love_people

Bittersweet days… saying “goodbye” is usually bittersweet. When I preached my last sermon at Raleigh First Church, it was bittersweet. Now, just a few years later and I’ve preached my last sermon at Decatur First Church. These departures were bitter because it’s difficult to leave a place that gets it: a place that truly embodies what it means to “be the church.” However, it’s sweet because God is calling me to a new ministry and I’m excited about it.

At the end of the day what I walk away with is simple: I LOVE PEOPLE. It’s that simple: I love ’em. I love people in spite of their flaws, quirks, habits, backgrounds, age, skin color, social status… I don’t believe it’s my job to judge them, but to accept them wherever they are in life, and point them to Jesus. It’s my job to love them the way Christ loves me.

After my last service at Decatur First Church my eyes filled with tears because I’m going to miss these people who I’ve only known for a short time yet grown to love in a profound way. It caused me to think deeply about what it truly means to love others. Jack Kornfield writes, “At the end of life, our questions are very simple: Did I live fully? Did I love well?”

At the end of the day, when it’s all been said and done, the only thing that matters is how well I loved God and how much I loved people. Actually, I’ve come to understand that how well I love people is a direct reflection of how well I love God.

Over the years I’ve learned some beautiful things about love: (1) Loving people means believing in who they can become and helping them fulfill their potential; (2) Loving people means treating them with kindness and accepting them wherever they are in life; (3) Loving people means celebrating their success and helping them achieve greater things.

If you really want to learn to love others, here are some guidelines:

  • Lift them up. Highlight their qualities. Often they can’t see it but you can, and you can illuminate it for them.
  • Be genuine. Give people the real you. Tell the truth about who you are and how you feel about them.
  • Listen to them. Learn to tell their stories. Don’t listen to decide if you agree or disagree. Listen to get to know what is true for the person in front of you.
  • Live and let live. Don’t waste your time or energy thinking about how they need to be different. Their habits are their habits; their personalities are their personalities. Work on what you want to change about you, not what you think you should change about them.
  • Give of yourself. That doesn’t mean compromise yourself. Take a break if resentment is building up and talk about it.
  • Remember the Image of God. Everyone you encounter in life was created by God; they have a purpose and a destiny. Your job in loving them is to help them discover it.
  • Respond to the call to love. If you want to continue growing as a human being, commit to never stop loving people. Establish this rule and live by it: Everything that I experience from another human being is either love, or a call for love.

When you love people, it means that you know who you are in Christ, and you are acting on it. So love people regardless of who they are, where they’re from, or what they’ve done. Love people the way God loves you. There’s only one thing that will absolutely positively never fail: LOVE (1 Cor. 13). Go do it!

(Sources: Jack Cornfield; Tara Sophia Mohr; Graham Cooke)

Generosity_Header

When people realize that they get to live a life they don’t deserve, when their life has been invaded by grace and they’re filled with gratitude, you know what happens? It begins to show. It begins to show in their faces because they smile more. It begins to show in their words because they’re kinder in what they say. It begins to show in their actions because now they become more loving and generous people.

In Luke 7 Jesus is having dinner with Simon who was a Pharisee. It’s kind of an exclusive dinner party. On this particular night the Bible says that in walked a woman who was uninvited. The Bible doesn’t really tell us a lot about her. Only that she had lived a sinful life. She walks in uninvited and stands by Jesus. She is so overcome with emotion that she begins to weep. As tears roll down her cheeks they begin to drip down on the feet of Jesus. The Bible says that she gently kneels down, takes her hair, and begins to wipe the tears off of his feet. In that moment so overcome with gratitude, she actually kisses the feet of Jesus and begins to pour perfume on them.

Simon the Pharisee becomes enraged at what is happening. He’s upset not only about what she’s doing, but he’s upset that Jesus isn’t upset. Jesus knows what this guy’s thinking. So he tells a little story about two guys who were in debt and how grateful they were after they had been forgiven of their debt. Then Jesus says about this woman, “Her sins which were many have all been forgiven. So she has shown me much love.”

I don’t want you to miss this. If you don’t remember anything else in the last three blog posts, I hope you’ll remember this. I think this is a fundamental point. Here’s what Jesus is trying to say: (1) There is a direct link between my ability to love and the depth of my gratitude; (2) There’s a direct link between the depth of my gratitude and my understanding of grace.

When your heart has been transformed by the grace of God you can’t help but be filled with gratitude. And when your heart is filled with gratitude, you can’t help but begin to express it in generous deeds.

This woman, on this day, could walk into a room where Jesus sat physically and openly express her love to him. Now, it’s not possible for you and me to do that in the same way today. So how do we do it? We express love to the people he loves, to the people who were created in his image. People who he cares about. Those are the people that we express love to today.

Grace flows in, gratitude fills up, and generosity flows out.

It all starts with grace. When you realize how much you’ve been forgiven, how much you’re loved, how much God has graced you with a life you don’t deserve, it fills up your soul with gratitude. When your heart gets full of gratitude it can’t stay put. It works its way out in generosity. You become a more loving person. You become a kinder person. When grace flows in, gratitude fills up, and generosity flows out. Let the good things of God flow freely!


(Sources: Max Lucado; NIV Application Commentary; Max Kennedy of Innovative Word; Holman NT Commentary)

 

Gratitude

Gratitude is the natural by-product of grace. Yet, I know from experience how quickly I can forget God’s grace and start complaining. How easily my focus shifts from what I should be grateful for, to what I don’t have. Do you ever have to remind your kids about this? Have you ever had this conversation? “That room you live in is in a house that I own. You live here for free. It’s all grace. See that bed? Grace. Those clothes in your closet? Grace. That TV in your room? Grace. How about a little gratitude?” I wonder sometimes if God doesn’t look at us and say, “You know that job you have? That’s grace. Your health and all the years I’ve given you? It’s my gift to you. The house you live in? It’s all grace. So how about a little gratitude?”

Gratitude is so much more than just being polite. I think about the forced gratitude that we impose on our children at Christmas when they get a lousy present from Aunt Claire. We give that look that says, “You’d better say thank you even if you don’t know what it is!” Genuine gratitude isn’t forced; it’s the kind of gratitude that resides voluntarily deep within your soul. It’s gratitude that creates contentment and makes you less petty and critical.

Perspective is everything. True gratitude has nothing to do with what you have or don’t have. It has nothing to do with having a job or not having a job. It has nothing to do with having your health or not. It’s not dependent on circumstances. Listen to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “No matter what happens, always be thankful for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Back in 2003 a young 13 year old girl named Bethany Hamilton was laying on her surfboard off the coast of Hawaii when she was attacked by a tiger shark. She lost her arm and for the next several hours there was fear that she would actually bleed to death. She was a young surfer on her way to becoming pro, but that day her life was interrupted. Stories about her ran all over the news. Listen to her words just a few days after this attack that would forever change her life: “There’s no time machine. I can’t change what happened. This is God’s plan and I’m going to go with it.” She goes on to say, “I might not even be here if I hadn’t asked for God’s help. Who knows maybe it’s all so that I can tell others about God and help them get to heaven.” Remarkable… thirteen years old! Not focused on what she didn’t have (her arm), but grateful for what she did have (her life). It’s all about perspective.

Guarding your heart with gratitude is essential. In the Christian life there are many things which are like spiritual diseases. No matter what the symptoms are, I believe the prescription for healing is found in a large dose of gratitude.

Let’s say for example that you struggle with a critical spirit. That is symptomatic of an ungrateful heart. My advice to you would be, work on gratitude. Begin to look for those things which you appreciate. Maybe you struggle with bitterness in your marriage. When you and your spouse disagree you feel the resentment welling up inside of you. Stop, change your thinking. Look for ways to be grateful. Begin to express your appreciation and see what God does in your heart. Maybe the issue is one of pride. You find yourself thinking it’s all about you. Focus on gratitude; it helps you realize it’s not about you at all.

Gratitude leads to contentment… every time.

Practice staying in the moment. One of the lessons that I’m continuing to learn is that my gratitude is linked to my ability to stay in the moment. Life in our culture moves very fast. If I’m not careful I’ll blow right by all the opportunities that God wants to inject gratitude into my heart. We need to learn to linger long enough to be grateful.

Let’s practice this right now. Hold up your left hand, wiggle your fingers. If you have a left hand that works and moves, it’s something to be grateful for. In fact, your hand is a medical marvel. Some of you have a watch on your left arm. Every time that second hand ticks, it’s a gift. Not one of us ever created one minute of life. It’s a gift. On my left hand is a ring which symbolizes a gift of a relationship. It represents somebody who has shared their life with me for more than 25 years now. It’s a gift for which I am grateful. God gave you that left hand so that you could touch and be touched. Sometimes just the touch of a person’s hand communicates, “I’m grateful.” In fact, if you’re sitting by someone you might just reach over and pat them on the shoulder, put your arm around them, grab their hand. If you’re sitting next to a stranger, don’t do it… or at least ask them first.

The idea: Stay in the moment. Practice saying thanks for the little things. When we express gratitude, God changes the way we think. When we start thinking differently the way we perceive everything is filtered through the lens of gratitude.

Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made. We’ll rejoice and be glad in it.” This is the day. He doesn’t say “yesterday,” because you can’t change that. He doesn’t talk about “tomorrow,” because we don’t know what tomorrow holds. But the one thing we own is what we do with this day, today, right now. When grace flows in, gratitude fills up.


(Sources: Max Lucado; NIV Application Commentary; Max Kennedy of Innovative Word; Holman NT Commentary)

grace

Grace… in Christian circles we throw around that word quite frequently. However, I’m not convinced that we really understand the magnitude of these five letters. There is so much in that one little word. We often take it for granted and we drastically understate it. It’s like calling the Grand Canyon a hole in the ground or Lake Michigan a pond. Grace is so big; there’s so much to it.

If someone were to ask you to give a one sentence definition of ‘grace’ what would it be? In simple terms, most of us would probably say that grace is a gift. It’s getting what you haven’t earned. It’s living a life that you don’t deserve. It’s being ‘graced’ with something. While I love concise definitions, I don’t always think they do the word justice, especially in this case. Sometimes grace is better understood with a story.

In 1995 there was a strike in major league baseball. Contracted players were holding out for more money and better benefits. There was a lot of resistance from the owners. In the spring of that year the owners came together and decided that whether they had contracted players or not they were going to open the season. They opened their teams to virtually anybody who could field a ground ball and swing a baseball bat. Some guys who were coaching Little League one week were playing in the Major Leagues the next. It was remarkable to watch.

Max Lucado writes about this experience: The games weren’t fancy… One manager said his pitcher threw the ball so slowly the radar gun couldn’t clock them. But oh, did these guys have fun. They arrived before the park was open, oiling their glove, cleaning their cleats, they thanked the attendants for washing their uniforms. They thanked the caterers for food. They thanked the fans for paying a dollar to come and watch them. These guys didn’t see themselves as a blessing to baseball but baseball was a blessing to them. In that short season the Phillies gave away free hot dogs and in the trade of the year the Cleveland Indians gave five players to the Cincinnati Reds absolutely free.

So what made this season so intriguing? Quite simple. These were all guys who were living a life they didn’t deserve. They were chosen not because they were good but just because they were willing. And they knew it. There was no jockeying for position. There was no second guessing the management. No strikes, no walkouts, no lockouts. These guys didn’t even have names on the back of their jerseys. They were thrilled just to be on the team.

That’s grace. That’s how we should be. Thrilled that God would allow us to be part of the team, not because we deserve it, not because we’re good, not because we’ve earned it, but just because that’s how God is. God’s grace simply means that God is for you, that he loves you and wants what’s best for your life.

Until you understand how big and majestic God is and how undeserving you are, you’ll never understand God’s grace. Until you realize that the darkness of your own soul separates you from a holy God, and that there’s nothing in you to merit a relationship with a God, then you’ll never fully appreciate grace.

Here’s the good news. In spite of how dark my own soul can be, and in spite of how big and majestic he is… He chooses to love me. That, my friend, is grace. My prayer for you today is that you will never get over what it means that God has invaded your life with grace. Not because you deserve it, but just because that’s who he is. When grace flows in it changes everything.


(Sources: Max Lucado; NIV Application Commentary; Max Kennedy of Innovative Word; Holman NT Commentary)