Justice, Mercy & Humility

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” – Micah 6:8

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JUSTICE

I am one of those guys who love action packed movies. If you were to come into my house, you will see Mission Impossible, James Bond and the Bourne series DVD’s on my entertainment center. (Yes, I still have hard copies of these things!). Many of the action movies usually have a hero who is out looking for justice. Most of the time, the plot involves some injustice being done to the hero or their family. However, there is usually no satisfactory legal recourse. So, the hero often has to go outside the regular channels in order to seek “justice”.

But if you were to take a closer look at many of these plots, what the person is seeking is closer to vengeance than justice. This is primarily because the heroes are flowed humans who often have their judgment clouded by anger, resentment or substance abuse. As a result, the protagonist leaves behind a trail of destruction to property and sometimes persons. Now is this justice?

What Is Justice?

Justice can be defined as impartiality, integrity, fairness or uprightness. There is not much right about Robin Hood stealing from the rich in order to feed the poor, stealing is stealing!

God calls believers to practice justice and leave vengeance to Him. In spite of the prevailing culture, God was calling His people to walk in integrity, treat their neighbors fairly and live upright lives.

mlk justice 1

This week we just observed a national holiday named after the famous American civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In short, Dr. was a man who advocated for racial equality and justice for minorities – African Americans in particular. In a nation which boasts of highly venerated foundational documents such as the Constitution, Bill of Rights and more, Dr. King was a voice in the wilderness crying for justice. The promise of “liberty and justice for all” rang hollow in the ears of those who were denied justice. At this time, millions of minorities lived lives a little bit better than their enslaved ancestors. There had liberty only in word, but in practice faced systemic discrimination that took away access to quality education, high paying jobs and or voting rights. Justice was nowhere to be found.

In what is one of his most famous speeches, and one hailed as one of the greatest speeches of all time – Dr. King drives home the need for justice for the oppressed. Invoking the holy scriptures, while standing in the shadow of the Abraham Lincoln monument he proclaimed, But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt”. He was calling the nation to live up to its promises to all its citizens. For justice is not just something we should only pay lip service to through empty promises – but something that we practice. Something that we live out, something that fight for. In fact, in this speech, Dr. King uses the word “justice” or “injustice” at least 9 times! Boy was he onto something!

It is not surprising that Dr. King had many enemies. These were mostly individuals and people groups that benefited from the status quo. They were the ones who perverted or denied justice to those we most needed it.

While secular governments or individuals can seek and promote justice, they may do so imperfectly. While the context of the speech is the American society – which claimed to be a “Christian nation”, the institutionalized, rationalized and state sponsored racism, segregation and human rights abuses seemed to suggest otherwise! God calls Christians to seek and promote justice in the society in which we live. One of the most powerful things about the civil rights movement is that it got the support of conscientious individuals from other races and religions.  Many people of different races and walks of life not only claimed to stand for justice, law and order – but actually worked for it!

While human beings are corrupt and may pervert justice, God is holy, loving and just. Because God is holy, His sense of justice is consistent and objective.  Because He is loving, God’s justice seeks the ultimate wellbeing for all humans. And because God is just – His judgement shows no partiality. As God’s children, He requires us to act justly, as much as He calls us to be holy as He is holy. The Israelites of Micah’s day may have asked God – what do you want us to do? What do we need to do in order to be considered righteous? God responds; ““To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God

So What?

This may not be 1963 anymore, but we still all need to see the injustices in our world. Are you aware of any individuals or people groups that are being denied justice? What part are you playing in bringing attention to injustice or helping fight against it? We may not all be movers and shakers like Dr. MLK was, but we can sure play our part.

PS: More on loving mercy in the next piece.

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Count the Cost

Amen! Great reminder that we need to not only count the “losses”, but the blessings that God gives. And as wise builders, we need to count he cost of following Christ, which is nothing compared to the eternal riches of glory He bestows upon us.

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count the cost

19 years ago, Rutendo and I bad farewell to our family in Zimbabwe. We thought we would be overseas for one year or so. Yet, here we are, raising a family, building a life, and serving God 10,000 miles away from home. It hurt to say, “Goodbye,” to our relatives. My mother-in-law was ill, none of our immediate family members had gone to live overseas. We were terrified to leave all that is familiar for a land we knew nothing about.

Although we moved from a developing country to a developed country, we missed our family, dearly. We missed our parents. We missed the communal gatherings. We missed the expressive, and often spontaneous, worship. We missed speaking in our mother tongue – Shona. We missed the food – sadza nenyama. We missed the familiar, comforting sounds and unique scents that fill the African air.

The transformation from our old lives…

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Meaning of Christmas

Great theology and practical application of the Christmas story.

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The Christmas season evokes various emotions in people. Some people, and certainly retail stores, love this season. It’s the season of shopping – big business. To some people, the Christmas season has been high jacked by unbridled consumerism. To some the Christmas season is the time to remember the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Whatever your feelings are during this season, I want to remind you of the familiar cliché, “Jesus is the reason for the season!”

I have come up with a couple acronyms for the word Christmas to help you meditate on the meaning of Christmas.

CROSS. Jesus came to go to the cross. His death on the cross was not a surprise. He was born to die for our sins. Thank you, Jesus.

HOLINESS. Jesus is Holy. He came to prepare a way for us to experience holiness.

REDEMPTION. Christmas reminds us that Jesus bought us at an expensive…

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To Be or To Do

Mary-and-MarthaLuke 10:38-42

My wife and I have been in our “new” appointment for eight months now. (Did I already say how much we love it here!?) How time flies when you are having fun! Or should I say how time flies when you are busy. We are blessed with an active church that seeks to serve people through several programs and activities. Glory to God and thanksgiving to all the officers and soldiers who came before us. With the help of our gifted staff and passionate local leaders, we are working hard to make an impact on our community! Our effort to serve our community keeps us busy, and in many ways much busier than we can keep up with!

There just does not seem to be enough time in the day to accomplish all that I dream of doing. Additionally, I am trying to be a parent who is present with my kids and a husband who attends to the needs of his wife. (How am I doing Jennifer? Wait, don’t answer that here). Besides that, one of my personal goals this year is to be healthier as I will be hitting the dreaded 40yr mark this year. Really. By the time the day is done, I want to have been able to go to work, exercise, feed my spirit and spend time with the family. And yes, I want to have seven hours of sleep somewhere in there. This is a hard thing to accomplish in 24hrs.

One of the things that I am trying to do is to remember that I need to keep God at the center of everything I do. While I am certainly doing ministry, I do not want to be all about doing and forget about being.

Mary & Martha

For me, one of the most challenging stories in the Gospels is when Jesus visits the home of his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Apparently, in order to be a good host, Martha was preoccupied with making preparations for the perfect visit from the Rabbi. This probably included making sure there was a nice, warm home-cooked meal which would obviously take some time and effort to prepare.

On the other hand, her sister Mary was sitting by Jesus, soaking in all the teaching that He may have been giving. As any sensitive sibling would, Martha is irked by this. I would be more than irked too. Martha seems pretty comfortable with Jesus enough to complain to Him in regards to her sister; “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore, tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40).

Jesus’ response must have taken Martha aback as He says; “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Many of us have really busy jobs that call for writing emails, making phone calls, sitting in meetings and maybe travels. In ministry, there are people to visit, potlucks to prepare for and cleaning to do. Maybe a fire or two to put out – and for good measure an occasional conflict to mediate. Then there is Sunday. I don’t know about you, but Sunday feels like a whole week packed into a day! Preparation for the service includes music rehearsals, sermon prep, flowers to set up or people to pick up. And then there are all those unforeseen things that come up as soon as you set foot on the church property.

This is not to say these things are unimportant nor should they be ignored. We just need to be careful that we not be all about “doing” the Lord’s work but actually never sit down at his feet to listen to Him. We may forget to simply be. In many ways, it is easier to be a Martha than be a Mary.

Checking Boxes

Often times, when you are “doing” you feel productive and in many cases validated. (Can I get an Amen on the validated part?) When we spend time “being”, we may feel unproductive or restless. After all, how do we get that “to do list” checked off if we are not “doing” anything!?

Mary chose to sit at the feet if Jesus and listen to the Words of Life. This is not to discount or dismiss the importance of service. Jesus is teaching that service must flow out of devotion; doing must be a by-product of being. What we do must be a result of who we are, and not the other way around.

It is possible to do a lot of ministry, but lack the relationship with the One we are doing it for. The Gospels make it clear that the Pharisees, the religious experts of the day, had works down, but lacked the heart. Scripture memorization, fasting, public prayer, almsgiving and tithing – all check. But how about the relationship part? Enter Jesus. The One who would call them to stop being all about doing and be more about being. They needed to forsake the play acting in favor of genuine a relationship with God and loving obedience.

Do you find yourself more comfortable only with “doing” rather than “being”? When tempted to hold service above devotion, seek God’s help to turn things around. Spend more time seeking the one thing that will make you “be”. Jesus exhorted Martha – “only one thing is needed”; that is – being. We need to sit at the feet of Jesus, unburdened by the cares of “ministry” and unencumbered by the need to perform.  

King David, a man after God’s heart, put it this way; “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4).

So What?

To be or to do – that is the question. I do not think it’s an “either or” situation at all. I believe we can do both – “to be” and “to do”. We can sit in the presence of God and learn from Him, then get up and serve as He leads us to. In our own time, we must seek to be, to learn, to pray, to study the scriptures, to meditate, to rest in His presence. Then, we can get up and go and do those things He whispers into our ear as we recline at His feet.

Out of our being, may our doing rise. May our devotion to God lead to our vocation – may it be an overflow of our hearts. May our doing be an expression of our faith in Jesus, and never the other way around!

Even Jesus, the Son of God, saw it fit to be. To pray, to listen to God, to regularly withdraw from the masses to be alone with the Father. So, go home and learn to be and to do.

 

We All Need A Friend

Comfort Friend

We all need friends.  They say that when your life is going great, friends tend to be numerous. But the “fair weather” friends are nowhere to be found once foul weather shows up. However, faithful friends are there for you even through the darkest of times. They love and care for you so much that they stand by you no matter what you are going through. We all need at least one friend who will be there for us through thick and thin.

When I talk about friendship, a few songs come to mind. “You got a friend in me…” of the Toy Story Fame. For most of us, as adults we won’t be caught singing that one out loud, even though the words are meaningful and ones we may find ourselves humming unconsciously. Another one goes like this “Count on me through thick and thin, a friendship that will never end…”. That took me way back to 1999! I will resist the temptation to follow the rabbit that just flashed across my mind.

Carry Burdens

Writing to the Galatian church, the apostle Paul says Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NIV). When we take the time to carry each other’s burdens, we are fulfilling the law! Have you ever actually looked at it that way? Helping others takes time, effort, energy and at times money.  This is why it is not always easy to be a friend. However, some of the most meaningful ways you can be a good friend is by simply sitting with someone and listening to their story or their struggle. Few words needed. No money needed – but time and effort for sure.

For Christians, carrying each other’s burdens may also mean serving others or simply praying for them. Except praying for others is not always so simple. Sometimes we do know how to pray or what to say. At other times, we are are at a loss for words. To be truthful, there are times I just forget to pray altogether, even if I declared that we would do so on someone’s Facebook feed. Helping others may also mean serving them, or mourning with those who are mourning. That is what friends do.

Over the last three months or so, our church family has experienced several challenges. There are several people facing some serious illnesses while others have gone to be with the Lord. Some expected and others rather tragically sudden. Either way, losing a loved one is never easy. In spite of all these challenges our church is experiencing, something beautiful has emerged. I have witnessed our church people being there for their friends during their time of need. They are helping carry each other’s burdens, thereby living out the scriptures they profess!

Many people have been taking the time to visit those who are sick, whether in the hospital on in their homes. They bring them food, flowers or simply words of encouragement. This is helping carry each other’s burdens.

There are people sitting with those who are mourning the loss of loved ones, caring for them through all the grief – a very difficult road to travel! They are willing to serve and help in whatever capacity is asked of them. This also, is beautiful.

While as people, we can practically carry each other’s burdens, I am reminded that there is one who can carry all our burdens simultaneously. He has the weight of the world on His shoulders, yet those shoulders are wide enough to bear it. His name is Jesus, the Son of God. In the scriptures, He graciously invites us; “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV)

 So, if you are feeling “weary and burdened” for whatever reason, take your load to Jesus and lay it down at His feet. It may be grief, depression, debt, emotional turmoil, family feuding or kids out of control. Whatever it is, take it to Jesus. He is calling out to you, asking you to come to Him today. So, don’t delay, take it to the Lord!  And once you lay it down, don’t pick the load back up! Jesus will carry it for you.

Here is another challenge. Are there people in your family, friends, fellow church members or workmates who are going through some difficult times? What are you doing about it? I encourage you to take the time to be their friend. Ask how you can help them out, so as to help carry their burden. This can be by either visiting with them, listening or praying for them. Maybe you have to do something practical like bringing them some food, helping them with their yard, or drive them to the grocery store or doctor’s appointment. The opportunities are endless!

If you are the one feeling burdened, I encourage you to take your burdens to Jesus. His shoulders are strong enough to carry whatever you might bring to Him. Moreover, He is loves you so much that He wants to walk alongside you in the midst of whatever struggle you might have. He wants to be a friend that can help carry your burden. After all, He invites is to cast our cares and burdens on Him. In turn, He will sustain us.

I’ll leave you with these words from a precious old hymn.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear,

And what a privilege it is to carry, everything to the Lord in prayer.

O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry, everything to the Lord in prayer.

 

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer.

 Can we find a friend so faithful? Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.

Tou Story

 

 

Christmas Lights

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There are many traditions about Christmas that many of us follow. These include putting up decorations, listening to Christmas music and drinking eggnog. Well at our house, we recently started decorating for Christmas and since Thanksgiving is past, I can now bring myself to listen to Christmas music. I will tell you that I’ve only tried eggnog once at the behest of a couple of friends. It’s not my thing – sorry Marcos and Angel. Many of my Facebook friends have been posting pictures of their Christmas decorations, making me slightly envious how amazing some them are. (Not say that ours look bad). As I drive around my neighborhood, I see many amazing outside Christmas decorations including Christmas Lights.

When we lived in Oregon, there are a couple places that we loved to go to for some amazing Christmas lights. One was “Peacock Lane”, a whole neighborhood that you could walk around and see some exquisite Christmas lights. Another was this farm rather far away from where we lived, but well worth the drive. They even had complimentary hot cocoa, which was always good considering the cold temperatures this time of the year.

Jesus said “When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12NIV)

In the scriptures, darkness is used as a metaphor for the absence of God in a person’s life or in the world. It refers to the kingdom of the devil – hence the name kingdom of darkness. This is where lawlessness and godlessness reign supreme. Darkness often signifies that which is in direct contrast to God’s teaching and standards of holiness.

I John 8, Jesus declares that He is the Light of the world. The world without Christ is a world in darkness. A person living apart from Christ is a person living in darkness.  But to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior from sin and the Light of the world is to step into the light. And whoever lives for and follows Jesus, does not walk in darkness anymore because the light of life goes ahead of him! This is to say that the life of such a person is marked by holiness, righteousness and purity. To walk in the light is to live according to God’s standards of right and wrong, loving people and loving God.

Jesus Christmas Lights

Some 600 years before Jesus came, Isaiah prophesies the impact of the coming of Jesus the light of the world. He writes about the future as if it had already been accomplished; “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2NIV).

This verse spoke about Jesus, who came to light up our world! We live in the 21st century, enjoying all the scientific discoveries, advances in technology and have all manner of knowledge at our fingertips. But apart from God, we would still be living in darkness. But we do not have to stay there, Jesus the Light of the World is here to illuminate our lives.

Here is a question; are you in the light of God? Does the way you live, make life choices or treat people reflect that you are in the light? If not, it is not too late to step into the light! All you have to do is believe and follow Jesus.

While I sure enjoy watching and hanging Christmas lights, their use is limited to a set time of the year, and for one purpose. Firstly, we only appreciate Christmas lights during the Christmas holiday season. Secondly, we look at Christmas lights only as a means of decoration for the season. But Jesus is the light of the world for all seasons. He wants to provide illumination to our lives daily and year-round. Jesus’ light is not for decoration, something to just be admired. His light is meant to show us the way of life. What things to cling to and practice, and what to avoid.

The light of God shows us how to treat others with respect, serve or care for those in need. The light of God compels us to fight for justice for the oppressed, promote unity where there is discord and build bridges where there is estrangement.

So, as you look at Christmas lights in your neighborhood or your own house this Christmas season, consider that Jesus is the Light of the world. The only one who truly lights up your life like nobody else. He is the Christmas Light.

Merry early Christmas in case I don’t talk to you again soon.

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Fire in the Valley

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I recently spent a few days in the Santa Rosa (CA) area serving alongside fellow Salvation Army officers, staff and volunteers. For those of you who do not know, there were several fires that affected Sonoma County, destroying thousands of acres and over 8,000 homes! Needless to say, there were many people who were affected by this disaster, with over 40lives lost to date.  It was a really tough assignment for me emotionally. It was so hard to see so much devastation and loss. The stories of people barely escaping with their lives were hard to hear. Moreover, I just felt like there was not much I could do or say to ease the despair!

In the midst of all this, we still came across many people who were grateful to be alive. They looked for the good in this really bad situation, and expressed gratitude for all those who came to their aide. They were thankful for the family and friends who took them in.

One of the main functions for The Salvation Army was providing meals for the displaced masses that were housed in Red Cross run shelters around the city. We also had the privilege of serving meals to the brave and men and women who made up the first responders, fire fighters, the police and more. Additionally, we provided spiritual and emotional care, talking, listening and praying with individuals.

The Santa Rosa Corps was a hive of activity with volunteers sorting through donations of clothing, food, water and more. Hundreds of displaced persons came by seeking help, and were so grateful to be able to find water, clothing, toiletries and other supplies. The Santa Rosa Corps officers and their assistant were themselves evacuated from their homes, but were still in the front lines serving others! What selfless service!

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Four things I learned:

  1. Fire can wreak havoc in a very short time. Many of the affected residents spoke of how quickly the fire moved, many of them narrowly escaping its destructive fiery tentacles. Large and small homes alike were reduced to rubble, stretching as far as the eye could see in some communities.
  2. People are compassionate – in this age of embarrassingly low level of political discourse and social engagement, it was great to see heart felt compassion. It was refreshing to see people see others as people. Not just a political enemy to be ridiculed and vanquished. Hundreds of people turned out to volunteer to sort through clothing, food and more. Others donated money and many other gifts in kind. This includes people from within the area and as far out as Sacramento, where I am based. A couple of people I met flew in from as far as Michigan! People just wanted to be of service to their fellow suffering human beings.
  3. People are resilient – in spite of losing virtually all their material possessions, many people were still very optimistic. For starters, they were grateful to have had their lives spared, along with their loved ones. Moreover, they believed they could start over again. All they needed was the support of their family, friends and community.
  4. Be Prepared – As I listened to the stories and surveyed the destruction, several questions ran through my mind. If I had to evacuate suddenly, what would I take with me, apart from my and kids? Are there family heirlooms, pictures or valuables that I have to take with me? I told myself that as soon as I returned home, my wife and I would need to come up with an emergency plan. (Honey, if you are reading this, we still need to do that).

In the scriptures, Paul urges his readers to “carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”  (Galatians 6:2). As I walked around during my brief time in Santa Rosa, I saw so many people making themselves available to carry their neighbors through difficult times.  Many people came out to donate money, goods and serve their fellow men and women in any way they could. They were here to fulfill the Lord’s command, by helping carry the burdens of others.

At a certain point, the displaced people started moving back into the neighborhoods – at least for those who had homes still standing. The rest were going back to nothing but heaps of metal and ash. Some of the volunteers were not only willing to talk or pray with these people, but they were also prepared to help them sift through the ashes for any valuables that might have survived the fire. This was a dirty job, but one many took on with so much grace. I was especially impressed by the Salvation Army officers that I was working with who were willing to get their uniforms dirty, just in order to help someone else. Such a humble spirit of servanthood!

As you go through the next couple of weeks, I challenge you to look for ways you can help carry another’s burden. This can be a physical burden, a spiritual or emotional one. You can do that by listening to someone, praying for them or saying an encouraging word. And as occasion dictates, be willing to help lift a physical burden.  So, if you know someone moving, offer your muscle to help them do so. Fire may consume all our belongings, but the spirit of service to others cannot be quenched. Long live service to others!

Fire 3

Temptation [temp-tey-shuh n]

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Temptation Part 1: The Source of Temptation

Recently, I was looking for a show to watch but didn’t require me paying much attention to it. I came across one called “Brain Games” which is available on Netflix. The show explores how the brain works and how people such as illusionists and magicians can trick our minds into seeing what is not there. At other times, it is our own brains tricking us or “taking short cuts” in decision making. It’s a really fascinating show and would recommend it.

One particular episode focused on how people are prone to lying. In one experiment, they left a delicious looking cake in front of several kids (one at a time) trying to see whether they would actually sneak a bite or not.  Not surprising, most of the kids would stick their fingers in the cake at least once to taste the cake! How could they not, when the mouthwatering chocolate cake was right under their nose!  The interesting thing is that when they asked the kids whether they had tried the cake or not, most of them said no. They lied about it! One could say, who could blame them – the cake was just too hard to resist. It just was too tempting. The experiment proved that many of us yield to temptation rather too easily, and go on to lie about it!

What is temptation?

 Temptation is the enticement or allurement to do something. This can be good or bad. Temptation is part and parcel of the human experience, whether we are believers or not. We are tempted to do things, indulge, think or say things that may land us in trouble, along with those that we are connected to.

The Source of Temptation

 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (James 1:13)

 In this verse, James makes it clear that temptation does not come from God. Additionally, “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone” The implication is that temptation comes from the devil – whom in different parts of scripture – is also referred to as the father of lies or deceiver. He is the one who tempts people to do what they know they are not supposed to do. Like the kids helping themselves to the cake that is not rightfully theirs.

While the experiment involving the kids and the cake was merely that, when the devil tempts us, it is in order to destroy us – plain and simple. What can start of as a harmless choice, may lead to grave consequences. For examples, the temptation to steal money may end one in jail. A temptation to drink excessively and drive may result in loss of life in a car accident.

How does temptation work?

  “…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death”.

Even though temptation may come from something that is outside of us, it appeals to what is within us! In tempting us, the devil appeals to that which we have an affinity for. For example, in fishing, a clever fisherman will put bait on the hook that he knows will appeal to the fish that he is trying to catch. The fish will look at whatever that bait is and just can’t help itself and feel like it has to take a bite! The temptation seems just too hard to resist! So rather than swim away to safety, the fish will take a bite of the bait, along with the hook concealed behind it! After all, the fisherman is not just here to feed the fish, he is here to catch the fish!  While we may enjoy the objection of our temptation, the devil is really here to sink his hook in you.

As human beings, we have affections, feelings and desires. Some desires are good, and some are bad. We can desire to eat food that is allowable or do things that are moral and within the law – both the law of God and that of the land. However, some of our desires may be for that which is not allowed, that which is not good for us, or that which breaks the laws. This is where we get into trouble. Someone who is attracted to a married person should probably not entertain any such thoughts for longer than a millisecond.

When we desire something so bad that we can’t stop until we get it, we may break the law just to get what we want. James writes; “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death”. If you entertain your evil desire long enough, even just in your mind, it will result in you acting on it.

 Do you catch the progression here? When we yield to temptation, we follow our desires for that which we feel like we got to have. And when desire “conceived, it gives birth to sin”. Yielding to temptation is like conception. You’ve done the deed! (FYI – Being tempted is not a sin, but yielding to temptation is). And when one dwells long enough on the object our desire, it is as if they are in a “gestation period” of that sin that they have “conceived”.  James goes on to say, “when it (sin) is full-grown, gives birth to death”. The picture here is that of “sin” having come to full term and then produces a still born! Even though there are things we may yield to and indulge in can be pleasurable, some of them ultimately lead to death!

 The End Result

Adam and Eve probably enjoyed the tastes of the fruit from the forbidden tree. However, what they did was contrary to God’s law – rebelling against His rule. The end of it all was that they lost their place in the presence of God, got chased out of the Garden where they did not have to work for a living and suffered a physical death. This is something that present-day humanity still is afflicted with!

The point of all this is this –  we must be careful with how we respond to temptation. The best thing is to resist it. Work hard to overcome it. When appropriate – run away! Sometimes you just got to run away – there is no shame in that! Don’t yield to or entertain a sinful thought or action even for one second. If you do, what starts off as simply “looking” becomes touching, as you follow the desires of the flesh. Before you know it, you engage in behavior that is sinful or harmful. If you do not stop or repent, the end of it can be death. And this is not a place any of us want to be – because we just want to stay alive!

Here are three things to do with temptation:

  1. Know the things that tempt you. Is it chocolate cake, social media, gossip, pornography? Put a finger on it so you can avoid it, otherwise you will fall it every single time – hook, line and sinker!
  2. Know how to escape temptation. Don’t flirt with temptation. You need to have the guts to change the TV channel, redirect the conversation, turn off the computer or like I already said; run away.
  3. Know what to do when you fall into temptation. No matter how hard you try, there is are times you may stumble or fall flat on your face. Depending on what it is, confess your sin, return the thing that you took without permission, ask for forgiveness to the person you bad mouthed or start a new sobriety calendar!

Temptation 2

To Love and to Serve Part II

Serve Banner

What was the first thing that you felt like doing once you got out of bed today? Is it coffee? For me, it was how much I had to do before the day would be over. Well, I must admit that most mornings I wake up thinking about how much I have to do rather than how I might serve others. As I roll out of bed, I am most likely not thinking what can I do to serve my wife or how I can serve my kids. Don’t be alarmed, it is a fact that I am not usually asking myself what can I do for my staff or my parishioners. (Having said that – I love you and I am here to serve you Sacramento!). Serving others just doesn’t come natural to me. If we are all honest, the same goes for most of us!

Having said that, God’s Spirit has a way of consistently encouraging me towards serving others. Sometimes the reminder comes through my wife. Just the other day, my wife asked me to take a day off as we have been going on for a while. This was quickly followed by a “honey do list” to which I responded – how can I rest if I am working on the “honey do list”? Maybe instead of looking at this as a “honey do list” I can look at this as a way I could serve my family. Husbands, what do you think?

Serving Others 

As you may have guessed by now, this piece is about serving others. Unless you are supernaturally gifted with the gift of service – most of us are not hard wired to think about serving others. We usually look for others to do things for us, before we think of doing for others. At times, we serve just because it is our job or our duty. You have all seen it when you interact with someone whose job it is to serve, but the person just does not a have a servant’s heart. Their attitude towards their work or how they deliver service clearly communicates that they would rather be doing something else! In times like that – I just want to remind them – “it’s your job to serve!”. But then, I’m not sure pointing this out ever makes a servant out of anyone.

When we serve out of a sincere and humble heart, we do to it cheerfully and don’t seek recognition – even though being recognized feels good. We may be paid to “serve” others – but let’s not doing just because it’s a job.

As a Salvation Army officer – it is my job to serve others. I am a minister of the Gospel – a minister means “one who serves”. It is my job to serve. The story goes that William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army once wrote a telegram comprising of only one word. OTHERS. When serve, we think of others before ourselves. Rotarians have the morrow “service above self”. Service is only service when it is not directed to self – it must benefit others.

Talking to His followers, Jesus said this about Himself “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

This verse blows my mind! Jesus, the Son of Man, aka the Son of God came to serve others. Jesus is not only the Son of God, “He is co-equal in power and glory” with God. The scriptures also make clear that Jesus was there with God at the beginning – at creation. The Bible says that there is nothing that was made, that was made outside of Christ. Yet this Christ, is the same one who came to serve others. He was not too powerful or too important to serve! During His days on earth, Jesus could have had all sorts of servants wait on Him hand and foot. They could have rolled out the red carpet wherever He went – but He chose the path of service to others.

Service Exemplified 

As you read the Gospels, you see Jesus teaching, preaching, healing and performing other miracles. In one of the most amazing demonstrations of service and humility, Jesus washes the feet of His disciples. This was a job normally reserved for servants as it was considered a lowly gig. After Jesus does this, He asks a very poignant question to those who had just witnessed this spectacle. “Do you know what I have done for you?”. I imagine that the disciples hesitated in their response. Did they really know what Jesus had just done, or were they still wondering why on earth their Master was doing a servant’s job!

Jesus explains the significance of the moment – it’s about service! Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:14-15). Jesus is saying – as your Master and Lord of the universe, I have demonstrated service by doing this lowly job of foot washing. Now go and serve others – even if it feels like it’s beneath you. After all, we only learn service through doing those things we consider beneath ourselves.

Yet Jesus’ ultimate service was still yet to be realized. In a few days, He would “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The ultimate act of service that Christ did for all mankind is dying a sacrificial death on our behalf. Isaiah’s prophecy given some 600years before Christ saw Jesus as the suffering servant who would be wounded for our transgressions and suffer many things because of our wrong doing. Yet this act of service would result in the healing of God’s strained relationship with mankind through the gift of salvation! The Suffering Servant became our Savior from sin!

As a minister i.e on who serves, I ask for God’s help that I don’t serve just because it is my job. I want to serve others with delight, not simply out of duty. There is a big difference between the way one serves when they do it for the money – versus being a calling, vocation or passion. You will also greatly appreciate the ministry of a minister who has the gift or service, compared to the one doing it out of compulsion!

So What?

 You and I are called to not only love and serve God. We are called to serve others. I believe that one of the ways we serve God is through serving people!

So, go out there and look for opportunities to serve others. It can be as simple as starting the coffee for your spouse in the morning, helping a child with their homework or assisting an elderly person with some chores. Maybe you know someone who needs help moving and you have a truck. Nudge, nudge; wink, wink.

If you are more adventurous, connect with a local school, church or social services organization that is looking for volunteers. Take the time to serve. Your local Salvation Army is always an option – so give them a ring and see what opportunities they may have for service. One more thing – whenever you serve – you are not only giving of your time and effort – you also receive the blessing and pleasure of service. Ready, set – serve!

Serve

To Love and to Serve

Give Your Hands Mother Teresa

To Love and to Serve

Have you ever been on a freeway and all of a sudden you notice a police car in your rearview mirror? When this happens to me, the first thing I do is look at my speedometer wondering if I was speeding! Each time the cop drives past me or takes the next exit from the freeway, I breathe a sigh of relief – especially if I was going a little over the speed limit. I said, “a little” because that is usually what I do. Usually.

You may have noticed that some police cars have the words “To Protect and to Serve” emblazoned across the side. These words summarize what the police are all about. These words let us know that they are not just “law enforcement” but that they are here to protect people from those who do others harm, and serve their communities through enforcing law. (And boy do we need protection as there are plenty of people who are looking to harm others or take property that is not theirs). Additionally, their civil service is invaluable as it promotes public safety and often calls for them to run (or drive) towards the danger that the rest of us civilians are running away from. I am grateful for police officers!

To Protect and to Serve

As a minister, I have been asking myself what could be my motto in ministry. At least for this season of my life. One that has been rolling around in my mind the last few weeks is “To Love and to Serve”. This is what I believe God has called me to do. To love Him and to love the people that He places in my path. Secondly, to serve Him and those I come into contact with in my work. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? I wish it was. To be sure, loving and serving are not easy to do.

The First Commandment

Ever read the words Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”? (Deuteronomy 6:5NIV)

These words are not just a cool verse to memorize and recite as needed. The first time they appear in the scriptures in the fifth book of the Pentateuch is in the form of a command. This means that they are not a mere suggestion or one of those “should you choose to accept” type of words.  Loving God is something that believers are commanded to do! And as a fellow believer, this is something I keep praying for God to help me to grow in my loving Him. Sometimes I don’t think that I love Him well. This can be evidenced by how little time I may spend in His presence through prayer, reading His Word or meditating on His goodness.

As a husband and a father, I love my family and I am not ashamed to write about it. However, there are times I do not love them well as I allow work or other things to dominate my attention, leaving them with mere “breadcrumbs” of time to spend with them. The same concept can be applied to the way I love God.

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to the love commandment as “the greatest commandment”! We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. Other passages referring to the same command add that you are to love God “with all your mind”. We are to love God with all our hearts – the seat of our will and emotions. We are to love Him with our soul (or spirit) i.e. your innermost being. The real you if you will.  To love God with our mind suggests that our love for Him is not simply a feeling or emotion. Our love for God can be objective and reasonable. It is not a blind love. In short, we are called to love God with everything within us. No wonder it is not so simple!

A Number Two

Jesus not only told His disciples about the “greatest commandment”. He also told them about the second commandment. He says to you and I; “love your neighbor as yourself”. One apparently clever lawyer once asked Jesus who His neighbor was. Jesus’ answer revealed that “neighbor” wasn’t just someone who lives next door to you (See the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10). It is not just the person who goes to the same church as you or has the same beliefs. A neighbor is anyone the Lord brings into your path – including someone of a different race, culture or even nationality. That might be the person that you look down on because of where they come from, their skin color or lack of education. Still think this love thing is simple?

Well, when our minds are working well, we can love ourselves dearly, without selfishness. This means that we seek our own well-being and avoid things that will harm us. We choose to hang around people who are good friends, we eat healthy, have good habits and maintain a relationship with our Creator God. Oh yes, we may want to work out every now and then (Well, more like regularly). This is a healthy self-love. Loving our neighbor as ourselves involves seeking their wellbeing and looking out for them. The priest and Levite in the Luke 10 parable failed the test big time! (I think I may write a piece on that parable sometime).

So What?

We may not all be police officers out there “to protect and to serve”. However, we can sure have these words written on our hearts – “To Love and to Serve”. Now give some love! (And yes, I will have to come back and write about service –  I did not forget about that part).

I am encouraging you to love God. Love Him with everything that you got – no reservations! After all, “He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  He demonstrated His love for us by sending Jesus to die for you and I, while we were still dead in our sins! God’s love for you is unconditional, so why not take it? Don’t know how to love God? You can start by praying and asking Jesus to help you love Him, and grow in our love Him. He can help us with the “how does this work?” question that we often have with things of the faith.

If you are reading this and you do not believe in God or are skeptical about this love thing – I encourage you to open your heart and mind to the possibility of a loving God who is gently asking you to love Him back. Will you give Him a try?

Secondly, learn to love others. This is no easy feat. To love others as we love ourselves means we must sincerely seek and work for their well-being. This means taking the time to notice people, know people, to serve them and to help them when they need it.

“Give your hands to serve and your hearts to love” Mother Teresa