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Seeing things differently

I continue to be amazed at the wickedness that is our world today. It seems that the crowds of people in this world are so corrupt, so far from God, even so dangerous, that it almost makes me feel hopeless to make a difference. 

But, today I was reading the 9th chapter of Matthew and read a verse (probably for the 500th time) that really struck me. Matthew wrote it this way in the 36th verse. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Did you read that? Jesus was looking at the crowds of people, those people who would not listen to him, would not follow him, and would end up killing him, and he had compassion on them because of the state of the world they lived in and because of the state of their hearts. Image

Jesus saw beneath their stubbornness, beneath their sin nature, beneath their arrogant rebellion, and beneath their desire to do things their own way and he felt compassion for them because they were helpless and harassed. 

How many of us in the church today look at the crowds that way? How many of us look out into a crowd of people who are far from God, rebellious, and doing their own thing and feel compassionate toward them? I’m afraid the feelings that so many of us have toward the crowds is far from compassionate. 

I believe it was the Holy Spirit that opened Jesus’ eyes to see people differently than we do. I believe the Holy Spirit opened his eyes so he could see their hopelessness and helplessness and feel compassion toward them. But, I believe that same Holy Spirit that lives inside of us can open our eyes to see things differently, too! 

I have to ask the Holy Spirit to let me see people differently. I have to ask him to fill me and change my eyesight so I can see things differently; then, I pray that I will be able to look out amongst the crowds and see the helplessness, the harassment, and the hopelessness and feel compassion toward them. 

Then, I pray that my compassion spurs me to action. I pray that I will act on that compassion. Perhaps its just speaking encouraging words to someone. Maybe it’s helping someone lift a heavy load. Maybe it’s buying a warm cup of coffee or a cold bottle of water for someone. My action born of compassion could manifest in many different ways, but it can only be born of the Holy Spirit. 

I can’t continue to look at the crowds the way I have in the past. Holy Spirit give me eyes to see things differently.


Living like Caleb

Caleb is my hero.  Even as he got older and older, he was always active, always ready to be a part of the team, always ready to join his countrymen in battle.  He seemed tireless, healthy, and ready for action.

ImageI’m talking about Caleb from the Old Testament in the Bible.  Remember the ten spies that were sent into the promised land to check things out and bring a report back to Moses and the Israelites?  Caleb was one of the two who came back excited about the prospects of taking the land because God had promised it to them, even though the current inhabitants were like giants compared to the Israelites.  

About 45 years after his spying mission, we read more about Caleb as he came to Israel’s current leader, and his old spying buddy, Joshua as they were finally settling in the land.  In Joshua 13:11, Caleb said this, “I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming.”

So, Caleb is now 85 years old and he’s telling his leader that he’s as fully alive now as he was 45 years ago when he was called into service to spy.  He stood strong in the days he was called to spy the land and he stood strong years later when it was time to fight for and inherit the land.

Caleb didn’t retire and let the young guys do the work.  He kept himself fit so he could work alongside the younger guys and lead them, direct them, teach them, and mentor them.  Caleb is my hero.

Caleb is a hero for me because of the strength he maintained throughout his life.  He didn’t let old age make him old.  I picture him as a guy who was very active all of his life, working hard, playing hard, living a balanced and healthy life.  Caleb was fully alive!  I see Caleb as one that multiple generations looked up to as a role model of balance in life; physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  

That’s the kind of role model I want to be as I get into my 50’s.  So many in our society would write of a 50 year-old man with big dreams, but I just remember Caleb and his strength and get encouraged to live out those dreams, fully alive.  I want to be that guy who is physically ready to do whatever God calls him to do, so I stay in shape and get plenty of exercise.  I want to be that guy in his 50’s who is so enthusiastic about growth and change that I lead the next generation into growth and change. 

There is so much a 50 (or 60 or 70 or 80) year-old man can do if he stays young in heart and mind.  There are so many dreams that can be fulfilled by older men and women that can lead and inspire younger folks to dream and plan and live fully alive.  

Let’s be sure we don’t write someone off just because they don’t fit in the ‘young leader’ demographic.  Let’s recognize the energy and enthusiasm of those who might be a little older but who are living life fully alive with no plans of slowing down.  I plan to be that guy!

Regardless of cost

Do you ever wonder about the cost of following Jesus?  Sure, sometimes we talk about the cost when we are talking about missionaries sacrificing so much as they sell all their belongings and move to some remote part of the world or we talk about tithing and the sacrifice that is involved in giving God what already belongs to Him.

However, I recently read the story in the book of Mark where Jesus set a man free from the demons that were plaguing him and I started thinking a little differently about the cost of following Jesus.  He had come to this region and preformed a powerful miracle, requiring the Legion of demons to flee from this man who had been tormented for years.  The man was made whole and the demons were expelled to the herd of pigs that was feeding on a nearby shore.  The pigs then ran straight into the water and drowned themselves, presumably costing the pig herders lots and lots of money.  Now, all of a sudden, they were anxious for Jesus to leave the area. Image 

I wonder how many of us welcome Jesus into our lives, our towns, our churches, and our families until it starts to cost us something.  Do we welcome him as long as he’s doing miracles for us, prospering us, and not requiring sacrifice from us?  I’m afraid we do view things this way sometimes. Do I want Jesus to do miracles for me and my family, but then when he calls me and my family to something that looks like it will cost us money ask him to leave the region because I can’t afford to have him meddling around any longer?  

I want to welcome Jesus and his miracles regardless of the sacrifice I have to make.  I want to trust him beyond the miracles that require nothing from me and allow him to do miracles in me that require my obedience and sacrifice.  

This is a hard lesson that hits us in a sensitive area; our wallets.  But, it’s a lesson that opens up our lives to great growth in our walk.

A Life Considered

Year end is creeping right up on us.  I always find November and December as good times to examine my life, examine the previous year, and make sure my compass is still set on true North. I get so busy with so many tasks that it takes some intentionality for me to be able to review my life and make sure I haven’t drifted.  So, that’s what I’ll be doing in small bits and pieces over the next few weeks.

God encourages us to examine our lives.  He wants us to consider where we are in life, where we have been, and where He is leading us.  In this we can consider our friendships and relationships, how we treat others that we love, how we treat others that we don’t know, and how we treat others that we don’t love.  We can consider our attitudes, do we love people like Jesus does or do we tend to be exclusive with our love?  We need to think about all of these things.  

ImageThe Message puts it like this in the book of Haggai 1:7 – “That’s why God-of-the-Angel-Armies said, “Take a good, hard look at your life.  Think it over.”  God wants us to do this.  Now, we don’t want to go to extremes with considering our lives, some would call that navel gazing and that can turn very inward.  But good, intentional consideration of our lives at strategic times is very healthy.

As I examine my life, one of the side benefits is that I can remember all the great things God has done in my life and I can use those memories to recalibrate my present situation.  Also, I can use this time of consideration to remember where He has called me to and I can re-vision my path to getting there.  

There is so much good that comes from a life considered. 

God with us

It was Christmas Eve! The family always loves Christmas Eve; it was a day for them to be together, to share a ziti dinner, to play games together, and spend an entire afternoon together. Cell phones were turned off, computers were shut down, and life became simple for just that one day.

This Christmas Eve was even more special because it was snowing. It started as a gentle storm with beautiful, huge snowflakes. As they day wore on, though the storm picked up. By mid-afternoon the winds had picked up to near gale force and snow was blowing hard. The long nights of winter were even more evident with the clouds and the storm, as darkness started setting in early this Christmas Eve. This storm promised to be a nasty one!

Of course there were Christmas Eve services to go to, too. The church had promoted and planned a huge celebration for this Christmas Eve. It was to be Christmas pageantry at it’s best, children dressed as Mary and Joseph, the choir dressed in full robes, and even live animals as props. It would be a glorious celebration of the birth of a Savior.

Lisa and the kids were all planning to go. Ten-year-old Ben was in the play, 8-year-old Brittany was in the children’s choir, and baby john was just excited because the Christmas pageant was finally going to be taking place. Lisa wished so much that her husband, Tim, would attend also. She had been praying for Tim for years, that he would finally see Jesus as his savior, that he would see beyond the religious ritual that he had grown up with and see a relationship with a God who wanted to be part of his life, with a Savior who had died for him, and with a Holy Spirit who wanted to be in him and guide him.

But, Tim, was cold to all that. He didn’t want anything to do with it at all, as a matter of fact. He had done that ‘religious thing’ as a kid and was done with it. He didn’t need God; after all, where was God when his dad died when Tim was a young teenager? No, Tim just didn’t get this religious thing at all; he was done with it.

So, as it came time to go to the Christmas Eve service, Lisa and the kids got all bundled up and booted up to go. Lisa asked Tim, one more time, if he would like to go. She didn’t want to nag, but wanted him to know how much it would mean to her. Tim cared for Lisa so much, not wanting to hurt her feelings and wishing he could bring himself to go along with her, but hearing the words come out of him mouth, “no, Lisa, you know how I feel about all that religious stuff”.

Lisa and the kids went on, then, without Tim. The service was grand, just as everyone had expected, but the storm was picking up more and more. Tim was concerned about the family and their safety as they were out in the storm so he was a little wary as he sat home, alone, on Christmas Eve.

Tim needed to go out to the garage and get a few presents ready for tomorrow morning, so he put on his hat, coat, and gloves to make the trek out to the detached garage. He had wanted to build a breezeway from the house to the garage for years, and he understood why tonight. The trip from house to garage, although only thirty feet, would be a cold and windy one.

Once he arrived at the garage he saw a little family of birds sitting outside. The seemed to be sheltering themselves from the storm, as best they could, by gathering close together and close to the garage, only a few feet from the garage door. Tim tried to show them to the garage door, knowing their chances of survival would increase greatly if they could just go into the garage. He didn’t like the idea of having a family of birds in the garage for he winter, but he felt that was a better alternative than having the birds die just a few feet from warmth and safety.

Tim waved the birds into the garage but it seemed they didn’t understand what he was doing; they didn’t make a move. He tried shooing them, over and over again, into the barn but the birds simply could not understand. Tim was so frustrated. He thought to himself, “you silly birds, you see me leading you to safety but you ignore me, you just don’t understand”.

He kept waving, kept shooing, but the birds just would not move toward the safety of the garage. “How can I get them into the garage, to safety”, Tim kept thinking. His frustration was building. Then, he thought to himself, “if only I could become one of them for a little while, I could talk their language, and become one of them! If I could become a little bird for jut a short while I could lead them and save them from their lack of direction! If only I could become one of them…”

Then it hit him. Through all of the religion Tim had learned as a kid, through his church attendance as a child and a young adult, he had never considered this. The Christmas story just became crystal clear. God was just as frustrated with mankind as Tim was with this little family of birds. Only, God had the ability to become one of us, to be like us, to send a Savior to us to lead us and save us from our lack of direction.

Through Jesus, God was with us! He sent His Son to become one of us, to communicate with us, to see our problems from a human perspective, and to lead us and to save us from misunderstanding, misdirection, and even from ourselves! This is the Christmas story. God with us!

Value Slippage

There has been quite a bit of controversy over the past few weeks regarding the Boston Red Sox, specifically about a few of their pitchers who have been accused of drinking alcohol in the clubhouse during games that they were not scheduled to pitch in. I’m not sure what the pitchers did or didn’t do, and I’m not even sure of whether or not they have admitted to drinking in the clubhouse. I have a few thoughts about the controversy though and how the Red Sox late season demise might have been predicted.

My thoughts center on a single thing: values. We all value something, as individuals and as organizations. Now, these values might be the result of intense soul searching or they might be the result of the values our parents instilled in us as children or they might be the result of our own experiences or they might be a result of a combination of these things. Regardless of where they come from though, we all have values. That is to say, we all value something.

I think the Red Sox have valued doing things well, doing them with excellence, and doing things that bring a big return. Over the decade of the 2000’s, they invested a lot of money and time into certain players, front office personnel, and even in their ballpark as a means of doing things with excellence. Their world series victory in 2004 seemed to spark a revival of Red Sox values that worked its way through players, management, and the entire organization.

The result of all of this was an amazing string of seasons beginning in 2004 and going through 2010. They won a couple of World Series, were annually in the playoffs, and were constantly mentioned as one of the best organizations in Major League Baseball.

However, I believe that at some point they started living off of momentum and let their values begin to slip. They were the Red Sox and they did things well. Winning seasons were a given. Doing things with excellence was a given. It seemed as if they didn’t even need to try as hard because the momentum they were riding would carry them to excellence.

I’m not sure where it began but at some point, perhaps during a lopsided victory, a beer in the clubhouse seemed to be ok. “It’s just a beer, after all, and I’m not even scheduled to pitch today.” “We’re winning the game by 6 runs, for goodness sakes.” Then, maybe a day later or maybe a week later, a beer seemed like a good idea. Maybe the Sox weren’t winning by such a big margin, but “I’m still not scheduled to pitch for a couple of days.” From there, it became easier and easier.

Would the manager hear about this and say something? Would one of the guys in the clubhouse stand up and put a stop to this behavior? No, no one was willing to say anything because they were winning, they were in the pennant race, and no one wanted to start a controversy or start trouble on the team.

Finally, drinking in the clubhouse was ordinary, every day, and no one said a word about it. The values were slipping. Once the values started slipping, the wins started getting more difficult. Once the values started slipping, the pennant race became more difficult. Once the values started slipping, the team went into an abysmal slump and fell out of the playoff race on the last day of the season. Once the values started slipping, the controversy began and here we are in late October hearing about how the clubhouse was out of control, there was no excellence in the organization, and the team needs to clean house and get a jump start.

That’s the way it is with value slippage. We start to veer off course just a bit. Things are going well, we have great momentum, and the values start to slip. That thing that we spent time on so that it looked excellent wasn’t so important any more, because we had momentum. Those things that everyone could count on our organization to do and to be were not happening because we were living on momentum and on past successes. We didn’t need to be quite as clear and crisp in the things we did. And suddenly, we’re out of the pennant race, suddenly we are ordinary and no one is interested anymore.

And, the worst part of it all is that no one said a word when the values started to slip. Everyone was either too caught up in the momentum of success or they were too afraid to speak up and call us to accountability. Values slipped right before our eyes and no one said a word!

Unfortunately, this isn’t such an unusual story. It’s a story played out over and over every day in our culture. Businesses, churches, civic organizations, families, and any other type of organization are susceptible to value slippage and so, so many fall to it.

My advice is to guard your values, appoint someone to watch over them. Empower someone to speak up when they sense value slippage. Empower everyone to speak up when the sense value slippage. Don’t let values slip because no one is watching out for them. You see, I don’t think the Red Sox demise during the playoff stretch had anything to do with whether or not a couple of pitchers had a few beers and some fried chicken in the clubhouse, I think the Red Sox downfall goes much deeper than that. I think their demise can be traced directly to value slippage.

The Who asked the question a long time ago, “Who are you?” If we can answer this question, then we are more likely to know what we value. If we let this question continuously ring through our ears, then we are more likely to guard those values and fight value slippage tooth and nail.

Discipleship model

The book of I Thessalonians is a letter from Paul, Silas, and Timothy to the people of the church of Thessalonica. Paul and his traveling companions were pleased with the church and were happy that the people there were doing well.

I Thessalonians 2:8 says, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” What a great discipleship program this could become!

We use a lot of different tools, today, for discipleship. There are books and Bible studies galore that we can use as we disciple people in their walk with the Lord. None of these books or programs are bad things and most of them are probably pretty good. But, what would it look like if the main component of our discipleship programs were sharing our lives as well as the gospel of God because the folks we are discipling are so dear to us? I believe this method would develop some deep and strong disciples of Jesus.

Discipleship that looks like this can be so powerful as we love others, share our lives with them, share meals with them, share struggles and triumphs with them, and let them see how we walk with the Lord as they are developing their own walk with the Lord. It would probably get a little messy at times, because we’re human and humans get messy but the rewards would be so amazing; true disciples who love Jesus, love each other, and who will subsequently go out and make more true disciples who love Jesus.

This method worked for Paul, Silas, and Timothy back in the day, and I think it would work for us in 2011, 2012, and beyond.