Tag Archives: love

Are you too complacent?

I look around and I see comfort. I see a lot of comfort. I’m comfortable. My children are comfortable. Folks at church are comfortable. We are all very comfortable. And this strikes me as not right. We’re too comfortable.

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
and from there go to Hamath the great;
then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
and bring near the seat of violence?
– Amos 6:1-3, ESV

Those who were in Zion (Israel) were at ease. Those who were in Samaria felt secure. However, were they right with God when they felt this way? God, through Amos, called them to look upon other lands and peoples. God asked them a key question, “Are you better than them?” How should we answer that? Am I any better than the folks in Haiti, in Guatemala, in Sri Lanka, in Albania, or in the downtown area of my city? I am more comfortable than many in these locations. However, if my standard is God’s standard, I am not better. Moreover, not only am I not any better, but my nation is not any better, either, which goes to God’s second question. I’m not better, but I’m more comfortable. Should I be worried?

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”
– Amos 6:4-7, ESV

I believe I should be worried. Most believers relaxing in such abudance should be worried. The warning in verses 4-7 is exactly against such an easy, comfortable life if we aren’t grieved over our brothers and sisters who are suffering. A brother in Christ recently wrote that he was having a hard time after coming back to the United States. He has been on several missions trips to a particular South American country. There, the folks are ecstatic over a single room house we’d classify as a shed, one meal a day, no electricity, and no frills to speak of. Meanwhile, if we get bored and are awake at 3 AM, there’s likely at least one fast food joint open near us with a hot meal and free WiFi. This is a huge and drastic separation in fortunes. It did not sit well with him. It hurts me to say this, but most of the time I don’t even think about the wide gap which exists. The constant comfort lures me into forgetting about my brothers and sisters.

Therefore, the condemnation and judgment I read in verse 7 is deeply concerning. While the specific context of the prophecy was Israel, it reveals the character of God. He is not pleased when His people luxuriate in comfort while their brothers and sisters suffer. The only conclusion I can reach is I am too complacent. A desire to help is not about guilt and it’s certainly not about a tax write-off. I love my Lord Jesus. His Word tells me He loves and is concerned for my brothers and sisters facing greater hardship than I. If I love Him, my love should extend to them, too. Real love in this scenario involves action. What am I doing for the love of others? What am I doing to overcome my complacency? Are you too complacent as well? If so, what will it take for you to overcome this complacency that lures us away from the love Christ would have us demonstrate?

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Devotional

Forget the fleeting; pursue the permanent.

In today’s world there is so much pulling at us. Much of it is of little permanent value. Some examples which come to mind:

  • Our position at our place of employment
  • Our position at church
  • The size and market value of our house
  • Our obsession over a sport
  • The type of car we drive or we how we customize it

Some of these things have counterparts which are important. Having a decent job allows us to provide for our family and contribute to the Kingdom. Serving God out of a sense of love and adoration is part of the Christian life. We need shelter to keep us safe. And in some areas of the world, especially in the US, getting back and forth is significantly easier if we have our own car. Those things, in proper perspective, are fine. It’s when we cross the line into obsession and love that we have a serious issue. Only one item on the list doesn’t have a solid parallel, but having grown up playing sports and being a fan, I’ve seen sports do amazing things. Things like stop a civil war: in 2006, when the Ivory Coast qualified for a World Cup, the warring factions agreed to a ceasefire to support their national team, though fighting resumed in 2011.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17, ESV

When we look at our goals, our priorities, our relationships, and our desires, we will reject some as ungodly. Those are the easy ones. Hopefully we will have the courage to turn away from them. However, if you’re like me you’ll find you have some which aren’t easily categorized or which you will find are even put in the godly stack. These others should raise the question, “Why am I pursuing them?” For instance, am I pursuing a relationship with someone because I genuinely want to get to know that person and become a friend or am I doing so because of what that person can do for me? Am I latching on to this latest business opportunity because it’ll add more comfort to my life or because there’s a genuine Kingdom purpose in doing so? Am I serving in this ministry role because I feel called by God to be in the spot I’m in or is it because I like the reputation it gives me and perhaps even the power behind it?

In each case, the argument can be made that there’s a genuine, godly reason to do those things. And in each case we can find a very worldly reason why those things are pursued. This is the point of John’s words. Why am I doing what I do? Why are you? Are we pursuing things of the world, the desires of the flesh and the eyes and the pride of life, or are we pursuing Christ? Anything that we pursue that isn’t of Christ is fleeting. It won’t last. What is of Christ is forever. Let’s expend our efforts for what is permanent. Let us invest in what will stand the test of eternity. Let us do these things for the right reason: our love of Christ and our adoration of Him. And let us put aside that which is born out of a love of the world and what it considers precious.

 

Comments Off on Forget the fleeting; pursue the permanent.

Filed under Devotional

Are you willing to give everything?

Even when we give up something for our faith, we typically expect something back. For instance, the man who sold everything for the plot of land and the merchant who did the same for a pearl both received a treasure for their efforts. In those two cases you could call it a return on investment. They were putting themselves out there, but the risk was known. It was low. They could see what they would get back.

This isn’t to knock the difficulty of giving up everything as they did. The reality is that even knowing the promises in Scripture, the “return on investment,” we still struggle with doing so. What if I told you that attitude-wise we should go farther? How can we go farther than everything? Let’s allow a poor widow to show us:

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:41-44, ESV

The widow gave everything with no visible reward or treasure in sight. Her expectation was that God would provide, but she couldn’t see it. She had no certainty it was there. Unlike the man and the merchant from the two parables, when she gave her money, that was it. She was broke. She didn’t have anything more. They had their money. Maybe they wouldn’t have been able to get everything back, but they had something. Why would someone put themselves out like this?
The simple answer is love. Let me use an analogy. When I buy a present for my children, I’m not expecting a return on my investment. There’s no tangible treasure coming back my way. I buy the present because seeing their joy, their happiness, is what I’m after. That’s my motivation for buying the present. It has nothing to do with getting some prize or present back. That’s surely what drove the widow. She thought more highly of her God than she did herself. As a result, she brought Him what little she had.

What about us? Are we willing to give everything to Christ with no expectation of anything in return? It’s one thing to give everything when we know we’ve got something coming in return, especially when we know that what we’ve got coming is more valuable than what we are giving. It’s quite another to give without expectation of a reward. However, this is really the only way to give everything. Are you willing to have this kind of faith? Keep in mind that Jesus used money in His lessons because He understands that this is what drives most people and it’s an easy, tangible thing to work with. However, giving everything goes beyond that. It’s about our time, our skills, our focus, even who we are. Am I willing to turn over everything to Him simply because I love Him? Am I willing to give up everything for the lone reason that it brings Him joy? That’s the real standard.

1 Comment

Filed under Devotional

You Are Blessed and Loved

Some folks are naturally optimists. I’m not one of those people. I’m the type of person who can feel discouragement easily. Perhaps that’s why I am called to pen a devotional under the title of “Be Encouraged!” Whether you’re an optimist or not, do realize that as a follower of Jesus Christ you are blessed and loved.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:3-6, ESV

Several things stand out to me as I read this passage of Scripture:

  • God blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (in the heavenly places).
  • God chose us in Jesus Christ so we should be holy and blameless before Him.
  • God loved us and adopted us through Jesus Christ.
  • God has blessed us in Jesus Christ according to the purpose of His will.

Blessing with an unyielding spiritThat’s a lot of love and blessing coming from our Heavenly Father. It’s all through our Lord, Jesus Christ. None of this promises that we will escape physical or emotional hardship. None of this is a guarantee that you’ll always get a fair shake in this life. What is promised is spiritual blessing. What is promised is an eternal relationship. It does boil down to physical versus spiritual. Too often we focus on the physical. However, the physical is short term. It goes away. It doesn’t last. The spiritual does. The spiritual is eternal. Paul is telling us to remember the eternal.

Here’s an analogy. I can give you $10,000 today or I can give you $10 a day for the next 10 years. Which is the better deal? Throwing out the extra day during a leap year, there are 365 days in a year. That means with the second deal you get $3,650 per year. Over 10 years that’s $36,500. In the short term that $10,000 looks really nice. However, if you are willing to be patient, you make out over the long term. While it will take 3 years to surpass the up front money of the first deal, over 10 years you get greater than three times more.

That’s how it is with physical versus spiritual. Too many people are grabbing after that $10,000 and want everything to be perfect in this lifetime. They want to escape hardship and live an easy life. And some of these folks are willing to do just about anything to get that sort of life. However, for the Christian we have a promise of so much more. We have a promise of blessing for eternity. We have God’s love forever. If you feel the least bit discouraged, remember those two things. If you’re going through hardship right now, remember that more is promised than what happens in this lifetime. Be encouraged, for you are blessed and loved!

Comments Off on You Are Blessed and Loved

Filed under Devotional

Don’t Expect Praise

APPLAUSEAs a child, I always wanted the praise of adults. After all, that’s how I knew I was doing a good job. Praise is a great motivator, even among adults. However, the problem with receiving praise is that sometimes we start focusing on the praise and not what we’re doing. This is when we start doing things for the wrong reason. We expect this of younger children. However, as folks grow older, we expect that they are able to reason out what the right thing to do is and we hope that they would do the right thing because it’s simply right. The reality is that we’re still too hooked on praise.

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” – Luke 17:11-19, ESV

Given the social implications of being a leper in that society, you would think all ten lepers would have been very appreciative of the healing they received from Jesus. They went from being outcasts who could not participate in society to being able to rejoin their family and friends. However, only one of the ten turned back to think Jesus. The text points out the one was a Samaritan, and while there are implications to that, that won’t be our focus for today.

What should be our focus is that even our Lord didn’t get the praise He deserved. Moreover, He didn’t get the praise when He performed an unquestionable miracle. Yet Jesus still performed the miracle. Why? He performed it simply because it was the right thing to do. Yes, it was also a teaching moment for His followers, but Jesus still only did what was right. This is important for us to remember as His followers.

When you do what you can, don’t expect praise. Praise is nice, but it shouldn’t be your motivating factor. Serving Christ, following in His footsteps, knowing there’s a treasure in heaven being set aside for you – those are good and proper motivations. Human praise should not be a driving motivation. While we should be appreciative of such praise, as Jesus was, we should do what we do simply because it’s the right thing to do. So when you go to lend a hand, don’t look for praise. Don’t expect it. Expect that 9 out of 10 times, those you help won’t even acknowledge what you’ve done. When that 1 in 10 or 1 in 100 or 1 in 10,000 occurrence happens, be appreciative. Remember, agape love is sacrificial. It’s giving love with no expectation of anything in return. This is the love we are called to share with those around us.

1 Comment

Filed under Devotional

Remaining Reasonable in an Unreasonable World

sufferingBad news surrounds us. Turn on the broadcast news and there is tragedy and turmoil. Browse the newspaper and it’s more of the same. Read the news on-line and there are sure to be stories that’ll break your heart. It’s very easy to become discouraged. It’s very easy to feel hope slipping away. However, we were warned that this was going to happen.

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. – Matthew 24:6-8, ESV

I know that’s not a very specific prophecy. It wasn’t intended to be. Jesus knew His time with His disciples was coming to a close. He would soon be going to the Cross. He also knew that His disciples were like the rest of us: they could be shaken by bad news. He wanted them prepared. He wanted them expecting bad news. Why would He warn them so? Quite simply, so that they could prepare themselves. That warning is found in Scripture so that it didn’t just benefit those who walked with Christ, but so that it could benefit believers throughout the ages. Jesus didn’t just want His immediate disciples prepared, He wanted us prepared, too.

The world is going to be unreasonable. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a man-made one, or simply the evil of mankind, we’re going to see tragic news. We must understand that these events are inevitable. With respect to the last two, we shouldn’t throw our hands up and say, “That’s just the way things are,” because we are commanded to try and make things better. In all three cases, knowing that such events will happen means we can prepare for them. We should have a thoughtful and ready response. We should have a way to act that alleviates suffering, that shows compassion, that demonstrates Christ’s love. We should not be surprised by suffering or left speechless by turmoil. Yes, it is reasonable to expect those things to break our hearts. We should not be surprised by them, though. After all, we have been warned that these things will happen. As the old saying goes, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

We can do this as individual believers and as part of the larger Church. We should do this as individual believers and as part of the larger Church. There is so much suffering around us that opportunities to put into practice the commands from our Lord are almost without number. We can and should be a voice of reason in an unreasonable world. We start by remaining reasonable. We must not be shaken by the terrible news that we can come across each day. Instead, we should prepare ourselves for it and be ready to meet it in a sacrificial and loving way. That’s the first step in being able to respond lovingly to our neighbors, both those living next to us and those living around the world.

Comments Off on Remaining Reasonable in an Unreasonable World

Filed under Devotional

The Proper Attitude Towards an Enemy’s Defeat

unhorsedLife is an adventure. Christians believe that the best adventure comes from following God’s plan. Not all adventures are good. Some end in misery and defeat. However, an adventure with God will be a good adventure. The short term (this life) may not look all that appealing, but the long term (eternity with Him) is unimaginably good. As with any adventure, though, we will come across folks who choose to be our enemies. Note how I put that. They choose to be our enemies. We should not be looking to make enemies.

Why do they choose to be our enemies? It really doesn’t matter. You simply trying to live a life that is pleasing to God will generate you a whole host of earthly enemies. Sometimes they will prevail (always in the short term) and sometimes we will. When we prevail over an enemy, what should our attitude be? Is there an issue with rejoicing in God’s greatness? Surely not, because He is deserving of all praise. How should we react other than that?

“You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor fields of offerings!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.

– 2 Samuel 1:21, ESV

Saul tried to kill David. Even after David let him go and Saul promised not to go after him any more, Saul broke that promise to David. Then, to make matters worse, Saul was unprepared for the outbreak of war with the Philistines, probably because he was too busy chasing David. He had to hurriedly march to the fight and it didn’t just cost him his own life, but the lives of his sons, including Jonathan. One can only wonder how differently that battle would have been if Saul had David and David’s troops to fight alongside the rest of the Israelites. So not only did Saul try to kill David, but Saul’s foolishness ended up getting David’s best friend killed, too. If that isn’t an enemy, I don’t know what is.

Look how David responded. Did he jump up and down and shout, “I’m glad Saul’s dead?” Quite the contrary. David cursed the ground where Saul fell. Why? David saw Saul as God’s anointed. He was, in fact, anointed by God to be king. Though God had passed the mantle onto David, David recognized that God had chosen Saul. David would not raise up his hand against one of God’s anointed. There’s a lesson to be learned here.

In every day life, we don’t know whom God will call and whom He won’t. We have no idea. The person who belligerently opposes us today could have a saving experience tomorrow. The one who causes us great harm and seeks to ruin us could be the one God redeems years down the road. We just don’t know. Even those who might fall and die opposing us still belong in the hands of God, not us. We are reminded that revenge isn’t for us. Love, forgiveness, and a helping hand towards our enemy, well, those things are.

In other words, our reaction when an enemy is defeated isn’t to be one of great rejoicing that our enemy has suffered. It doesn’t matter how deserving we think he or she is. After all, would we desire Christ apply the same standard to us? Rather, an enemy’s suffering should be cause for lament in us. This is especially true if an enemy’s life extinguishes in the process. If that enemy does not know Christ, there is no salvation. If we believe in a real heaven and hell, that should cause us to shudder and quake. We should desire that fate on no one. Therefore, let us react like David did upon Saul’s death: let us be saddened by an enemy’s defeat. Let us lift up our enemies, especially if they are alive. Let us call upon on the name of the Lord on their behalf, that they might be saved.

Comments Off on The Proper Attitude Towards an Enemy’s Defeat

Filed under Devotional