LOVE – The Danger of Poisonous Love…

Spiritual Blog - Agape

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 – “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  NKJV

 

In the English language, we sometimes have significant communication problems and the word LOVE is no exception.  The word, in the English language, has evolved to mean a myriad of things and many not remotely connected to the Bible word for LOVE.  The word LOVE in the New Testament translated from the Greek ‘AGAPE’ and has no real English translation.  The word we must most of the time is more akin to the Greek word “Eros” which is largely foreign to the New Testament directive.  In the writing of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit drew a word out of obscurity a word that most Greeks barely knew what it meant.  The New Testament brings us the definition of AGAPE.

The definition is incredibly simple and is found in 1 John 4:8 – “God is AGAPE!”  Many believers like the word Agape but have little real knowledge of its meaning and impact.  Most of the time when we speak of love it is by the human definition.  This Love that Paul is referring to is the God kind of Love or the God quality of Love.  Remember Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  

This chapter is more than amazing.  Most Christians know this almost by heart and can quote it readily but it has virtually no impact on multitudes.  It is nothing more than words to place a salve on our consciences rather than transform our lives.  In verse 3 the apostle declares, “…if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have AGAPE it profits nothing.”  Hear that, please.  You can become a martyr for God or the Christian faith and if you do not have AGAPE it is nothing!

What is a martyr?  Someone who, because of what they believe regarding God and the meaning of life give their lives.  He or she is willing to die for that belief and conviction.  But let’s take it a step further because AGAPE has to do with relationships with people.  In a very real sense, AGAPE has nothing to do with me loving God but me loving people.  Therefore the entire chapter is about you or me loving AGAPE People.  That screams to me, “It is not what a person does that counts it is the source from which it comes.” 

If we are going to find, experience and manifest REAL LOVE then we must understand what real love is.  God is Love!   God does not just have love HE IS LOVE.  This is not what God has but what God is.  Additionally, Love is of God.  It issues forth from God for there can be no AGAPE outside God for He is the source!  If man is severed from God, what is he left with?  The stuff he is made of – Flesh!  There is a hole in his heart. There is an emptiness or lack in his makeup.  Man has a longing for love and to be loved.  God’s AGAPE is life giving but man’s perversion of Love can be toxic.

            God bless you as you go through this day!

THE HEART OF A PASTOR…

Spiritual Blog - Heart

Exodus 32:30-32 – “On the next day Moses said to the people, ” You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 “But now, if You will, forgive their sin — and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!”  NASU

             A true shepherd is willing to give his life for the sheep and in many ways, that is exactly what pastors do.  The Bible speaks of good leaders and bad and good shepherds and bad, so I am not suggesting that simply because a person carries the title or position of Pastor they are saints.  Sadly, some are self-serving and why they entered the ministry is a mystery but the sheep’s welfare is not a primary focus of their hearts or lives.  Some are lazy and do not fight the good fight of faith in the trenches of their prayer closets as well as in the community in which they serve.  But, some are faithful servants who spend virtually every waking moment thinking of and praying for the sheep they have been charged with giving spiritual oversight.

Moses demonstrated the heart of a Pastor on many occasions and this is one of the most prolific, in my view.  He did not sugarcoat the sin of the people and challenged them to acknowledge their error and repent.  He, like the Shepherds described in the Bible, set himself at the door of the sheepfold and as he stood before God he spoke with a genuine heart of concern for both the sheep and God.  I do not believe this was an attempt of Moses to manipulate God.  That would have been futile and the response of God would have been much different with Israel being smashed like bugs and Moses along with them.  God extended mercy, not because Moses manipulated Him but because He responds to a heart that is broken and contrite that comes in genuine humility and repentance before Him.

A true pastor knows that God judges sin and that there are penalties for sin and forgiveness does not always negate the reaping of what has been sown.  It restores fellowship but the chastisement of God, though painful for a season, is redemptive in the view of eternity.  Like a parent, a pastor understands that he cannot protect his flock from the ills of seeds sown in sin, but he can intercede for them that they receive forgiveness and mercy.  The Bible says that there is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends and that is what Moses comes before God to do.  He is offering himself, taking ownership for the condition of the people.  No, he did not commit their sin, but he recognized that as their leader and human spiritual head he is accountable for them.  How many of us who have served as shepherds of God’s sheep have interceded before God to that degree?  Not to be judgmental or condemnatory, I would say few, if any.  Most would say, “Well, I can’t control them and I tried to teach them the right way but they chose to go into sin.”  That may well be true on all counts and it is equally true that the fathers do not die for the sin of the sons nor the sons for the sin of the fathers.  However, Hebrews 13:17 offers some insight as to the responsibility of the sheep and the shepherd, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”  Let that soak in and digest it for a while.  It just might change your attitude toward the pastor and the attitude of the pastor toward the sheep.

A pastor, who loves the sheep sacrifices without complaint because it is more than a job or vocation it is a calling and a life.  Sadly, some pastor’s focus so much on the flock they forget their responsibilities to their own families.  If I win the church and lose my family have I fulfilled my call and purpose in God?  If I devote hours on end to the congregation and give scraps to my family am I truly serving well?  That is why I believe that the pastoral ministry must be more than an individualized ministry it must be a Team and a Family affair.  Moses was wearing himself out by trying to be all things to all people all the time.  He was the classic pastor wearing all kinds of hats.  His father in law saw the problem and gave him wise counsel and that counsel helped Moses understand and develop a Pastor’s heart to a greater measure than before.  He was fully responsible and/or accountable for the flock and yet he understood that they were individuals with minds of their own.  He also understood the Ways of God not just the Acts of God.  He had learned the Heart of God and although it is said of David not Moses that he was a man after God’s own heart, I am quite sure God viewed Moses in that light as well.

It was out of his great love that Moses stood before God and said, “If you will forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written.”  Moses did not desire to be blotted out but he honestly expressed to God that he could not bear life if those he was charged to care for were rejected.  He also was acknowledging his accountability for them.  He loved his people that much and he respected and feared God to the point that he truly believed that God would respond to honesty, humility, and repentance.  A Pastor demonstrates that spirit he does not just proclaim it.

God, bless you as you walk this walk in Jesus!

WHAT GOSPEL???

Spiritual Blog - Provision

Matthew 6:11 – “Give us this day our daily bread.”  NASU

Proverbs 30:7-9 – “Two things I asked of You, do not refuse me before I die: 8 Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, 9 That I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”  NASU

 

I have listened to many preachers, heard and preached many sermons and messages through my decades on Planet Earth.  I have observed that man, generally, preaches one of two gospels.  He either preaches the Gospel of Prosperity or Poverty.  Of course, there are modifications of those two but at the heart of the message and mentality is often one or the other.

I do not believe that most people believe either completely.  Before you attack that statement let me explain.  Some seem to believe that it is somehow godly to lack and be in need or want all the time.  I have been told by preachers and parishioners that it is not good to have money or possessions because it will make you proud and you will lose your hunger for God.  I’ve been told by others that God intends for each of His children to be rich and if you are not rich you are lacking in faith, commitment or relationship with God.  I believe both are right and both are wrong at some level.  I know that places me in a position that appears to be guilty of vacillating and so vague that my argument provides no benefit.  If I left it there, I would totally agree.

I had a church member tell me once they believed that it was God’s job to keep the pastor humble and theirs to keep him poor.  I had a minister tell me that God expected the church to ensure that he always had the best of everything even if they didn’t.  I am troubled by both views.  Jesus’ words throughout the Scriptures reveal that it is God’s desire to bless His children.  There are many passages in the Bible regarding God’s desire and willingness to bless us and in Malachi, we are told to PROVE GOD regarding finances and He will open heaven’s windows with blessings beyond what we can contain.  Jesus also taught that when we give it will be given back in an overflowing fashion to mention a couple.  Proverbs 10:22 is exciting, “The blessing of the LORD, it makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.”  He said, that we can ask anything and expect the answer and that includes possessions and money.  That is not limited to those but they cannot be excluded.

On the other hand, God’s purpose for giving us abundance is not so that we can live as Regals ignoring the plight and needs of others but He gives to us so that we can have the ability to give to every good cause He sets before us.  We are told, that those who give to the poor lend to the LORD and God faithfully repays.  In the sense that we need to keep everything in perspective suggests that the prayer of the writer of Proverbs 30 is revealing the heart of God.  He asks for neither riches or poverty but his heart is crying for something else – PROVISION. 

I believe that the Gospel Jesus preached was the Gospel of Provision.  He is our Provision as well as our Provider.  He is our Health and Healing as well as our Healer.  He gives us Guidance and is our Guiding Light.  He gives us Hope and is our Hope.  He gives us Life and is our Life.  Remember what God told Moses when asked: “Who will I tell them has sent me?”  He said to tell them that “I AM.  I AM THAT I AM.”  He is our Provision.  The Bible does not tell us to seek first possessions or poverty but the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.  The Bible does not tell us to lift up riches or extol the virtue of lack but to lift up Jesus and if He is lifted up He draws people to Him.  Jesus is our PROVISION and no matter what the need HE IS what we need.

I realize that this is somewhat simplistic but my heart is crying out to urge everyone to seek neither poverty or riches but Him who is the giver and sustainer of life.  My God, the Bible tells us, shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  There is no need for which He is not the supply.  I have stopped preaching or seeking prosperity in material things and reject the mentality that God wants me to live as a pauper.  Rather I have determined to Preach Jesus and when I make Him Lord of All and Seek Him first and foremost I live as the Hebrews with NO SENSE OF LACK for I have THE PROVISION.

God, bless you as you enjoy this day in Jesus!

REINFORCING THE WORTH OF OTHERS…

Spiritual Blog - Encouragers

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3, 5 “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: 3 … A time to break down, And a time to build up; …5 …A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;”

1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”  NKJV

 

A number of years ago I heard the story of the twelve-year old boy who apparently could not talk.  After his mother served him oatmeal three days in a row he said, “Yuck, I hate oatmeal.”  His mother became hysterical and ran to him shouting, “You can talk!  For twelve years you have not said a word and today you spoke.  Why have you never spoken before?”  He looked at her and said, “Up until now, everything’s been okay.”

Sadly, that is how we do things too often.  It is especially true in many churches with regard to their pastors as long as everything is okay nothing is said but let something go wrong and you hear them.  I know some pastors who are incredibly effective in their efforts for the local body and the kingdom of God but feel like abject failures.  One very wise minister explained it this way:  “We are victims of a system that is too high in expectations and too low in rewards.” 

Some people assume that the minister’s self-image is indestructible.  They expect the man of God to be filled with energy and fresh ideas but fail to give affirmation which is the emotional fuel we all need.  This is true with our children, spouses, employees, etc.  Everyone needs to receive personal affirmation from time to time when things are good not just criticism constructive or destructive when things are not.  In saying this I do not mean to imply that church members are cold and calloused but unaware of the needs of the man behind the sacred desk who carries the mantel of a pastor.

I do not know any Omnicompetent Pastors but I know many flawed vessels who ascribe to that high calling and devote their lives to service.  I read a description of “The Perfect Pastor” and I honestly do not know who originally wrote it but it goes like this:

What is the perfect pastor?  He is 26 years old and has been preaching for 30 years.  He is tall, short, thin, heavyset, handsome and homely; he has one brown eye and one blue; hair parted in the middle, left side dark and straight and the right side brown and wavy.  He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all his time with older folks.  He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously at his work.  He makes 15 calls a day to church members, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched and is never out of the office.”

             There is a myth that some hold regarding the labors of the pastor and as I had a person say to me once, “It must be nice to have a job where you only work one day per week.”  He had no idea what my week consisted of and how many hours I spent praying, preparing, visiting, planning, meeting, etc. He saw me once per week (that’s all he came) and to him, that was the sum total of what I did.

I have a friend who heard similar statements and he invited the individual to spend the day with him.  On that particular occasion there were five emergencies that the pastor was called to and then the regular schedule of the day to be addressed so when they concluded their day at 10:30 PM that evening the man was stunned.  He said, “I had no idea!”  I make no defense of a pastor who is lazy but I want to sing the praise of those individuals who devote their lives, expend their energies tirelessly for the service of God.  They deserve our affirmation even when nothing is out of the ordinary and all is going well.  Let them hear you in good times not just in times of difficulty.  Translate that to your families and work as well.

            God bless you as you go through this day!

 

AND GOD SAID – Guilty…

Spiritual Blog - Eyes on Jesus

Matthew 5:27-30 – “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”  NKJV

 

Some of the modern language translations do not use the word LUST in this passage but use a more sanitized word DESIRE.  Although the word means desire it means more than just wanting something in a mild or superficial sense but rather an intense longing for.  I am reminded of a couple that I counseled once over the husband’s infidelity.  The wife longed for a resolution of his adulterous ways and in the course of counsel, he explained his justification.  I could not believe what I heard and this is what he said.  He referenced verse 28 above and said that since he lusted in his heart and God counted that as guilty he might as well commit the physical act.  All attempts to address personal restraint and discipline had no effect.  All attempts to point out the incredible harm to his marriage through his physical acts had no positive outcome.  To him, if he was guilty because of what was in his heart he might as well do what he was judged guilty of. 

That logic, if followed to its ultimate course, would plunge our world into total chaos.  If a person allows hatred in the heart as 1 John 3:15 declares is a ‘murderer’ then this logic would be if you are guilty in heart you might as well commit the act.  Imagine that world!  If one lusts, for another’s property in their heart then this logic would make it acceptable to actually steal.

LUST in the heart is sin and must be dealt with but to complicate it further with actually carrying out the act is not what the Bible is talking about.  In fact, if you take the root of this thought in Scripture you can see it functioning in the good and the bad.  If one defines LUST as the earnest wish or desire of the heart and a person wishes to commit an evil act in their heart but for whatever reason cannot God still judges them guilty.  The converse of that is also true for if a person wishes to commit an act of goodness but cannot God credits them as having done the act.  Truly out of the abundance of the heart!

I find it disturbing that many who profess to be Christians would be appalled to actually commit acts of adultery, murder or theft but entertain those thoughts in their hearts with no equal remorse or aversion.  They would never commit the acts in the flesh but are not disturbed at having committed them in their hearts.  Man, looks on the outward but God looks beyond the outward and reads the heart.

May God help us to be as disturbed by the lust of the eyes and heart as we are the physical acts!  I pray that our LORD creates in us such a repulsion for sin that we are smitten in our conscience and brought to repentance over our thoughts as much as we are our outward acts.

            God bless you as you go through this day!

UNFULFILLED EXPECTATIONS…

Spiritual Blog - Expectations

2 Kings 5:9-14 – “Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ 12 Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”  NKJV

 

This account of Naaman the Syrian Commander is one of several in the Bible that reflects ‘unrealistic’ or ‘unfulfilled expectations’ and the problem therein.  Naaman was suffering from leprosy which was a virtual sentence of death.  His wife had a slave girl from Israel and she said to her Master’s wife, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria!  For he would heal him of his leprosy.”  Naaman’s wife relayed the information to Naaman which he reported to his master.  The story begins with a letter sent to the king of Israel to heal Naaman.

Imagine, if you will, receiving a directive from a powerful enemy to do something you were not capable of doing.  How would you view it?  He considered it a provocation to war and was distraught.  Elisha heard of the King of Israel’s hysteria and directed that he send Naaman to him.  Naaman followed the king’s directive and his entourage proceeded to Elisha’s house and there the problem opens in a major way and reveals the “Problem of Human Expectations.”

Elisha told the Commander to go to the Jordan and dip himself seven times.  Naaman was furious for he considered it an insult for someone of his stature to be instructed to do this.  He expected pomp and ceremony with Elisha standing before the great general, waving his hands over the leprosy and healing him in a dramatic fashion that fit what he considered to be worthy of someone of his stature.  He left furious and one of his servants took his life in his own hands and approached Naaman asking if Elisha had instructed him to do something great, difficult or monumental would he not have attempted it?  As a result, Naaman realized he had nothing to lose and obeyed.  The result was a complete cleansing of leprosy and a restoration of his flesh.

Had he allowed his ‘unrealistic’ and/or ‘unfulfilled expectations’ to rule he would have died in Syria a Leper!  I wonder how often we fix in our minds how things should be and proceed to reject everything that does not fit that image and fulfill that expectation.  Could it be that we fail to receive answers to our prayers because we ‘predetermine’ how we expect things to be and when they do not satisfy those expectations we reject all else?

Isaiah 55:9 reminds us that God’s ways are higher than ours and when we attempt to subrogate our ways over God’s ways we are doomed to the realm of ‘unfulfilled expectations.’  I see it in relationships, businesses, churches, and spiritually that ‘unrealized, unfulfilled and unreasonable expectations’ bring disappointment and failure.  We do not have to live at that address for we can subject our expectations to God’s will and ways and allow the Holy Spirit to birth in us the purposes of God.

Demanding from others they meet our expectations can and often is both unrealistic and a catalyst to difficulty.  I am human.  You are human.  We are flawed vessels and to expect perfection from flawed vessels is unrealistic.  We need to be as the Naaman who went down into the Jordan, not the Naaman that drove off in a huff wounded because his expectations were not satisfied.  I am learning more daily how Paul could say that he was content wherever he found himself.  His expectations were God not his preconceived ideas of how things should be.

God bless you as you go through this day!

YOU QUESTION GOD But What If He Were To Question You?

Spiritual Blog - God Asks

Job 38:1-3 – “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:  

2 “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”  NKJV

             In a very real sense Job allowed himself to drift into a self-righteous mindset and questioned God.  The LORD, as He often does, allowed it to continue for a time then made His presence known in the situation and placed Job in the interrogation room and informed Job that God Himself would be the detective in this case and ask a few questions.  I can only imagine how Job felt, especially after God in all His Holiness asked the first question or two.

Job had been proclaiming his righteousness and now God steps beyond man’s righteousness and reveals Himself as the Sovereign Creator of Everything.  In that light He causes Job to understand the fallacy of Job’s argument and the wrongness of questioning God.  How would you answer God were He to ask?

  • To Explain Creation to Him.
  • To Explain Gravity, Planetary Balance, Sea Waters, the Waters above and beneath the earth or Nature in general.
  • Light and Darkness and their result and effect on everything.
  • Where Light and Darkness come from or Snow for that matter how each snowflake is different.
  • The Stars, Lightning, or other natural occurrences.
  • Animal behavior and habits.
  • God’s Rule over all Creation.

          What if God were to demand that you explain all those things to Him?  Clearly, Job could see the occurrences in nature but could he control or even explain them?  By the time God was through interrogating Job the heart of this man was filled with wonder and he recognized his wrongness.  He recognized the sovereignty of God and confessed that he had spoken ‘words without knowledge’.  I wonder how many times we, through our petty pet doctrines, do the same.

It was out of Job’s repentance that God had him pray for his so-called comforters which were truly physicians of no value and then restored to Job ‘double’.  Job, came to a place that He would no longer trust his righteousness or personal perceived goodness but would fully rely on God.  That is the place we must come if we are to walk in the fullness of God’s Abundant Life that Jesus came to bring.  There is a place in God that is above the ability of humanity and we can enter that realm through faith with humility and in obedience.

          God bless you as you go through this day!