It’s who He is

This weekend I had breakfast with my beautiful friend, Josey, who is in the military. She shared about her recent advancement ceremony, where she was allowed to choose two people to pin the insignia of her new rank on her collars. It is an honor for those who are chosen, as it is a recognition of their significance in that person’s life. Josey could choose anyone and normally the choice for that honor would be a family member or a higher ranking military mentor. But Josey is a follower of Jesus (and a radical one at that) and she gave that choice to the Lord. He made the selection and His choices for this honor were two men in her unit, both of them unliked, ostracized and bullied by the others. One of the men chosen by the Lord was even subordinate in rank to her – something that just wasn’t done.

Sitting in the middle of the restaurant with people eating and talking and dishes clattering all around, I felt the presence of God wash over me. Tears began to fall down my cheeks as I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Almighty God who is the lover of outcasts. The Spirit of God was shouting in my spirit – “THIS IS WHO YOUR GOD IS!”

Lifting the lowly

Loving the broken

Pursuing the rejected

It’s who He is.

And when I catch a glimpse…it is breathtaking.

Though the LORD is on high, yet He regards the lowly – Psalm 138:6a

Beautiful, beautiful Yahweh!

Remembering my friend who loved the people

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This was originally posted in 2008. Today, February 23rd, marks the 14 anniversary of Charles’ death. His life still impacts me…..

In February of this year a good friend of mine died from cancer.  He was also my boss and a brother in the Lord.  He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma 5 years ago and I was able to witness up close his journey through chemo, remission, chemo again, transplant, return of cancer, another transplant, and then a final downturn that he didn’t recover from.

Charles was a remarkable person in many ways, but the one thing that stands out above all others is his remarkable love for people.  He was interested in the details of their lives.  And not just the people he knew.  His wife recently shared a story with me about Charles striking up a conversation with a man putting flyers on cars in our office parking lot.  He gave the man a Bible and shared some words of encouragement with him and just genuinely showed interest in this man’s life.  This man still remembers Charles and carries that Bible with him in his truck.  The fact that a total stranger cared about him made an impact on his life.

But what I carry closest to my heart are these words that Charles was known to speak in response to those who became frustrated with others –  Love the people.

Over the past 6 months I have reflected back on the 10 years I knew Charles.  I suspect that there are many wonderful things about him that I never knew.  But one thing I do know – Charles was a man whose heart’s desire was to demonstrate the love of Christ.  And he did it.  He did it.

And I am forever changed.  And learning to love the people.

Wages for waiting

Matthew 20:9 “And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.

At this point in the story people started getting mad because the 11th hour people got a full day’s wages. But I had never noticed that while the others got paid for a day’s working, these 11th hour folks got paid for a day’s waiting. They were in the marketplace. They were prepared to work. They were positioned and available. Yet if nobody hired them, what else could they do? Many may have been tempted to go home at some point, assuming that the lateness of the hour would preclude the possibility of being hired. But these laborers stayed there. Waiting. All day. You can’t tell me that they didn’t struggle with discouragement. But they must have believed that there was yet some hope, because they stayed.

If you feel useless to the Lord, not employed in His service, with no kingdom assignment and yet you are prepared, willing, waiting and hoping for His summons to the vineyard, you are earning your full wage in the waiting. That is His current assignment for you and your faithfulness in that assignment will be rewarded just as fully as those who are currently assigned to the front lines of ministry.

Holy Grateful

Exodus 13:7-8 Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters. And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the LORD did for me when I came up from Egypt.’

Holiness.  Consecration.  Beautiful words that are too rarely spoken of.   Perhaps they seem too old fashioned.  Out of date.   But this is what our verses paint a picture of.  Leaven represents sin, and part of the celebration of Passover was the removal of leaven from the home.  As the Passover tradition was passed down to the younger generation, the removal of leaven was explained – “it’s because of what the Lord did for me.”

I have known people who lived a holy life because they are extremely disciplined and orderly people and such a lifestyle appeals to them.  I have known others who lived a holy life because they were afraid that God would reject them if they didn’t.  But the motivation that we are pointed to is something totally different.  Gratitude.   Holiness is the proper response from the heart grateful for God’s deliverance.

Such a heart, when tempted with sin, prefers that their flesh forego the desired pleasure rather than participate in anything that would hurt the heart of God.  This person remembers regularly the various Egypts they have been brought out of by the strong hand of the Lord.  Nothing matters except living to please Him.  They live a life wholly grateful.  And holy grateful.

Blessings all around

Genesis 30:25-27 And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service which I have done for you.” And Laban said to him, “Please stay if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the LORD has blessed me for your sake.”

God had promised Jacob that “in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 28:14). And even though most of that promise was centuries away from fulfillment, Jacob experienced a taste of it now. The blessing of God was upon his life and it spilled over into the lives of those around him. And it was so obvious to Laban that he couldn’t help but admit that the Lord has blessed him because of Jacob.

This same blessing moved through his father Isaac’s life. The king of a nation came and sought peace with Isaac because “you are now the blessed of the Lord.” (Gen 26:29)

They said this of Isaac before he was in possession of all that God had promised. But he was a man in covenant with God and the favor that accompanied this covenant relationship was apparent to those around him.

Isn’t that how our lives should be as we walk with Jesus….blessed and blessing others? Our presence in a work environment should bring the blessing of God. Our presence in a classroom should bring the blessing of God. We may not yet be in possession of all that God has promised us, but we are in covenant with Him. The blessing of God is your inheritance and whether you are aware of it or not, that blessing is affecting others around you.

A tale of two Ananias’s

In the book of Acts we meet two men named Ananias.

We meet the first one in Acts 5. He was part of the early church in Jerusalem. God was moving powerfully and the church was growing. The believers were living in communion with God and fellowship with each other and radical acts of love and generosity became common among them. People sold their possessions in order to give to others who were in need. It was a beautiful scene – one birthed by the Holy Spirit and His working in the hearts of these people.

Not wanting to be left out, Ananias also sold a property, but he acted deceitfully, giving a part as though it was the whole. It is very likely that what motivated him to do this thing was a desire to be well thought of by the apostles and the rest of the church without it costing him too much. His sin would cost him his life.

In Acts 9 we meet another Ananias. He lived far from Jerusalem, in Damascus. The Lord asked a hard thing of him – to go into the presence of a man who had travelled a great distance with authority to imprison him and many people he loved. He voiced his concerns to the Lord but when the Lord answered him, he moved out in obedience. Full obedience. He didn’t just go to the window of the house Saul was staying in and shout a prayer as he ran by. He went in, put his hands on the man and prayed for him. And because of this he has a mention in the story of the greatest missionary that ever lived. This Ananias was motivated by the love of God.

Two men, same name, very different stories. The difference is that one was motivated by a desire for his own glory and the other by a desire for the glory of God. The one seeking his own honor was brought to shame. The one seeking God’s honor was himself honored.

It still works the same way.

When Jesus really has your “yes”

Acts 9:10-12 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

Saul of Tarsus was known by believers as one that tracked them down and had them thrown into prison. He was a man who hated their faith and their Savior. But he was a man who was chosen by God to be a messenger of the gospel. As Saul was headed to Damascus to imprison Christians, Jesus appeared to him and the glory of that encounter blinded him. For three days he sat in blindness, not eating or drinking, realizing that he had been persecuting the Messiah that he had longed for all his life.

Jesus had followers in Damascus. They knew of Saul and his desire to exterminate them. How many would have been too fearful to go anywhere near Saul? But there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias and the Lord was so convinced of this man’s “yes” to Him that He made that appointment for Ananias before He even approached the man about it. He knew Ananias would do whatever He asked so the Lord could tell Saul the very name of the man who would come pray for him.

How deep is your yes? Does it have limits? To whatever extent you put boundaries on your yes, to that degree you limit your ability to be useful to God.

Ananias got a mention in the word of God because of his yes and he had the honor of baptizing the apostle Paul!

Don’t miss out! Let your yes to Jesus be as big as His love for you!!

The song of God

Did you know that God wrote a song? He put it in the Bible for you to find.  It is the Song of Solomon. Many people have never read this book of the Bible and many of those who have read it, haven’t fully understood it. It is the story of a beautiful romance between a Shulamite woman and King Solomon. But really it’s the story of the romance between Jesus and those who follow Him.

In this book is an invitation to love God and to be loved by Him.  He is revealed not as the harsh taskmaster that many believe He is, but as a lover who delights in your pursuit of Him.

Does it seem unbelievable to you that the holy God could really love you? It’s true. He loves you specifically and personally even though He knows everything about you. So many of us have excluded ourselves from the love of God because we know who we are, and we know what we’ve done, and we don’t like ourselves very much. We believe God doesn’t really like us either and we have shut ourselves out from receiving and enjoying His love.

When Jesus died on the cross He didn’t do it just to make sure heaven would be filled up for eternity.  He did it because He wants you with Him always and that was the only way.  He poured out His blood so that you could know His love as the greatest reality in your life.

Some of you reading this right now have only known of a god whois angry and impatiently waiting for your last breath so he might dispose of you forever.  This is not the God of the Bible.  From the very beginning, His desire was for a relationship of nearness with mankind. When Adam sinned in the garden, God’s first words to him afterwards were not “You’re gonna have to pay for disobeying Me.”  They were “Where are you?”  God was looking for the man.

God is still looking for men and women.  Every day He is at work in the hearts of people all over the earth, drawing them to Himself.  Why?  Does He need them?  No, He loves them and He wants them near.  He wants you near.

You are not excluded by your past or even your present.  Today is the day of salvation…the day that your whole life can be changed by repentance and faith in the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin.  The God who saves you will rush in to fill your heart with His love.

If you are already born again and aren’t experiencing this love, then ask Him to tear down every barrier in your mind that keeps you from believing this glorious truth.   

The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Let the God who rejoices in you teach you to rejoice in His love.  And then, hear the song that He sings over you:

You are all fair, my love, and there is no spot in you. Song of Solomon 4:7

A local gospel

“through Him we have obtained grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among the nations for His name among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. Romans 1:5-6

In our last episode we talked about the gospel being a global message.  But it is also a local message. Often I have heard people speak of traveling to distant lands to share the gospel. It is a somewhat glamorous and adventurous sounding thing to be a missionary.  But it always seemed strange to me when these same people wouldn’t share it in their own city. 

I went on one international mission trip a number of years ago.  It was a wonderful week and the people were so very responsive to the gospel.  And then I came back home and it was over.  A few years after that I became heavily burdened for my own city and for seven years I was heavily involved in local evangelism.  I was a missionary to my own city.

In Mark chapter 5 there is a very dramatic story of a demon possessed man whose life had been absolutely wrecked and humiliated by the devil.  Nobody had been able to help him.  They could only try to restrain him.  But Jesus came and set that hopeless man free.

Mark 5:18-20 And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.

Jesus turned this man into a local missionary.  He sent him among those who knew him and had seen his tormented life with a message and demonstration of freedom.

For those who may feel called to bring the gospel to foreign lands, I really do appreciate that work of God in you.  But while you are waiting to go there, go here.  Bring the gospel to your family, friends and workplace.  Go into the streets of your city and preach as boldly there as you hope to overseas.  The lost and dying are everywhere.  If you don’t care about those nearest to you then you are not ready yet for those far away.

Lord, give us your heart for the world. Even that part of the world we live in every day.

A global gospel

“through Him we have obtained grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among the nations for His name.” Romans 1:5

When Jesus was physically on the earth His ministry was almost entirely to the Jews.  They were, after all, the chosen people.  In fact, the first time Peter took the gospel to a Gentile (Cornelius the Centurion), there was a bit of contention about it.

“Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” Acts 11:1-3

So Peter explained the whole thing to them starting with the vision he had from God that he should not consider unclean what God had cleansed, the summons to Cornelius’s house, and their eager reception of the gospel and the Holy Spirit.  I love the response in verse 18:

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

Every time I read that passage I can almost imagine what it was like to be there.  A holy hush came over the room as the largeness of God’s plan was revealed.  And it was startling.

This was something new to them, but not to God.  It was always part of His plan that this great salvation should be for the Jew and the Gentile.  Jesus Christ is worthy of the whole world.

Isaiah 49:6 Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’

Jesus reiterated this in Mark 16:15 when He said  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Every people group, every ethnicity, every race are to hear the gospel of grace.  The offer is extended to all, with no distinctions made.  There have been perversions of the gospel that have excluded some people or created artificial hierarchies in the kingdom.  These are all antichrist.  We see a picture of the kingdom Jesus is building when we get a peek into heaven:

Revelation 7:9-10 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

It is a beautiful multi-colored kingdom that Jesus is building. Diverse but unified in the glory of the lamb. So preach the gospel everywhere and to all people. Let the Lord be magnified among the nations. Bring His salvation to the ends of the earth.