Richly Blessed

From the looks of it, everyone I know is getting more of winter than they would prefer. If we could skip to spring, I’d have no problem at this point. Just a little bit ago I finished snow blowing at my house. Though I hate winter I enjoy snow blowing quite a bit. There is something satisfying about seeing immediate progress for the work that you are doing. It’s definitely one of those times that after you finish you might step back and admire your handiwork.

As I drove back to the office my mind went to something that’s easy to forget after my job well done: almost every part of that job was made possible or easier because of someone else. The coat I wore that kept me warm was a Christmas gift from my in-laws. One pair of gloves I wore (Because one pair isn’t enough) was a Christmas gift from my sister a couple of years ago. The scarf I wore was a gift from a couple at church. The snowblower, boots, other pair of gloves, coveralls, and hat were from my parents. All that I was able to do was possible because other people had been generous to me.

This is true of so many areas of life. Whether it’s with the things we own or the position in life we are in, we owe many, many people far more than we often realize. It’s a humbling reminder that no man is an island. We live far richer and fuller lives when we have strong relationships to lean on.

But even more than these people and blessings, it’s a reminder of how blessed I am by God. Everyone of those people is someone God has blessed me to know. Just as it’s easy to forget that we are blessed by others far more than we realize, it’s even easier to do the same with God.

Our lives are far richer than they would ever be otherwise because of what God has done for us. Let each of us go home today mindful of the people who have helped us along the way and the God who has blessed us far more richly than we can every understand. It’s never truly about what I’ve done but what He has richly blessed me to be able to do.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1Th 5:16-18, ESV)

Committed to One Another

What do you think about the word “responsibility?” For some people that’s almost a negative word. It makes something an overwhelming obligation and it sounds like something we’d rather not do. And while some responsibilities are certainly unpleasant, they shouldn’t be something we always stick our nose up at. In fact, responsibilities are often those things that are good for us and good for those we are responsible to and for.

As our congregation nears the end of 2018 we are looking ahead into 2019. What do we want to be about in the new year? What areas do we want to put a particular focus on? What I thought could use some encouragement is our responsibility to one another. Though the Bible never calls it that specifically, when you combine the many times commands are given regarding how we treat one another, it becomes clear it isn’t optional.

The challenge before our congregation is to be committed to one another more and more in 2019. To see those responsibilities as opportunities to put into practice the things God wants us to and make a tangible impact on the lives of other Christians. This means being committed though. As time goes on it becomes easier and easier for our attention to become solely on ourselves. And instead of the church being filled with people focused on one another, it’s filled with people focused on their own needs. So, what do we do to avoid that trap?

Look at the words of Jesus in John 13:34-35. In this passage Jesus lays out the command to love one another. He goes on to tell us this love is to be like His for us and it’s by this love that people will connect us back to Him. It’s my conviction that in order for the church to be what God has called it to be, we have to love one another. That for commitment to really take root within us, it begins by our love for one another. If we lack love, many other things we do won’t have near the impact they could otherwise.

You are probably familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, the great chapter of love. Verses 4-8 are what we are most familiar with, the description of the kind of love God wants us to have. But notice verses 1-3:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1Co 13:1-3, ESV)

Here Paul points out the importance of love within God’s people. It’s not optional and in fact, without it, many of the things that are really important don’t have the impact on our lives that they should.

As we think about what the church really needs its tempting to point to things like Bible study, evangelism and giving, and those are all true. What I’m about to say isn’t meant to diminish the need for those things in any way. With that in mind, I’d like you to insert those ideas into the passage you just read. Listen to how it would read:

If we have knowledge of all of scripture and can teach it fully, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have a passion to preach to the world and seek to teach everyone about Jesus, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Though I took a little liberty with the text there, I think the underlying message is true. When God’s people lack love, especially for one another, our knowledge of Him and His word and our desire to fulfill His mission are going to be hampered. It’s the combination of these that is important.

The challenge with love is that it involves having to do something for others and engage with them in a deep way. It requires us to interact with others. So many of the things we think of as spiritual don’t require us to be around others. We can study scripture alone. We can pray alone. We can even sing alone. But if we want to truly love one another, we can’t just do what is beneficial for us. We must interact and engage with one another. We have to make a pointed effort to choose to show love to one another.

As you consider what 2019 may hold for you, let me encourage you to be growing in your love for other Christians and seeking to draw others closer to God through that love. Let the world see that we are His by our love for one another.

Overcoming Boredom

For some people, the thought of being bored isn’t something that crosses their mind. They simply don’t have that issue. If that is you, you can keep reading, just realize that this won’t apply much to you. For anyone like myself who at times feels unmotivated or at least uncertain what to do next, I’d like you to consider something.

What do you do when you get bored? What do you do when you simply aren’t sure what to do? When nothing is overly motivating? There are times when I find myself there. I can’t think of anything that I have to get done. I can’t always think of something I even want to do. In those moments of boredom it’s easy to become very self-centered. To think about what you don’t have or can’t do because if you could have or do those things, you wouldn’t be bored. Boredom really tries to draw us into thinking only about ourselves and how nothing is worth doing in that moment.

I was recently thinking about this and an idea slapped me upside the head that I should have thought of sooner. What hit me was this idea: what if every time I was bored I decided to do something good for someone else? Boredom for me is often an uncertainty as to what to do next. What if I always had an answer to that question? What if I knew what to do?

As I mentioned earlier so often my struggle is simply about me. All I think about is what can I do to make myself happy but what if I put Php. 2:1-4 into practice here. Listen to what Paul writes:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (ESV)

While we might not call boredom “selfish ambition or vain conceit” I think we can see how it has some similarities because of the selfish focus. Here Paul encourages us to place our focus on others and their needs. So, with that in mind, think about this:

What if instead of scrolling through Netflix for 30 minutes hoping to find something to remove the boredom we instead chose to scroll through our list of friends on Facebook and prayed for them?

What if instead of sitting on the couch with that mopey attitude we decided to do something that would make our spouse or parents or children have a better day? Maybe we clean something up or make them something or write a note. The sky is the limit.

What if instead of simply picking up our phones and checking them for the 1,000th time hoping something catches our attention this time, we simply decided ask someone else around us how things were going? What if we tried to engage them in legitimate conversation?

Now, I would love to tell you that I’ve tried all of these things and they work but I can’t. But I believe in them and things like them. Do something good for someone else. See an opportunity when you don’t know what to do as a time to do something for someone else. Find ways to make the focus others and not just yourself.

Take the First Step

Have you ever looked at your life and wished you had something you didn’t? That’s true for all of us but I think it’s an important question to consider especially in regards to what we wish we would have received from other people. For example, maybe you have wished for a close friend who we can share everything with. Or maybe you wish for someone that you could ask any question to without fear of being judged. Every single one of us likely has relationships that we wish were different. We long for someone to connect with. We want someone we can share anything with or someone that can help us navigate the things we aren’t ready for.

As I thought about this wish today I realized something. The very things that I wished I had from others are so often the same things I’m not doing for anyone else. I want someone to be a mentor to me and yet how am I investing in someone else in the same way? I want someone who I can confess sins to but how willing am I to listen to the struggles of others? It’s easy to want something without being willing to do the same for another. It’s easy to want something forgetting the entire time that if it was so important to you, maybe it would be good for someone else too. What if instead we start doing for others things that we wish we had done for us?

Those words strike me as similar to the words of Jesus himself when he said to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Part of Jesus’ point, and the way we normally take this, is that we don’t do something harmful to someone because we wouldn’t want it done for us. That’s true and important. But there is another side to this. Doing to others as we would have them do to us can also be seen positively in that we do for someone else what we hope someone would do for us.

In this particular instance that would mean that if I would want someone to mentor me, I should be willing to mentor someone else. If I want someone to be comfortable confessing to me, then I must be willing to begin by confessing to them. If I want someone to be the closest of friends, I need to start being someone who does what close friends do.

Personally my great struggle is waiting for others to take the first step. Instead of doing something, I wait for someone else to act; to initiate something. What if I decided to act first? What if I decided to do the thing that I believe  would bless me so that someone else is blessed?

I want to challenge you today to think proactively. Look for opportunities to bless other people. If you know of a new Christian, do something for them you wish would have done for you. If you know someone who is hurting, don’t wait for them to ask for help, show up with food or cookies or coffee and just let them know you care. Simply put: take the first step. Do for another what you want someone to do for you.

Thank You

The older I get the less I put stock into generalizations. While they may often be true, that isn’t always the case and in those instances, that makes all the difference in the world. I think for some the general view is that ministry is a thankless work. While I know that can definitely be the case it isn’t true every time and it hasn’t been true for me. I have been richly blessed to have been able to work with two congregations who have continually and regularly built me and my family up. It’s made ministry that much more enjoyable and given me a greater motivation to serve.

Now that may sound a bit self-centered at first. Appreciation motivates me. But it’s not about being motivated for more appreciation. It’s about being motivated because what I’m doing matters. You can be doing the most important work in the world but if all you hear are negative things, it’s hard to believe that. Encouragement helps solidify the importance and need for something. Encouragement isn’t only a blessing to the soul but it is a blessing to the work of the one receiving it. The congregations I have been able to work with, the Mannford church of Christ and, now the 41st St church of Christ, have blessed me far more than I deserve. Yet their blessings are a reminder of the impact of the work of ministry. It truly does affect the lives of people.

If you are in ministry today, I hope that you have had a similar experience. If you have, show equal appreciation to the congregation that is so richly blessing you. If you haven’t, I am truly sorry. Ministry should be filled with encouragement and I pray that one day, you will be blessed with that. In the meantime, know that you are not alone and know that God cares about the work you are doing.

If you are a member of the body of Christ reading this, be an encourager. You have no idea the impact it has on those leading and serving within the church. From my own experience, the amount of encouragement you provide your ministers will be returned to you as you bolster their spirit and help them maintain their drive as they seek to bless you as much as you have blessed them.

I don’t deserve all the appreciation I have received but I am grateful for it. For those that have encouraged me throughout my time in ministry I want to say thank you. It is your kind words and encouragement that have allowed me to continue and be where I am today. Without those small blessings I’m not sure I would be accomplishing much for God’s kingdom at all. So, once again, I say thank you. Thank you for the kind words. Thank you for the gifts. Thank you for the encouragement of working with me for the glory of the kingdom of God.

I Love You

 

About a week ago I had the opportunity to listen to a man who tried to take his own life. His name is Kevin Hines and he tried to kill himself by jumping off of the golden gate bridge. By the grace of God he survived and now spends his time going all over speaking to the value of life; to the need to fight against thoughts of suicide and to choose to live instead.

In the middle of his talk with us he did something I always dread: he asked for us to participate in something. Now I will admit he said only if you are comfortable but peer pressure is real so I didn’t have a choice. He asked us to connect with someone near us that we didn’t know. Give them a hug. Maybe a handshake. It was at this point I thought he said to tell them “I love you.”

At the time, this made perfect sense. He wanted us to see the value in others. And so next to me was young man, maybe late middle school or early high school age. We both did the awkward “we don’t want to do this but what can you do look” and hugged each other. At which point I said I love you. I think he said it back as well but it was not very loud so who knows.

Anyway, I turn around and other people started shaking my hand and saying things like “nice to meet you.” And now I felt foolish. I love you is a whole lot different to say than nice to meet you. Maybe I heard wrong and said the wrong thing. I have no idea what that young man was thinking when he heard me say that. Hopefully he thought we were all supposed to say it too and doesn’t think I’m crazy. Either way, I sat down feeling a little embarrassed about how that whole situation went. (For those of you who know me, my ability to make an awkward situation even more awkward should come as no surprise to you.)

Ultimately I felt a little foolish for saying I love you to that young man. Yet, as I sit here today, I meant it. If that young man had said he wanted to talk and share something going on in his life, I would have listened. If he said he needed something, I would have tried to provide it. Though I might be embarrassed about what happened, I truly do love that young man. I think the problem for me, and maybe many of you, is that we struggle to truly share those things with others.

Saying I love you is super personal. You don’t just walk up to anyone and say it. Saying it too quickly likely leads to people never talking to you again. People think you are weird. After all, who loves someone after just meeting them? Who cares that strongly for people outside of their family? People they may not even know.

Well, me. Or more specifically, Christians should. We talk all the time about how we ought to love like Jesus. That we are loved by God and so we love others, 1 John 4:19. That God loved the world (John 3:16) and as his children we love others as well. All true but something we see in more vague and general terms than we might care to admit.

But, in truth, we really are called to love people. Real, individual, specific people. Saying I love you to that young man shouldn’t have been awkward because it was true. But as I mentioned, we aren’t used to saying those kinds of things. Sometimes even in our families we struggle to say it.

At this point you might expect me to challenge you to tell someone you wouldn’t normally say it to that you love them. But if I’m honest, I’m probably not willing to do that myself. It’s just too awkward. So how about we both start somewhere else: I care about you. You are important to me. I really appreciate our friendship. I enjoy getting to see you. I always have a good time when our paths cross.

Say whatever you want to let someone else know they matter to you. Let them know that they are significant. How will people know we love them if we never share it? I know, I know. Actions speak louder than words, and that’s true in many ways, but lets be honest; there is something special about hearing the words I love you. There is something significant about hearing that you are important to someone. Maybe they’ve shown it to you but it removes the doubt when the words come out of their mouths.

So let’s consider not just showing love to others but sharing our love for them through our words as well. With all of that being said, to each person who takes the time to read this, know that I love you. You are valuable and important. (You might also be a family member as my blog reach is rather small. Love you mom!)

Slow Down

How well do you work under pressure? Some people are geared for it. The tenser things are the more comfortable they become. They know exactly what to say and do, even when things go differently than expected. Unfortunately I am at the opposite end of the spectrum. Every time I run into a situation that I’m under pressure in, especially those I’m not prepared for, I find myself walking away thinking that I should have done things differently. I just don’t handle them like I would like to. It seems like in those moments everything speeds up and I struggle to keep up.

Why does that happen? I think for me it happens because I want to get past the situation as quickly as possible. Instead of assessing the best response, I do what is one of the quickest. This doesn’t mean I ignore the situation, at least not usually. I just try to handle it as fast as possible. I want to remove the discomfort. The problem is, this quick as I can mentality, often leaves me falling short of doing what is better. I think it leaves me falling short of doing what God could use me to do.

So what can I do? If you find yourself struggling in similar ways, what can you do? Be like Jesus. I know, I know. That’s the best and worst answer. It’s true and yet often so hard to do. But it still is best. One of the things that I love about Jesus’ work with people is that he never hurried. I don’t mean that he never moved quickly. I’m sure he did. I mean Jesus handled each situation thoughtfully.

Consider the situation with the woman at the well (John 4). For most this would have been an uncomfortable situation. It likely was for the woman. For a Jew and Samaritan to interact much at all seems to be outside the norm and yet Jesus doesn’t rush through a conversation but truly takes the time to talk to the woman. Because of this, an entire village learns about Jesus.

Or consider the many times Jesus was put in a seemingly uncomfortable position by the questions of the religious leaders. Jesus always thoughtfully responds. Often he does so with a question which indicates how thoughtful he really is. Responding with what you think is easy. Asking questions takes a little more thought.

I hope one day to be more like Jesus in how I respond. Today I had the opportunity to meet a couple of new people and in both situations I normally would try to move through things quickly but at least in one instance I was able to consider things a little more. I asked some questions and gained more from the experience. I don’t know what you may encounter today but I hope that if you are someone like me, who struggles to handle the unexpected well, that you will trust God to work in your words and actions and that you give him an opportunity to use you.

Have a blessed day and slow down and let God use you