Ears Wide Shut

Are you listening?

Most of us, if we are Believers in Jesus Christ, know that we can talk to God. We know that prayer is important, and we equate prayer with ‘telling God what’s on our hearts’.

This is, in fact, very important to the Lord.

The entire book of Psalms was written in that style.

Hebrews 4:16: “…let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Jesus Himself said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Clearly, God wants His children to go to Him with our wants, needs, requests, and burdens.

But is that all?

Are we not to listen also?

Have you ever stuck your head out the window when traveling down the highway (please: not if you’re driving!), or been on a boat moving fast on the water? As fun as that is, it makes it very difficult to have a conversation. We may be with people we love and value, and we may be trying to listen, but with all the noise, we are not going to hear.

We do the same thing with God.

Most of us have learned to TALK to Him, but not to listen.

It’s as if we lean in to hear him…and place our fingers in our ears.

We need to listen…and hear!

On one occasion, when the prophet Elijah was feeling alone and disheartened, he complained to God…he vented.

God said, “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

Elijah needed to LISTEN…because the Lord was not going to YELL above the noise…He was in the still, small voice.

We need to listen. We need to hear.

…and when we do hear from Him, we need to step out and follow His leading, listening all along the way for guidance.

He IS speaking…do you hear?

Where Is Your Hope?

I remember that day very clearly. My mother was in tears, fearful for the future of our country, convinced we were heading into nuclear war with the USSR because ‘that man’ had just been elected President of the United States.

The date was November, 1980. ‘That Man’ was Ronald Reagan, and I had voted for him–my first election.

I thought my mom was completely overreacting, but that’s exactly the message that had been promoted in the media leading up to this election night.

Of course, history shows that we did not go to nuclear war, but we did have some very tough negotiations with the USSR…until they dissolved and ‘America won the cold war’.

Fast forward almost 40 years (please, no comments about my age).

‘This man’ Donald Trump, has been elected and sworn in and many people seem to think that our future, as a nation, is just about toast! We’re finished, if you read some opinions. I keep waiting for the raw emotion to die down, but it’s been pretty consistent since November, and now, post-inauguration, it seems still to be running pretty ‘hot’.

Now, I have to say: I have my own concerns about President Trump, and I’m not a huge fan. I certainly think we need to pray for him and his advisors, that they’d humble themselves and pray and seek God’s face in their leading.

But…with all due respect to my Democratic friends, I want to let you in on a little secret:

I felt almost the same way you do 8 years ago, after the election of President Barack Obama.

I could not watch the celebrations, I could not watch the ‘Inauguration Ball’, concerts, etc. I could barely listen to the news because most of them seemed to be so obviously tripping over themselves in praise. President Obama would quickly remind his political opponents that ‘elections have consequences’ and that ‘he won’. Honestly, from my perspective, I thought our country was toast.

I know, I know…many of you right now are scoffing at the mere suggestion that President Obama and President Trump are similar. One is full of class, and the other isn’t. One is respectful and the other isn’t, etc.

I’m just going to put this out here: I think they are each arrogant, boastful, narcissistic, petulant, and each one of them treats political opponents disrespectfully and vindictively. Now, at some other time, we can get together over a cup of coffee and talk about all of the reasons I disagreed with President Obama’s policies, etc…but that is for another time.

I simply wanted to say–as sincerely as possible–I understand your feelings. I get it.

However, I’d also like to encourage you: Take a break, take a breath and think about this: Policies in Washington (and Lansing) are important, but what’s Much More Important is what YOU (and I) choose to do in our daily lives.

You and I have the choice to pour ourselves into our communities, serve in our schools, love our families, and cultivate a generous, caring lifestyle. I am trying to continue learning to do this, more every day. I fall short, but I realize that I have a daily chance to live of life of IMPACT in this world…and you do too!

The most important thing I’d like to say to you, however, is this:

This last 8 years…and the last several months…has challenged me to clarify something within myself, and that is this:

Where is my hope?

I’ve realized that I have, over the years, been guilty of buying into the idea that America’s best hope is ‘my’ Presidential candidate, and that the World’s best hope is America. I’ve bought the idea that political victory for ‘my guy’ is the most important thing. I haven’t even been aware of how much I’d bought into this, but this past election showed me more than ever before.

If you’ve read my posts before, you know that I believed these two candidates were DEEPLY flawed this year. I still do. What that reminds me of, however, is this: My hope…and the hope of my family, my church, my country and this world… is NOT in President Trump, any more than it was in President Obama…or Bush, or Clinton, or Bush, or even Reagan. Our Hope–our real, genuine Hope for the future–only lies in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I know…some of you who’ve stayed are tempted to click out right now–‘There he goes with his faith stuff’. Yup, I freely admit it: My faith is my core, and it colors every thing I do. I certainly colors how I view politics and politicians. One thing that has become more clear in this election cycle is that Politicians–whichever party they’re from–are not our ‘saviors’. There is only one of those, the Lord Jesus Christ.

God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

I want to encourage you–as one American to another, one man, one father, one guy who’s trying to live his life the best way he knows to another–take some time…today…to consider where YOU are putting your hope.

Mine is not in a politician, a policy, or even a country. My hope is in the Lord Jesus, our eternal King…

“our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Ultimately, no matter who is elected in this country, and no matter what policies they put out, this life is temporary. Certainly, these are important things…but ETERNITY is much more important! If we’re going to spend time and energy thinking about anything, I want to encourage you: Let it be eternity! Let it be Jesus!

Let’s pray for our Leaders…and let’s pray for each other…today!

Love to all,

Dave

As Far As It Depends on You…

Newsflash: There’s a LOT of conflict in our world!

Between riots in Charlotte, NC, weekly violence in places like Chicago, Terrorism in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota…there is no shortage of violence.

Police killing civilians, Civilians killing police, Citizens killing citizens…seems as though we hear a lot more about it now.

Violence, as they say, begets violence.

Add to that the ‘soft’ conflicts that happen in political ‘debate’ and ‘discussion’, Facebook or Twitter ‘wars’ which can quickly escalate to the point that two people who would normally get along…even enjoy each other…even love each other, can be angry and embittered with one another because of their political (or moral, or spiritual) disagreements.

As I observe all this, I tend to think of a ‘downward spiral of conflict’, where we go faster and faster down a relational ‘hole’ that we can’t get back out of.

If something does not change, our families, friendships, churches and communities will be destroyed. Our society is at a bit of a ‘tipping point’, and I wonder if more violence will set the tone for a dramatically bad turn of events, depending on the outcome of the election this fall. Certainly there are ‘elements’ in both Clinton and Trump camps that may react very negatively (and violently) if the other side wins.

…all the while, satan–our spiritual enemy–sits back and laughs.

That’s right…satan.

Once he got us to focus on ‘self’ and ‘what I want, I deserve, it became very easy to go to ‘What I want, I deserve, and anyone who stands in the way of that is my enemy.’

That is the mindset of evil, and our society is being played.

At KCC, we’ve talked a lot about a verse that is a ‘worldview’ verse in some ways…it indicates in many ways, the reason things are what they are in this world…and helps us ask questions that will get us out of that ‘downward spiral’.

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life, to the full” (Jesus’ words in John 10:10)

The thief–satan, our enemy, is always trying to destroy. He’s always trying to divide, cause conflict, and incite animosity toward others. IF we let him, he destroys families, churches, communities, and eventually, our society and our world.

It’s what he does.

“He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies”. (Jesus’ words in John 8:44)

This is what is happening in our culture, as people plug their ears to the truth, center on their own desires, and lob accusations against ‘the other side’.

What can we do instead?

Choose to listen. Try to understand. Seek to give the benefit of the doubt.

If you are a follower of Jesus, we must seek peace!

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”–Psalm 34:14

That is part of the “Life, to the full” that Jesus promised–relational peace and unity.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21)

WE must be those who ‘overcome evil with good’!

WE must be those who leave room for God to avenge.

WE must be he ones who refuse to ‘pay back evil with evil, but to do what is right’.

WE must be the ones who make it our goal to live this out: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone!”

Will there be ‘bad guys’ on the other side of the spectrum? Yes.

Will there be ‘bad guys’ on our end of the spectrum? Regrettably, yes!

YOU and I–as Christ followers–cannot be one of them!

We MUST seek peace and pursue it!

We must listen, love, discuss, share, give grace, and remain committed to the truth–in LOVE!

That is the only hope for our society!

If you’re a Christian, YOU represent Jesus!

Commit yourself to living like it!

United?

We live in the United States of America…but it seems that there’s more ‘division’ than ever before!

We are a nation of ‘Us vs. Them’s’, and we each tend to think that we are the ‘right’ ones, and those who disagree with us are simply wrong.

You name the issue: Global Warming/Climate Change; Economic Strategy; Abortion; Sexuality; 2nd Amendment…the list could go on.

Question: Why has the ‘climate’ gotten so divisive? What has happened over the last 20 years or so to change things like this? We used to be able to have discussions and even disagreements, but we’d often be able to come together in a ‘workable’ solution. Now the only ‘workable’ solution seems to be if I change my mind and agree with you…or vise verse.

Personally, I think that one of the reasons for this divisiveness is a lack of humility. We have simply lost the ability to say ‘I don’t know everything about this’, or to take the posture of learning from others–especially those we disagree with.

A related development is our refusal to tolerate people who disagree with us. Now we seem to have reached a point that, if you disagree with my point of view, I must seek not only to ‘convince’ you, but (if unsuccessful at that), I will seek to punish you, to embarrass you, shame you and drive you away.

There is a remarkable lack of graciousness and maturity. There is a remarkable lack of humility in our culture today…and it is found in both political parties, to be sure!

Another Question: Is there anywhere that we can see a better example?

I believe there is, and it is in The Church.

By ‘The Church’, I am not speaking of a denomination, nor am I speaking of a religion. I am speaking of a group of people who have found New Life, by faith in Jesus. As part of that New Life, they are being made into a ‘New People’–the Church–that is learning to accept one another, encourage one another, and love one another.

It happened back in the beginning of the Church age, and it continues today. As we at KCC (http://www.mykcc.org) discovered last Sunday, Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the amazing way that God was bringing 2 groups of people who hated each other (or at best, ‘tolerated’ each other) into one group…and even more!

“In those days you (Gentiles) were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.

But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.” (Ephesians 2:11-19)

Paul writes that the Gentiles–formally ‘unclean outsiders’ were now welcomed in because of Jesus. HE has made peace between us all. HE has made possible our entrance into The Faith, and HE is the One who changes our lives. God has welcomed us into His Family because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Why would The Church be able to consistently do this? Why would true faith–all inclusive faith in Jesus–make it possible to not only ‘tolerate’ those I used to hate, but to ‘accept’ them, and even ‘LOVE’ them? Why would my faith in Jesus enable me to CELEBRATE them?

Because all of it is ‘by Grace, through faith, in Christ, alone’ (see Ephesians 2:1-9). Before I can come to faith in Jesus, I must humble myself–there’s no other way. If I am going to see my need clearly, I must humble myself before God and confess my sin, before I can receive His forgiveness and salvation. As I do, I realize that it is not my ‘goodness’ of any kind that brings me into ‘The Family of God’–it is wholly His grace and mercy.

Once I’ve truly experienced that, then I am changed. I am humbled. From that point onward, anyone who truly comes to Jesus in humble, repentant and life-altering faith, is also ‘welcomed’ into the family of God, and should be welcomed by me!

So, what does this look like?

Are you a ‘Climate Alarmist’? Are you a ‘Progressive liberal’? Are you a person of another race/ethnicity? Are you a ‘Pro-Abortion advocate’, or a ‘militant LGBTQ activist’? Are you a ‘Gun-grabbing liberal’?

If so, I’m going to disagree with you (I am the opposite, in each case), and I’m going to challenge you, (respectfully, I hope).  (Incidentally, I don’t use those terms, typically…just making a point.)

However, if you are one who has come to faith in Jesus Christ–humble, life-changing faith, and you are willing to sit with me and worship Him, to study His Word and pray for each other, and to ask the Holy Spirit to guide each of us in submitting ourselves to Him and following Him, first and foremost, then I believe–as challenging as it will be–that we can have real ‘fellowship’ together. I will do my best to ‘accept’ you and ‘love’ you!

…and perhaps, in so doing, our culture can learn something from The Church again.

The key: Not ‘Unity’ by itself; but ‘Unity In Christ’!

It is only through humble faith in Him that we receive His grace, and therefore can give His grace.

Is it possible to have ‘unity’ in our culture?

I’m not sure…doesn’t look very promising.

Is it possible, however, to have ‘unity’ in the Church?

Yes–IF we are willing to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face and turn from our wicked ways (see 2 Chronicles 7:14)–each of us–then He will bring us to unity, and HE will be glorified!

Can we do it? The early church did, because God brought them to it…are you willing?

You Do What YOU Can Do!

Living at peace can be hard.

Add other people to your life, and it gets really tough!

As I mentioned last Sunday in church, conflict is everywhere! We usually don’t have to go looking for conflict…it finds us fairly easily.

There are many ways it gets started…someone says something you take offense to, someone takes credit for your work, someone accuses you wrongly…the situations are almost innumerable.

The real question is, What do you DO about it?

As I mentioned briefly Sunday, there are 3 types of people in this world (even within most churches): Peace-TAKERS, Peace-FAKERS, and Peace-MAKERS. Let me target, specifically, Christians who fill these roles.

Peace-TAKERS are those who try to stir up controversy and division. These are gossips, and those who get into debates about everything from politics to the music in the church to the ways the church is spending money to the Pastors’ outfit. They may have heard something about a church member that is potentially serious, but rather than go to that brother/sister, they tell others about it…’for prayer’.

Peace-FAKERS are those who try to Pretend that everything’s fine. They want to keep up a veneer of peace, so they minimize every conflict, almost to a comical extreme. People like this simply refuse to admit when there are interpersonal problems, because ‘Christians shouldn’t have problems’ like this. These people invest a huge amount of emotional energy in keeping the appearance of peace, but can never really relax and enjoy their relationships, because their relationships don’t grow beyond the superficial.

Peace-MAKERS are those who see both of the above, and have a desire to work through it. They may see elements of the above within themselves–but they know it’s not right, and want to change. More than anything, they know that the Lord wants His children to ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (Psalm 34:14), and they want to heed Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). 

But the question remains, What Should We Do in order to make peace?

I think a few quick guidelines are helpful:

1. Commit to communicate.  

So often, there is conflict because of misunderstanding of words/intent. If you think things are strained, TALK about it (not via text or email). Matthew 18:15:  “If your brother or sister sins, against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”

2. Keep short accounts. 

Everybody messes up. Everybody hurts feelings from time to time. Forgive and move on. Don’t keep bringing past wrongs back up…that’s not forgiveness! Proverbs 19:11: “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

3. Assume the best.

1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love always trusts” (or “Love Believes the Best”). Assume that your Christian brother/sister is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and therefore wants peace and healing, just like you do. Don’t believe the gossip–if they’re willing to gossip about the ‘other’, they’re probably willing to gossip about you. Give the benefit of the doubt.

4. Be Gracious. 

You did not deserve God’s grace or forgiveness, yet He gave it because of His love and character. Extend that grace to others–even if they don’t ‘deserve’ it.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

5. Do what you can do.

Ultimately, even if you’ve tried those things, you may not be able to reach a ‘peaceful’ solution. The other person might not cooperate! Simply make sure that–for your part–you’re doing everything you can to help. Romans 12:17-18: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

If you and I do all these things, there is a very good possibility that you and I will experience Peace, and we will become Peacemakers…and our world NEEDS many more of those!

Want to hear the message from last Sunday? Go here:

http://kalamazoocommunitychurch.com/KCCpodcast/2016/01/24/move-forward-be-gracious-youve-received-it-now-show-it-01242016/