Sunday, March 1, 2015

You Are Enough

By Allen White

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Matthew 6:1

I had my picture taken at a very cool studio the other day. I’m not that cool, so I wasn’t sure how it would go. As a new board member at Water of Life [LINK], they needed my picture for the website.

After about 20 minutes of posing and smiling, but not too much smiling, the photographer asked me to look at the pictures. The guy in the pictures was middle aged and overweight. What kind of photoshop trick was this?

The photographer asked if I liked the pictures. I told him that I really didn’t. I could tell that he was offended, so I qualified my comment, “You did a great job with the subject you had to work with.” His photography was great. It perfectly captured what I actually look like—thus my discomfort.

The image on the screen didn’t match the image in my head. I wanted the picture to come with a few disclaimers like “Allen has only been overweight for 10 years of his whole life and has recently lost 20 pounds” or “Allen works out at the gym five days a week. (Imagine if he didn’t.)” or “Remember that 46 is the new 26.” Why did I need to think that I was better than what I am when it’s okay to be myself?

We have all encountered people who come across great in public, but fall short in private. They want respect and admiration without doing the hard work of actually earning it. The less we know about them, the better we think of them. But, God is not impressed.

Rather than becoming good, they do good things so people will assume that they are good. They may hate doing good things. They might even look down on those they are serving. The bottom line is that it’s just no good.

The bigger problem here is that “they” are actually “us.” Why do we desire to come off better than what we truly are? Yes, we should all aspire to grow and allow God to develop His character in us. But, there are no shortcuts. Godly character is often forged in the fires of our problems. The abrasive people in our lives tend to have greater impact than the soft ones.

When we resort to shortcuts, we present something that’s false. If we want everyone to see how generous we are, we don’t have a generous heart as much as we need others to think well of us. We can put up a great façade. We can hide our weaknesses. We can fake it ‘til we make it. But, it’s exhausting isn’t it? And, it doesn’t get us anywhere.

Eugene Peterson translates this passage, “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding” (Matthew 6:1, Msg). But, the good news is that God doesn’t expect you to be more than who you are.

God isn’t in love with an avatar or a façade. God is in love with you. He knows that you’re not perfect. We know that you’re not perfect either. When our reputations match our integrity, then we are the person God has created us to be. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.

So, what if you’re prone to live larger than life and do things for show? Find out why. What need is this attention meeting in your life? Why is it important for you to have others think well of you? Why do other’s negative remarks or criticism erode your self-worth? These are big questions that God wants to help you solve.

You are enough. Just as you are without any embellishment or photoshopping.

Oh, and here’s the picture:

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Will God Stop Loving Us?

By Allen White

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:10-11

God loves us. Whether we love each other or not, God will always love us. God even loves His enemies, including at one time you and me (Colossians 1:21). Love is part of Who God is. He doesn’t love because He feels loving. God loves because He is Love (1 John 4:8).

God’s love is extreme. He paid the debt for sin at great personal cost to Him – He sent His Son. Why couldn’t God just say that He forgave without causing Jesus to die for us?

As much as God’s nature is love, His nature is also holy and just (Isaiah 5:16). God is not some ogre who made up enough rules to cause us to fail, so He could hold it over our heads. God’s nature is opposed to sin and evil. When we choose to sin, we place ourselves in opposition to God and His Presence in our lives. God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. He will do whatever it takes to break down any barrier that might come between us – even to the extent of offering His Own Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The atoning sacrifice, or propitiation, is a reference back to the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, which was above the Ark (Exodus 40:20, ESV). “In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been” (Leviticus 16:16).

Jesus took the place of the bull and the goat that were sacrificed for the atonement of God’s people. He died once for all (Hebrews 9:12) so we could have a right relationship with God.

How do we love other people? We love others because God loves us. It’s easy to love people who love us. What’s better than that? But, to love the people who are indifferent or mean or hateful – they are very difficult to love. Yet, how can we hate the people who God loves?

We learn to love others by loving difficult people. While we certainly enjoy being with the people who love us, we don’t learn as much that way. Loving people who are hard to love makes us more like God. Serving people who are ungrateful will do more to stretch our faith than much else.

Who is difficult for you to love these days? Have you asked God to help you love that person? Have you asked God to help you to have compassion on them? Don’t let your feelings toward someone else get in the way of your relationship with God.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When You’d Rather See Them Get Hit by a Bus

By Allen White

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:31-5:2

Every conflict eventually faces a fork in the road. Do we choose to reconcile or do we choose to part ways? There may be a middle ground of not parting ways and not reconciling, but it’s really just the slower route to the path of departure. Sometimes there is nothing we can do about someone leaving the relationship. But, we can choose which path our hearts will follow.

Whether it’s possible to reconcile with the other person or not, Paul outlines two spiritual paths in this passage. The first path burns with anger, holds a grudge, and secretly wishes the other person will get hit by a bus. The opposite path is far more difficult because it involves kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

Immediately, we might think the choice is obvious. Wouldn’t it be great if Christians treated each other with kindness and compassion? Interpretation – wouldn’t it be great if they treated me that way? Who wouldn’t sign up for that? The focus here is on what we give rather than what we might or might not receive.

Paul paints the picture for us. Someone has done something that provokes bitterness, rage and anger. Rather than responding with brawling, slander and every form of malice, Paul says to leave those things behind. The better path is to replace rage and anger with kindness, and brawling and slander with compassion. But, how do we forgive someone when we’d rather knock his block off?

We forgive because God has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Now, don’t take this as “If we don’t forgive, God might revoke His forgiveness of us.” God doesn’t work that way. Since we have experience God’s forgiveness, since we’ve seen His kindness and compassion, we are able to give out of what God has given us. But, it’s still not easy.

The difficulty is that some people do such despicable things that we’d rather see them rot in Hell. (I’m not Southern. Just “Bless my heart” and continue reading). When people treat us unfairly, we want the truth to come out. We want justice to be served. But, wrath and ultimate justice are in God’s hands – only.

We feel betrayed. We feel upset. We feel dumb for trusting them. What do we do? We can’t just overlook it and go on. It eats at us. And, that’s why we need to forgive. Once it starts eating at us, we’re on the path to bitterness. The situation will continue to grow in our minds until we believe that the offender is so unreasonable that we couldn’t possibly reconcile with him, let alone forgive him.

This is where we need God. Many times I have read Ephesians 4:32 out loud to God, then told God “if you expect me to act like this, then You need to help me, because I don’t really feel like it right now.” Then, God punishes me for talking back to Him—No He Doesn’t! God helps me every time.

Who are you struggling with these days? Are you ready to forgive? Do you wish they’d get hit by a bus? Ask God to help you have compassion on them and to forgive. He will do it, if you are willing.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Everyday Spiritual Warfare

By Allen White

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:11-12

Now, before you start bracing yourself thinking that I’m going to get all Frank Peretti on you today, I’m not (obscure reference to This Present Darkness [LINK], a novel about the power of prayer). Well, at least I’m not going to get any spookier than the Bible does.

When it comes to spiritual warfare, two camps emerge among believers. One group is mostly in denial of the whole angels and demons thing. The other group blames the devil for everything. (I’m choosing to avoid an overused Flip Wilson quote here). So, let’s get a few things straight.

The devil and his minions can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. He can lie and deceive. He can tempt and prey on your weakness, but he can’t force your hand. In the garden of Eden, the devil lied through his teeth, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), but he didn’t touch the forbidden fruit. He didn’t force them to take a bite. He just lied his way to their defeat.

Before you think you or your spouse or your boss is demon-possessed, think again. As much as you think an exorcism might solve things, it’s usually not the case.

Probably the most powerful force working against you is the flesh (Romans 7:5) and your own woundedness. This problem is not unique to you. In fact, “you” is better stated as “all y’all.”

Wounded people take objective statements and turn them into value judgments. “Your car is kind of crowding the line of the parking space” is taken to mean “I don’t think you’re a very good driver. In fact, I think that I’m a better driver than you. You are so inferior that you can’t even park straight. People like you shouldn’t even be allowed to drive a car. And, believe me brother, parking is just the tip of the iceberg of your problems. Don’t get me started on listing your faults, because we could be here all day.” Get the picture?

This is why human relationships require a huge amount of grace. When your brokenness plays into my brokenness, then we have a huge mess. Then, the enemy can take our vulnerabilities and play us against each other.

Most will never experience outright, satanic attack. Cultists won’t be making sacrifices in your yard. Bodies won’t levitate off of beds, and objects won’t fly around the room. Mostly you will be the victim of the enemy’s sneaky plots to undermine relationships and to cause whatever footholds to occur that he possibly can (Ephesians 4:26-27).

The good news is that God is far more powerful than any evil force. If the devil is the power of a candle, then God is the power of the sun. When we access God’s power through prayer, the enemy flees. Wounds are healed. Sins are forgiven. Relationships are restored.

As you put your focus on submitting to God rather than coming up with your next witty retort, you will discover that God can accomplish more than you can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Where do you feel attacked today? Who is this coming from? Stop right now and ask God to intervene. Ask God what to do. But, most of all, get out of God’s way and let Him work. Invite Him into your circumstance and watch what happens.

“Trust in the Lord will all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Loving Difficult People

By Allen White

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:46-48

Perfect. It’s such a difficult word. Why does Jesus have to throw that in? It’s easy for Him. He’s God. He’s already perfect. But, perfect leads me down a road of despair. To be perfect means to act perfectly all the time that leads to perfectionism, which feels more like neurosis than theology. What do we do?

To Jesus’ audience, a right relationship with God came about by keeping the law perfectly. He then proceeds to poke holes in their idea of perfection. Rather than just avoiding murder, adultery and oaths, Jesus expands their definitions to include the heart issues of anger, lust and integrity. External righteousness doesn’t cut it. The people of God must be righteous from the inside out. This is the righteousness that Jesus brings.

But, either way, we all fall short of perfection. Who can be like God, except for Jesus, who is God?

In Matthew 22, Jesus sums up all of the Law and Prophets in two sentences known as the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). The fulfillment of the law is unrestricted love. Jesus displayed this love beautifully on the cross.

In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that even the most despised people in Jewish society, the tax collectors, love the people who love them already. In fact, people who are far from God, pagans, also reciprocate love. But, to be like God, we must love our neighbors and our enemies.

In Luke’s Gospel, he substitutes “merciful” for “perfection”--“love your enemies, do good to them…Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). Mercy in the Bible is really the idea of pity. Jesus wants us to have pity on our enemies—not in a condescending way—but in the same way that God pities us.

It’s a far cry from pity to perfection. But, perfection here is not an unblemished, faultless person. Being “perfect like God is perfect” is to be complete, fulfilled and accomplished. Going back to the Great Commandment, the Law is accomplished through unrestricted love for God and for others.

How is your love restricted toward others? What conditions have you put on loving others? What gets in the way of freely loving other people? Some people are difficult to love. You might need to ask God how to love a difficult person and then ask Him to help you love them.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hating Our Haters

By Allen White

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:43-45

Loving your enemies is easy until you actually have an enemy. An enemy is not someone who merely disagrees with you. The word that Jesus uses here defines an enemy as someone who hates you and who is hostile to you. “Love those who hate you. Pray for those who are hostile to you.” Those are tough words to swallow.

It’s easy to love people who love us. We just love them. It’s also easy to hate people who hate us. Who could love them? Well, God loves haters. But, if God truly loves us, how would He love our haters? This is actually good news when we take this from a different direction.

Once upon a time you and I and all of God’s people were God’s enemies. By our actions and our attitudes, we were hateful and hostile to God. If God didn’t love His enemies, then we would be toast. Fortunately, God not only loved us and prayed for us (John 17), but He also gave His Son for us. Jesus died for people who hated Him, so it would be possible for them to love Him.

The people who hate both Jesus and us need prayer. They need love. They need a Savior, just like we do. God hasn’t given up on them, and neither should we. Now, that doesn’t mean that we need to allow them into our inner circle and hang out with them all of the time. Jesus said to love them and pray for them. He didn’t say to trust our enemies.

Can you imagine how things would be if your enemy came to Christ? Can you imagine the transformation that would take place in their hearts and minds? They wouldn’t necessarily receive an automatic personality transplant, but they would experience divine, unconditional love. That’s what Jesus wants for them, and it’s what Jesus wants us to want for them.

You might be saying, “Well, that’s all good and well, but what if my enemy claims to be a Christian?” That’s a little tougher. They’re more like frenemies, which are harder to define and harder to deal with.

Unfortunately, believers don’t always resort to biblical ways of handling things. The Bible tells us that if we have something against someone (Matthew 18:15) or if someone has something against us (Matthew 5:23-24), we are to go to them and reconcile the matter. If they’re not willing to talk to us, then we should bring someone with us (Matthew 18:16). Grudges and resentment only lead to hatred. There is no room for this in God’s family.

But, what if we didn’t do anything to them or they didn’t do anything to us? What if they just don’t like us for no reason at all? I know that this is beginning to sound strange, but these things happen. Sometimes a person just reminds someone of someone else that they don’t like. No matter what you do, you just can’t escape the association. Praying may very well be the only thing you can do when the feelings grow from such an irrational root.

If people could be saved and instantly cured from all of the wounds of their pasts, that would be a truly awesome thing. But, our transformation into the likeness of Christ is a process that takes place over the course of our lives. Often the negative circumstances and the hateful people we must deal with are tools that God uses to build His character in us.

Our ability to love is not tested when we love those who love us. To love the way that God loves means to love those who hate us. There is no good reason to love them, yet we tap into God’s love and love them anyway.

Who is your enemy? Who is hostile toward you these days? How often do you pray for them? If they’ve done you wrong, you might start with one of David’s prayers in the Psalms.

This might seem impossible. But, nothing is impossible with God. You might even need to pray about how to pray for your enemies.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Do You Face Life as a Winner?

By Allen White

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:20-23

If God had never lived in this world or walked in our shoes, then we could certainly invite Him to practice what He preaches concerning both revenge and suffering well. But, God did live in this world.
 Jesus never violated a law. Jesus never sinned against anyone. Jesus never acted selfishly. Yet, Jesus got everything that He didn’t deserve.

When we think of following in Jesus’ steps, we’re more inclined to wonder about His power and His miracles, His teaching and His grace. We might even be tempted to say that we are “King’s kids,” and deserve the royal treatment. But, following in Jesus’ steps is a pathway toward suffering and trust and ultimate vindication.

Few lives have been made easier by receiving Christ. Initially, there is such joy in the removal of our guilt and shame. There is relief in avoiding the fires of Hell. But, now there is a struggle between the Spirit and the flesh (Galatians 5:17). There is a lifelong quest for God to become greater in our lives and for us to become less (John 3:30). Fortunately, this life is but a blip on the screen compared to eternity.

But, this life is real, and it’s not all gloom and doom. Our joy brings God pleasure. Whether we smile at the laughter of a child or are soothed by a gentle breeze, God is pleased.

Comparing this life to eternity is like experiencing mixed results in battles, but winning the war. Imagine if you had to Tivo the Super Bowl because you had to work. I said imagine, I know that this is not realistic. The game is recorded, but inadvertently a co-worker tells you the final score.

The bad news is that the game has now lost its suspense. The good news is that your team won.
You decide to go ahead and watch the game to see what happened. When your team fumbles the ball or faces a turnover, you hate to see it, but in the back of your mind you know that this is just a temporary setback. It’s not fatal. You know that your team won the game.

You still celebrate every touchdown and every field goal scored for your side. To see the ball moving forward toward the right end zone still bring excitement. To see the quarterback masterfully execute plays still gives a thrill.

Despite the quarterback sacks, the penalties, and the setbacks, in the end your team wins. They recovered. They walk home with the trophy. You still enjoy celebrating their victory.

Some of us have dropped the ball. Some of us have faced remarkable setbacks and penalties. But, in the end, we win. Pain and suffering will always hurt, but it’s not our permanent condition.

What have you lost perspective on these days? What recurring ache in your life just never seems to dissipate? What do you think that you might never recover from? The problems, along with this life, are merely temporary. Your last play might have gone badly. Your first half might just seem irrecoverable. But, in the end, you win. Remind yourself of that today.

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