Thursday, October 22, 2015

When Our Mission Becomes a Lukewarm Mess

By Allen White

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:37-39

When I was seven-years-old, I trooped off on the old church bus. A “new church bus” would somehow be an oxymoron. We were headed to Wheatstate Camp just east of Wichita, Kansas. Hot, desolate, barren, did I say hot? This is where young people in our church went to meet with God, because frankly there was nothing else there.

I was excited. It was the first time away from my parents. As a rising second grader (I had a late birthday and no I wasn’t held back), this was a big adventure. We bunked in cabins with a dozen or so other boys and a counselor who probably wasn’t much older than us. This was church camp.

We made crafts. We watched puppet shows. We swam, though separately from the girls, for mixed bathing was sin. We worshipped. We bought treats from the snack bar. And, when it got really hot, we ate salt tablets.

Everything was new and exciting. I practically forgot I had a family until Wednesday night. I woke up in the middle of the night not feeling good and wanting my mom. None of the other campers knew it, but I had broken into a full-fledged case of homesickness. That had never happened to me before or since. I made it through that night, and I was, well, a happy camper for the rest of the week.

Jesus gave His disciples a lot of instructions against pining for home. While longing for home certainly wasn’t disloyal, it would take them off mission. When things got hard, the disciples would be tempted to go to their happy place, even if it wasn’t so happy.

Just like a hot cup of coffee loses heat in the cold air, the passion for a mission can soon become a lukewarm, disgusting mess. If things get bad on the road, then certainly they would be longing for home. The pull of comfort would draw them away from God’s plan for their lives.

Jesus challenged them to take up their cross before He took up His. People carrying crosses have nothing left. It’s their last day on this earth. What have they got to lose?

But, here’s the catch – those who cling to their lives, their goals, their expectations will lose it all. Those who choose to give these things away will find abundant life. We can choose to pad our nests with more stuff or we can give our stuff away to gain something we cannot buy.

What is Jesus’ mission for your life? His mission for all of us is to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). But, what has God made you to do? What is your unique contribution?

Now a hard question – what do you love more than Jesus? Comfort and security? Control and ambition? Other people? What is keeping you from the life God meant for you to have?

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

When the Prince of Peace Brings Strife

By Allen White

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Matthew 10:34-36

The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) didn’t bring peace after all? What? We like the Jesus who calmly soothes our fears. But, this Jesus stirs things up. He says what’s what. What happened to that meek Jesus we all love?

And, why is Jesus predicting all of this strife in family relationships? We understand the tension around in-law relationships. We live that. But, fathers and mothers and families becoming enemies over Christ – that’s hard to understand.
Alphonso is an evangelist in Sierra Leone. He converted from Islam to Christianity. His family didn’t take it so well. In fact, his aunt poisoned him in an effort to kill him. Alphonso survived.

He is bringing the message of Jesus Christ to thousands of Muslims. God is blessing his ministry. His family is not so happy about it.

In Jesus’ day, the turn was from Judaism to the fulfillment of the Jewish law – Jesus Himself. But, if the Jewish people are God’s people, then becoming a Christ-follower meant they were becoming something else. Family heritage, traditions, worship and holidays were all at stake. Becoming a Christian wouldn’t have gone over very well.

For us, most of our families will tolerate our relationship with Christ. But, there are still some tensions. For folks raised Catholic who join Protestant churches, there is tension. For others who grew up in one denomination, then later move to another, there’s also tension. For those who give God one hour a week, there is tension when a family member devotes himself to serving the church or pursues full-time ministry.

Jesus doesn’t want family members to hate each other. But, He does want first place in our life. Our most primary relationship should be our relationship with Christ. Every other relationship
follows behind.

If we put another relationship ahead of Christ, then our commitment to Christ will be compromised. We can only give what another person will allow. We can never give ourselves fully to Christ.

Please understand – this is not an excuse to ignore our families for the cause of Christ. That is out of balance too.

Who has more influence over your life than Christ? Who doesn’t understand your commitment to Christ? Where are you tempted to bend? Who is opposed to your relationship with Jesus?

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Does Jesus Want Me to be a Freak?

By Allen White

Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33

This verse used to torment me as a junior higher. I was overweight and smart, which were two huge strikes against any hope of junior high coolness. Now, I needed to be a Jesus freak on top of that? I was socially doomed. But, if I didn’t claim Jesus, then I was eternally doomed. Talk about a dilemma.

Some of us aren’t that far from junior high. We want to avoid the awkwardness of standing out in a negative way. So, I guess the question is whether we can take a stand for Christ and not be a jerk about it.

Some are timid about their faith and don’t want to make a big deal about it. They find themselves squeezed into the world’s mold before they know it (Romans 12:2). They didn’t mean to. They just wanted to fit in. When the culture of this world or the culture of a work environment or even the culture of a group of friends has more effect on us than our relationship with Christ, then we have cause to worry.

But, the opposite problem comes from those who make a big deal about their faith, but don’t live up to it. They lambast the treachery of some sins, but don’t hesitate to gossip or treat others ruthlessly. I’m not talking about candor. We have to be open and honest to get anything done. The problem comes when someone claims Christ, yet doesn’t show Christ.

If any of us were standing before a firing squad in a foreign country, right now in this moment, we would never consider denouncing Christ. We would proclaim Him boldly, because, well, the firing squad isn’t going to happen. That was easy.

But, what happens when the water cooler conversation turns to criticism of Christians. Do you shy away? Do you get in their face? What do you do? Maybe you just acknowledge their feelings, “I’m sorry that you have that opinion of Christians. A lot of us aren’t like that. I’m sorry anybody gave you that impression.” No hell fire. No brim stone. Just an honest acknowledgement.

For more of us, it’s far easier to drift along with the crowd than to take a stand. Even environments with a majority of Christians still tend to drift. After all, Christians “understand” each other. [Wink].

How do you treat criticism of your faith? Do you clam up or do you fire up?

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Monday, October 19, 2015

What to do When You’re Paralyzed with Fear

By Allen White

So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Matthew 10:26-31

Fear is a powerful weapon. Some fear losing a job. Others fear failure if they take a risk. Some fear losing a relationship, because it needs to be improved. Still others fear rejection to the point of losing who they really are.

On day in a doctor’s waiting room, I witnessed a man who literally had trouble leaving the office. As he approached the door, he reacted as if he were about to cross a pool of piranhas or face a rabid dog. He even let out a little verbal panic.

He found a chair and sat down. A nurse offered to help him. He promised that if he sat for a minute, he would be okay.

I’m not sure what condition he was dealing with, but as he sat there by the door griped in fear, I thought, “He’s not the only one paralyzed over crossing a threshold.” Occasionally, it’s me, but not in that way.

Looking back over life, we can all identify times of uncertainty. At the time, we made some pretty risky moves. Now with 20/20 hindsight, we see some right moves, we see some wrong moves, and we see some lessons learned.

Jesus clearly identifies the obstacles and fears that surround following after Him. He has a mission for all of His disciples. That mission comes with an emotional price, and possibly a physical price as well. But, Jesus’ instructions are “do not be afraid.”

We don’t need to fear the secret schemes of others. We don’t need to wrestle with them in the muck. Whatever is being said and done behind our backs will be shouted from the rooftops. How do we know? Jesus said it.

We don’t even need to fear those who will do physical harm. That doesn’t give license for unnecessary risk. But, if God is watching over every little bird in creation, He is certainly watching over us.

When it comes to being afraid, it’s better to respect God who has control over both body and soul rather than those who can merely harm the body. That seems extreme. But, the concept goes a long way. Don’t worry about the opinions of people who barely know you. Honor the opinion of God who knows everything about you and loves you incredibly.

Who or what do you fear the most? What are you afraid to lose? An opportunity, a business, your reputation, a relationship? What are you allowing to be more powerful in your life than God? As you honor God by making him the “E.F. Hutton” in your life, He will put your fears in their place.

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Bit of Name Calling

By Allen White

The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
Matthew 10:24-25

There’s a bit of name calling that goes on around our house. Our kids are preschool to elementary school age. The siblings try to outdo each other. Sometimes by achieving. Other times by putting people down. It’s childish. And, they’re children.

Sometimes the conversation will go this way, “You’re a baby.”
“I am not a baby.”
Then, the wise father steps in, “Son, are you a baby?”
“Then what does it matter what he says.” The message kind of sinks in, but nobody likes to be called a name.

In Junior High, I certainly didn’t appreciate being called “Wide Load.” Stop laughing. I had a good 30 year stretch of being thin. I’ve reverted a little.

Jesus, the Son of God, came to seek and save the lost. He never spoke an unkind word. He never sinned. Jesus lived His life exactly right. Yet, He was referred to as the “prince of demons,” Beelzebub, himself.

Jesus’ point here is that none of His disciples in the first century or in the twenty-first century are any better than He is. After all, we’re not perfect. We have sinned. And, we’ve uttered unkind words at times. If we offend someone, then we should expect a rebuke. But, sometimes as a believer people just don’t like us.

Who we are simply repels them. They don’t even know us, yet they don’t like us. This is a built-in mechanism. The enemy doesn’t want a believer getting close to an unbeliever. What we have might rub off.

Following Christ requires a thick skin. In the end, we win. In the meantime, things can get a little dirty at the bottom of the pile. The answer is not retaliation. The answer is extending God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10). The answer is Jesus.

Who could you just do without? Who is that person that no matter what you can’t do right by them? They’ve put up quite a resistance. What if God was part of their life? But, they go to church… What if God was part of their life? Could He be using you to reach them?

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Does Jesus Need Better PR?

By Allen White

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. Matthew 10:21-23

Whoever said the Christian life was easy certainly didn’t listen to Jesus. It’s a good thing Jesus invited His disciples to “come and see” before He challenged them to “come and die.” I’m not sure how many disciples He would have.

Believers know there are benefits to following Christ. Our sins are forgiven. God gives His grace to live each day. He hears and answers our prayers. We live in a community of believers, the Church, who support and encourage us. But, most of us have not faced persecution.

The force of evil in this world is more powerful than the bonds between parent and child or brother and brother. That’s really hard to imagine. Yet, light and darkness simply don’t mix. It’s not that one person is better than another. This is a pull from a force greater than themselves.

We live in a society that claims to be tolerant. The catch is our society wants Christians to tolerate everyone else. The favor goes unreturned. But, as followers of Jesus Christ, we choose to love them anyway.

As society becomes more secular, believers will find less influence and more opposition. This isn’t the time to sound the alarm and unleash judgment on society. This is the time to cling tighter to Jesus. This is the time to show others how to cross from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Ephesians 5:8).

It would be easy, and maybe even appropriate these days to assume that our world is going to Hell in a hand basket. Probably because it is. It’s been headed there ever since Man fell in the Garden. Jesus warned us. He knew things would continue to slide in that direction.

What is especially troubling to you these days? What is hard to watch on the news? What relationships are strained because of your faith? Our struggle is not against other people. Our struggle is against spiritual forces in this world (Ephesians 6:12). That unbelieving person who has you tied up in knots is a soul who desperately needs saving. How have you prayed for them lately?

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Let’s Roll or Let’s Run?

By Allen White

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Matthew 10:16-20

Passages like this are easy to relegate to the past. We’re never getting arrested. We’re scared of witnessing. And, what’s this about God taking over our mouths? (Not that it’s necessarily a bad idea.)

Imagine that you’re among the twelve hearing these words. Jesus is commissioning you to serve. These are his instructions: “I will do great things with you. Travel light. Don’t get weighed down with things you think you need. And, oh by the way, if you end up in jail or in front of a judge, it’s only an opportunity to share the Gospel with them.” Are these instructions to build Christ’s church or rob a bank?

What would you do if these were Jesus’ instructions to you. Would you say, “Let’s roll!” or “Let’s run!”?

God doesn’t always use conventional means to get us where He wants us. Think about Joseph in the Old Testament. Ultimately, God needed Joseph as basically the Prime Minister of Egypt in order to save God’s people from starvation. The path to Joseph’s success was his brother’s jealousy (Genesis 37:1-11), slavery (Genesis 37:12-36), false accusation (Genesis 39:1-20), imprisonment (Genesis 39:20-40:23) and being forgotten (Genesis 41:1). What a resume: favored son, former slave, ex-con, prime minister. Wouldn’t an MBA and a political science degree have sufficed?

God will use unconventional means to take you to unconventional places in order to fulfill His will. We often look for a convenient, comfortable, safe path when we choose to follow God’s will. After all, we’re working for God. He’ll take care of us, right?

He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). But, God never promised us a rose garden. Besides every rose has its thorn. (How’s that for mixing musical genres?)

What has happen in your life that you absolutely did not expect? A job change, family situation, special needs child, life controlling problem, recovery, loss, disappointment, success. I’m not saying that God preplanned the pain in your life, but how could God use your life experiences to help others?

If you’ve recovered from a staggering financial loss, who can you encourage? If you’ve parented a strong-willed child, who could use your advice? If you’re overcoming a life controlling problem one day at a time, who needs your support?

You don’t have to be an expert on the subject. Your credibility comes from the fact that you lived it and survived. Leave the rest up to God. He will even give you the words according to this passage.

God never wastes a hurt. What have you overcome or endured? How could God use your experiences to help another? What circumstance in your life has been completely unexpected or even disappointing? How has that circumstance given you access to people you wouldn’t know otherwise? Can God use even a low spot to raise somebody up?
Our lives aren’t accidents. We don’t rely on luck – good or bad. God is in control. Will you trust Him with what’s next for you?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Move with the Movers

By Allen White

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” Matthew 10:9-15

Jesus’ disciples went out with no itinerary. No hotel reservations. (You’d think they would have learned from Mary and Joseph’s experience.) No rental donkey. No key contact that they knew of. But, Jesus knew.

Jesus knew some would help and others definitely would not. His advice: move with the movers. If the person they approached wouldn’t cooperate, move on. If the person was unwilling, unable, distracted or just stubborn, they didn’t need to waste their breath convincing them otherwise. It’s just not the right person.

When my friend, Josh Bradley, decided to plant Element Church in Woodruff, South Carolina, he had no building, no members, but a lot of friends and God who led the way.

On one of his first visits to the town, Josh met a woman who was very interested in a contemporary church starting there. In fact, she offer Josh 2,000 square feet of space for the church office!

Now, Josh wasn’t going door to door on Main Street looking for office space. He was just checking out the town and meeting people along the way. On that day, Josh met a “worthy person” or as some translations say, a “man of peace.” In this case, a woman of peace.

Volunteers from Brookwood Church divided the space with walls, donated the office furniture, and installed much needed air conditioning. Not because Josh twisted their arms, but because God put it on their hearts to follow the vision for that church.

What about you? What are you trying to get started? A new business, ministry, initiative or neighborhood watch? Don’t focus on who doesn’t get on board. Look for an ally – a man or woman of peace.

Whether you’re launching a small group or trying to get co-workers or neighbors to join you in something, ask God for the right partner to get started.

Don’t rely on how you expect things will happen. That will only lead to frustration. Don’t count on who you think should help. That will only lead to disappointment.

Ask God. Let people know what you’re doing. If they say, “yes” then you’re making headway. If they say “no,” be gracious to them. God’s got somebody else in mind.

Who should be “moving” in your life, but isn’t? Who have you not thought to ask? Start by asking God.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Was Jesus a Racist?

By Allen White

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:5-8

In sending out His disciples to serve, Jesus instructed them to avoid the Gentiles (non-Jews) and the Samaritans (half Jews). He only wanted His disciples to seek out the “lost sheep of Israel.” This flies in the face of other parts of Scripture. Why would Jesus intentionally ignore people who needed saving? Did He have something against them?

This was the first step in a multi-part strategy. His last words to His disciples instructed them to witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). The easiest group for His Jewish disciples to reach were Jews.

The Jews were expecting the Messiah. They had some context about the message of the Gospel. The Gentiles and even the Samaritans would have been a harder sell at this point.

As Jesus began building the church, He knew that the twelve needed to multiply in order to get to the uttermost parts of the earth. The Jews, having a context for the Gospel message, were the low hanging fruit, if you will.

In time, the Gentiles and Samaritans would receive the Gospel. Jesus, Himself, shared with a Samaritan woman (John 4). When the Roman centurion came to Him, Jesus said that He saw no greater faith in all of Israel (Matthew 8:5-13).

Following Jesus’ model, we should start serving right where we are with the people we know. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against mission trips. My first mission trip took me to Hong Kong for a summer when I was 19-years-old. But, sometimes we’re overly focused on serving “over there” to the point of ignoring who’s around us.

Who’s in your life that has a need? Who’s making bad choices? Who needs encouragement? Who do you need to love enough by telling them they’re acting like a knucklehead?

Do you know your neighbors? Do they need help? I wouldn’t start the conversation with the Four Spiritual Laws or the Romans Road. Start by building a relationship. They may be Jews or Gentiles or even Samaritans. That’s not the point. If they are nearby and you can relate to them, then that’s your “Jerusalem.”

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Hard Work of Getting Along

By Allen White

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Matthew 10:1-4

Jesus led the first small group in the church. Much like small groups today, Jesus’ group was a mix of very different people. That mix actually made the group stronger.

Matthew was a tax collector. He was about the last person you would expect among other Jews. Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Romans. They were notorious for not only collecting for Caesar, but also for taking a cut off the top for themselves. On the first meeting of Jesus’ group, there probably was an empty chair on either side of Matthew.

Staring from across the room was Simon the Zealot. If Matthew was the IRS, Simon the Zealot was a Tea Party member. Zealots hated tax collectors. Yet, a Zealot and a tax collector were both drawn to Jesus and joined His group. Talk about small group dynamics.

Then, there were fishermen. When Jesus met Peter and Andrew, they were fishing from the shore. They weren’t pleasure fishing. They couldn’t afford a boat. James and John on the other hand had a boat. Two different classes of fishermen were in the same small group.

Two could have been jealous. Two could have looked down their noses. But, they had Jesus in common. That leveled the playing field.

Thomas was the analytical one. He had to see Jesus’ wounds for himself before he believed the resurrection. Today, skeptical folks are called a “Doubting Thomas,” as his name sake.

Then, there was Judas. You don’t meet a lot of people who name their babies “Judas.” His name has probably been blotted out of the baby name books.

Jesus’ group was an eclectic mix of very different folks. It wasn’t quite the bar scene from Star Wars, but it was approaching that. Yet, different folks from different backgrounds, different political viewpoints and different socio-economic statuses had one thing in common – Jesus Himself.

They learned together. They served together. They are responsible for you and I knowing Jesus today. Because they were special? No. Because they were called, and they learned to share life together.

Some people dread their group because “that guy” might show up. Others avoid groups altogether. But, we are not allowed to leave others in the dust, just because they are difficult. And, that’s a good thing – sometimes we are the difficult one.

Henri Nouwen put it this way, “Community is the place where the person I least want to be there is always there.” I know what you’re thinking – “Where do I sign up for a group?”But, meeting with people from different backgrounds and walks of life teaches us something. A difficult person in our group might just be a lesson in how to love a difficult person.
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor (James 3:18, Msg).
Who do you have a hard time with in your group? Why do you believe God put this person in your life? (No, God doesn’t hate you).
Maybe you haven’t joined a group. What’s holding you back? Jesus set the model. His words were important, but so are relationships with other people. People remind us of Jesus’ words. They help us live them out.
Note: Some thoughts inspired by a sermon called “Doing Life Together” by John Ortberg.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Best Part of the Christian Life

By Allen White

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38

Most of us haven’t spent much time around sheep. We might wear their sweaters or nibble on their legs at Easter. Other than occasionally counting them to get to sleep, we don’t hang out with sheep.

The Bible often compares people with sheep. They need to be led and protected. In fact, the ministry of every believer is similar to the work of a shepherd. Just like a shepherd leads the sheep, every believer is called to invest in the lives of others.

Jesus was moved with compassion when He saw the spiritual state of the people. They were like traffic with no lanes. They were like electricity sparking from a downed power line. They were like sheep without a shepherd.

While many people are self-directed, most of us are not self-directed in every area of our lives. We need someone to care enough to ask how we’re doing. We need encouragement. We need accountability. We need each other.

Encouraging and helping are one thing, but in this passage Jesus is about to drop the e-word – evangelism. If you’ve ever gone door to door, then you’re ready to stop reading right now. Don’t.

But, Jesus isn’t talking about finding a needle in a haystack. The harvest is plentiful. The fish are jumping in the boat. The sales leads are not warm, they’re smoking hot.

Jesus isn’t looking for an evangelical Willie Lowman who asks, “What do I need to do to put you into a Savior today?” Jesus has more hot leads than the church could possibly get to. Any willing believer is welcome to apply.

I don’t know of very many people who ever came to Christ all by themselves. In fact, even if they were alone when they prayed, someone printed a Bible or published a website or produced a presentation. The Bible tells us that by using our spiritual gifts, we extend God’s grace to other people (1 Peter 4:10).

You don’t need to memorize the Four Spiritual Laws or have a copy of Evidence that Demands a Verdict on hand (though they are great resources). Your best tool to influence otherstoward Christ is you -- your life, your experiences, your relationship with God.

I know what you’re thinking – “I’m not a good enough Christian to help another person. Maybe a pastor should do it.” Well, I’m a pastor, and I’m not good enough either. But, Jesus living in and through us is more than enough.

Jesus, as one person, couldn’t meet the needs of the entire crowd. He didn’t heal every sick person. He didn’t deliver every possessed person. Jesus knew that the poor would always be with us (Matthew 26:11). But, Jesus through His Church, you and me, can accomplish a great deal.

Think about this – there are about 2 billion Christians on this planet. So, there are about 4.7 billion people who don’t know Christ. If two people could show the love of Christ to five unbelievers, then 2 billion could show Christ’s love to 4.7 billion.

If you’re still reading, then your nerves didn’t get the best of you. God only uses people who are available to Him. He will use whatever abilities we have to offer, and then He gives us spiritual gifts to accomplish His Will.

How available are you to God? If you are open, He will use you. If you’re not open, He won’t. If you have no desire for God to use you, you’re missing out on the best part of the Christian life.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Bad About Good Things

By Allen White

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

   “Yes, Lord,” they replied.

 Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
Matthew 9:27-34

Jesus had a knack for making wounded people whole. He healed the two blind men. Could you imagine if the first face you ever saw was Jesus’ face? He instructed them not to shout about it. They couldn’t help themselves. They were blind and now they could see.

Jesus drove out the demon and opened the mouth of the mute. Were his first words, “Thank you, Jesus”? I’m sure that he couldn’t quit talking about it. After all, he had a lot to say on that day.

The religious leaders had to rain on the parade. “He’s using the power of Beelzebub.” Most of us would be excited to witness the blind men seeing and the mute man talking, we would just shout for joy. We wouldn’t question the source of Jesus’ power. And, as far as Beelzebub goes, when do we ever think of that name, except when we hear Bohemian Rhapsody.

It seems ridiculous for the Pharisees to equate Jesus’ work with the prince of demons. Or, is it?
Think about this – someone does something out of the goodness of their heart to help another – what kinds of things do we hear about them?

“He’s trying to make a name for himself.”
“She’s trying to get attention.”
“He’s a savvy entrepreneur drumming up business.”
“She must feel guilty for something.”
“He’s just overcompensating for his childhood wounds.”
“She’s just trying to prove something.”
“He just thinks he’s better than everyone else.”

Jealousy has been around for a very long time. The people weren’t buying what the Pharisees were selling. People didn’t want the heavy burden they had to offer. Jesus didn’t come to sell anybody anything. He came to give life in abundant proportions.

Jesus operated out of His love for us. The Pharisees depended on guilt and fear. They needed a God of wrath. They needed the threat of demons to keep people in line. Jesus didn’t need any of that. In fact, the wrath of God is part of the goodness of God. Huh?

The punishment for our sins is only to motivate us toward the Forgiver of our sins. He doesn’t want us to embrace things that will harm us. God desired a relationship with us. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus knew that the key to motivating people is loving them, not regulating them.

Generosity, serving, caring, helping and encouraging reflect the heart of God. How do you feel when you see others serve well? Do you celebrate with them? Do you encourage them? Or do you become a Pharisee?

Dragging down the God-motivated service of others does not reflect God’s character. In fact, if we feel negative about other’s good work, maybe it’s actually conviction to get motivated ourselves. If we’re going to outdo each other, then let’s compete with generosity, serving, caring, helping and encouraging. Leave Beelzebub to the Bohemian Rhapsody.

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Full of Doubt or Full of Faith?

By Allen White

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.

 When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.
Matthew 9:18-26

On His way to a house filled with doubt, Jesus encountered a woman full of faith. The people in the house had accepted the inevitable – the child had died. The noisy crowd was already memorializing her life. But, her father, a synagogue leader, knowing she was dead believed that there was more.

En route to the house, Jesus felt someone touch him. Her chronic health problem drove her to Jesus. Seeing Jesus, she took the opportunity by letting Jesus intersect with her need. She had faith and was healed.

At the father’s prompting, Jesus arrived at the house. He announced that the girl was only “asleep.” The mourners laughed at Him. They laughed in Jesus’ face.

Simply taking the girl by the hand, Jesus brought her back to life. The key to this miracle is one small phrase, “after the crowd had been put outside.” The crowd lacked faith. The crowd accepted things as they were. The crowd laughed at the hope Jesus offered. The crowd had to go.

Most of us don’t celebrate the newfound problems in our lives. In fact, most of us are prone to mourn our loss. Whether we’re facing inconvenience or impossibility, we usually don’t embrace the problem with open arms. We’d rather duck than pucker up.

But, who is this a problem for? “Well, it’s a problem for me.” Of course, it is. But, it’s not a problem for God. God knows the resolution of this problem. God knows where He wants to take us. We just don’t know where we’re going, yet.

Why is it a problem? It interrupted our plans. It’s not what we expected. We thought that we’d be better off than we are at this point in our lives. Maybe we didn’t see it coming. Maybe we did.

In every problem, we have a choice: faith or mourning. We can cling to what might have been – coulda, shoulda, woulda – or we can trust God for what’s next. Now, don’t get the idea that my life is problem-free and that I am averse to mourning. There is no such thing as problem-free, and I’m preaching to the preacher here.

Once we decide to follow God in faith believing, we need to look at our crowd. What are they saying? Are they building us up or tearing us down?

Who is the crowd? The crowd represents whatever inputs we are allowing in our lives. Are their messages positive or negative? Are they inspiring hope or mourning?

Some of us need to distance ourselves from negative friends or family. Others need to turn off cable (bad) news. Get the facts, and then allow God to provide the commentary. Are we reading things that bring hope? What are we telling ourselves?

The truth about us is not necessarily our track record. God says that we are forgiven and redeemed (Titus 2:14). God says that we have a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). God says that we have a mission to fulfill (Matthew 28:18-20).

If you find yourself a little hope-less today, then surround yourself with thoughts and people who are hope-full. This isn’t wishful thinking. This is truthful thinking.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

From Restraint to Rejoicing

By Allen White

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17

John the Baptist’s disciples were afraid that Jesus was leading His disciples astray. The practice of religious folks in that day, especially the Pharisees, was to fast two days a week without water. This strict observance served to discipline the body, even though the Law only required fasting on the Day of Atonement as a form of humbling themselves (Leviticus 23:27).
John’s disciples were “serious” about their faith. Jesus’ disciples came across as party boys. Jesus was the life of the party.

Jesus turns the conversation from fasting to feasting. No one fasted at a wedding. In fact, a wedding feast would typically last for seven days. There was plenty of eating and drinking. The disciples’ time with Jesus called for rejoicing, not restraint. Jesus brought a new relationship between people and God.

To exercise self-restraint in the presence of the Messiah made about as much sense as patching an old garment with new cloth or putting new wine into old wineskins. A well-worn piece of clothing had shrunk from washing over time. A new piece of cloth had not. The patch would only add to the damage, not repair it.

The fresh press of grapes needed room to expand during the fermentation process. Today, that would happen in oak barrels in a wine cave or in stainless steel tanks in a place like Livingston, California, which resembles a refinery more than a winery.

In Jesus’ day, fermentation happened in an animal skin. As the new wine fermented, the wineskin would stretch and expand. An old wineskin was already stretched out. To fill it with new wine, when it was already stretched to capacity, meant that an explosion was imminent.
New wine belonged in new skin. New cloth belonged on new clothes. A new covenant prized rejoicing over ritual.

There is a place in our spiritual life for self-discipline. There are days when we need to routinely connect with God, even if we don’t feel like it. But, if our regimen of spiritual disciplines has left us dreading our relationship with God, then we have taken things too far.

Yes, God wants dedicated disciples, but He also wants us to delight in Him as He delights in us (Psalm 149:4). When the things that used to bring us closer to God begin to get in the way of our relationship with God, then it’s time to try something new.

There are many ways to connect with God. Sing worship songs at the top of your lungs while you’re driving. Take a passage of Scripture and put it into your own words. Serve someone who needs help. Talk to someone about your relationship with God. Pray out loud. Be quiet and turn off the noise for half a day. Skip a meal -- spend the time with God and spend the money on someone in need.

God doesn’t want our mindless obedience. He desires meaningful interaction. When giving becomes like paying the bills, when praying sounds like placing an order, when serving becomes just another thing to do, it’s time to do something different. The doing doesn’t make the difference. It’s our connection to God that matters.

Are you stuck in a rut in your relationship with God? Where have good habits become dreaded routines in your life? Try something new. Don’t let even good things sap your joy.

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