Being Accepted and Accepting Others

Why is it that we worry so much about what others think? I know I’m one who probably cares less about what others think of me than most people do, but I still struggle with it at times. It seems like we spend a good portion of our lives just trying to be accepted by others.

We try so hard to earn acceptance from those we love and from people we respect and want to be like. So much so that, at times, we might actually try to be someone we’re not just to earn their approval—just to try and get them to accept us.

This desire to be accepted can be so powerful that it affects the kinds of clothes we wear, the kind of car we drive, the kind of house we buy, and even the careers we choose. We so badly want to be a part of the in-crowd (whatever that is) that we’ll sacrifice our own values and beliefs for it.

And the sad thing is: you would think our own desire to be accepted would cause us to be more accepting of others, but often times that isn’t the case. We too, can be part of the problem. But in Romans 15:7 Paul tells us: “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.”

The truth is, Jesus accepts us just the way we are. It’s not based on performance, looks, or social status. We don’t have to earn His acceptance; we don’t have to prove ourselves to Him. His acceptance is unconditional and His desire is that we would learn to love and accept others in the same way.

Let me finish with some questions to challenge us: Are we trying to prove ourselves to someone? Are we attempting to earn their acceptance? If they aren’t willing to accept us for who we are, do we really need their acceptance? Are we accepting others for who they are or are we making others jump through hoops just to get our approval?

Lord, help us to remember that You created us and that You love us and accept us for who we are. Help us to accept ourselves as we are and not try to be something we are not for others. And help us learn to love and accept others in the same way that You have freely and completely loved and accepted us. We want to be an example of Your love and acceptance to the world. Help us, we pray.

Being the Church

We live in a day and time where church isn’t always a priority for believers. There are many reasons why this could be: for some, it might be the busy-ness of life; for some, it’s not a high priority; and for others, it’s the belief that they can experience church without actually going to church. 

Regardless of the reason, it’s important to remember that the Bible tells us we should be gathering together as followers of Jesus. Hebrews 10 reminds us that we shouldn’t neglect meeting together, because we’re called to come alongside one another and encourage each other.

I think sometimes we forget the role of the Church and see “church” as just a place to worship and hear God’s Word. These are actually things we CAN do without going to church, especially in today’s world. We have access to some of the greatest worship services and messages on our phones, tablets, and TVs.

But church is so much more than worship music and messages. The Church is the body of Christ. And going to church helps us connect with other parts of the body. I say it every week in our service: we were created for relationship with others. God never intended for us to live our lives in isolation. We were created to live as one body, in communion and unity with others.

In Romans 12 we read: The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? -Romans 12:5 (The Message)

We can’t grow spiritually the way God intended if we’re disconnected from the body of Christ. As this scripture references, if we were to cut off our fingers, they would become useless. They have to be connected to the body in order to function the way they’re supposed to. In the same way, we need each other—as the body of Christ—if we want to grow spiritually and fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.

The California Department of Mental Health shared a study that discovered that those who isolate themselves from others are four times more likely to suffer from emotional burnout, five times more likely to experience clinical depression and ten times more likely to be hospitalized for an emotional or mental disorder.

We may live in a fallen, broken world, but God has called us to be light in this dark place. And that light can only be seen when we come out of isolation and connect with others. As the Church, we need to realize that we are better together. 

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Lord, help us be the Church that you have called us to be!

Nobody Has It All Together

Every Monday, I receive an email that’s sent out to encourage pastors. This week’s email was titled, “Pastor, You Don’t Need to Have It All Together.” It was a simple reminder that, as pastors, we can’t forget that a title doesn’t make us better than the people in our church. And it’s ok to admit that we’re human and we don’t have it all together.

As I read through the email, I realized this is a great reminder for all Christians. Because the truth is, nobody has it all together. It’s easy to buy into the lie that Christians have to uphold a certain image, but we must not fall victim to that lie. The Bible reminds us again and again that nobody’s perfect—except for Jesus, of course. The rest of us are broken because of sin.

The thing is, we don’t want others to know we’re broken, so we walk around trying to impress people and pretend like we’ve got it all together. The problem with that is that we need to be honest, first with ourselves and consequently with others, if we want to see real change in our lives. We have to actually admit that we don’t have it all together. We have to admit our weaknesses and give God the freedom to come and bring true change to our lives. And we have to be transparent enough with others to let them see and know that we are still in process.

In Romans 12:3 it says: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” 

This verse is really about humility. It’s about taking an honest look at our lives and being willing to address our issues. Are we willing to ask the people closest to us where we’re falling short or how we could do better? Do we have the courage to ask others to really be honest with us?

Rick Warren says, “You can only manage what you measure. If you don’t know the measure of your faith, you can’t grow in your faith. If you don’t know the measure of your health, you can’t develop better health. If you don’t know the measure of where you are financially, you can’t set goals financially. If you don’t know the measure of where you are spiritually or vocationally or relationally, then you can’t grow in those areas. You can only manage what you measure.”

Are we willing to take a good, hard look at our lives and assess how we measure up or where we may be falling short? We don’t need to have it all together, but we do need to be willing to look at the areas where we are falling short and seek to grow and do better.

Lord, help us to realize we don’t need to be something we’re not. Help us to acknowledge our weaknesses so that we can grow and become the people You are calling us to be. Help us to trust one another enough to be real with trusted friends, instead of pretending to be perfect and holding everyone at arm’s length from our true selves. And please help us by giving us the strength to do all of this because we cannot do it without Your Spirit at work within us.

There’s More to the Story

I recently had someone share some scriptures with me. The person told they knew the scriptures were definitely for them, but they felt they might be for our church as well. The scriptures were all from Galatians 5, but the ones that stood out to me the most were verses 14 -16. 

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘“Love your neighbor as yourself.’” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” -Galatians 5:14-16

The pastor I served under before planting a church used to tell me, “Nothing is personal, everything is spiritual.” It’s a great reminder that our battles are not against flesh and blood—they’re not against people. Our battles are against the principalities and powers of a broken world. And the enemy loves nothing more than to see Christians “bite and devour each other”.

It’s sad how much division we see in the church and it’s all because we fail to love our neighbor as ourself. We have a tendency to bite and devour others when they think or believe differently than us. We fail to realize or remember that we’re all human and that the life of another isn’t always what it seems from our vantage point.

I love Bob Goff. He is an amazing author and speaker who truly inspires love and compassion. Now, if you’ve ever seen Bob Goff, you may have noticed that he frequently wears a Boston Red Sox hat. I just assumed that he was originally from Boston or that it was his favorite team for some reason. 

Well, I recently watched him speak on a church video podcast and found out that he isn’t a Red Sox fan. He doesn’t even follow baseball or any sports for that matter. It’s actually a hat that belonged to his neighbor who passed away several years ago. She was a die-hard Red Sox fan and Bob and his wife loved her through her final years. He was an excellent example of loving his neighbor as himself.

And in her last week, when they knew she only had a few days left, he told her he would make a deal with her. He would wear her Red Sox hat and support her team for the rest of his life if she promised to put a good word in for him with Jesus. 

We’re people who often make snap judgments or assumptions about people or things when we don’t know the whole story—whether good, bad, or neutral. But if we want to be people who truly “Love our Neighbors,” we need to realize there is always more to the story than what we see. Instead of biting and devouring people, maybe we need to take time to get to know them and discover their greater story.Lord, we want to be people who love our neighbors the way you desire us to. Help us to see beyond our assumptions and misunderstandings and love people with your grace and compassion.

Simply Seeking Jesus

In Mark chapter 8, there are a couple verses that tell of Pharisees coming to Jesus and questioning Him. And it says that to test Him they were asking for a sign from heaven. In other words, they were saying do something amazing and miraculous right now and prove to us that You are the Son of God.

And in Mark 8:12 it says: “He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.’” The crazy thing is, Jesus had been doing amazing signs and wonders all around them, but apparently these Pharisees failed to see any of them. 

If they would have just opened their eyes, they would have seen that He indeed was the Son of God. I honestly believe that even if He had shown them a sign, they would have found some excuse to not believe. Their hearts were hardened and they weren’t willing to accept the truth that was right in front of them.

How often do we fail to see the miracles of Jesus in our own life because of hardened hearts? It’s so easy to allow the cynicism of our world to cause us to lose sight of the Lord and to allow our hearts to be hardened. But if we don’t ask the Lord to soften our hearts, then—like the Pharisees—we’ll fail to see all the wonderful and amazing signs that Jesus is doing all around us. 

I think the key for our generation today is that we need to stop seeking signs and miracles and simply seek Jesus. Jesus is our sign, He is our miracle, and we will see the miraculous as we seek Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever and His miracles are happening all around us.

Lord, help us to seek you, to seek Your will and way for our lives. And help us to have eyes to see the amazing miracles that You are doing in our world!

Be Prepared

This week’s our Children’s Pastor shared a great devotion with our church, so I thought I would share it on my blog:

The Oregon weather during the past number of weeks has gone from warm and sunny to cold enough for snow flurries! I have loved the extremes here, and it has really made me think about preparedness on a variety of levels: starting with the clothes I wear each day but then, more importantly, praying that God would prepare me in the way Scripture describes in 1 Peter.

1 Peter 3:15: But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I love this verse! Some of you that know me may be laughing because you’ve heard me say that about many different verses in Scripture! It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite—I now have a top 10 instead of top 5.

This verse is jam-packed with wisdom! Take a look at the order in this verse….

1) Revere Christ in your heart as Lord

2) Be prepared to talk to people about the hope that you have (JESUS)

3) Remember to talk to people with gentleness and respect

Jesus has to be respected and worshipped as Lord in your heart first and foremost. That is heavy-duty interior work because He isn’t just the Lord over one part of our life…He is THE LORD over all of our life. We can’t compartmentalize Him. 

And when Jesus is the Lord of our life, joy springs forth. You can’t help but focus on Jesus and the hope that He brings. It’s an ongoing growth process that develops each of us into a more hopeful person in every aspect of our life.

As we talk about the hope that we have in Jesus, the Holy Spirit guides us in those conversations with gentleness and respect. Gentleness and respect flow from a heart that is yielded to Jesus and a desire to share the hope that we have. I appreciate that Scripture includes a reminder to us of the fact that there is a way to share our hope. That way is the way of Jesus. When He is Lord of our life and we have put all our hope in Him, we don’t have to strive to fit Him into conversations. He will actually guide us with what to say and when to say it. Sometimes we don’t say anything and it’s the kindness and the love that flows from Jesus through us that speaks the loudest.

Often we think of accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior as a one-time decision. This is totally true…and it’s also true that keeping Him central, as the highest authority in our life, is a choice that we make every day. It’s waking up and asking God, “What do you want to accomplish through me today?” It’s taking time mid-day to ask, “How am I doing, Lord?” It’s yielding all the results of the day to Him at night by telling Him, “I give you this day and all that was in it: Please use the successes and redeem the mistakes so that it may be pleasing to You and give You glory, Lord”. 

In my walk with the Lord, these daily practices have been incredibly life-giving and have helped me to be better prepared for both exhilarating and devastating days, and also for the many days that fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Good Friday: Taking Up Our Cross

In Luke 9:23, Jesus tells His disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” When He spoke these words to them, they really had no idea what He was saying. But I’m guessing those words took on a whole new meaning as they watched Jesus, bloody and beaten carry the cross that He would soon be crucified on.

I don’t know about you, but I try to avoid pain whenever possible. And as creatures of comfort I think most of us gravitate towards those things that feel safe and secure. Now, in most cases, that seems pretty smart but as followers of Jesus we are often called to step out of our comfort zone and trust in the Lord.

Jesus was never about comfort. He willingly went to the cross. He willingly subjected Himself to public mockery, horrific beatings, and one of the most painful deaths a person can experience. This is the Son of God and He endured all of this for us.

At any moment, He could have walked away. At any moment, He could have called down legions of angels to rescue Him. But He didn’t. And that’s because Jesus knew it was the only way to restore our relationship with God.

And now to grow that relationship, He asks us to follow His example—to willingly pick up our cross every day. The only way to experience the abundant life that God has for us is to offer our lives back to Him as living sacrifices. He calls us to step out of our comfort zone and live the lives that follow His example.

As we take time to reflect on what Jesus did for us on this Good Friday, let’s take time to ask ourselves some tough questions: Have I been taking up my cross? Or am I clinging to the safe and secure? What does carrying the cross actually look like for me?

Lord, give us the courage and strength to take up our cross and help us to see the areas where we fall short and ask for Your help as we learn to follow you. –Amen

When God Doesn’t Meet Our Expectations

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and we can read about it in John 12:12-16: “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. They began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!’ Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, people of Zion; look, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt!’ (His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and that these things had happened to him.)”

As we read the gospels, we see the progression of Jesus’ ministry and popularity come to a climax with His triumphal entry. People were laying down their coats and palm branches. In a sense, they were rolling out the red carpet for Jesus. They were all praising Him and excited about the future. Many believed this was it: the realization of why Jesus came. His mission was being accomplished and now the credits could roll.

But we know the story doesn’t end there. God has a much bigger ending planned as it continues to play out in our lives even today. It’s hard to believe that, within a week of Palm Sunday, Jesus would end up being arrested, tried, and crucified. These same people who were praising Him a week earlier would turn and against Him and demand that Barabbas—a hardened criminal—be released instead of Jesus. What happened? What made the crowd so fickle?

This man that they were calling the Messiah had healed the sick and performed miracles. And on that Palm Sunday, it seemed He had the favor of the world on Him. But over that next week, Jesus’ ministry became more and more controversial. He overturned tables in the temple and drove people out with a whip; He spoke in confusing parables and talked about dying. The people began to doubt Him and the Pharisees fueled the doubt with their own deceitful desires.

This promised king wasn’t supposed to die: He was supposed to conquer the Roman Empire and be, well, their king. The problem was that they had their own idea of what God was going to do and how He was going to do it. And apparently Jesus didn’t meet their expectations.

We all have the tendency to put God in a box. We predict how He’s going to move in certain situations and it can challenge the very core of our beliefs when He doesn’t meet—or stay within—our expectations.

We need to ask ourselves: Will we be faithful when God doesn’t show up the way we want Him to? Have there been times when we’ve been disappointed with God and how things worked out? How do we respond? Do we trust that God is at work and will ultimately work all things together for the good of those who love Him?

Jesus’ death and resurrection is the very best news ever given to us. His sacrifice changes everything for those who put their trust in Him, but it didn’t seem like it at the time.

Heavenly Father, we seek Your strength to have faith for ourselves, our family, and our church. May we believe in Your will and plan for our lives, even when it doesn’t make sense. –Amen

Disciple of Jesus

I was reading in Luke 5 today where Jesus was calling his first disciples. It’s crazy to think what it would have been like for James, John, Peter, and Andrew to leave their boats—and everything they had known—to go and to follow Jesus. I know it must have been scary, but at the same time so exciting and exhilarating knowing that they were becoming a disciples of Jesus—The Messiah.

As I continued to read through Luke 5 and the amazing miracles that Jesus was doing, I found myself thinking, “how awesome it would have been to be one of Jesus’ disciples.” Then it dawned on me, or perhaps a still, small voice inside of me said, “You are one of Jesus’ disciples!” Duh!

I think many of us know this, but for some reason we forget or think of our role as a disciple differently. But what makes us any different than Peter, James, John or the rest of the twelve? Really, the only difference is a couple thousand years. Yes, they got to physically see and touch Jesus, but we have the same amazing and wonderful gift that they received at Pentecost: His Spirit, Who guides us and directs us.

It’s true that we don’t get to physically walk beside Jesus like they did, but His Spirit is with us. His Spirit lives in us and we have been given the same commission that the original twelve were given: To take the Gospel to our neighbors and to the nations.

I know sometimes we can look at these amazing men in the Bible and feel like their calling was so much greater than ours, but the reality is that every calling is important to God because every life matters. So we must embrace our calling and be disciples of Jesus who help to extend His kingdom!

Which is More Frightening?

My wife shared with me some thoughts that came out of her personal devotions a few days ago. For my blog this week I want to share with you those thoughts from her journal:

Matthew 8:28-34 – When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” 32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Which is more frightening: 1) Demon-possessed men who are so violent that no one can pass their way? or 2) Reconciling our hearts to a God so powerful that He frees those possessed men by speaking to the demons and casting them into a herd of pigs?

According to the people in the region of the Gadarenes, the latter is the scarier of the two. In Matthew 8:34, a whole town heard about Jesus freeing the possessed men (because those who had been tending the pigs ran to town to tell them)…and they PLEADED with Jesus to leave their region. They wanted him to go far, far away.

I often ask myself when I’m reading the Bible what I would do or how I would respond in the situations it outlines. In this case, I’d like to think that I would beg Jesus to come into town and heal every ailment and free every prisoner. But I also know that the fallout of that is that my life will be radically changed if He does. The people of this town became the caretakers of a TRUE story that is so fantastic that many might question their sanity.

Fast forward to today. Say the exact same situation happened and we’re the witnesses. Here are the questions that might be posed to us after the fact:

  • How do you know they were demon possessed? (Maybe they were just bad people.)
  • Did you actually hear Jesus talking to demons? What did the demons sound like?
  • Are you sure “demons” entered the pigs? (Maybe they were just startled by something.)

When Jesus walked this earth, He did fantastic miracles. The focus of this particular story should have been that Jesus healed two men who were out of their minds, but instead the focus for the townspeople was that Jesus did things that don’t make sense.

This is because miracles require faith: faith that believes even when the story doesn’t make sense in our logical minds and in the scientific world. God made science—He made the world with all it’s rules and scientific boundaries—but He is also outside of and greater than the world He created.

Prayer: Our Lord God, help us to pray for miracles, to believe the miracles we see, and to share the story of the many ways You are still freeing and healing people today. Let us beg for your movement, healing, and freedom and be frightened of a world without it.