Story Time

Jude 20 – 21

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

May I tell you a story today? Recently I attended an event where I met another pastor. He and I began to discuss our ministries and to my surprise I characterized my ministry by saying, “I hang out in God’s love.” I told him that is the most important topic of my ministry. Let me tell you why that is funny.

When I was young, I thought the pastors who preached on love sounded like a bunch of milk toast sissies. I was young, tough and strong. I wanted to hear about a strong God. Then I ran into my pastor for my life, Pat Markley. No one would every call Pat a sissy. In fact, he was a former navy seal. It was no accident that our Father led me to Pat. I needed that image to help me understand that true love is tough and strong. So, though I have learned much since then, I still found myself surprised identifying myself and my ministry in such a manner.

The other pastor immediately began to speak of God’s wrath. Again, a bit funny in that I had just had a conversation with someone else about God’ compassion where I said, “How can anyone know the Father and believe Him to be angry?” We have made great sport about God striking us with lightening when we say something foolish, but I always thought people knew better. Well, this pastor believes it is his job to preach on God’s wrath. This same preacher (perhaps a better moniker than pastor) had just quoted John 3: 16 to me, “For God so loved . . ..” I mean, get a revelation, “God is love,” (1 John 4: 8).

I encourage you to read the book of Jude. It is quite short. Jude does spend 19 verses recounting the history of the wicked and from that this preacher got his message. However, it isn’t until verse 20 that Jude begins to address his audience and when he does direct his words directly to his audience, his message is love. He spends the first part of his book on the historical record, but his conclusion, his actual message comes after the conjunction “but” in the twentieth verse. That is the way arguments are constructed. The prelude is the background against which the message shall be forecast. His message, then, is “keep yourselves in the love of God.”

Our God is love; He is characterized by love. He did not send his beloved son to earth to die a horrible death just so He could pour out His wrath upon us! Come on! God isn’t sending people to hell. His whole thing is saving people from hell. Some people refuse to be saved, and that is their choice. With free will comes the choice to choose heaven or hell. Back in Deuteronomy God told us the choice between life and death was ours to make but His recommendation was that we choose life (Deuteronomy 30: 19).

After that evening and discussion regarding wrath versus love, I came home and read Jude multiple times. I read it and prayed until I was certain Father had ministered His wisdom to me regarding the book. I came away with the conviction that God is love. To know the Father is to know love. My mission is to bring people into the presence of God. In His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16: 11). How can His presence be full of joy if He is an angry, vengeful God? To know God is to know unsurpassed love. The more we get to know Him, the more we will see that He is love.

Therefore, my message is simply this, God loves you! He loves you far more than you can even imagine. He loves you more than you love your own children. He wants you saved and living eternally with Him in heaven. Be blessed in the truth.

Great Compassion

Isaiah 49: 10

They will not hunger or thirst, neither will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; for He who has compassion on them will lead them and will guide them to springs of water.

There is another verse that says that God waits to have compassion on you (Isaiah 30: 18). He is just awaiting the opportunity to show His great grace to you. What prevents Him? We do. Isn’t that something? We don’t mean to, of course. But we often times don’t let him in. We don’t always give Him permission to work and move in our lives.

His desire is to show you great compassion. His compassion leads Him to show you His grace and His mercy. Of course, His grace covers every aspect of human existence. He longs to have compassion on you. But you have got to invite Him into those aspects of your life where you need grace and mercy. His Spirit is like living waters refreshing all the parched regions of your life. When you thirst, He is refreshing waters. If you hunger, He will fill you. You no longer have to suffer lack.

Here is what I want you to appreciate. His desire to show you His compassion is great. He wants to lead you to the springs of water. There is so much He wants to do for you. He is just awaiting your invitation. Open the doors that have been barred before Him. Throw yourself wide open and invite Him in. Ask Him to inhabit all of the rooms of your life. And lastly, give Him permission to pour Himself into you. He is waiting and longs to show you His great compassion.

Missouri

Colossians 3: 12 – 14

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so must you do also. In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

We can keep this simple today. Earlier in the week we saw what Paul said we should not do as children of the King. We are being called to put off the old dead self and to take up the garment of a new life in Christ Jesus. That new life, well, it looks like this. We are going to loop back around to this idea next week, but I think it is obvious. Don’t tell me you are a Christian. Just pretend I am from Missouri, the “Show me” state. Show me.

These are the characteristics or behavior traits of a child of God. Do we show and act out of a heart of compassion? Are we kind? Where is humility in our words and actions? Am I gentle? Patient? Can I show tolerance to another and forgive anyone? It all boils down to love. If we are not those who act in accordance with and motivated by love, then we ought not be so bold in declaring ourselves Christians because this is how Christians behave. Unity isn’t just a cool idea. It is a mandate. We do not have a choice. But then, unity is simply a byproduct of love. If love is our motivator, then all of the traits in today’s verses are ours and increasing.

Require this of others. Require it of the church! Without love, we are not the beautiful church. Without laying down the old man and picking up the new life in Christ, we cannot follow in Christ’s footsteps. It is time we looked to ourselves and strengthened ourselves as a body in Christ. This is the path that Paul laid out for us. This is the way.

Our Time

Psalm 111: 4

The Lord is gracious and compassionate.

My favorite verse in this psalm is actually verse 10, “The fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That is the verse I intended to use for today’s Word of the Day. I didn’t use it because when I read verse 4 this idea of God’s compassion overtook my mind and heart. I was immediately given to understand that being in the Lord is how we are able to express compassion and to be gracious. Those two traits might not be intrinsic to humans, but we have the ability to express them expansively because He is in us giving life to our mortal bodies. His life within us is filling us with His goodness so that we have His love to share with others. This, the love and compassion of our dear Father, is what the world needs now, most of all.

I had an interesting conversation, this week, with someone who shared with me the sense that Christians are not showing their love at this time. Where we ought to be the voice of love and grace, she hears judgment and hate. I am chagrined down to my bones. My spirit has not been so aggrieved in many years. How is it that in the midst of a worldwide calamity, Christian compassion is not the talk of the town. As I listened, I had to admit that I have turned off Facebook for the very same reason. I don’t hear love, compassion or Christ like zeal either. I hear judgement and division. I decided that my time was better spent in prayer and meditation.

This is a challenging time for us all and as a political science major and law graduate, I was initially drawn in by political analysis. This is a historical time and I wondered how history would record our reactions. I began watching how different political systems dealt with the crisis. It was fascinating and I wanted to be back with my political science buddies, hearing their thoughts. But then something happened. I was called upon to be the pastor that God has called me to be. It forced me into a paradigm shift where I had less luxury for contemplating political science kinds of questions. The world was hurting and that called upon the Spirit within me to respond with God’s comfort. I was blessed to see the immediate sense of community and camaraderie. That spirit of cooperation and teamwork waned though. I had a project in mind that would require the assistance of others. Before I could get it off the ground, compassion and caring were supplanted by politics, division and judgment. No longer was it all for one and one for all.

I am moved, however, in knowing that Christians are still praying. We are God’s hands and voice in the earth to bring comfort and peace. We have an important job to do and that is to spread the love, compassion and graciousness of our Father to all people without regard to race, country of origin, ethnicity, political party or jurisdictional borders. Only we have the power and authority of God for such an important mission and I don’t think we should be taking our role lightly. We shouldn’t forget that every single Christian is an important part in the body of Christ and, as such, is called upon in this time of need. Let others argue about face masks and politics. We have more important things to do. We have the real answers. Why should we burden ourselves with worldly thoughts and arguments? We must decide for whom we stand in this hour of great need. Is it a political party, candidate, position or our Father? Let’s not be argumentative, but rather understanding, compassionate and caring. Let’s reach out to each other and those who may not yet know the love of the Father and give them a taste of His unfailing love. Remember, if we do not show God’s acceptance and understanding, no one will.

You have been called to this day and don’t believe you haven’t, but not to political debate. No, we are called in this time to prayer and the expression of His love. This is the time when you must stand up for love and show your true colors. Turn off the TV and spend some extra time in meditation and conversation with your Father. Open your heart honestly and let Him give you direction and ideas. You are a powerful force for good and this could be the greatest evangelical time of our lives. Let’s not waste it being judgmental and divisive. You are the blessing God has put in the earth and though you may feel like you are not important, I can assure you that you are. Don’t waste your power and authority in Christ Jesus. Be the blessing and voice you were born to be. Be the voice of compassion and grace. Don’t miss your time. Don’t underestimate your value.

Motto

Colossians 3: 12 – 14

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

As you may have noticed, I am reading Colossians, the third chapter, and if you look at the digital Bible I am reading from, you will see that almost every verse is highlighted and the only reason it isn’t all highlighted is because I restrained myself. This chapter is a primer for the what the Christian life is to be. Today’s passage really spoke to me and I want to suggest that it is the seminal passage for this time in our history. However, we are so far from this paradigm right now, that I hesitate to speak what alit on my heart as I read it. Then again, many writers of truth have been shouted down throughout history and berated for speaking the truth. Just look at Paul, John and Peter for starters.

In trying times, and these certainly are, the kindness of God and His love are needed above all things. The language of love is what will resonate and it will resound above all else. Love is a hard thing, though, because it does not, under any circumstances, lie. Sometimes the truth is the hardest thing you will ever have to tell someone.

In trying to navigate the stress and to come to grips with a changing world, this advice from Paul resonates loudly. We must approach the changing dynamics from God’s perspective of compassion and love. Life is a challenged right now, I know, and that is why I want to offer this passage. I know some people feel trapped by the rhetoric. The political left has its message but on a different subject we are assailed by the right. Most people in the country can identify with some “ism”. Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and every other identifiable race, excluding whites, has felt the sting of racism. Women have been abused, neglected, marginalized and discriminated against the world over. Even white males get old and are no longer viewed as valuable. It seems most are either the wrong race, gender or age. Then there is the gay and transgendered community. Many people would not think twice about making derogatory comments about this group. Not long ago people were saying that God created AIDS to eliminate them. Wow!

The only real answer for any of this is the love and compassion of God. If we don’t take our stressors to God in prayer and wield the love and patience of God, I fear we will never make any meaningful change. God changes hearts. I want to bring this discussion to a broad market. In response to the corona virus challenge, we all need to apply the love, patience, compassion and gentleness of God. I am not advocating passivity or a lack in your conviction. In fact, I advocate just the opposite. I want people of passion. I just wonder if we are taking our troubles to the Lord or just ranting on Facebook. We are the answer to the problem. If the Christians will adopt today’s passage and marry it with a strong dose, and a continuing practice of prayer, we can effect real change. God can soften hearts and change the course of human history. Whether right or left, the answer is the same – God! Faith only works by love which is why today’s passage is so important.

Paul had to deal with a changing environment too. He lived in very tumultuous times. For goodness sake, the Messiah had just been crucified. Followers of Jesus were facing the same fate. Those are dire circumstances. Yet, he understood that the real power in the community was love, compassion and prayer. Love moves mountains.

There are lots of stressors in our lives right now. Some of you are on furlough and worried about feeding your families. The number of cases of Covid 19 is still rising in some areas. The economy is fragile. People want the economy open; others see that as a risk. We have racial tension, police brutality and in some cases, lawlessness. It is a fine balancing act at this time. And in the wings is a Presidential election with all the turmoil that interjects. We need help.

Please hear me clearly, I am not criticizing anyone’s reactions to the situations or stress in their lives. I am recognizing that people are under enormous stress. The purpose of this writing is to suggest that God is the way and that we need Him like never before. Regardless of our beliefs, there is one constant and one ultimate truth: our God. This, then, is an appeal to adopt this language from Paul as our refrain and further, to passionately and resolutely take our problems to God. As we meditate upon these ideals, what will God speak to our hearts?

There is no one on the planet who has not been affected by the circumstances of 2020. God cares what is going on in your heart. He cares about your pains and worries. He cares that you feel stressed to the point of breaking or that you have been isolated from friends and family for months. He knows of your anxiety and is compassionate. He wants to aid you.

Let’s just look at this one more time – “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Though I have not written, specifically, on them, let us not overlook the words kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and unity.

No matter where we stand politically or on any given issue, we are all those “who have been chosen of God.” We are the people God has in the earth. We have an awesome ability to take everything to Him in compassioned prayer. Let us not miss our calling oh chosen ones of God. Let us recommit ourselves to prayer and remember, that person across the aisle may not think like you, but they are, none the less, a child of God and valued in His sight.

Practical Compassion

Roman 12: 15        NIV

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

It would be interesting to hear from you as to what this sentiment says to you. It probably says more than seen at first glance. It is also probably appropriate for these times, specifically, because of the wide-spread and varied emotions people are experiencing around the globe.  People are facing a wide range of circumstances.  The situations and accompanying emotions can even vary by geographic region. What is our response to these changing situations and the real-life consequences? This is the application of compassion but what is that practical aspect?

When people mourn many times our response is to try to cheer them. This verse suggests that trying to cheer people up isn’t the only, or perhaps, even the best approach. Maybe compassion means meeting people where they are and being with them in their state. It is uncomfortable, for sure. We like to be around people who are happy and smile a lot. This verse suggests a level of empathy that many of us may potentially find discomforting. It is quite easy to rejoice when others rejoice but mourning with those who mourn is challenging.

Empathy means that we can share the feelings of others. We don’t have to coach them, teach them or try to change their emotions. We only need to be in their space with them. It validates their emotions. We are quick to try to change people but Jesus is asking us to just be with them where they are and show them his compassion. We just let our hearts be tender and give comfort.

Send me your thoughts. What does this look like in real world practice?

Enthroned

Psalm 102: 12 – 22

But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come. For her stones are dear to your servants; her very dust moves them to pity. The nations will fear the name of the Lord, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory. He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea. Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord.

This is a large selection of text today, but hopefully it reveals a central truth and comfort. You might be interested to know that the title of today’s psalm is, “A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord.” What a title! However, this segment of the psalm does not sound like it is written by a person in despair and that is the key lesson. From despair, we lift our heads and see God’s glory.

The author may have wondered, like many other saints, “Where is God?” In times of trouble, it may seem God has abandoned us. However, as the psalmist indicates, our God is still on the throne and He reigns. He will save Zion, and your town, and rain down upon it His compassion and favor. Though the author was afflicted and had grown weak, yet he says of God, “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.” Then he tells us that this is recorded for a future generation, i.e. for us, that we might have courage and confidence in our time of need.

We are not abandoned, and God is not ignoring our plight. He attends to the prayer of the destitute, the needy. We will not ignore our cry for help. God will save us. He is with us and we will yet praise His name as we assemble to worship His name. His love surrounds and keeps us. He is Lord Protector and Father. Let us leave a testimony for a future generation too, that our Father lifted us and showed us His favor in our time of need.

Glory to God! Let the earth sing. Praises be to Yahweh; Father, Lord and Savior. Come Lord Jesus, show us your grace; shower us in your mercy and favor. Lift our heads that we might praise you with a joyful voice. Let the world see the beauty of your countenance as you touch and bless through your presence, your glorious, shining presence with your people. Amen.