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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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Too Hot to Handle

By Allen White

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Wounds that other people inflict on us, and vice versa, don’t have much impact on the inflictor. Wounds tend to only affect the wounded. The remedy is forgiveness, not revenge. In fact, Jesus tells is that unforgiveness makes us emotional prisoners (Matthew 18:34-35). Our pain is magnified by unforgiveness, but the inflictor goes unharmed.

Wrath is too hot for human hands. Resentment and revenge can eat a person alive. Their thoughts are immersed in hatred. Their anger burns white hot. Some even obsess over how to get someone back, even over the smallest slight. While it’s normal to have feelings of anger, hurt and even betrayal, wrath and vengeance only belong to God. In fact, wrath is part of God’s love.

The opposite of love is not really hate. If you hate someone, you still have a concern for them. You still have skin in the game. The opposite of love is indifference – they just don’t matter. God’s wrath is not opposed to His love. When many people feel the heat of God’s wrath, they turn to Him rather than burn. In this life, repentance is the reason for God’s wrath.

God’s wrath will be delivered at the right time. If wrath were left to us, it would be both immediate and severe. God knows every choice that a person will make without causing them to make that choice. He is all-knowing or omniscient. God’s heart is always toward reconciliation. God will give a second, and a third, and a 1296th chance for someone to turn to Him. This doesn’t justify the wounds that someone has inflicted on us. But, without Christ, we would also lack the justification necessary to be saved (Romans 5:9).

The Bible tells us that when we leave these bodies, we will enter into God’s Presence (2 Corinthians 5:8). “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). As long as people have breath in their bodies, there is another chance. But, once they slip from this life into the next, there’s no turning back.

When we get hurt, we are very quick to pronounce judgment—both final and severe. Our pain results in a mixture of wrath that is both too much and too soon. This is why Scripture warns us against judging others (Romans 2:1). We don’t have all of the information. We don’t know their thoughts and motives. It may be that they didn’t mean anything by it at all. It may mean that they’ve never abandoned their immature ways of handling things. They are a work in progress just like us.

Who has incurred your wrath? What affect is revenge and resentment having on you? How is it affecting your relationship with God? The Bible tells us, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). If that verse is easier said than done, then read it out loud to God and ask Him what you’re supposed to do about it.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Okay, But…

By Allen White

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:42

This is one of those verse that many of us respond to with “Okay, but….” “Okay, but what if they spend the money on drugs?” “Okay, but what if they drive a nicer car than I do?” “Okay, but what if this is only encouraging bad behavior?” Very rarely might we respond with “Okie, dokie.”

But, look at the counter statement here. In the previous verses, Jesus instructed us to be generous with those who sued us or forced us, now He’s simply asking us to be generous with people who just ask. They haven’t insulted us or maligned us or backhanded us. They simply have a need and ask us.

But, they’re asking for something that they don’t deserve. They want something that they didn’t earn, but we did earn. It represents our blood, sweat and tears. It’s a part of us. It’s a little hard to let go of.

Part of the problem is that we question the motives of the person asking. The second problem is that we might not have it to give. The last problem is that when money gets a hold of us, it’s hard to let it go.

Generosity is the antidote to materialism. We live in a culture of stuff. We live in a society where advertising keeps us perpetually discontent. Yet, the reality is considering the amount of stuff in our garages, attics and rental storage units, if stuff could satisfy us, then we would be more than satisfied.

There is beauty in simplicity. There is freedom in giving. Materialism burdens us with the things of this world. Generosity makes us more like God.

Okay, but let’s be honest—what if we really don’t have it to give? What if at the end of every month we find that not only do the ends not meet, but there is a widening gap? My pastor back home used to say, “If your out-go exceeds your income, then your upkeep will be your downfall.” To give, we must have margin in our budgets.

Many of us are generous with corporations. We pay generous amounts of interest to mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and finance companies. How much money goes to interest every month? Most might be surprised to see hundreds to thousands of dollars devoted just to interest payments. What if we had that money to expand God’s Kingdom? What if we had that money to be generous to others?

Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is a great way to learn how to get out of debt and stay out of debt. If you’re serious about tackling this burden in your life, I would encourage you to find a FPU class ASAP.

If you’re uncertain about how to help a person in need, then contact the church. If you’re not sure how helpful your help would be, there are folks who can give wise counsel in what to do. If you would like to help someone, but you’re not sure how, there are many needs, especially among single moms, where you could make a significant difference – and it’s not all monetary.

Who needs your help? How can you help?

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Monday, February 16, 2015

I Don’t Have Time to be Generous

By Allen White

And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
Matthew 5:40-41

Often we refer to generous people as those who are willing to give you the shirt off of their backs. These are the folks who will do anything for you and are willing to help even to their own detriment. But, what if the shirt wasn’t a gift? What if it became an obligation? Would they feel just as generous?

In both verses here, Jesus starts with an obligation, then reveals an opportunity for generosity. If someone sues you and wins, give them more than what is required. If a soldier forces you to carry his load for one mile, then double up your efforts and go for two miles. (I wrote about the Extra Mile here). 

Why? Why give people who are demanding of us more than they deserve? We would prefer to give them nothing. It’s painful enough to give what they require. To go beyond that just might be unthinkable.

Jesus is challenging us to not only give what is required, but also to give the unexpected. Not just on designated days when we all get together to serve the community, but every day. The problem is that most of us don’t have time to go out of our way to help.

I was headed to church one Sunday morning. I had left early and was hoping to get a project done before the 9 am service. I pulled up to an intersection and stopped at the light. I looked across the intersection to discover that the driver in the turn lane had passed out.

The light changed. I made my turn. Then, I thought, “I probably should call 9-1-1”--so much for my lead time on the project. I called and told the dispatcher the location. The dispatcher told me that help was on the way. I thought, “That’s great. Mission accomplished.”

Then, the dispatcher said, “Please hold the line. I’m connecting you with EMS.” Once EMS was on the line, he asked, “Is the person breathing?”

Is the person breathing? I hadn’t even gotten out of my car. They wanted me to do something? I did do something. I called, didn’t I? At that point images of the priest and the Levite from the parable of the Good Samaritan came to mind.

I got out of the car and walked over to the still running car of the incapacitated driver not knowing what to expect. I was relieved to discover that the car was in park rather than drive. Music was blaring. I knocked on the window. No response. But, his chest was moving. About that time another motorist stopped.

I reported to EMS what I had discovered. The other motorist got out of his car and recognized the incapacitated driver. This was a regular customer at the bar he worked at.

The man walked around the car, opened the door, and shook the man awake. About that time, we could hear a siren. The now awake driver sprung into action, put on the gas, and got out of there like a bat out of you-know-where. This had gone from a medical emergency to a DUI with three sheriff’s deputies in pursuit.

No lives were saved. Potentially lives were now in danger of a drunk driver. My lead time was wasted. But, I had done the right thing – albeit reluctantly—but the right thing.

That situation made me think about how I scheduled my life. If someone really had a problem, would I have time to help them? Did I need to know a few more things like CPR or First Aid in case of emergency? Could I make time to do that? But, the bigger question really has to do with margin.

Most of us live such busy, stress-filled lives that not only do we lack the time to help, we often lack the ability to give. We’re given out. There’s nothing left. We hear of a problem, and we call the church, the school, or the authorities. When they ask how we can help, we think, “I just did help. I called you.”

How has God equipped you to help others? What burden is being required of you? Maybe the solution is to drown the feelings of resentment with generosity. At this point you may argue, “But, you don’t know what I’m dealing with.” And, you’re right. I don’t know. But, Jesus does, and He will give you all of the power you need.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jesus Has Got Your Back

By Allen White

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. Matthew 5:38-39

For most of us, our natural impulse isn’t to turn the other cheek. If there’s another cheek involved, it would be attached to the offender. Our gut reaction is to either attack the other person or at least to defend ourselves. Fight or flight, right?

But, Jesus directs us to counter our gut reaction. Otherwise, we would result to the old adage of “Eye or eye, and tooth for tooth.” But, doesn’t that seem equitable? Well, until we’re all toothless and blind, that is.

Some have taken these words to mean that Christians should be pacifists. They conjure up images of wheatgrass-drinking, Birkenstocks-wearing wimps who hand out flowers rather than insults. They come across as doormats or sissies. Nobody wants to be called either, even if it fits.
Jesus isn’t telling believers just to lie down and let the opposition win. What Jesus is actually saying is, “Relax. I’ve got this one. They’re not fighting you. They’re fighting me. You don’t need to get in the middle of this. I’ll handle it.” And, handle it, He does.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve wanted to retaliate, defend myself, or plot something only to have Jesus tell me these exact things. The end result has always been victory. Jesus has never let me down. Even though, some situations have been hard to take, I have not lost confidence in Jesus’ ability to defend His people.

Who has slapped you across the cheek in one way or another? What’s your next step: retaliation or prayer? Pray about the retaliation before you do anything. Act wisely. If you can’t find the wisdom, ask for it (James 1:5).
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Performance Is Better Than Promises

By Allen White

 “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.  Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

 “Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first. Matthew 21:28-31

I used to be an usher at Saddleback Church. The challenge with bringing a family to church and serving as an usher was that you could only check the kids in 15 minutes before the service started. More often than not, I couldn’t get to the auditorium until immediately before or sometimes after the service started. I let my usher captain know up front that I would help, but I didn’t know how much help I could be.

My usher captain, Paul, was the primo, got-it-under-control guy. He was an engineer with Fluor in Irvine. I seriously had my doubts about how well my participation would work.

Every week when I found Paul to see if I was needed, regardless of whether I was slightly early or slightly late, he always gave me the same response – He would smile at me and say “I’m so glad you’re here.” I was frazzled. Paul was friendly. I was frustrated with myself, but why wasn’t he frustrated with me?

In my heart, I wanted to commit to be the most dedicated usher in the history of Saddleback Church or any church for that matter. Reality was that even arriving 30 minutes early to park, then “divide and conquer” by my wife and I each taking a boy to his preschool class, I still couldn’t get to my ushering assignment on-time. It’s a big campus. I wanted to be that uber-committed volunteer, but I just couldn’t.

Paul didn’t mind. He was always glad that I was there.

What feels better – when someone commits and doesn’t show or if someone doesn’t commit and shows? Most of us would agree it’s the second one. How does that apply to us?

First, we have to avoid making grandiose claims. What is it that calls us to want to be bigger than who we really are? If you asked your friends how reliable they think you are, what would they say?

Secondly, performance beats promises every time. Rather than telling my kids the night before that we’re going to get up early and go downtown to the Touch A Truck, I keep it under wraps. I don’t want them to get their hopes up, then someone gets sick or something wrecks it. Instead, I’ve learned to announce to them at 7 am that we’re leaving in one hour to go. There’s great excitement. What a surprise! Then, we actually go – no disappointment. I never want to starve my kids on empty promises.

Does this mean that we should never commit to anything? Not necessarily. But, if you are prone to over-promising and under-delivering, you should stop committing for a while. Chances are you just want someone else to think well of you for having made a big commitment. The truth is that they will think far worse of you when you don’t follow through.

Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No” be no. Don’t even let your “No” be “Bless your heart.”

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

When WWJD Doesn’t Cut It

By Allen White

LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart;
Psalm 15:1-2

If perfection is the qualification, then that sounds like a pretty empty tent to me. I hope Jesus enjoys His solo camping trip.

Every person on the face of the earth has fallen short (Romans 3:23). No exceptions. There are no perfect people. Now, this isn’t an excuse for bad behavior. It’s just the simple truth that even at our best, we just don’t measure up. Fortunately, there is also good news.

If the requirements are to be blameless, righteous and truthful, we all fail to meet those requirements. But, Jesus is blameless (Hebrews 4:15), righteous (Romans 5:17), and the Truth (John 14:6). Some would say the solution is to act more like Jesus. WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) Only problem is, we can’t live up to that either.

Jesus always did the right thing. Jesus always had the right thing to say. He always had the right response to the Pharisees’ tricky questions. No one tied Jesus up in knots intellectually. No one got His goat emotionally. Nothing broke His connection with God spiritually. Imitating Jesus is not the answer. We’re just not that good.

What if we stopped trying to live for Christ and allowed Jesus to live His Life through us. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus doesn’t desire for us to become like Him. Jesus just wants us to get out of His way, so He can do His work.

Our job is not to work hard on being blameless and righteous. Our job is to remain connected to the Vine. Sometimes we’re so busy with the appearance of the fruit, we forget the connection to the Root. Decorating ourselves with artificial fruit might fool some of the people, but we’re really only fooling ourselves.

Disconnection from Christ doesn’t produce fruit. It produces death and uselessness (John 15:6).

How do we remain connected with Christ? First, we keep ourselves in constant conversation with Jesus. Not outloud in public places like some kind of a freak. But, to ourselves. Rather than mulling things over and over in our heads – replaying old tapes that keep us defeated – we need to talk to Jesus about it. “I don’t feel too good about this meeting coming up. What should I do? How should I handle this? Please guide me and help me.” And, guess what? He does.

When we read the Bible, it’s not for the purpose of discovering more things that we’re required to live up to but can’t. The Bible reveals God’s vision for our lives. When we read things that might seem impossible to do, we take those to Jesus: “Jesus, if you want me to be kind and compassionate like you said in Ephesians 4:32, you’re going to have to do that in me, because I’m not going to get there on my own.” As we surrender ourselves and give our natural responses to situations over to Jesus, He will guide our words, our actions and our steps.

Here’s the best part – the blamelessness, righteousness and truthfulness required to dwell with God is exactly what Jesus gives us. We aren’t blameless. We don’t become righteous on our own. We walk in the Truth by allowing the Truth, Jesus Christ, to live in us.

What part of your life doesn’t look like Jesus? Before you start beating yourself up, ask Him to create Christlikeness in you. You just might be surprised at how Jesus can change you for good.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Caught in a Web of Lies

By Allen White

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
   but the LORD tests the heart.

A wicked person listens to deceitful lips;
   a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.

 Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished. Proverbs 17:3-5

Hebrew poetry uses parallels to add emphasis. When we look at the second proverb here, we see this technique. A wicked person is the same as a liar. This person “listens to deceitful lips” and “pays attention to a destructive tongue.” It’s quite an indictment.

Why would anyone accept a lie? These proverbs don’t focus on the speaker as much as the listener. The listener is wicked, but then, the listener is also a liar. The sense is there is sort of a mutual admiration society among those who reinvent the truth. The error is not only in lying, but in accepting lies as well.

Wouldn’t truth telling and listening to the truth be easier? The great thing about telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said. Liars must add lies to cover their lies. It’s very convoluted.

But, why lie and listen to lies? Most of us want the assurance that we’re okay. Insecure people need affirmation that their decisions are okay. Deceptive people need others to side with them in order to feel “right.” I won’t delve into all of the layers of this neurosis, but if you’ve experienced someone like this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. These folks live in an unreal world – a house of cards built on lie after lie. The truth is too hard to take.

So, what do you do if a deceitful person is telling lies about you or a deceived person is accepting those lies? You really can’t do anything. But, fortunately, the proverb about liars doesn’t stand alone.

The first proverb says that “the Lord tests the heart.” God knows what’s in our hearts. If our hearts show contempt for the less fortunate or gloat after disaster, God’s punishment will follow. If our hearts are pure, then we will see God (Matthew 5:8). But, who actually has a completely pure heart? [LINK:]

God is truth. There is no deceit in Him at all. The lies and deception in this world will be exposed exactly for what they are. Things that are done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops (Luke 12:2-3; Romans 2:16).

So, what do you do when God is for you, but others wish to do you in? You trust God. You have absolutely no control over what other people do or what other people say. None. But, you do have control of yourself. When you try to control other people, you lose control of yourself.

You and I are safely in God’s hand. Regardless of the storm that rages around us, our responsibility is
to live in obedience to God. No matter how we feel. No matter what other people are doing. No matter how they do us wrong. What matters, what we can control, is how we conduct ourselves.

The Bible tells us to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). That may seem like the last thing that we want to do. But, it’s the right thing.

Who is working against you these days? Are you praying for them? They are definitely in need of prayer. Are you doing the right things even when you’ve been done wrong? With God’s help, you are better than how you’re being treated.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Just Give Up Already

By Allen White

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:7-8

In just over 20 years of ministry, I have found myself often designated as the “professional pray-er.” When the food arrives, all heads turn toward me, and I do my thing. What I’ve learned over the years is that prayers for food should be short. Not recitation “God is great…” But, grateful prayers, sometimes humorous, but most of all short. Once I prayed a three sentence prayer for a funeral dinner. All of the bereaved broke into applause.

Does this mean that I am better than other people or that I’m more spiritual? No, I’m certainly not. I do have the brevity thing down, so if you struggle in that area, please take note. Our food is getting cold.

The volume of words is not nearly as convincing to God as our sincerity. There is no time limit on prayer. We should pray as long as we need to, just not more than we need to. After all, God already knows what we need.

Now, here’s a tricky one – if God already knows what we need, then why do we need to ask in the first place? Is He just holding out until we say, “gimme”?

1.       Sometimes we don’t know what we need.

Just because God knows what we need doesn’t mean that we know what we need. In fact, sometimes the things we ask of God would actually be to our detriment.

My kids love candy. They also want everything that’s advertised on television. They can even recite the commercials. Who knew that kids could become so excited about Wonder Hangers? But, wait, the order also includes Benda Hangers. They don’t need either.

God knows what we need (and what we don’t need). If I’ve learned anything in nearly 40 years of being a Christian, it’s this: Give up more quickly. Ask God for His help earlier in the process. Just say, “God I can’t figure this out. I need your help. I don’t know what to do.” That is a prayer that God answers every time.

2.       God is a Gentleman.

God isn’t going to force anything on us that we are not ready to accept. God knows what we need. God knows better than we do what’s best. But, God doesn’t barge into our lives uninvited. When we are willing and open to His help, then He intervenes. Until then, He patiently waits.

3.       Answered prayer builds our faith.

If God just acted on our behalf apart from prayer, we might assume that our circumstances were just dumb luck. But, when we ask God and He answers, our faith increases. Now, God’s answers come in three varieties: Yes, No and Wait. The yeses are far more exciting, but more often the No’s and the Wait’s do more to build our faith.

What are you babbling about these days? What worries are nagging at you and just won’t go away? Are you ready to give up and let God take over? Please understand, you’ll have to keep giving it over to God as long as you keep taking it back.

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You Can’t Fake Integrity

By Allen White

Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?  You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Matthew 23:16-19
I’ve nearly given up on money back guarantees and even warranties for that matter. And, extended warranties, forget it. More often than not, warranties aren’t worth the paper that they’re printed on. They’re a nice guarantee until something actually breaks.

If something breaks, warranties might cover the parts, but you might have to pay for the labor at $1,000 per hour. If something breaks because you broke it, more than likely nothing will be covered because you improperly used the electronic device by dropping it. If you use an mp3 player as a football during a fit of excessive jubilation, the warranty is voided.

But, do we ever pad our guarantees? “Well, that’s not what I actually said.” “I don’t remember it that way.”

Everyone of us makes mistakes. We all fall short. When we fail, the best strategy is not a strategy. We just own up to it. Rather than trying to weasel out of it by finding some loophole in the logic, we need to just own it.

The world has grown weary of imperfect Christians pretending that they’re perfect. Integrity says, “I’m not perfect. I messed up. I feel bad about it, and I will do what I can to make it right.” Then, actually do it. Integrity is not perfection. Pretending to have integrity is also not integrity.

Any time we find ourselves carefully choosing our words, we have moved from honesty to politics. Now, this isn’t license to offend everyone who comes across our paths. But, carefully couching our words in phrases that will let us off the hook is no substitute for honesty.

No one should have to seek an extended warranty on our commitments in the event that we fail. Whether we succeed or fail, we should take responsibility for our actions. Our stumbles cause us to grow far more than our successes.

If the other person would rather rub your nose in it than accept your apology, well, that is on them. Believers shouldn’t enter into games of gotcha. God desires better than that for us.

What is the quality of your commitments? Do you follow through or make excuses? When you fail, do you own up to your actions or do you try to find a way out?

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

When Yes Hurts More Than No

By Allen White

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:33-37

We live in a world of disbelief. There was a day when a handshake was as good as gold. Today, the handshake comes after a lot of paperwork and notarized signatures. The fear is that the signer will attempt to get out of the agreement. Even good people are treated like bad ones.

We can’t do much about the litigiousness of our world, but we can choose how we conduct ourselves. We don’t need to make extravagant promises. We just need to keep our word.

A trustworthy person is the one you know will always come through. If he said he’d be there, he’ll be there. If he said he’d take care of it, you trust that it’s taken care of. If an emergency comes up, he’ll let you know why he’s delayed. This is the person you can count on. His “yes” is all you need.

Now, before you forward this post to someone who is less than trustworthy, how trustworthy are you? Do you follow through when other people are counting on you? Do you make promises that you never intend on keeping? Do people have to think twice before they ask you? Have they stopped asking?

Deceitful people have muddied the path for honest people. The solution is not to clean up the deceitful people. The solution is to tell the truth. You don’t need eloquence or carefully chosen words. You just need old fashioned honesty.

You don’t need to be bigger than who you are. You just need to honestly be you. You don’t need to promise more than you can deliver. You just need to deliver what you promised. If you’re not sure that you can come through, then the word you use is “no.”

To be honest with others, you have to be honest with yourself. If you’re heart says “no,” but your mouth says “yes,” then you’re being dishonest with yourself. “Do you want to go clothes shopping at the mall?” About as much as she wants to sit in a deer stand for 12 hours. If you’re heart’s not in it, your “yes” will hurt far more than your “no.”

When are you tempted to over-commit knowing that you can’t follow through? Do people think of you as an honest person? Do you follow through? If you need to work on this: promise less and follow through more. That’s the cure.

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