February 2011

Why can’t we speak the truth in love?

Why is speaking the truth to people so difficult? Yesterday I gave a message out of Ephesians on the love of God for us as the basis for our expressing Christ’s love toward others. In an interactive poll given in both Sunday Services I discovered two very interesting facts. Eighty percent of all the people in attendance admitted there is someone in their life they are having trouble loving right now. And eighty percent also acknowledged that the hardest thing for them to do in relationships is speak the truth in love.

Prior to yesterday I had conjectured that the majority of people were struggling with these issues. But I was not prepared for such a high percentage – eight out of ten. That has given me pause.

Prime facie it illuminates the incongruous fact, that relationship conflict is a frequent reality for followers of Christ, who ironically, are called to evidence their discipleship by loving one another. (John 13:35) This reminds me of an insightful little ditty I heard years ago. “Living with the saints above, oh that will be glory. Living with the saints down here, that’s a different story.”

But at a deeper level it reveals an even more startling fact. We saints, who have received the lavish love of God despite our own sinfulness are struggling to show that same love to others. We who should be well equipped for such a task, are having difficulty initiating the loving resolution of our relationship conflicts. And it all appears to hinge on our inability to speak the truth in love.

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Answering objections to serving God

There is a strange dichotomy when it comes to serving God. We want to serve Him, but often it is on our terms and not His. We want to be used by God and would love to distinguish ourselves by doing something great for Him. But our desire is often based on our own idea of how we can best serve Him and what we think we have to offer Him.

God however does not choose us to serve Him based on our desire nor our self estimation of our usefulness to Him. In fact to the contrary, God usually chooses us when we are least likely to want to do it and are feeling totally inadequate and unqualified to do it.

Moses is the poster child for this dichotomy. As a young man he set out in his own strength and timing to be God’s man of faith and power to deliver the Israelites from Egyptians. His ill conceived plan backfired on him and he ended up fleeing for his life. Ironically it took forty years of desert exile to divest him of all spiritual ambition in order that God could finally use him.

When God interrupted Moses’ comfortable life with the burning bush and called him to return to Egypt Moses balked. “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” he protested. (Exodus 3:11) This was just the first of four major excuses that Moses sought to use to wiggle out of God’s call to use him. God’s responses to these objections give us insight into what serving God is really all about.

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Putting a stop to nagging religious guilt!

“For I do not do the good I want to do … “ Romans 7:19

Religious guilt is like a tooth ache that has no cure. There are different types of guilt. Most guilt is good in the sense that it is motivated and empowered by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is resolvable. It leads us to repentance, change and ultimately spiritual life. Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and the cleansing from all unrighteousness through the confession of our sins is a hope-filled promise. (1 John 1:9)

What I have chosen to call religious guilt is not as easily resolved. It is a guilt that masquerades as a call to holiness and righteousness but in reality is a lure to religious bondage and the seeking of righteousness by works rather than by faith. This type of guilt is a hard task master. Rather than offering hope it enslaves people in frustration and discouragement.

Religious guilt is unique in that it typically stalks people who love God and want to please Him. It is a guilt that is best categorized as relating to sins of omission rather than sins of commission. Sins of omission are failing to do those things that one can and ought to do

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It’s not fair!

It’s not fair! That was my reaction this week, as Susan and I spent a couple of days driving Highway 1 down the central California coast between Monterrey and Santa Barbara. As a Minnesotan, it was like being on a doomed prison break from the snow and frigid temperatures of the plains. The warm weather and beautiful scenery of verdant green mountains tapering into the blue of the Pacific was an intoxicating taste of freedom. The sun, sand and steady sound of the curling breakers washing ashore almost hypnotized us into thinking that this is how our lives really could be. But the long arm of Midwestern reality has now arrested us and we will be transported tomorrow with an airplane load of fellow recaptured prisoners back to winter captivity.

It honestly doesn’t seem fair. Why should some people get to live in winter vacation destinations year round? The big bonus to living in a state like California is that if you really want winter, you can drive a couple of hours and park your self and your car next to a snow bank in the Sierra Mountains. Or if you want to walk the beach, you can be there in less time than it takes to shovel your driveway and chip the ice off your car in the Midwest.

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The key to a successful mission outreach

All short term mission outreaches begin with great expectations, but not all of them necessarily meet them. I know this is true because as a pastor I have been involved in sending many teams out over the years into cross cultural settings and heard their reports when they return. And I have been on a number of teams and come back with mixed emotions about what I had experienced. I share this candidly but reservedly, idealism about such things was eventually pummeled out of me and I reluctantly settled for the one key to success that will always deliver and never disappoint – low expectations.

All that changed as a result of my recent participation on our church’s eight day outreach to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It categorically far exceeded every expectation and has begun a restoration of healthy idealism in my soul. It has also caused me to think more deeply about what makes for a successful short term mission outreach.

How do you measure whether or not an outreach is successful or effective? Obviously success is in the eyes of the beholder; not only in the eyes of those who go, but even more importantly in the eyes of those who are the recipients. But ultimately, and we often forget this, it is what God sees that really matters.

In God’s eyes success is measured by our obedience of faith to His calling and faithfulness in seeking to bring Him glory. The gold standard and ultimate motivation for any mission sending endeavor always has to go back to John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that who ever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Every mission outreach, no matter what the results, is successful in God’s eyes if it flows out of obedience to the great commission and focuses on glorifying God through preaching of the Gospel and expanding His kingdom.

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