that Christ is our provider and through our seeking Him out, He will ensure we are fully equipped to handle feeding our 5000.  We also need to understand that He doesn't simply provide "just enough".  He overflows our baskets and expects us to serve beyond the 5000 in front of us.

I'll Feed Them,
Bruce