Some time ago, I saw a story of a basketball coach who got media attention because of an incident with a player during practice. His leadership style was to shove, belittle, intimidate, insult, and threaten his players to get results.  Now, regardless of his winning percentage, I don’t see how this approach helps the players in the long run. Even if they were to win a championship, what does it teach the players about life in general? That they have “perform to standards” or else get “benched” or “cut”?

In contrast, I saw the San Antonio Spurs victory over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Each player on that team knew their role and they worked together in unison up and down that court. There was a sense of selflessness where all egos were put aside for the good of the team. Even though they had ‘superstars”, they didn’t need to depend on them to play every minute because all the personnel  were in place. I remember the coach talking on the sidelines to one of his players. He was encouraging and motivating him to push through for the win. I could tell that the players loved their coach and would do anything for him.

The  winning standards  for both coaches is the same, but their approach is different. One way is to get people to do what you want externally, but the right internal motivation is not necessarily there. The other way is to bring out a desire from the inside that transcends into players being willing to go to “to hell and back” to win because they love their coach.

There is a difference in styles.

To me, the two coaches symbolize the contrast I see between legalism and grace.

Let’s say I’m a brand new believer who just received Jesus in my heart.  I’ve  been physically and sexually abused from my father and told that I will not amount to anything. I have all of this hurt and rage on the inside and I don’t even know what to do with it. I deal with all kinds of addictions. The last thing I need is for someone to point out all of my faults and give me a list of what I need to do to change- I’m already more than well aware of it.

I want to know that God loves me unconditionally and that He is not going to hurt me. I want to know in my heart that Father God is not like the father who beat me and abused me. When I really begin to experience His unconditional love in my heart, changes begin to take place. And  I can’t help to tell others about Jesus not because I have to, but because I want to just like the Samaritan woman did when she encountered Jesus in John 4.  I suppose this is what the Bible talks about when it says: We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4: 19)

The whole purpose of the law is not to put a bunch of rules and regulations that we can’t live up to, but to ultimately show us that we need God in our lives to help and transform us. In Galatians 3:24-25 it says that the  the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Think of it.

If you lived in the Old Covenant and did everything right that  you knew to do, you still had to make animal sacrifices for the atonement of sins. This was a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God to come.  Likewise, you see archetypes of Jesus in the Tabernacle of Moses, the Ark of the Covenant, etc.  Jesus is all over the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

If you look closely, you will find pictures of grace even in the Old Testament. For example,

Noah found grace in the eyes of God  – Genesis 6:8

and

 Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.  – Genesis 15:6 (Consider that the covenant with Abraham and his descendants took place many years before the law was instituted.)

It’s  all about God  justifying us:

 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?   – Hebrews 9:12-14

To me, dead works is living under the rudiments of the law. This is what the Bible refers to when it says in Galatians 2:16  that man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.

How does legalism translate into our daily lives?

Personally, I am operating in legalism if I am more concerned with:

  • Myself than I am with Jesus
  • What others think than what God says
  • Dependence on myself rather than God
  • Pleasing others rather than pleasing God
  • Feeling guilt and condemnation rather than joy and fulfillment
  • Finger pointing rather than mercy extending
  • Comparing myself to others rather than looking at God
  • Performance and obligation rather than something I get to do
  • Making the grade rather than growing in intimacy with God
  • My shortcomings rather than God’s abilities
  • Rules over relationship with Him
  • Striving in my own strength rather than labor in the rest of God
  • Etc., etc.

God is not the God of the dead but of the living. God is not a slave driver who prods us like cattle. We have a free will. But rather, He wants us to willfully serve Him with excellence  in response to  His love. This is the kind of live  works that James is referring to when he says that faith by itself , if it does not have works is dead. (2:17). I can either do something independently and out of my own strength or I can do something in response to and collaboration with the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5 refers to the Fruit of the Spirit not the fruit of me.

Which “coach” will you serve?

The following saying is true: “Jesus gave His life for us so He can give His life to us so He can live His life through us.

If we find ourselves overwhelmed, spent,  burnt out, judgmental, critical, etc.  then we need to step back and just give it to God.

There’s no formula to it.

I didn’t learn to float until I exhaled and finally let go. It was at that point that I stopped sinking and just let the water take me.

He’s waiting.

The  law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.

                                                                                                                                     -Romans 8:2

 Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.

Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”

 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”    -John 6: 5-8

What would you do if you were in Phillip or Andrew’s shoes?

 

What do you do when God tells you to reach out to someone and there simply isn’t enough?

 

When we are stretched to the core of our humanity, it’s tempting to just give in to our own  thoughts without first consulting God:

 

“Let’s cut the meeting short and tell them to go home.”

 

“We can feed a few and then the rest will have to figure it out.”

 

“Why would God lead us here without enough to feed the people?”

 

“I feel really inadequate.”

 

“I don’t know what to do.”

 

“Let’s take out a loan and pay the bank later.”

 

“Am I really hearing from God?”

 

When faced with an impossible situation, cares and concerns will try to pull us away from His still small voice. If we are not careful,  these pressures can come and put “wax in our ears” that can keep us from clearly tuning in to God. And yet the real us –our inner man on the inside- yearns to trust God. Like Peter, we want to walk on water in the midst of all of these “winds and waves” that are vying for our attention (Matthew 14:28-29)

 

God understands what that’s like. Jesus, too, dealt with a lot of “noise” and commotion in His own life:

 Some followed Him for what they could get

Others followed Him because they hungered after God

 Some thought He was truthful and had the right intentions.

Others thought He was a deceiver and questioned His motives.

 Some believed in who He was

Others- including some members of His family at first- did not

Some wanted to crown Him.

Others wanted to kill Him.

 With all the activity surrounding Jesus, it would have been easy for Him to get distracted from the Father. But Jesus’ remedy was to spend time with God.

 Sometimes we need to stop and  pray  and  let God remind us who we really are. We shouldn’t get off our knees until the “noise” diminishes in our heart and minds and we are looking only at God. Billy Graham- from what I understand- once said that if he had to do everything all over again the one thing he would do different is pray more.

 If you look at the Gospels, you can see that there were numerous times that Jesus prayed before critical junctures in His life that included the launching of  His ministry, receiving direction, choosing His disciples, Gethsemane, etc. If Jesus needed to pray all the time, what makes us any different?

In the Presence of God our focus turns to:

 The Mountain Mover

The Supplier

The Abundant Giver

The Heart of God

The Plan of God

The Solution of God

The Love of God

The Resting Place in God

Because Jesus was abiding in the Father, He knew that the need of the people was In God’s hands. Notice again what the Bible says about Jesus in relation to what He said to Phillip: But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do (John 6:6)

In verse 10 of the story we read that Jesus gives a direction: Make the people sit down.  When God gives us an order, it’s time “let go” and relinquish control of the situation to God:

Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed  them to the disciples, and the disciples[a]to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.  (v. 10-11)

God’s economy is not impacted by the magnitude of the need or situation. It is not deterred by all  the noise or commotion going around. But rather, there is rest, peace, order, multiplication of bread, miracles, and more than enough left over for the disciples! And God gets all the credit! (v. 12-14)

As God is taking us from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:8), there’s a maturing process taking place. Maybe not all of us have been in a place where we have given sacrificially and God has miraculously filled up an empty grocery pantry, but he has performed miracles in other areas in our lives where we have had to give him our “5 loaves and 2 fish.” We are learning to listen and obey and strengthen our “faith muscles.” There will be times when we get our eyes off of the Lord and turn  to the “winds and the waves.” But thank God that Jesus is there to pick us up! Sometimes people point out Peter’s going down into the water, but I commend him for being the only one to not only venture out of the boat when he heard the Lord’s voice, but for the miraculous steps that he did take! (Matthew 14:22-33)

So next time we are stretched in our humanity, let’s remind ourselves that we are His workmanship in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10). Let’s not rush to our own devices or what the world economy says or anything else we see and hear around us that is contrary to God’s Word. Let’s get in the habit of consistently  running to the Father:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.

 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.

 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

                                     -Psalm 23:1-3

 

 

 When you look at Jesus, do you really see Him as He is or is there a distorted image?

 One of my childhood friends struggles with crack addiction, compulsive gambling, etc. His relationship with his Mom has been rocky including years of  neglect and abuse. He doesn’t know who his real father is and perhaps he never will.  The “fathers”  he knew were the ones with his mother over the years. I wonder what he pictures when he hears the term “Father God.”

 And what about all of the broken and hurting? Abuse. Neglect. Rejection. Bullying. Cutting. Suicidal tendencies., etc.

 It’s possible for people who have experienced the wrong end of the stick to not trust anyone, let alone God. Who’s to blame them for having a negative view of God? They’ve been burned. But is this portrait of  the Lord a true one?

 It’s probably not much different than the image of God that the woman caught in adultery had in John 8. I can’t imagine the pain, shame, guilt, and  humiliation that she must have felt when she was brought before Jesus and the crowd. If she experienced labeling, name-calling, put-downs, accusations, etc.  in the  past, it all came raining down at that one moment in time. She probably thought: “This is it. I’m going to die. They’re going to kill me.” The people kept demanding an answer from Jesus as far as what should be done with her, but He didn’t say a word. Finally, He said: All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (v. 7). Jesus got to the heart of the matter. People had to drop their rocks because they knew they had issues too.

“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

 “No, Lord,” she said. 

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. (v.10-11)

The Bible tells us to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). But this is hard to do when you’ve never been loved, don’t love others, and don’t even like yourself. It’s a matter of learning to trust, bridging the  gap, and knowing in your heart that God means no harm.

 For perhaps  the very first time in her life,that woman had someone who stood up for her and accepted her. And Jesus not only extended mercy and forgiveness to her but- at the same time- believed in her enough to tell her  to change for the better:

Go and sin no more.”   (v.11)

 At that point, she got a clear image of God that was 20/20. Jesus earned her trust and devotion.  She would never be the same again. She would go on to live a transformed life because she felt His love and was responding in kind.

 People- whether they realize it or not- are really looking for Jesus. And barring them having a supernatural encounter with Him, they look to see if Christ is real through the people that call themselves His followers. But, unfortunately, many would not set foot in a church because they have this pre-conceived notion that believers will be waiting for them with stones in hand. Is this far-fetched? Not necessarily.

If our “spiritual tank” is running on empty, it’s possible to be less compassionate and  more harsh, critical, and  judgmental. People in need get turned off by the latter. And it doesn’t matter how good the sermon is, how many programs a church has, or how many talents or spiritual gifts are exhibited- if you don’t have love, you have nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3.) As the saying goes, “people don’t care how much you know. They want to know how much you care.”

E.W. Kenyon is quoted as saying: “When we understand the God kind of love, we cease to be dangerous to other human beings.”

I’ve often thought about what the “God kind of love” really means. I mean, let me be honest. There are lots of beautiful people out there that have a genuine love, compassion and care for people and they are not Christians. But if Jesus really is the Son of the Living God and the Savior of the World then those who genuinely encounter Him would be walking in such a way that others would say to them: “There’s something different about you.”

Agape is the God kind of love mentioned in the Bible that culminated in Jesus paying that ultimate price for us. Maybe we  might give our lives for our children or someone we care for dearly, but not for someone who has hurt or abused us. Yet this is what Jesus did. As human beings, none of us have that capacity to love in our own strength yet God gives this promise in the Bible: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and  give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). In other words, if we are willing, God will give us a new inside. My pastor has said that if Christians walked in that type of love, there wouldn’t be enough room in the churches.

Jesus said,  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

The Christians that have impacted me the most were not necessarily eloquent speakers, famous preachers, or super gifted.  But they were very real people.  If someone was hurting or in need, they listened and reached out with compassion. They wanted a relationship with you. You were not a “project” or a “part of a program” or “another spiritual notch under their belt.” There were no ulterior motives. They gave of themselves- sometimes at great price- and you never got the impression that you were bothering them or it was done out of obligation. They had this joy and purpose on the inside that not all of the money in the world could buy.

I write this blog because I am seeking the “God kind of love.” As I read through the life of Jesus in the Gospels,  I’m looking over it like it was my very first time and asking: “Who are you, Lord?”

 I see Someone whose eyes penetrate into your very being when He looks at you. I see a Person who went about healing the sick and the hurting. I see an Individual who embraced and met people where they were at no matter their skin color, background, possessions, or appearance. I see a Man who knows what it’s like to be rejected by family members, left by His friends, falsely accused, and hurt and abused as an innocent man to a degree that perhaps we may never understand. I see the Son of God dying on the cross for the sins of the adulterous woman and all the people that crucified Him and your sins and my sins and everybody else in the world. And I see the resurrected King of Kings stretching out his nail-scarred hands and inviting all of us to come to know Him as He really is.

I want to know Him.

 I invite you to do the same.

What is the “God kind of love”?

 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

                                                                                                   -1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, 13

What’s love got to do with it? Everything.

 

 

 

The Christian walk is an interesting dynamic involving both God and believer.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. -1 Corinthians 15:10

On the one hand, we can’t do it in our own might. On the other, God doesn’t do everything and we just fold our arms. The essence of the Christ-centered walk is learning to do all things in Him. It is attaching ourselves to the Vine to get nourishment, bear fruit and obtain everything we need to live victoriously (John 15:1-5). It’s not our great faith in God, but faith in a greater God.

When Jesus said it is finished (John 19:30), the work was (and is) complete. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. God is the banquet host who has done all of the prep work and beckons us: “Come, help yourself to the riches of my grace.”

Being in Christ, to me, is learning to walk in who we really are. Our inner man in Jesus is like Superman. When we get in Christ it’s like Clark Kent going into the phone booth and coming out with his costume and cape. But what happens if Kent doesn’t go into the booth? Does it mean that he is not Superman anymore or that he’s lost his powers? No. It simply means that he is not exercising who he is. And often the enemy wants to instill fear and doubt and do whatever he can so that there is this imaginary “do not enter” sign in front of the phone booth. If the enemy can get us to stay out of the booth, then we are left to our own devices and are not using our Source.

Observe the following interaction between Peter and Jesus: Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water. So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. – Matthew 14:27-29.

Questions:
Did Peter walk on the water?
Did he walk on the water on his own strength or in Christ?
Did he walk on water whenever he felt like it or was it in obedience to the Lord’s bidding?

Peter’s walking steps were based on hearing God’s voice (John 10:1-30) and keeping his eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of his faith (Hebrews 12:2). Otherwise, he would not have been in Christ and would have been unable able to do it. And when his eyes veered off to look at the storm, he began to sink. But thank God that Jesus was there to pick him up (Matthew 14:30-33)

When the “winds and the waves” of life come-whether the world, the enemy, the flesh, trials, etc. – they can try to divert or even prevent us from looking at Jesus. But just because it’s sometimes hard to see- like it was in Peter’s case- doesn’t negate the fact that the Lord is present and available.

A pastor in Miami, Florida went through a season where he would go home and cry after preaching to his congregation about the believers’ place in Jesus. Thoughts would flood his mind: “What you preach isn’t real and it doesn’t work” , “You tell the people one thing yet look what’s going on in your home”, “Why don’t you quit?”, “Your son is not going to make it.” He would push through it and pray. Yet there seemed to be no changes taking place in his household. There were Sundays where father and son would criss-cross each other- one on his way to church and the other arriving home from a night of drugs and partying.

What does one do in this situation?

The pastor continued to stand in God’s promises everyday no matter what he felt or saw. He was careful not to confess anything contrary to God’s Word. When his son wasn’t around, the father would anoint his room and pray. The pastor kept pressing into God much like the woman who went to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment (Luke 8:43-48). Eventually, one day he heard noise coming from his son’s bathroom. When he went to look, he found that it was son crying out to God for forgiveness. Today his son is actively serving at the church as the youth pastor.

As my pastor, Norm DuBois, says, “If you don’t quit, you win.” Believers who get to the other side of the storm are those who, like the persistent widow, don’t stop until they get their answer from the judge (Luke 18:1-8).

When life tries to squeeze us, how much of His grace will we grab a hold of-a lot, a little, or not at all? Paul said, I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Cor. 15:10) When a member of my family was little, she had a great battle with fear. Her mother took her through months of reading, meditating, and studying all the scriptures related to being in Christ. Once that word became alive and planted in her inner man through the work of the Holy Spirit, the stronghold broke.

Pastor Jentezen Franklin once talked about the eagle and its enemy- the condor. Unlike the eagle who takes live prey, the condor likes to feed on dead things. The bigger and heavier condor tries to bring a flying eagle down by latching itself unto the eagle’s back. If the eagle goes to the ground due to weight and weariness, it loses because its strength is in the air. But, you see, the eagle has an advantage that the condor doesn’t have. It has a double layer of protection over its eyes in the form of two sets of eyelids, so it can handle flying into the sun. If the eagle can go up high enough towards the sun, the condor will eventually have to release its grip and will fly away.

Paul in Philippians 4 stated what he learned about living in Christ. His resolve was: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. When faced with impossible situations, you don’t try to shake it off on your own. But rather, you make a choice to soar higher and higher towards the Son until the weight comes off of your back. You run to Jesus who takes your impossibilities and turns them into breakthroughs.

So when you face a hard circumstance: Don’t accept It, get to the One who can bring life to it, and accept nothing less than God’s Word (Pastor Norm DuBois).

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the LORD,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
31 But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. -Isaiah 40:28-31

I believe that the Lord plants people in the Church to cause them to flourish. And above all else,  Church leaders are stewards of the greatest resource that God brings to a local church:

Its P-E-O-P-L-E.

This stewardship involves several priorities that I see played out in the Bible dynamics between Jesus and Peter:

Protect the Value of Your People

Good leaders should be conscientiously aware not only of those who are the objects of ministry, but those who make the platform of that ministry possible. These are the Aarons and Hurs who hold up the arms of Moses, so to speak (Exodus 17:12).

These people should not  “get lost in the background” or become “casualties” of the day-to-day operations of the church. It’s important to create a culture where they are protected, valued, and appreciated.

When Jesus used Peter’s boat  (ie. his livelihood, resources) to preach to the multitudes, what did the Lord do? He remembered Peter and blessed him with a catch of fish (Luke 5:1-7).

Esteem Relationship

Jesus didn’t just minister with his disciples, but he ministered to them, and he related to them. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for a person to faithfully serve at a church for an extended period of  time and yet lose connection with- or even not connect at all- with his or her leader(s) on a personal level. When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, for example,  it occurred in the intimate place of Peter’s house which was probably one of several places where the Master and his disciples fellowshipped together  (Luke 4:37-39).

Optimize Potential

Good leaders are interested in developing people and not just using them. They are genuinely concerned with them becoming more like Jesus. This is what I believe the scripture is referring to  Ephesians 4:11-15 as to what  the purpose of the five-fold ministry is.

A pastor should seek to create an environment at the local church where these people can seek, hear, and respond to God’s call in their lives during the tenure that God has them at that local church. Jesus didn’t just see people for who they were in the present, but who they were to become in the future. I am  reminded  of the scripture where Jesus gives Simon (“reed”) the new name of Peter ( “rock”) – Matthew 16:17-19

Promote Faithfulness

Unlike the multitudes who were fickle, the disciples stuck with Jesus’ ministry. Peter even said to Jesus at one point: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:67-69).

In the Parable of the Talents, those who were good stewards of what they were entrusted were given even more (Matthew 25:14-28) The Bible tells us that he who is faithful in little things will be ruler over much.

 Faithful people are sometimes going to fit into areas of the church that already exist. And other times they could add to the church in new ways that are in line with their gifts and passions. People-oriented leaders prayerfully consider these new opportunities and embrace them according to the Lord’s leading.

Love Unconditionally

All of us fall short of the mark, but thank God that He is there to catch us when we do. Inadvertently, your people will have shortcomings and mistakes as they step out. Be “Jesus with skin on” towards them when they do. Reflect on  Jesus talk with Peter after the three denials. (John 21:15-19)

Empower in Christ

This is where the story comes full circle because it is a follow-up to Jesus’ restoration of Peter. God doesn’t just pick us up when we fall. He works it for good and, by His grace, advances us forward from the point in our lives where we were before. This is the end result of a healthy discipling relationship.

Jesus is risen and the Peter that denied Jesus three times in Luke 22 is now the Peter who boldly proclaims Him on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;   –Ephesians 4: 11-16.

Why do I feel so passionate about this? A few years ago, I learned about an interesting phenomena while listening to Christian radio: Believers who stop attending churches. These individuals were not “church hoppers.” They were not problem folks who gossip, complain, or cause divisions. These were faithful servants, submissive to authority, and did everything they were asked to do. They sacrificially gave of their time, talents, and treasure for the furtherance of the Gospel and the vision of their local church. Eventually, they reached a point where they felt in their hearts that God had more work for them to do beyond their current service. Over a period of time, when it became evident to them that there was no place for them to fulfill that need at the church and there were closed doors, they decided to leave.

My question is: Did it necessarily have to get to that point?

I don’t believe so.

 

Getting Stung

My friend’s little girl got stung by a bee and it was daddy’s job to remove the stinger. What he was about to do was for her own good, but she had to trust him, feel secure with him, and know that what her father had to do was for her own good. The little girl cried and cried, but finally relented. She was so happy when it was all over. Trust requires feelings of security and belonging. Fear results when these elements are missing. None of us are going to fall backwards into another’s arms when we’re not sure if they would catch us. How often do we come to God with our burdens, hurts, and much more? Like my friend’s little girl, we all carry “stingers.” Jesus wants to remove them, but we can be hesitant to allow Him to do so. Where do these “stingers” come from? Sometimes we feel guilt and condemnation because of things we’ve done. We can fail to embrace the “Father heart” of God either because we don’t know our human father, have/had an absentee father, or have/had one that physically or sexually abuses or did abuse us. We could be lacking people in our lives that affirm us, encourage us, accept us, or maybe we push away those that do. Perhaps we feel “burned” by people in the church who were hypocritical, used us, or betrayed us. The scenarios could go on and on. How do we react when we get stung? We put on “masks.” Our masks are diverse in appearance and in what they represent. Some masks look appealing, like success, wealth, achievement, perfectionism, and more. Other masks appear ugly, like drugs, materialism, promiscuity, arrogance, pornography, and more. Some of us bulldoze the people around us while others of us run away from everyone.  We could put on the appearance of becoming more “religious” than others to try to earn brownie points with God. We could also turn our backs on God and seek our own solutions. The reality is that none of us are exempt from sometimes wanting to cover up something. When we are truly honest with ourselves, none of us see ourselves as “having it all together” 100% of the time. If we did, we would never put on a mask. When did humans first try to cover up? In the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). Satan, the con artist, planted a seed of doubt in Adam and Eve. The basic issues presented were: “Is God really being up front?” and “Does He really want the best for me?” These questions were entertained and taken to heart. Independence from God is the sin that separated man from God and planted the deep roots of insecurity and inferiority that are so prevalent in humankind today.(See “Satan’s Dirty Little Secret” by Steve Foss)  Removing the Stinger

It is possible for us to hear over and over again that God loves us and yet it doesn’t register. We hear and read about His unconditional love for us, yet in our actions we feel like we have to do something to earn His love. Some of us even believe that we can never be loved by God, so we don’t even bother to approach Him. None of us can really love Him unless we know in our hearts that He loves us first. The Bible tells us that we love Him because He first loved us (I John 4:19)

God called out to Adam in the Garden after Adam had sinned. God knew exactly where he was, but still asked – for Adam’s sake. Adam had clothed himself with fig leaves and was hiding because he was ashamed. But God approached Adam and took his fig leaf covering away and replaced it with sheep skin. This symbolizes how God removes our masks and covers us with Jesus, the precious Lamb of God who was slain to restore the right relationship between God and man.

Paul prayed in Ephesians that we may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19).

The love of God is a sure thing. It’s real. It can be trusted. It’s eternal. It covers a multitude of sins. It’s good. It’s pure. It’s unconditional. Love enables us to lay our masks aside and be fully known. Love is a Person. God is love.

My Story

“When did you first consider yourself a man?” The question was asked in a movie. The men gave different answers including:

            “What kind of question is that?”

            “ I don’t know.”

            “When I turned the legal age of 21.”

            “When I moved out of the house.”

One answer stood out to me:

“When I was 17 and my father went away on a trip. He told me that I was the man of the house and that I was to take care of the family. That’s when I felt like a man.”

I wish I had that. My father was a provider but not strong as an affirmer. I don’t blame him. It seems like he didn’t have a good relationship with his own father. In fact, when I was a teen, I saw my father in a suit and tie one day:

            “Where are you going?”

            “I’m going to my father’s funeral.”

I didn’t even remember the last time I had seen my grandfather, much less that he had passed away. My father didn’t even think of inviting me to the funeral. To be honest, I don’t know if I cared.

I remember growing up with identity issues. I really needed someone to affirm me, encourage me, validate me. I had this deep hole on the inside with nothing to fill it. When I was only five, I thought about killing myself. I had the knife by my chest, but I didn’t have the guts to do it. I don’t even remember why I even thought of committing suicide.

Growing up, I was always trying to look for people to emulate. I needed a role model. I wasn’t one of those kids who did or sold drugs or did other crazy stuff, though my friends surely did. I guess I was too scared to do it. But also something in me knew that none of those things would fill the emptiness. Not all the women in the world, all the money…all the whatever. One day I got invited to this youth group Bible study. I was 18. I didn’t’ know what I was getting myself into or if these people would be crazy or what. All this stuff was new to me. But one thing I did like to do was to talk to God all the time. So I locked myself in a room and I shot up a prayer to God before I left my house:

“God, you know I am really searching for you and I want to know who You are. So if this stuff I’m going to is real, show me. But if they are crazy or a cult or something, show me so I don’t go the wrong way. You know I am looking for you.”

And so off I went to the meeting.

What I can tell you is that when I was at the Bible study, I felt this presence in the room that I had never experienced before. I felt something that tugged at me deep into my insides. It’s hard to describe. I knew it was God. I felt love. I tried to hold back from crying in front of the people there, but I could not. Tears flowed down my face like a river. Two weeks later, I prayed to Jesus and asked Him to come into my life and take away the emptiness and He has.

I wish I could tell you that everything’s been great since then, but it’s been a journey for me: I still struggle with what others think or say about me. I have not pursued some dreams/opportunities in my life for fear of failure or inadequacy. I find it hard to really trust others or to believe their love for me when they say it or show it. I still feel the need to prove myself to God or to try to earn His love instead of just receiving it. God has shown me in so many ways through people, circumstances, etc. that He loves me yet I have honestly at times pushed Him away.

But God has been so patient with me. I’m I’ve been like a wounded wild horse that the cowboy carefully approaches. Or like my friend’s little girl when daddy approached her with caution to remove the stinger. God is showing me that He loves me for me. Just as I am. Unconditionally. All the faults and baggage included. No strings attached. And it is precisely that which is allowing me to open up to Him and let Him work on removing those stingers in my life.

I am finally getting to the point where I can honestly say that I am a man because I know the Man. Jesus is a man’s man. He is my role model. He is my hero. He is the one who has and who continues to affirm me, encourage me, validate me. And I am not ashamed to admit that.

I shared what happened and what is happening to me. If you ever want to know if God is real, you don’t have to take my word for it- just ask Him yourself. If you really are sincerely searching for Him in your heart, He will reveal Himself to you. And if  He is not real, then He won’t. No skin off your back. Bottom line. End of story. Why don’t you give Him a chance?

  Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ the Savior of the world.”               – John 4:42

 

Recommended Reading

The best reading you could ever do is open up the Bible and ask God to show Himself to you. Read, for example, the book of John.

Acknowledgement

I’d like to thank my wife Gabrielle for assistance in writing/editing this blog.

When I was a young believer, I heard a couple of preachers talk about how Jesus’  coming could come at any time whether tomorrow, next week, next  month,  etc.  Even though I wasn’t a Bible scholar by any means, this statement baffled me. My thinking was: “What about all the people that haven’t heard the Good News?” I  recalled  Jesus’ words that this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14). Even though I haven’t heard it mentioned very often in the context of end-time prophecy, this statement is one of several key signs given to us by the Bible.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe that we are in the very last days-it’s very clear that the “birth pains” are more intense now  than at any other point in history. I just believe that God would give each everyone a chance to hear the message before He returns. For example, there are so many people that haven’t heard about Jesus in the 10/40 Window. Think about all of the unreached peoples with various dialects in China alone.

I went to a missions conference a year or two ago which said that if all major Christian organizations network together (which I believe they are), the whole earth could be exposed to the Gospel within twenty years.

When Jesus said that many are called, but few are chosen (Matthew 22:16),  I believe people were  selected  because they answered the call. The United States  has historically been a blessing to the earth through its Christian heritage of sending out more missionaries than anywhere else in the world. Now, I haven’t checked the figures lately, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other nations have caught up or even surpassed us in that category. Some of them are even sending out laborers to this country. This is a sobering thought. Recently, I heard a  statistic that said that the longer a person is a believer, the less he or she witnesses. Though I  don’t know the details of the study, I would venture to say that such a degree of“inward  focus” is not the trait of today’s persecuted church. It certainly doesn’t fit my image of the church in Acts.

The Greek word for disciple is “mathano” which literally means ”student”  or “learner.” In order for people to be used effectively in the harvest, they need training and equipping. When recently  watching movies on D-Day, I saw how the soldiers were given directions and repeatedly practiced drills in order to prepare for the assault. On the day they launched out, things weren’t  perfect. There were  challenges and errors, but they were ready to go. Can you imagine if they just  went out there cold turkey? The enemy isn’t about to give up land without a fight and soldiers need the proper tools to succeed.

Now, I have nothing against “seeker-friendly” churches- I understand the concept.  If you want to catch  certain fish, you need to use the right bait. Paul even  said, I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (I Corinthians 9:22). I recognize the principle of relating to people, but I draw a line when a church compromises the Word. God’s people  need to be properly nourished so they have enough in them to give to a hurting world.

If  new believers come to church and they are truly hungry for  and in pursuit of God, there should be a change taking place in their lives as they submit themselves to leadership over time. They should, for example, be receiving a heart revelation of God’s love for them, walking in greater freedom, learning to listen to God’s voice more clearly, and becoming more aware of their calling. They should be learning and/or operating in their gifts and talents- both natural and spiritual- for the glory of God. They should have a practical understanding of their identity in Christ and learning to use their God-given authority.

Yes, an individual takes responsibility for the degree of growth in his/her walk with God . But so does the leadership that the person yields to because discipleship not only affects that individual but all the people that can potentially and exponentially be impacted through that vessel. A well-trained disciple  not only produces good fruit from the tree, but contains the seed to produce more trees. Therefore, I believe that pastors, apostles, teachers, evangelists, and prophets will give an account before God for what they did with the sheep that God entrusted them with. This is why it says in Ephesians 4:12-13 that the purpose of the five fold ministry is  for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.  It is no wonder, for example, that James said that teachers would be held to a stricter judgment (James 3:1 ).

Christians should be utilized extensively both within and beyond the four walls of the local church. As I heard one preacher point out, Jesus’ ministry was not only in the synagogue but He went out with His disciples to take the Kingdom to the people.

When mentioning the word “ missions”, some people think of  overseas and rightly so- God will call several  of us to pray, support, and/ or go to foreign soil. But we all need to be reminded that missions encompasses not just a place here or there but  everywhere. If any of us have a burden for a certain people group, for instance, let us remember that there are opportunities here in the United States as well because the nations have come to us. I heard the following information from a preacher on the radio and I trust that this is accurate:  There are more Jews in this country than in all of Israel and more Jews in Miami than there are in Tel-Aviv. There are more Irish in America than there are in Ireland. We are second only to Poland in Polish population. The United States is the second largest country with Latino population in the world. Pittsburgh is the “U.S. Capital”, so to speak, for Serbian people. Flushing, NY is a city with a wide diversity of nations in it. And this is the tip of the iceberg of what I recalled- I did not have time to write down the rest of the information.

The Bible tells us in Acts 1:8 that you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Let us not forget our spheres of influence within our neighborhoods, workplaces, cities, states, etc.  And based on our callings and giftings, we can impact change in one or more aspects of society including political, educational, economical, social, entertainment, etc.  

Concluding Remarks

I considered cancelling this blog entry due to the conviction  I felt in not doing my part with missions. Honestly, I have been one of those “inward focused” people. Right now I can think of all the individuals whom I have not been obedient in reaching out to. Nevertheless,  in my conscience, I decided to  go ahead with this article with the understanding that I share about someone who exemplifies missions to me. There were so many precious family members and friends that I could have chosen to talk about, but I selected the person whom I live with every day… my wife. And in writing about Gabrielle, I hope it speaks to others- as it has done to me- of how all of us  can be used by God no matter where we are or what we do:

In my block, there are at least two families where the husband  left  to be with another woman. To my knowledge, one of them has come back. Who knows what other family issues exist in the homes around me.  Our neighbors appear to be fine money-wise, but there might be things going on that they are not telling anyone-one never knows the struggles people are going through with this economy.  My wife wants to reach out. She wants to, for example, bake cookies for the holidays and take them over. She desires to invite people over to our house and would like for us to begin to put together a pantry to help those in need.

Beyond our block, I have seen her help, listen, and pray for a homeless person in need, give to churches collecting money in a street corner, etc. and helped pay someone’s bill at the grocery store.

At the local churches where we have attended over the years, I have seen her involved in organizing events, doing Bible studies, evangelistic outreaches, etc.

In the community college where she works, she prays each semester for an opportunity to help a student in need. This Fall, she was able to help a dire mother and her kids have enough for groceries and a Thanksgiving dinner. Another semester she reached out in prayer and visitation to a woman who was undergoing health issues with her family. And yet another year she planted seeds with a homosexual student who underwent epileptic attacks. We don’t know if the student is alive today or not, but we trust that if he is not, that he decided to open his heart to Jesus before he passed away.

I have listened to her heart as she talks about the city where we live. She has a desire to use a room at the local library, invite women from the area, and, for example, do a teaching using materials by John Maxwell.  In the longer term she has a dream about having a center involving the participation of multiple churches and utilizing various gifts and talents to bless the community. She wants a place where people can receive assistance, training in job skills, Bible studies, and all sorts of other services.

During her university years, she had the opportunity to travel through different states with the crew from Toy-Maker’s Dream, a production with the message of the Gospel.

My wife has a heart for the nations. In fact, when I met her, she helped develop and organize an International student program at the university we attended. Thanks to her efforts, students have received economic, immigration, academic, cultural, and spiritual assistance. Over the years, she has helped support foreign missions trips and organizations through prayers and finances. She has also had the opportunity to go minister herself at such places as Costa Rica (where she also lived for four years), Peru, Argentina, and Mexico.  She has a heart for children with no parents and she is appalled by the effects of sex-trafficking on women worldwide. 

I have given examples from Gabrielle’s  life just to illustrate the many different ways in which we can influence people for Jesus in this world. For her,  missions is a regular part of her lifestyle and not a project. She sincerely cares about people and would rather go about helping others than to be doing something for the purpose of drawing attention to herself. I see Jesus’ love in action as I look at her life.

And so we all need to ask ourselves: “What is God calling me to do and am I doing it?” And none of us should say that our role is  small and/or  insignificant because every single person matters to God. I have heard it said that if any of us were the only person on earth, Jesus would have still come to die for us. If we take the time to open our hearts, we will see people that God  has uniquely  placed in our lives people for us to touch that others may not be able to do so. And the more we walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading, the more He can entrust us and then the bigger our sphere of influence will be. As the Bible says, he who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much (Luke 16:10)

The time is short. What are we going to tell Him when we stand before Him?

So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’
 “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.
 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.
 –Matthew 25:20-29

This blog entry is dedicated to family, friends, and  other people who demonstrate to me daily examples of Jesus’  hands of love. Thank you.