How to be a Good Friend

In Luke 5:17-26, Luke recounts the time Jesus miraculously heals a paralytic.

At the time Jesus’ popularity was swelling. All kinds of people wanted to be around him for many different reasons.

Some wanted Him to provide miracles in their lives. Some were intrigued by His mysterious teachings and healings. Some wanted to follow Him all the time because they knew He was God. Others were offended by Him but stuck close by looking for an opportunity to outwit Him and/or condemn Him as a blasphemer of Jewish law.

In Luke 5:17-19, Jesus is in a house teaching, and people of each group listed above literally pack out the house. It is crowded with people hanging on every word that comes out of Jesus’ mouth.

The second part of verse 17 reads, “And the power of the Lord was present for [Jesus] to heal the sick.”

How curious!

However, a quick perusal of commentaries told me I am the only one, in fact, who finds this statement curious.

It seems to me this verse implies Jesus “needs” the power of “the Lord” in order to heal the sick. Typically, the Greek word for Lord used here refers to Jesus. But that doesn’t make sense in the sentence as we English-speakers have constructed it.

Assuming we didn’t screw up the meaning of the verse by translating it oddly, “the Lord”, then, must be a reference to God in general.

We could chase a bunch of rabbit trails here (actually, I’m already doing that…), but I think this verse is interesting because it shows Jesus’ relationship with and interdependence on God the Father and/or God the Holy Spirit.

Just as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do things at times (Acts 1:8, Galatians 5, Romans 8), so was Jesus, at least while He was here on earth. Another discussion for another time.

ANYWAY, the actual point of this post: while Jesus was teaching, some friends of a paralyzed man “tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus,” (Luke 5:18).

Why?

Because these friends believed Jesus could heal this man if they could just bring him to Jesus. (Oh, the symbolism practically writes itself, doesn’t it?)

Verse 19: “When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”

What great lengths these men went to in order to give their friend the opportunity to be healed!

They carried him up the stairs, illegally damaged a dude’s roof by using some sort of non-electric tool to bore through sturdy ceiling tiles, found some extra long rope, and rigged up a pulley system situation to lower their friend down into the home. (Any friend who is willing to employ physics to help you is a friend indeed.)

And then beautiful verse 20, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.'” (Spoiler alert: Jesus also physically heals the man a few minutes later. He just chooses to address the man’s greater need–spiritual healing–first.)

What gets me is how the friends’ faith played a crucial role in the paralyzed man’s healing. They persistently and creatively pursued Jesus on the man’s behalf. They believed Jesus could physically heal the man, and, as his BFFs, they were determined to give their buddy an opportunity for Jesus to do just that. They were not swayed by the obstacles they encountered along the way.

They were going to get their friend to Jesus no matter what it took.

And if that doesn’t smack you between the eyes, I don’t know what will. (I will, actually, if you want me to…)

As I read this story, I first thought about times in my life my friends did whatever they had to do to get me to Jesus. How I even became a Christian in the first place is a direct result of persistent, faithful friends.

But even after I became a Christian, there were hard times during which faithful friends kept pointing me to Jesus and petitioning Him on my behalf. They had faith that He could heal me emotionally and did whatever it took to give me the opportunity to be healed by Him.

And then I thought, “Am I that kind of friend to my friends who need healing? Do I do whatever it takes to keep pointing my friends to Jesus when they are going through major trials? Am I going to great lengths to lead my non-believing friends to Jesus for the opportunity for salvation? Am I going to great lengths to encourage my struggling believing friends to pursue Him for the healing emotional comfort only He can provide?”

In some cases I think I’m doing all right. But in others I could be doing a lot more.

And I bet you “score” about the same.

So today we should all spend a minute or two thinking about specific things we can do to be as good of friends to our friends as the paralyzed man’s friends were to him. (I know, that sentence is confusing. Allergy meds have taken over my brain.)

And then, after we do some good thinking, we need to actually do the things we thought of.

We can do it. He can help. (And, in some cases, so can Home Depot.)

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How to be a Great Bad Leader

I’m reading through the book of Acts, and I just came across Stephen’s speech to the official assembly of Israel’s elders in chapter 7. Turns out the assembly was full of less-than-stellar leaders, and you, too, can be a great bad leader if you follow their example. (Or you can use their example as what NOT to do in leadership…your call.)

Stephen’s story starts in chapter 6. All we know about Stephen is he lived in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven and that he was “…a man full of God’s grace and power [and he] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people,” (Acts 6:8). And the Jewish leaders/elders didn’t take kindly to this.

As Stephen, and, more importantly, Jesus, grew in popularity among the Jews in Jerusalem, that necessarily meant the Jewish leaders’ power and popularity decreased.

And guess what?

Bad leaders cannot STAND to lose power. They will go to GREAT lengths to maintain power because without it they feel worthless. It’s sad, really.

In Stephen’s case these jealous elders decided to “secretly persuade” some dudes to accuse Stephen of blasphemy.

Again, bad leaders create conflict using deception and underhanded tactics in order to create the illusion that their poor leadership choices are justified.

And because most of the Jews inherently trusted their leaders, they automatically believed whatever they said. The general population just couldn’t conceive their beloved elders would deceive them or have back door meetings or strong arm people into doing immoral things.

The elders wanted Stephen to shut up about Jesus so they could maintain their dictatorial control over the masses. The best way to ensure Stephen would shut up was to kill him. And the fastest ticket to death in those days was to be convicted of blasphemy. After all, no upstanding Jew would tolerate such a thing, and neither did their law. And guess who got to decide if someone accused of blasphemy was guilty or innocent? That’s right: the assembly of elders.

Hmm. Sounds a little self-serving.

Bad leaders design processes and procedures that always result in them alone having absolute authority. They carefully craft heirarchies to ensure they cannot be held accountable by anyone else.

Israel’s elders went to great lengths to make sure Stephen would be found guilty of the drummed up charge of blasphemy. “They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place (the Temple) and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us,” (Acts 6:13-14).

Bad leaders have people in their pockets. They know who is weak enough morally and/or emotionally to exploit them when they need to. Sometimes bad leaders bribe others to do their dirty work so they themselves can still appear clean to the general population. Other times they threaten people to cooperate. Other times they manipulate people to do their bidding by convincing them the task at hand is really a noble thing to do. Worst of all, sometimes bad leaders misuse scripture to convince the spiritually naive that God WANTS them to do whatever devious thing the leaders have in mind. That last one gets all over me and makes me want to hit things.

So the Jewish elders put Stephen on “trial”. They went through the motions of justice to deceive the masses into thinking they really were after the “truth” and really were being “fair” to Stephen. These elders brought in these hand-picked false witnesses and pretended to be hearing the false accusations for the first time, as if they hadn’t coached these witnesses to say exactly what they said.

The heart of Jewish religion was the temple sacrifices doled out by the law God established through Moses. So these sly elders got people to accuse Stephen of defaming and wanting to get rid of both.

Bad leaders play on people’s emotions. They know what hot-button topics will really get their people stirred up–so stirred up that they become unable to calmly and rationally listen to anyone else’s side of the story. Literally, the science says once we humans become flooded with anger or fear, our brains cannot process new information until we physiologically calm down again. Bad leaders know this and use it to their advantage.

The high priest (think “head elder”) puts on his best shocked/fake-let’s-be-fair voice and asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” (Acts 7:1).

And you know what Stephen says?

He brilliantly launches into the history of Israel and, specifically, how the Israelites royally failed at recognizing Moses as a prophet. They disobeyed Moses all the time, willfully choosing idolatry over worshipping God again and again.

Stephen uses the example of Moses to illustrate to the elders that, just like their ancestors before them, the elders are stubborn, have hard hearts unyielded to the Lord, refuse to listen to God, and, worst of all, “…always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51).

Wow. That’s an indictment there if I’ve ever heard one. Stephen also accused the elders of “betraying and murdering” the “Righteous One” prophets of old spoke about–i.e., Jesus (Acts 7:52).

You’ll never guess how the elders responded to Stephen’s rebuke.

That’s right, they humbly accepted the correction, admitted their wrongs, and thanked Stephen for having the you-know-whats to point out the sin in their lives so they could stop and grow more mature in their faith in God.

Just kidding.

The elders of Israel threw a fit. A FIT, I tell you.

“When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him…[at the mention of Jesus being with God in heaven] they covered their ears, and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him,” (Acts 7:54-58). Stephen died from that stoning, and then the elders went on to persecute other Christians in Jerusalem so badly that they all literally ran for their lives, scattering throughout the region (Acts 8:1).

Bad leaders lose their minds when they are confronted with the truth. If their cover as “good guys” is threatened publically, bad leaders attack those blowing the whistle. And then they attack everyone associated with those who blew the whistle. The gloves come off. The leaders stop delegating their dirty work and take matters into their own hands as a last ditch effort to squelch any revolt on account of the masses slowly beginning to realize these leaders are not what they seem.

Like Israel’s elders back in the day, some people today are really great bad leaders. Phenomenal, actually. And, unfortunately, there are still some really great bad leaders in churches today.

Ask the Spirit to help you perceive if any of your leaders–inside the church or out–fit the bill of great bad leaders. If you find you are under one (or more–they tend to travel in packs), blow the whistle. But know you will likely be clobbered when you do. That’s ok. Jesus told us that will happen when we stand for what is right.

If your whistle-blowing results in change for the better, rejoice! If it doesn’t, relocate. That is, find new leaders. There are great great leaders out there; stop wasting your time under great bad leaders.

Who We Are

In the evangelical Christian world, we often treat “witnessing” as something on our to-do list. It’s what we are supposed to do (but very few of us do it…). Never mind that non-Christians aren’t tasks to be checked off but human beings to be loved. That’s an entirely different post. Or maybe it isn’t. We’ll just have to find out together where this thing is going…

It struck me today that this approaching evangelism as a verb might be incomplete, if not totally wrong.

The other day I sat with a woman who expressed frustration with evangelical Christians who have approached her to see if they could witness to her and then immediately moved on when it became clear to them they couldn’t. As an evangelical Christian myself, I more than shared her frustration.

More specifically, I welled up with anger and wanted to take this woman by the hands, look her in the eyes, and say, “I am so sorry people have treated you that way.” I wanted to assure her that Christians who treat witnessing as a task to be completed are not pleasing Jesus nor representing Him accurately.

That’s a pretty strong statement. And I stand by it. Because Jesus never treated people like projects. On the contrary, He treated them with dignity and love and respect and concern.

[The only people He got a little brash with were the self-proclaimed religious big-wigs who were too big for their britches and also completely wrong about who He was and what God wanted from people (ans: hearts that loved Him more than themselves instead of vice versa). In other words, people who needed to be knocked down a few pegs.]

In the first chapter of Acts, the resurrected Jesus spends over FORTY DAYS with His disciples. (Let that sink in…the 11 disciples didn’t all mass hallucinate the exact same thing for nearly 6 weeks, I don’t care how high quality the LSD was back then. I digress.)

[Was that too far? I feel like maybe the drug reference was a little too far…don’t send me emails.]

Throughout the 40+ days, Jesus tells His disciples about the kingdom of God. In verses 6-8 He gives them some final instructions. Verse 8 reads, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Aside from the improper use of a semicolon and/or conjunction, something significant stands out to me in this verse. Jesus says they will be His witnesses.

“Witness” is an identity. It is who they are, not what they do.  

Jesus did not tell them they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them and then they will go witness in Jerusalem, etc. Rather, for better or for worse, those disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses.

When non-believers around them learned the disciples were close, personal friends of that Jesus character who caused a lot of brouhaha and wound up dead and somehow managed to amass a small following, those non-believers would associate everything else the disciples did and said with Jesus.

If the disciples loved well and verbally shared the gospel and teachings of Jesus, they would be positive witnesses of Jesus. Those they encountered would wonder if being a follower of Christ had something to do with the disciples’ abnormally selfless, peaceful, joyful dispositions, especially in the face of terrifying circumstances (to promote Jesus as the Messiah was to literally risk being killed by the Jewish elite).

If the disciples ran for their lives, however, and never spoke of Christ again, they would be negative witnesses of Jesus. People would think, “Jesus must not have been anything special if even His best friends don’t think He is worth talking about or obeying anymore.”

One way or another, those disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses all right.

And, of course, the same is true of us believers today. We are Jesus’ witnesses, whether we know it or not.

If we identify ourselves as Christ followers, every thing we say and do is associated with Him in the eyes of the non-believers around us. 

Now, don’t worry, that does not mean we have to be perfect or we will mar Jesus’ rep so badly no one will ever become a Christian again. We aren’t that powerful, thank goodness.

What it does mean is we need to be more mindful of how we are representing Jesus. Just like the original disciples, Christians today can be positive or negative witnesses of Jesus.

If people know we claim to be Christians but we never talk about Jesus or His working in our lives, and if we prop ourselves up on our achievements, hiding our need for Him, and if we harbor self-righteous pride in our relationships, and if we fail to rely on the power of the Spirit to help us live consistently with scripture (which is the only way we can live consistently with scripture, by the way), those we encounter will be inclined to think there is nothing special or different about “Christians”.

On the other hand, if people know we claim to be Christians and we love well and verbally share the gospel and teachings of Jesus, and if we admit when we screw up and ask for forgiveness from people we hurt, and if we make it plain that we are totally indebted to God’s grace, and if we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us live how scripture tells us to when we know full well we can’t in our own strength, those we encounter might wonder if being a follower of Christ has something to do with our abnormally selfless, peaceful, joyful dispositions, especially in the face of terrifying circumstances (like all the fun things life has to offer–sickness, death, adultery, job loss, broken relationships, etc.).

Witnessing is not something we do; witnesses are what we are. We get to decide what kind of witnesses of Jesus we want to be.

How to Struggle

This morning I read Romans 15, and I became fixated on one verse in particular. Verse 30 says, “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”

Paul is wrapping up a long letter to the Christians in Rome, and in chapter 15 he is explaining his future plans. He is going to run an offering from the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (think Greece) east to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Then he is going back west to drop by Rome on his way further west to Spain. Why he didn’t just wire the money I’ll never know. I digress.

Paul is a bit apprehensive about returning to Jerusalem because, well, Paul’s “betraying” Judaism and becoming a Christ-follower was generally frowned upon by the Jewish establishment, and, thus, the general Jewish population in the region. Paul petitions the Romans to, “Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed,” (Romans 15:31-32).

I am struck by Paul’s vulnerability in his prayer request. Here is the greatest missionary of all time asking those he has discipled in the faith to pray for him because he is SCARED. He knows he is walking into a volatile situation in which he could quite literally be murdered if he falls into the wrong hands. But the poor Christians in Jerusalem need help, and he has the ability to help them. So he really does not think twice about going to aide them.

However, he still “urges” fellow believers to pray for his safety. “Dangerous conditions” won’t stop Paul from doing what God wants him to do, but the reality of the danger is still enough for him to plead for prayer. It’s like Paul thinks prayer really works or something… … …

I’m also struck by the verbiage Paul uses in his request. His “urging” the Roman Christians to pray for him communicates…urgency. He has a serious task before him and doesn’t take it lightly.

But beyond that, Paul describes a) the mechanisms by which he is urging the brothers to join him, or b) the mechanisms by which he and the Roman Christians are brothers. And those mechanisms are “our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit.” Since there were no commas in the original language, it’s hard to say which possibility Paul meant.

Maybe all Paul means is he and the Roman Christians are brothers because they all were saved by God’s love exhibited through the Holy Spirit’s drawing each of them to Jesus (option b). And as spiritual brothers, they can and ought to join in each others’ struggles.

On the other hand, if the commas are right (option a), Paul is urging the brothers to join him in his struggle via Jesus and the love of the Spirit. It would seem these are the avenues of their joining together.

Perhaps, then, Paul means that their being Christians and their possession of the love of the Spirit make it possible for the Romans to truly unite with him in his struggle. Without the commonality of being believers, maybe it wouldn’t be possible for the Romans to join Paul in his struggle? Can non-believers reallyfully join in believers’ struggles when non-believers lack the correct perspective of prayer and God?

And/Or, without the love of the Spirit working through them, maybe it wouldn’t be possible for the Romans to have the motivation to join Paul in his struggle? I mean, how fun does that sound, anyway? If the decision is left up to us selfish humans, I’m thinking most of the time we won’t be chomping at the bit to join anyone in struggles…Paul is essentially saying, “Hey, you guys? Wanna  feel this incredible fear and anxiety I’m currently experiencing? It sucks big time! You’re gonna hate it. There’s a heavy weight on my chest, I toss and turn all night, and the panic attacks are coming every hour or so… but come on over and suffer with me! I’ll put on a pot of coffee, and you bring cookies.”

At any rate. Paul tells the Romans they can join together with him in his struggle by doing one thing: “praying to God for me.” 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t pray enough. I hardly pray at all, really. I’d never say this out loud (yeah, I would; I have no shame/filter/verbal boundaries), but I feel like prayer is pretty boring and is more of a chore than a privilege. I don’t like feeling this way; I know it is wrong. But prayer is a pretty passive thing to me most the time. I rattle off some thanks and some requests while God sits by trying not to yawn in my face.

But there have been a few times in my life where a friend desperately needed prayer, and I fervently prayed for him. About a year and a half ago, for example, a friend of mine was in a car wreck. He was airlifted, had emergency surgery, was in a medically induced coma in a trauma ICU unit for 6 weeks, etc. Things were broken, breathing was inconsistent, infections arose. He almost died numerous times. Due to the emotion of the circumstances, it was easy for me to “pray without ceasing.” I “joined” this friend and his family in their struggle for life. And there was nothing passive about it. Praying for him and them consumed my thoughts most of every day. Worship songs about depending on God and trusting God came alive to me in a whole new way. I actively worshiped God as I learned how to live what those songs say I believe. I grew spiritually, my friend eventually recovered, his family made it through the worst couple of months of their lives, and God was glorified.

It kind of blows me away that we believers have this ability to actually enter into someone else’s struggle. We can actively join together with them, experiencing at least some level of the pain they are experiencing. We can suffer along with them. And, yes, at first glance, this seems sadistic. Why would anyone purposefully subject themselves to suffering, esp. on someone else’s behalf? Hmm…I don’t know, why don’t we ask Jesus?

Jesus chose to enter our world and our lives to suffer on our behalves. In salvation He takes all the suffering for us. But in daily living He enters our lives and suffers alongside us when we are hurting or scared or anxious or depressed because we still live in a fallen world. He is with us always (Matthew 28:20), even when we’re broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). We may forget He is there most of the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that He is, and He is feeling all the same emotions of the moment we are (Hebrews 4:15). And just knowing that makes our suffering a little more bearable.

There is something beautiful about us humans loving someone else like this. When we willingly volunteer to walk so closely with someone who is struggling that we actually feel their pain ourselves, we’re showing Jesus to them. A holy communion of sorts takes place, and we come to see that joining them in their struggle is actually a privilege. And the chief way we do this is by praying for them.

  When we struggle, we are to struggle together.

What to do when You’re Sinning

A lot of times when I am going through a time of not caring about much, having a “meh” attitude about life, I slip into some pretty comfortable sins. Perhaps my favorite one is not doing the good I know I ought to do, per James 4:17. I don’t use my time for His purposes…I don’t intentionally invest in people in order to encourage them toward Him…I don’t think of others more highly than myself and act accordingly (Philippians 2:3). I don’t discipline my thoughts or my mouth to think and speak things that honor God.

After a lengthy spell of this self-centeredness, the Holy Spirit breaks through and convicts my hard heart of my wrongdoing. My stubborn self probably won’t admit to other humans that I’ve been sinning, but, I know the Spirit has nailed me…

Usually, what ensues next is an internal debate about how I need to stop myself and do right, but also that I don’t really want to stop and/or I don’t have the will power to stop on my own. Sometimes the excuses win and I stay stuck in my pattern of sin for a while longer. Other times, I respond to the Spirit.

It occurred to me while studying 1 Samuel that I’m probably Jewish. Not nationality-wise, of course. Blond hair and blue eyes are not what you think of when you hear “of middle-eastern descent.” What really occurred to me is I am just like the Israelites in behavior.

In 1 Samuel the Israelites start out as a theocracy. That is, they are governed by God Himself. They have judges/leaders in place to help them through civil affairs and military strategies and whatnot, but, ultimately, those leaders are not leading Israel: God is. The prophets tell the judges what God wants them to do, and the Israelites decide whether or not to do it.

After some pretty amazing military battles in which Leader God miraculously delivers Israel from enemies and grants peace between Israel and rowdy neighbors for the first time in forever, the Israelites decide they don’t want a theocracy anymore. Rather, they want a king–i.e., a human–to lead them (1 Samuel 8:20).

Why? Because they want to keep up with the Joneses. “All the other nations get to have kings, why can’t we?” they whine (1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20, Kelly Levatino Translation).

Now, Samuel knows this is a stupid request. So you know what he does? He prays. If that ain’t a lesson in leadership, I don’t know what is. But I digress.

And when Samuel prays, God tells him what to do. Crazy right? Maybe if you and I thought that could still happen today when we pray, we’d pray more often and with more anticipation. But probably not. I digress.

Sam tells the Israelites, “Look, I talked to God, and He says if you guys want a king, you need to know that man is going to oppress the daylights out of you. It’s not going to be good, you guys,” (1 Samuel 8:11-17).

“We don’t care!” the stupid people reply, “We want a king!” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Samuel just shakes his head. He does’t argue with them or call them names or pull his judge card and “overrule” their decision. Instead, you know what he does? That guy prays again! He goes back to God and tells Him what happened (as if He didn’t already know), and God says, “Give them the king they want,” (1 Samuel 8:21-22).

Samuel installs Saul as king, effectively ending his own rule as judge. And as he steps down, Samuel says, “Let me tell you people something. You all have a long history of doing whatever you want, getting yourselves into desperate situations, realizing you’re in those situations because you’ve been sinning, and then running back to God crying, ‘Mea culpa!’ And you know what? Every time you’ve sincerely repented, God has been faithful to forgive you and deliver you from your circumstances,” (1 Samuel 12:6-11).

Samuel continues, “This time your sin is that you said, ‘We want a king to rule over us’–even though the Lord your God was your king,”(1 Samuel 12:12 NIV).

And so it finally dawns on the Israelites how their demanding a king has been sin all this time. When this reality hits them between the eyes, they respond to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king,” (1 Samuel 12:19).

Instead of going to God themselves in the midst of their guiltiness, the Israelites ask the “senior pastor”, as it were, to pray for them while they keep their distance from the Lord they think will kill them for their disobedience (and for good reason; He does have a track record of that…).

But Samuel tells them, “Do not be afraid. You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart,” (1 Samuel 12:20).

In other words, RUN TO GOD! This is when you need Him the most! When you’re being convicted of your sin and need to make things right with Him, GO TO HIM!

Samuel goes on to advise, “Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless,” (1 Samuel 8:21).

So, not only do the Israelites need to go to God in their sinful state, they also need to stop turning to useless idols in their sinful state.

When we are caught up in sinful patterns and are convicted to repent, we have the same two choices Israel had: we can run to God and deal with it, or we can run to useless idols.

Our “useless idols” may look a little different than Israel’s Baals and Ashteroths, but, essentially, they are the same. Today we run to Netflix or Facebook or ice cream or adult beverages or our spouses’ approval or overworking or helicopter parenting or spending too much time on hobbies or a million other things in an effort to not have to deal with our sin, our guilt. We indulge in distractions and/or surround ourselves with people who will tell us we aren’t that bad, hoping God will agree and the Spirit will leave us alone.

But those useless idols cannot rescue us.

There is only One rescuer.

Jesus took our sin upon Himself, in part, so that when we screw up, we can go to God WITHOUT FEAR of punishment. The only thing God gives us when we come to Him with repentant hearts is grace. He graciously forgives us and repairs our brokenness that results from our sinning. He puts us back together.

Samuel goes on to tell the Israelites, “For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject His people, because the Lord was pleased to make you His own,” (1 Samuel 12:22).

When we go to Him, He WILL NOT reject us; He chose us–we are His.

In the midst of our sin, do not turn away from the Lord. Go to Him. The sooner the better.

Overflow

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Paul wrote this to the Christians in Rome as a blessing after exhorting them to be unified and accepting of one another.

Not unlike the Romans, God is attempting to teach me about the power and freedom of acceptance and trusting Him with the question marks in my life.

This preposition-laden verse catches my eye because Paul is saying a lot of important things in one poorly crafted sentence.

(Can I say that? Can I say his grammar was awful and the English translators need some lessons on when to use commas? I digress.)

It strikes me that God has a job–to fill us–and we have a job–to trust in Him. As we trust, He fills. The two actions are meant to occur simultaneously.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that if we don’t trust, He won’t fill. However, I’m willing to bet that more often than not we have to get the ball rolling by trusting Him first.

Why?

Because of what God is filling us with: all joy and peace.

Dare I say it is probably impossible for us to experience all joy and peace while not trusting Him?

I do.

I dare.

So we start trusting Him, and He fills us, and we skip off into the sunset, hand in hand, in this beautiful unending bliss of simultaneously trusting and filling forever and ever, amen.

At least that’s how it is supposed to be.

I find it interesting that God doesn’t only fill us with joy or peace but with both. Again, perhaps we can’t have one without the other.

I also find it interesting Paul asks God to fill the Romans with all joy and peace. Not some; not a lotAll.

In the same vein, God fills us with these things. He doesn’t just offer a little of each; He gives us as much as we can take.

Paul isn’t shy about praying for an abundance of awesomeness. Maybe I shouldn’t be either…

So we trust God; God fills us with all joy and peace.

But why does Paul want this for the Romans?

Well, the obvious human answer is because joy and peace feel good. Paul must want the Romans to live their best lives now…or then, as the case is.

Maybe. But the scripture says more.

We trust God; God fills us with all joy and peace, “so that you may overflow with hope…”

Ahhhh.

Paul wants the Romans to overflow with hope, and their trusting God is the first step on the path to get there.

When God fills us, on account of our trusting in Him, we overflow with hope. He fills us with all joy and peace, and then we flat spill over with hope.

Wow.

I can’t remember the last time I brimmed with hope. I have to admit it sounds appealing.

Why would Paul want the Romans to overflow with hope?

Maybe because it’s a privilege Christ-followers have that is worth taking advantage of…non-believers don’t have access to the True Source of hope.

And/or maybe because when we reflect hopefulness to the world, they are attracted to Christ in us. Our overflowing with hope is an evangelism tool, if you will, which sounds like a win-win to me.

What’s interesting is the cooperation between God (the Father) and the Holy Spirit in this process. God does the filling with joy and peace, and the Spirit empowers the overflowing of hope. I don’t really know what to do with that observation, but I’m sure Paul stuck it in there for a reason.

All this to say, trusting God sounds like a pretty good idea.

I know, anti-climactic.

Above All

I have a love-hate relationship with relationships.

I love them when they’re going well, but I hate them when they’re going poorly. I love them when they are well-established and comfortable, but I hate them when they are new and awkward. I love them when they fulfill me and make me happy, but I hate them when they hurt me and leave me empty.

You, too?

Fortunately/Unfortunately, people are made for relationships…with each other and with God. Even us more introverted folks are made for relationships, and we cannot be well emotionally without participating in a few.

God knows this, which is why He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6) and makes relationships the fabric of His Church.

As much as I wish it was the case sometimes, relationships are not optional. 

And given that relationships between two people are always relationships between two broken relaters, we’re going to find ourselves in relationships that are hard and messy and make us want to quit and move to the beach alone forever and ever, amen, far more often than we’d like.

Which is probably why the subtitle of the New Testament letters could be “How to Get Along with People in Ways that Make God Happy.”

Every one of Paul’s and Peter’s letters is brimming with instructions on how Christians are to relate to themselves, non-Christians, other Christians, and God, in a variety of different circumstances.

I’m not excited to report that I am currently in the middle of a great friendship that is going through a very not great rough patch. As I prayed about the situation this morning, I didn’t get any direction from God on what needs to occur next in this relationship. So I opened my Bible to read it in preparation for a Sunday School lesson my teacher would be leading me in a couple hours later.

We’ve been going through the whole book of 1 Peter, and it “just so happened” that we were going to be on chapter 4 today. And it “just so happened” that this morning I couldn’t remember which portion of chapter 4 we’d be learning about, so I decided to go ahead and read the whole thing.

In the letter Peter is encouraging believers who are experiencing severe persecution to live godly lives in the midst of their suffering. And in verse 8 Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

My eyes stopped and re-read that verse three or four times.

I pretended to not know how this instruction I “just so happened” to read had anything to do with my prayer for direction in a difficult friendship I had literally prayed 1 minute and 28 seconds prior to reading this verse.

I put on my best pensive face and said, “Lord, what do you mean? How does this verse apply to me right now?”

He didn’t even dignify those questions with a response.

I went to church and successfully avoided thinking about the verse 98% of the morning. But this afternoon I started praying about my struggling relationship again, and the verse popped right back in my mind. So I grit my teeth a little and said, “Ok, Lord, let’s look at this again.”

I opened my Bible and started reading 1 Peter 4 again. But this time verse 7 stood out to me in addition to verse 8. Verse 7 reads, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”

I paused.

I had never considered that when we are not clear-minded and are out of control that we really can’t pray. But I think it’s true.

I was just telling the Lord prior to reading this verse that my friend and I are both out of control. We’re both very passionate people who have big emotions that can cloud our minds and blow our judgment out of the water.

And when I am in that kind of heightened emotional state, my prayers are hindered. I still pray…but my prayers are not usually efforts to understand what God is doing so much as they are efforts to tell God I want things to go differently than they are going.

And pushing my agenda on God is not an effective way to pray. Mostly because I am a moron who can’t discern a “good” plan from a “bad” one, meaning my agendas are usually not what’s best for me or anyone around me.

I need the Spirit to override the stupidity that comes with being fallen and to lead me into truth…the truth about what’s best for me and for others. That’s the purpose of prayer: to allow the Spirit to align my heart with God’s heart. And I just can’t go to God in prayer with a level-headed aim like that when I am not clear-minded and self-controlled.

I prayed verse 7 for my friend and me, and then I went on to verse 8.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Above all.

Above all.

Loving each other deeply is more important than being clear-minded and more important than being self-controlled.

Hmm.

On the one hand, that sounds like good news for those of us who struggle with being clear-minded and self-controlled in the heat of emotions. If we can’t master those two things, maybe we can put all our energy into this most important thing and still come out all right…

But it’s really hard to love other fallen humans deeply without first having gained God’s heart for them through prayer. 

That Peter.

He’s not giving me a pass on the clear-mindedness and self-control. He’s not saying loving each other deeply trumps having clear-mindedness and self-control, so don’t worry about those last two.

He’s saying we have to be clear-minded and self-controlled so we can be strengthened by the Spirit through prayer to love each other deeply, the most important thing of all in relationships. 

Why?

Because love covers over a multitude of sins.

When we love each other deeply, we will still sin against one another. We will still blow it. We will still hurt each other. And when that happens, those things will still need to be addressed. But our deep love for one another will enable us to forgive quicker and get on with the business of loving one another all the more.

And when a watching world sees Christians who live this out–even and especially when we love/forgive/love over and over and over again–they see a picture of Christ. They see a picture of grace and mercy and redemption and unconditional love.

And isn’t that what we’re supposed to be known for?

Didn’t Jesus say, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:34-35)?

Loving is hard. Relationships are hard. I have yet to ever be in any relationship of any value that didn’t have its rough patches…but when both parties commit to persevering through the hard times, both parties become better and better at loving one another deeply, above all.