the weblog of Alan Knox

love

Put off the old… Put on the new

Posted by on May 30, 2013 in blog links, discipleship, love | 3 comments

Put off the old… Put on the new

The title of this post comes from Ephesians 4:17-24, specifically Ephesians 4:22-24. For those of us who are in Christ, Paul says there is a putting off of the old and a putting on of the new. He uses imagery of taking off old clothes and putting on new clothing to refer to a work that continues to take place in each of our lives. Of course, this work is impossible without Christ, and is only possible through him. But, it is still something that we must choose to do.

Randi from “Seeds in my Heart” has written a very good post called “Putting off… putting on.” Her post is a reflection on a series that I wrote a couple of weeks ago on the topic of love. But, as usual, Randi takes a general topic and makes it extremely personal.

As she works through this idea of “putting off,” she wonders about being fake. I think this is a really good thing for us to think about, and I love her thought process in this post.

But, at one point, she ties this process (which seems to be a personal process at face value) back to our community in Christ:

This is why safe places of close intimate relationships are so important and so powerful. We seem fake to each other… because we are only seeing the putting on!! We seem fake to each other because a) sometimes we are being fake because we are not putting off…. or…. b) we are distant from each other so we don’t see the whole process! We only see the putting on.

When we see the whole process that God is doing… when we see the wrestling and the taking off and confessing and turning —- then we will see the whole process and God’s transforming work.

We also have to desire to show each other so much more than just the realness of our old self. We have to encourage each other to allow Him to clothe us. To encourage each other with truths like we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph 2:3) in Christ.

This is so true. Both the “putting off” and the “putting on” are community processes. But, we must be honest with ourselves and one another in order for this to be so. If we can’t be honest about what we’re putting off, we’re not really being honest about what we’re putting on. Plus, others need to see both our “putting off” and our “putting on.”

(By the way, one of the reasons that most people feel isolated among the church is that they don’t know that others have problems, too. They only know about their own issues..)

Last weekend, when we were gathered with some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, someone asked about struggling with being loving. Several people shared suggestions, scripture passages, advice, etc. I decided to share an example from the week before in which I did not reply to a situation in a loving manner. I still had something to “put off.”

I’m not proud of the way that I responded to that situation. I wish that I had responded in a loving manner. But, I’m willing to share the truth about myself with my brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s only when they see what I still need to “put off” that they will see the work of God as I continue to “put on” the new man in Jesus Christ.

So, why does the church have a love problem?

Posted by on May 17, 2013 in love | 41 comments

So, why does the church have a love problem?

So, in a previous post, I began “Tackling the Love Problem.” Then I wrote about “The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think.” Next, I said that “We have everything we need to love others.” Finally, I wrote that “Love is easily recognized as love.”

What is the “love problem”? It’s quite simple actually. Jesus said all people would know us by our love. But, when you ask people what they think about Christians, love is far, far down the list… if it even makes the list. We have a love problem.

Now, let’s be honest with ourselves and with one another. We don’t love because we’re disobedient to the Spirit. It really is that plain and simple. The Spirit indwells all of God’s children. The Spirit produces love within us and leads us to love others. But, we don’t do it because we choose not to yield to the Spirit and instead yield to our own desires. (This is described many ways in Scripture, such as presenting ourselves as slaves to sin even though we have already been set free from slavery to sin – Romans 6.)

But, disobedience is not the “love problem.”

Here’s the thing. We should expect new, immature believers to have a harder time love than older, more mature believers. We should see an increase in love as people mature in Christ. Thus, even though many Christians would struggle with love, we should still see a general tendency toward loving others among the church… and that tendency should increase.

That’s not what we see… and while we may want to make excuses, it’s certainly not what the world sees. And, remember, Jesus said “they” would know us by our love.

The “love problem” is a result of lack of maturity in Christ. I think this lack of maturity affects our love (and our demonstration of love) primarily because love cannot be taught through speeches, sermons, books, articles, seminars, conferences, and, yes, even blog posts. As awesome as blog posts are, you will never learn how to love someone by reading one of my incredible posts. You will never be challenged to show love to that difficult neighbor (who you’d rather ignore or perhaps curse) by reading my eloquent prose.

For that kind of “teaching,” we need life on life interaction… the kind of discipleship that we find in Scripture… where (as Paul said) followers of Jesus shared not only the good news but their very lives.

No, we’ll never learn to love by listening to a sermon or reading a book, but we will learn to love to observing the life of a brother or sister in Christ as they learn to love. We will learn to love by being helped to show love to a difficult neighbor by another follower of Christ who has “been there.”

This is why the church has a “love problem.” It’s tied back to our relationships (or lack of relationships) and fellowship (or lack of fellowship) and overemphasis on information transfer.

Because, while the church as a whole can probably tell you the different Greek terms for “love,” and exegete various passages on “love,” and quote several verses about “love”… how many actually know one another well enough to help each other love?

It’s messy work.

The way we typically do things now is much more efficient and “excellent.” But, it’s also producing a “love problem.”

So, what do we do now? What do you do now?

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Series on the “Love Problem”

  1. Tackling the Love Problem
  2. The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think
  3. We have everything we need to love others
  4. Love is easily recognized as love
  5. So, why does the church have a love problem?

Love is easily recognized as love

Posted by on May 16, 2013 in love | 28 comments

Love is easily recognized as love

So, in a previous post, I began “Tackling the Love Problem.” Then I wrote about “The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think.” Next, I said that “We have everything we need to love others.”

What is the “love problem”? It’s quite simple actually. Jesus said all people would know us by our love. But, when you ask people what they think about Christians, love is far, far down the list… if it even makes the list. We have a love problem.

There are a couple of things that I always hear when I talk about love. 1) Love is a heart issue, and it’s not about what we do or don’t do. 2) We are loving people, but they just don’t understand or perceive or recognize our love.

To begin with, I agree completely that love is a heart issue, but I disagree that love is not about what we do or what we don’t do. I think it’s both – it is a heart issue and also a practical issue.

But, for the most part, I want to focus on the second response: “We are loving people, but they just don’t understand or perceive or recognize our love.” I think, as we consider this statement, you’ll see why I responded as I did above to the first statement (i.e., that love is both a heart issue and a practical issue).

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and love your neighbor, someone immediately asked him, “Well who is my neighbor?” As an answer, Jesus provided the story that we now call “The Good Samaritan”:

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37 ESV)

If I can, I’d like to point out a few things from this story:

1) Although I’ve heard it brought out many times in sermons and read about it in articles and books, Jesus does not mention the heart or motivation for the priest and the Levite. He only talks about their actions (or lack of actions).

2) In the same way, Jesus does not tell us how the Samaritan feels about God or the beaten man. He only tells us about the Samaritan’s actions.

3) When Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor (i.e., loved the other person)?”, the lawyer did not ask about heart or motivation. He only responded based on the actions of the priest, Levite, and Samaritan.

4) The lawyer quickly and easily recognized that the Samaritan was the good neighbor by his actions.

Is heart and motivation important? YES! Absolutely. But when Jesus said, “They will know you by your love,” he was talking about our actions. When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor,” he was talking about our actions.

And, if this story is a good indication, then those actions will be easily recognized by others as actions motivated by love.

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Series on the “Love Problem”

  1. Tackling the Love Problem
  2. The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think
  3. We have everything we need to love others
  4. Love is easily recognized as love
  5. So, why does the church have a love problem?

We have everything we need to love others

Posted by on May 15, 2013 in love | 6 comments

We have everything we need to love others

So, in a previous post, I began “Tackling the Love Problem.” Then I wrote about “The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think.”

What is the “love problem”? It’s quite simple actually. Jesus said all people would know us by our love. But, when you ask people what they think about Christians, love is far, far down the list… if it even makes the list. We have a love problem.

Obviously, the “love problem” is not something that can actually be “tackled” in a few blog posts. This series will barely scratch the surface. In fact, I don’t think writing or speaking about love can ever do anything more than scratch the surface, and that’s part of the problem. (But, I’ll get to that later.)

As we think about this love problem, we need to recognize and accept that we already have everything that we need to love others. There’s no reason to wait for God to give us anything more before we love others. We don’t even have to wait for God to tell us to love someone; he’s already told us over and over to love them.

Let’s start with that last point. “Love one another”… “love your neighbors”… “love you enemies”… Together, these are probably the most ubiquitous commands found in the New Testament. We find them on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel. Paul writes these instructions in several of his letters. James includes it as the “royal law.” Of course, John focuses on love in his letters. Peter even includes the command to love five times in his short letter (1 Peter).

So, the command to love is common among Christians. It’s a command found throughout the New Testament Scriptures, and definitely applies to us as well. As a command, we must understand that it requires response on our part. In other words, there’s something we must do. (But, again, I’ll get to that later.)

Note that these commands are given to all recipients of these various books and letters. They are not just given to the more mature believers. Even the youngest, newest, least mature follower of Jesus Christ is command to love.

Why can the authors of the New Testament (and any of us, actually) command/instruct other believers – any other believer – to love others? Because anyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ – who is a child of God – has everything needed to respond to that command. Why? Because the only thing needed is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit provides everything needed for the child of God to love others. Everything. We don’t need more of anything. We’re no lacking in anything. We have all of the Holy Spirit, and he is all that we need.

So, why is there still a “love problem”? Why do we not love?

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Series on the “Love Problem”

  1. Tackling the Love Problem
  2. The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think
  3. We have everything we need to love others
  4. Love is easily recognized as love
  5. So, why does the church have a love problem?

The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think.

Posted by on May 14, 2013 in love | 18 comments

The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think.

So, in yesterday’s post, I began “Tackling the Love Problem.” What is the “love problem”? It’s quite simple actually. Jesus said all people would know us by our love. But, when you ask people what they think about Christians, love is far, far down the list… if it even makes the list. We have a love problem.

Obviously, the “love problem” is not something that can actually be “tackled” in a few blog posts. This series will barely scratch the surface. In fact, I don’t think writing or speaking about love can ever do anything more than scratch the surface, and that’s part of the problem. (But, I’ll get to that later.)

Before we begin to tackle the love problem though, we should understand just how important love is for the person following Jesus Christ – that is, the person who is God’s child and is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. We know that Jesus said the greatest commandment (a two-fold commandment actually) is love God and love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-39) We also know that Jesus instructed his followers to love one another in the same way that he loved them. (John 15:12) In fact, Jesus’ followers often combined the “two-fold” commandment of love God/love others into one commandment: “love one another.” (For example, see James 2:8.) Beyond loving other Christians (i.e., “one another”), this kind of love is also to be given to “enemies.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

But, even given all of this, I still don’t think we really understand how important love is. Let’s think about 1 Corinthians 13 (often called the “love chapter”). But, instead of skipping to verse 4 (you know, “Love is patient. Love is kind.”), I’d like to focus on the first 3 verses of the chapter:

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. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

For many of us, this passage is so familiar we can quote it without even thinking about it… and that may be part of the problem. Let me break it down a little…

If you do not have love, then you have nothing.

It doesn’t matter that you can speak any human language eloquently and truthfully.
It doesn’t matter that you can speak spiritually languages.
It doesn’t matter that you can correctly prophecy or proclaim the word of God.
It doesn’t matter that you understand everything about God correctly – even the difficult stuff.
It doesn’t matter that you trust God completely in everything.
It doesn’t matter that you give away everything and live in poverty.
It doesn’t matter that you even sacrifice your own life.

If you do not have love, then you have nothing.

Remember, this passage about love is right in the middle of Paul’s longest discussion about spiritual gifts. There is no indication anywhere in this passage that someone is wrong about their spiritual gifting of tongues, prophecy, faith, etc. But, without love, that spiritual gift is nothing.

There is nothing wrong with tongues or prophecy or knowledge or wisdom or faith or giving… unless there is no love. In that case (if there is no love), then there is nothing RIGHT about them.

———————————————

Series on the “Love Problem”

  1. Tackling the Love Problem
  2. The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think
  3. We have everything we need to love others
  4. Love is easily recognized as love
  5. So, why does the church have a love problem?

Tackling the Love Problem

Posted by on May 13, 2013 in love | 35 comments

Tackling the Love Problem

We have a problem, and some of us are still in denial.

In specific, we have a love problem. We don’t love. At least, we don’t love the way that Jesus said his disciples would love.

We don’t love one another – except for those who are just like us. And, we certainly don’t love our “enemies.” And, yet, as I said above, his true disciples would be known by their love.

If you ask people what they think of Christians in general, I’d be surprised if 10% of them mentioned our love. Why? Because we don’t demonstrate love toward them very often – if at all. Oh, we demonstrate many things toward them… but not love.

Lately, whenever I’ve talked about this “love problem,” I’m often met with reasons, excuses, justifications, conditions, and finger pointing. This has happened several times. I’ve rarely been met with this answer: “You’re right… we’re not very loving.”

This is a problem. It’s a problem we must own up to. It’s a problem we must address.

We can study and write and exegete and meet and confer and teach and preach and blog and argue… but if we don’t have love… we have nothing. (I’m glad that I didn’t write that first.)

So, for the next few days, I’m going to spend some time thinking (out loud… or in blog posts) about this love problem. But, my goal is for it to go much farther than writing these blog posts. My desire is to see my life demonstrate God’s love more and more and more and more.

But, to start this blog series, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions:

1) Do you think we have a love problem?

2) Why do you think love has taken second (or lower) place among Christians?

3) What’s the answer to this problem?

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Series on the “Love Problem”

  1. Tackling the Love Problem
  2. The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think
  3. We have everything we need to love others
  4. Love is easily recognized as love
  5. So, why does the church have a love problem?

Replay: Jesus, why do you want us to be like a Samaritan?

Posted by on May 4, 2013 in love, scripture | 7 comments

Replay: Jesus, why do you want us to be like a Samaritan?

Six years ago, I wrote a post called “Do we want to be associated with a Samaritan?” I think that out of the thousands of posts that I’ve written this is one of a handful that I would consider my favorites. Of course, it’s based on the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” While we often think of the Jew/Samaritan schism as one of ethnicity, it’s also about theology (and perhaps primarily about theology). Yet, when Jesus wanted to teach about love – which he had just said was the most important command of God – he used a Samaritan as a positive example. There could be more than one lesson for us in that “Good Samaritan” story…

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Do we want to be associated with a Samaritan?

 
The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God. The second greatest commandment, which is like the first, is to love your neighbor as yourself. According to Jesus, the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).

But he [a lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37 ESV)

This is a sweet, little story that we tell to our children in order to motivate them to take care of people. But, as I was thinking through some of the comments to my post “All people will know that you are my disciples…“, this parable kept coming to mind. Specifically, I wondered, “Why would Jesus choose a Samaritan to be the good example?”

Yes, I know the standard answers: Samaritans and Jews did not get along with one another, so the Samaritan demonstrated love to someone who he was not expected to love. (Notice, for example, that the “lawyer” even refused to speak the name “Samaritan” instead calling the man “the one who showed him mercy”.) This is a great lesson. But, is that the extent of Jesus’ lesson?

Who were the Samaritans? This is how the wikipedia article on the Samaritans begins:

The Samaritans (Hebrew: שומרונים‎), known in the Talmud as Kuthim, are an ethnic group of the Levant. Ethnically, they are descended from a group of inhabitants that have connections to ancient Samaria from the beginning of the Babylonian Exile up to the beginning of the Christian era. The Samaritans, however, derive their name not from this geographical designation, but rather from the term שַמֶרִים (Shamerim), “keepers [of the law].” Religiously, they are the adherents to Samaritanism, a religion based on the Torah. Samaritans claim that their worship (as opposed to mainstream Judaism) is the true religion of the ancient Israelites, predating the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

[Note: Since originally writing this post, the wikipedia article has changed. However, the basic information is the same.]

Notice that the Samaritans were different from the Jews with regard to ethnicity, but they were also different from the Jews with regard to beliefs. The Jews thought that the Samaritans held to incorrect doctrine, while the Samaritans thought that the Jews held to incorrect doctrines. They were separated by both ethnicity and beliefs.

Adding this to our understanding of Jesus’ parable, I find it remarkable that Jesus used a Samaritan to demonstrate God’s true love. Emphatically, Jesus has both a Levite and a priest pass by the injured man without stopping. Remember, the Levites and the priests were responsible for guarding the true faith of Judaism. They were responsible for taking care of the temple and the sacrifices. Jesus himself seemed to agree with the Levites and priests with respect to beliefs. So, why did Jesus not use one whose “doctrine” is correct to also demonstrate God’s love? Or, to ask this in a contemporary way, why did Jesus choose a heretic as an example of love? Could it be that the Samaritan’s love demonstrates that he understands (knows) God better than the Levite or priest?

Belief is important. Teaching is important. Doctrine is important. But belief, teaching, and doctrine separate from an active demonstration of the love of God is not truly from God. Could it be that God is more pleased with “doctrinal deviants” who nevertheless love others than he is pleased with “orthodox believers” who do not show his love?

In other words, could it be that what we say we believe is not a good indication that we are disciples of Christ? Could it be that how we live is a better indication that we are followers of Christ?

Now, please do not misunderstand the purpose of the post. You can call me “soft on doctrine” if you’d like, but it would only show that you don’t know me. I am not suggesting that we stop studying Scripture. I am not suggesting that we stop discussing the meaning of certain difficult passages. I am not suggesting that we stop developing theology. Instead, I am suggesting that these activities are worthless if we do not live what we believe at the same time.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan understood this, while neither the Levite nor the priest understood it. Perhaps it is time for us to associate with the Samaritan – who correctly demonstrated God’s love – instead of the Levite and priest – who only had a correct system of beliefs without demonstrating God’s love.

Replay: Imagine all the people…

Posted by on Mar 16, 2013 in community, fellowship, love, scripture | Comments Off

Replay: Imagine all the people…

I originally wrote the post “Imagine all the people” about six years ago. No, this post is not about a John Lennon song. This post is about thinking about people who are different than us. But, the post is not about changing people so that they’re more like us. It’s about learning to live with and love people who are different than us. Why would we want to do that? Because, according to Scripture, we are one family in Jesus Christ.

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Imagine All The People

My family is studying Ephesians. Now, I know that some of you who know me well are laughing, because I LOVE to study Ephesians – it seems that I am ALWAYS studying Ephesians. Anyway, this is actually for a class assignment for which I have recruited my family to help.

We are supposed to read through Ephesians (and 1 Peter later) and answer the following question: “What do these texts say about faith as a way of life?”

As we were reading through chapter 2 of Ephesians, we noticed the emphasis on how God had created one new people from the Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:14-16). This new people was to live as a family (household) and citizens of a new kingdom (Eph 2:19). Again, in chapter 3, Paul says that when Jews and Gentiles lives as one people (the church) they demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God (Eph 3:10). Paul also reminds us again that we are one family named for God, such that God is the patriarch of the family (Eph 3:14-15). He then calls us to strength, knowledge, and love (Eph 3:16-19).

We discussed how difficult it is for us to live with and love people who are different from us. Certainly the Jews and Gentiles found this kind of life difficult. Yet, God expects us to live as a family and to love one another – and not just any family, but His family – and not just with people who are like us, but with all believers, even if they are very different from us. How do we do that?

So, we did a quick exercise that really helped me, and hopefully it helped them. Maybe it will help you as well. Here is the exercise: Think of someone who is completely different from you. Think about their race, ethnicity, education level, economic level, hygiene, clothing, housing, language, culture, etc. Picture that person in your mind, and ask yourself, “How can I possibly love that person and live together as family with that person.” Then, read the end of Ephesians 3 below:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

Certainly this passages applies to more than our living together in love with those who are different from us. But, it does apply to this as well. Because of God’s power at work in us, He is able to love someone through us that we would never love on our own.

How can you do for the least if you don’t know the least?

Posted by on Feb 20, 2013 in blog links, love, missional, service | 7 comments

How can you do for the least if you don’t know the least?

A couple of days ago, Jeremy at “Till He Comes” wrote a great post called “16 Ways to Build Relationships With the Poor.” (UPDATE: Thanks to Jeremy for pointing out that this post was actually written by Sam as a guest post on Jeremy’s site.)

As you can tell from the title, the point of Jeremy’s post is to help people build relationships with people in need. Why would Jeremy focus on “the least” among us? Well, Jesus did say something about God’s people (the righteous) being those who care for “the least.”

But, there’s another reason to focus on finding and building relationships with the least. Several years ago, I realized that I was living an isolated life – isolated from unbelievers and from the poor, hungry, sick, prisoners, etc. I was living in a “Christian bubble” (some call it a ghetto).

You see, as great as it is to spend time with other believers (and people who are like us), it’s just as important that we also disperse and spend time with those who are not believers (and people who are not like us). But, for Christians like me, this may be difficult to put into practice.

Because of that, examples like the ones that Jeremy gives in his post can be very beneficial. Jeremy lists these 16 ways to build relationships with the poor:

  1. Help unemployed single mothers and families find jobs.
  2. Help families find housing they can afford.
  3. Buy products and services from people you know are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Don’t look for the “cheapest” option, but for the person or business that most needs your business.
  4. Refer people you know to a business or person who needs the business.
  5. Tip generously at restaurants, especially when you know that the person who served you really needs it. Sometimes you can tip people who don’t usually receive tips, such as the guy at the car alarm shop who repaired your car alarm.
  6. Give commendations to managers of businesses for employees who helped you, especially for employees you know really need their job.
  7. When things don’t go right in your dealings with a business, do not threaten an employee with “I’m going to get you fired,” or “You will get you in a lot of trouble.” That vicious threat can terrify someone for whom that would mean losing their only source of income, and their only way to provide food, clothes, and housing for their children.
  8. Volunteer to help. This might mean helping repair someone’s house or car (so they won’t need to pay someone to do it), taking them to the doctor (so they won’t have to pay someone to drive them), or even picking up something they need (so they won’t have to pay for the gasoline to get them there).
  9. As you walk, run, or drive around town, keep an eye out for furniture and other household items set out on driveways with “Free” signs attached. Some of these items are in excellent condition and can be given to someone who needs it.
  10. Find out what your friends need and decide if you can meet any of their needs with some of the “stuff” you have in the closets, garage, and attic.
  11. After an event where a lot of food was prepared, contact certain people who are short on food and plead for their help in “taking some of this food off our hands so we won’t have to throw it away.”
  12. Invite your friends to dinner and making sure they take plates of “extra” food home with them.
  13. If you find something at a store, garage sale, or thrift shop that you know one of your friends needs, buy it and give it to them.
  14. Remember friends on their birthdays and at Christmas. This might include flowers, a gift, or inviting them for dinner, but always includes spending time with them when possible.
  15. Pick up trash on inner city streets and alleys. This improves living conditions in several ways for the people who live there, many of whom are poor. Explaining how that works would require a post of its own.
  16. Spend time with your friends, especially when you know they need someone to sit with them, listen, hug them, weep with them, and rejoice with them.

Obviously, there’s nothing more right about doing the things above than doing other things to help, serve, and love the people around you in Jesus’ name. Of course, there’s nothing wrong about doing those things in Jesus’ name either.

The great things about Jeremy’s list is that he focuses on building relationships – getting to know people – not just treating them like a project or anonymous group.

So, whatever it takes, get to know the people around you – especially those who are poor, hungry, thirsty, sick, prisoners, etc. Serve them and love them in Jesus’ name… and while you’re doing that, don’t forget the first part: get to know them. You may be surprised to find that God will use them to teach you something about himself.

God enjoys a good light display

Posted by on Dec 21, 2012 in discipleship, love, missional, service | 1 comment

God enjoys a good light display

Last year, I wrote a post called “An inspirational light display.” We strung lights on our house to celebrate Christmas because, well, that’s what you do around here. But, when I was looking at the lights, I realized that God loves a good light display. Of course, I wasn’t thinking about the string of twinkling icicle lights on our house. That’s not the kind of light that pleases God…

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An inspirational light display

God cares about light displays. But, I’ll get back to that in another 200 words.

Last weekend, our friend Jared helped us string white icicle lights along our roof line. Many of our neighbors have decorated their houses, porches, trees, and yard ornaments with lights: white or multi-colored; twinkling, blinking, or steady.

Of course, there’s nothing in our neighborhood to compare to Mr. Grizwald’s light display. There are a few families in our town or the towns around us who seem to be attempting to give Clark a run for his money. And, then, there was the TV show about the houses around the country that have been decorated with hundreds of thounsands – even one million – lights.

So, are you thinking about a light display this Christmas? You should. Seriously.

Why? Because God enjoys a good light display. Jesus talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others… (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

Apparently, according to Jesus, God enjoys light displays that light up an entire hillside… and entire city. He wants a light display that cannot be hidden. Of course, this passage is not only about Christmas light displays, but certainly Christmas lights fall into this category.

I’m thinking that the early church’s emphasis on light displays (especially at Christmas-time) was one of the reasons (perhaps the main reason) that Paul told followers of Jesus let their lights shine in the world. Their light displays were so spectacular that their pagan neighbors could not help but notice.

So, we can see that light displays – including Christmas light displays – were important to Jesus, and they were important to Paul and the early church. If light displays were that important, then certainly they should be important to us as well. We’re not told whether we should choose white or multi-colored lights, or whether the lights should blink, twinkle, or remain on steadily. Perhaps that doesn’t matter as long as there is an awesome and inspirational light display.

Hold on one second… Are you sure? You really don’t think Matthew 5 is about Christmas lights? You think I should read further? Let me see…

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

Ah. I see. But, what about Paul telling Christians to shine their lights? That’s about light displays, including Christmas lights, right? No? We’ll see about that…

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Philippians 2:14-16 ESV)

hmm…. hmph.

Well, readers, I apologize. Apparently, someone – who shall remain nameless, but his initials are HS – wants to ruin a perfectly good inspirational Christmas message by demanding that I consider what Jesus and Paul were actually saying. Someone thinks these passages are about living our lives in a way that demonstrates our trust in God and that they have nothing to do with Christmas lights.

But, I’ll leave that up to you – my loyal readers – to decide for yourselves. If you think Jesus and Paul are talking about Christmas light displays, then I hope your house is the brightest on the block.

But, if you think they’re talking about living your life in a way that others notice and in a way that points others toward God through Jesus Christ, well, I guess that’s fine, too.

Just don’t expect to win the best decorations or tackiest lights awards this year!