Love is the Whole Ball Game

love is the whole ballgameGenesis 4:1-12

John Ortberg in his book, When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box, has an interesting paraphrase of the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter):  “If I make a fortune, get the cover of Time magazine, and become attractive, comfortable, and secure, but have no love, I have rolled snake eyes. No matter how much I win, if I win alone, I lose. Love is the ball game.” (p. 203.)

In Genesis 4 we encounter the first sibling rivalry.  Cain murders his brother Abel in a fit of jealous rage.  When quizzed about his brother’s whereabouts, Cain responds: “How should I know?  Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The source of Cain’s beef with his brother was that God accepted Abel’s animal sacrifice and snubbed his own fruit and vegetable offering.  In other words:  Abel’s work was #1 and Cain’s work was an “also ran.”  So Cain played hard ball and took care of his competition.  Cain’s rival for God’s affection was removed.  So Cain won the struggle with his brother, right?  Of course not!

God says to Cain:  “What have you done?  The voice of you brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”

How we respond to others when they block our goals matters to God.   When we treat with contempt a person that He has created… one precious to Him…  it does NOT escape the hearing of the Almighty! “His blood cried from the ground!” God told Cain.

Abel’s treatment broke the heart of God… for God loved him as His very own.  And God feels the same way about your rivals and your enemies.  And that can be a difficult thing to remember in the heat of competition.   Empathy is an emotion tossed aside when we are denied victory.  So we vent and we back stab and we claw our way to the top…  and in the end we MAY win.  But our win is entered in the loss column.   Life was never about winning or striving for perfection.  It was always about love!

I am called to be my brother’s keeper.  But who is my Abel?  An Abel today could be anyone who has been hurt, abused and discarded by others… anyone oppressed or forgotten.  God still asks of you and I:  “Will we continue to pursue selfish agendas or will we become look out for our brothers and sisters?  The call to love them is rooted here in Genesis… and blossoms in the words of Jesus:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  In the Kingdom of God there is one one game we participate in:  Love.  And it will be that way for eternity!

Author N. T. Wright wrote:  “Love is the language they speak in God’s world, and we are summoned to learn it against the day when God’s world and ours will be brought together forever. It is the music they make in God’s courts, and we are invited to learn it and practice it in advance. Love is not a “duty,” or even our highest duty. It is our destiny.”  (After You Believe, p. 188.)

Go live your destiny!

 

 

Advertisements

Can Anybody Hear Me?

pg-38-nigeria-getty

Psalm 77

My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted.

As the plight of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls continues on… I’m hearing less about it.  I’m sickened that my heart isn’t near as grieved as it was the first I heard about their plight.  I think we reach a point that we intentionally try to lesson our pain by detaching ourselves emotionally.  But how can we pray passionately and at the same time try to keep our emotions in check?  We can’t.  All of us need to learn what it means to “weep with those who weep.”  It isn’t a comfortable place to be… but it is our calling.

The picture to the left of the blog began my heart journey.  My wife, Janine, pointed out to me the mother in the right center of the picture, the one holding the sign that reads:  “CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?”  It breaks my heart every time I see it.  How can I look away from it?

Would I want you to turn away from it if it were my little girl?  I cannot imagine not knowing where my child is tonight… to wonder if they were being beaten or raped or sold like a piece of property.  Further I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have anyone to turn to in such a situation.  Their government is powerless to do anything.  They were forced to appeal to the world in order to get help.  Their picture betrays their desperation.

Psalm 77 echoes their cries.  I imagine they would empathize with “my soul refuses to be comforted.”  I usually include a devotional thought with my blogs… something to think about and to apply to your life.  But can I today just ask if you will pray with me?  Pray with fervency and with emotion!

It isn’t making the news much, but the majority of the school girls were Christian believers.  I don’t say that to say they require more prayer than a member of another faith.  I would pray for anyone suffering in such a way.  But it really hits home when tragedy strikes family.  And it rips my heart to know that many of these are my sisters in Christ.

Will you with me let your voice rise to God?  Will you cry out to God with me?   I have the faith of the Psalmist that even in the day of trouble… God sees us… and hears us.

Let’s pray for God to intervene in this situation.  Thank you.

 

The God Who Sees Me

oasisGenesis 16:1-16

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her:  ‘You are the God who sees me, for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Hi!  It has been a while since my last post, but I have been settling into my new position at Grace Bible Church in Lucas, Ohio.  It has been a wonderful experience and I have been blessed beyond measure with the kindnesses of these people.  I finally got around to updating my website page.  I changed my banner to a picture of a goldfinch.  (They are swarming my birdfeeder right now.  Didn’t see any of these of TN.)  I also got around to changing my address and time zone from Middle Tennessee to Middle Ohio.

It is amazing after a move how many times you have to update and change your address to inform others of the change.  There may be many readers of this blog that were not even aware of the change.  One thing for sure:  My Heavenly Father was aware.  And He was there to oversee every step Janine and I took on this pilgrimage northward.

Today’s passage is from Genesis 16.  Hagar is fleeing the wrath of Sarai.  She is partially wrong… partially wronged.  (Aren’t we all at times?)  But whatever the degree of fault or innocence… she was genuinely hurting.  She stops by a spring in the desert in her effort to escape her situation and “The angel of the Lord” meets her there.  Isn’t that like the Lord to meet us at the sight of our own humiliation?  That day, she is refreshed by more than the cool water of the spring that day… but by a visitation of the Divine.  “You are the God who sees me!” she cries out!

I remember hearing the story of a pastor who was caught in the midst of turmoil in his church.  One day when he could not take the pressure and pain any longer, he went into his back yard, waved a handkerchief toward the sky and exclaimed:  “God!  Did you forget where you put me?”  Job in the midst of his affliction once asked:  “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (3:23)  Calamity and adversity can cause one to feel invisible… even to the eyes of the Almighty.

I want to take the next few blogs to draw you closer to a spring in the desert.  I sincerely hope my words will be a refreshment to your soul as you stop to search for answers and to collect yourself for the rest of your journey.  I know that my words will not change any of the  circumstances that have brought you to this place.  But I want to remind you of the God who sees.  Sometimes it is knowing you are not hidden from God that can make all the difference.

 

 

“Sir, Will You Please Run With Me?”

Marine KerrEphesians 6:21-22

“But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts.” (Emphasis on the word “comfort” is mine.)

Just read the story and saw the picture (see left) of Lance Cpl. Myles Kerr and his memorable run in the Jeff Drenth Memorial 5K footrace in Charlevoix, Michigan last weekend.  He didn’t technically “win.”  He came in dead last in his age group.  But he is a true winner in my book.

When 9-year-old Boden Fuchs  began to struggle in the race and then became separated from his group… he spotted the Marine.  Boden asked Kerr, “Sir, will you please run with me?” Kerr agreed to run with him and stuck with him until he completed the race.  Kerr finished at 35:43 minutes (five seconds behind Boden).  He may have lost the race, but he won over many heart.  The above picture received over 200,000 Facebook likes and was shared close to 10,000 times.

And what was the response of Kerr after all the praise?  He sent out a tweet that read:  “I was just doing what any man would do, but thank you!”— Myles M. Kerr (@Myles_Kerr)

Wow!  His actions remind me of the NT virtue of encouragement.  The Greek word is parakeleo.  It comes from “para” meaning “alongside” and from “keleo” meaning “to call.”  This strong and rich adjective can mean many things: comfort, exhortation, admonishment, instruction, teaching, begging, beseeching and, of course, encouragement.  In the above verse from Ephesians, Paul sent Tychicus to parakeleo… to come alongside… the Ephesians.  What an awesome word picture this is!

In fact, in the upper room, when Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit, he refers to Him as the parakeletos… often translated, the “Helper” or the “Comforter.”  The Holy Spirit, much like the marine mentioned above, runs alongside us… exhorting us… begging us.. instructing us… comforting us… encouraging us… to keep running and to finish our race.

And if I am reading Ephesians correctly… it is a quality that we are to display ourselves.  Like Tychicus, when we hear:  “Sir, (or Ma’am), would you run with me?” we are to break off, adjust our pace to cadence, and help the struggling runner to complete their race.  Not for glory or praise, but because it is what “any man (or woman) would do.”

Know anybody that needs you to run with them today?   A teenager?  A close friend?  A widow?  Come along side them… and let them know they are not alone!  We are all in this race together!

And then realize that you are not alone either… the Comforter runs beside you… encouraging and leading you to the finish line and home!

“We’re Here for You!” – Help for Those Contemplating Suicide

HelpActs 16:27-34

A few months ago a suicide was reported in the national news.  Matthew Warren, son of Rick Warren – the pastor of Saddleback Community Church in southern California – bought a gun over the internet and ended his life.  (He was 27.)  The news struck the Christian community very hard.  There were those that chose that moment to attack the popular pastor, but many more that offered words of comfort in the aftermath.

One article was valuable to me as a pastor was:  “When Suicide Strikes in the Body of Christ” by Al Hsu.  In the article he mentions our passage today.

“The Bible has a very powerful example of suicide prevention. Acts 16 tells about when Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi. When an earthquake opened the doors of the prison, the Philippian jailer drew his sword and was about to kill himself. He thought that the prisoners had all escaped, and he decided to kill himself rather than face execution. But Paul cried out, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” He intervened in the jailer’s life and stopped him from killing himself. He gave him a reason to live and led the jailer and his whole family to Christ.

We can do the same. If you see people who are in despair, tell them, “Don’t harm yourself! We are here for you!” The warning signs of suicide include prolonged depression and hopelessness, isolation or withdrawal, loss of interest in usual activities, giving away possessions, suicidal thoughts or fantasies, and suicide attempts. If you see these warning signs in a loved one, get help. Talk to them about it. Ask if they’re doing okay, and specifically ask if they’ve thought about killing themselves.” (Read the full article here:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/april-web-only/when-suicide-strikes-in-body-of-christ.html)

I have as a pastor had on two occasions in which men show up at my doorstep  just after attempting suicide.  I wish I could tell you I was well equipped in seminary for those events.  Ministry in such moments is messy and requires a lot of prayer.  (Thankful for a prayerful wife in such ministry moments!)  What struck me about both situations was how isolated both men had gotten themselves.  I wondered if a strong sense of community might have helped them. I am grateful that they reached out to someone before the attempt was successful.

There is a whole lot of words that can be brought to bear on how to counsel the depressed and suicidal.  Paul’s words are now among my favorite.  “Don’t harm yourself!  We are all here!”  Is there someone you know that need those words today?

Their Cries… Your Calling!

Pick Up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life – Part 3 of 5

____________________________

Acts 17:9prayer2

9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Paul and Silas had never stopped praying on that second missionary journey.  Even after so many shut and locked doors.  Even when they reached Troas and what appeared to be the end of the line.  They kept listening for a specific call of God and eventually they heard it.  That is when things got interesting.  It is the same for us today… to keep asking and praying and listening always proceeds the most interesting moments in life.

Psychiatrist Gerald May wrote, “There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call the heart.  We are born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies.  We are often unaware of it, but the desire is always awake.”

Pastor Craig Barnes commenting on May’s quote, said:  “When the desire becomes too much, they can try to bury it beneath excessive work, another purchase, or another move to another place.  They can try to numb the desire, but that will only lead to addiction.  They can even spend most of life trying to tame the desire with respectability and the construction of a good reputation.  But the wild desire just keeps breaking out of the closed chambers of the heart in unguarded moments.  G. K. Chesterton has called this “the divine discontent” that incessantly reminds us we were created for something else.  – Craig Barnes (Searching for Home:  Spirituality for Restless Souls, p. 64.)

Blessed is the man or woman that has found that something else!   Blessed are those that have discovered their God given calling.

It is interesting that Paul and Silas’ call here comes in the form of an actual call from a specific group of people.  Their cries [the Macedonians] became the call of God for Paul and Silas.

David Brainerd who won many thousands of American Indians to Christ, once said, “I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went thru, so that I could but gain souls for Christ. While I was asleep I dreamed of these things, and when I awoke, it was the first thought that I had, the thought of this great work.”
He caught a vision hearing the American Indians crying, “come over here and help us!”

Hudson Taylor

David Livingston, the first man to take the gospel into the heart of Africa, said, “I must open a way to the interior or perish!”
It was do or die…and he caught that vision when he heard the Africans crying, “come over here and help us!”

J. Hudson Taylor, pioneer Missionary to China, said, “I feel as though I cannot live if something is not done for China.”  His life came alive when he heard the Chinese cry:  “come over here and help us!”

It is one of the saddest things in the world to miss or choose not to hear God and not to hear the call of those who cry for help.

The story has been told of the little church in Germany sited near train tracks that carried Jews to their death.  “Each Sunday Morning,” the German man telling the story said, “we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!”
“Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.”
We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard  them no more. Years have passed, and no one talks about it much any more; but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.”

What cry have you heard and chose to ignore?  The cry of the inner city?  The cry of Africa?  The cry of unwed mothers?  The cry of those caught in the sex trafficking trade?  The cry of the orphan?

Proverbs 21:13 reminds us:  13 He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.

How dare we sit in our comfortable church buildings and sing our songs and eat our fill at our potlucks and enjoy our sweet fellowship, and then walk out those church doors deafened to the cries of the world?

Want to better understand your calling?  Let their cries become your calling.  And then things will start to get interesting.

Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

A Christian Response to EvilGalatians 6:9

This is the third in the series “A Christian’s Response to Evil.”  In this series we are looking at common responses in a season of terror and how we as believers need to be responding.  Last post I wrote that the common first reaction to evil is rage… but how our response needs to be Godly anger or resolve.

In this post I want to address the common response in the wake of tragedy of weariness or compassion fatigue.  The last 7 years in American history have shaken up all of us.  Clackamas Town Center, Oregon shooting (12/11/12)… Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin (8/5/12)… Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting (7/20/12)… Cafe Racer Espresso shooting in Seattle, WA (5/29/12)… Oikos University shooting in Oakland, CA (4/2/12)… Chardon High School shooting in Chardon, OH (2/27/12)… IHOP restaurant shooting in Carson City, NV (9/6/12)… Safeway shooting in Tucson, AZ (Rep. Gabby Giffords shot in the head) (1/8/12)… Fort Hood Shooting (11/5/09)… Virginia Tech Shooting (4/16/07)… Amish Schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster, PA (10/2/06)….  that is just seven years back… and I didn’t include all of the mass killings in the list.

If you are like me when you heard about the Boston Marathon bombing last week your first thought was:  “Again?”  It is so easy to want to give up on caring… to get tired of helping.  Because the tragedies don’t end.

Last Monday in Boston someone literally blew up the finish line.  Weary runners that had been on the course for 4 hours… exhaustionwith the end in their sights watched as chaos ensued.  Have you ever felt that way about life?  You help and help and there seems to be no keeping the darkness back.  Then… there goes the finish line.  You want to sit on the track and cry.  You reach the point that your heart shrinks and you want to go back to caring for  “me and mine” and leave all that saving the world stuff for somebody else.

The Scriptures teach that as believers we are not to “… lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

Jesus taught us to go an extra mile.  Some of the runners at the marathon crossed the finish line and didn’t stop running until they ran to the nearest hospital to offer blood.  Some dehydrated runners in medical tents with IV’s in their arms, ripped them out to clear the tent for the wounded.

Let me ask you, believer… “What extra mile are you running?”  For the hurting, the downtrodden, the exploited, the lost in this world.

Romans 12:17 & 21 teaches us: 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. …21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  The goodness that comes out of you thwarts the efforts of the “terrorists.”  So give, help, serve and love.

How can I help a city that is 1,100 miles away?  You can start by helping your neighbor across the street.  Don’t lose heart… instead offer  a compassionate “extra mile” kind of compassion.

Mark Buchanan in his book, The Holy Wild, shared an excerpt from a letter written by a missionary couple in Brazil:

“Driving through the Christmas traffic, fighting the drizzling rain, I chanced on a four-year-old little girl.  She was wet and cold and shaking.  Her clothes were ragged, her hair was matted, and her nose was running.  She walked between the cars at the stoplight, washing headlights because she was too short to wash windshields.  A few gave her coins, others honked at her to get away from their vehicles.

As I drove away only some fifty cents poorer, I raged at God for the injustice in the world that allowed the situation.  “God, how could you stand by, helpless?”  Later that evening, God came to me softly with that still small voice and responded not in like kind to my rage, but with tenderness, “I have done something.  I created you.”  (The Holy Wild, pp.  86-87.)

God hasn’t moved the finish line.  The finish line is Christ-like character.  And every crisis is another chance to grow in His grace.