"God is so good when you follow directions."

Recently, a group of us were serving in a homeless center in San Diego. This center has impressive programs that help empower people on their journey to self-sustained independence. I walked up to a man who was sitting down, and not clamoring for the food we were passing out.  “Would you like one of these food bags?” He said, “Sure.” I could have kept walking around, but decided to engage in conversation.  As we did, I discovered a very smart, nice man behind his exhausted appearance.

His name was “T”.  We began to talk.  He was ready to tell me some of his story. He and his wife were homeless, drifted down to San Diego from northern California and were trying to figure out what their next move should be. They had a little money (from Social Security checks) and two bicycles.  That morning he had fended off a knife-wielding man who was trying to steal his bike.

Over the course of the next 30 minutes T told me that he had made some “poor choices”, including substance abuse, but has been sober for four years. He had recently quit a rehab-life training course and regretted it. He thought that maybe he should return and re-engage.

I asked him what gave him hope in his journey. T readily replied, “God.” I asked him to tell me about that – why, what part had God played in his life, etc.  We had a great talk. It was clear that T had, at one time in his life, put his trust in Christ.

After a while longer, I mentioned that he looked familiar, and wondered if he had ever played professional football. T is a big, athletic looking man. He said, “No. But I did play college football.” After asking where, T said that he played “at the University of Oklahoma.” With some enthusiasm and a slight punch from me on his shoulder I said, “T, I went to OU! Boomer Sooner!”  Well … that changed things. We went on to talk about OU, the Sooners recent play in college basketball, and why he left Oklahoma – the land of his birth.  We had a really strong connection.

Before departing, we prayed together. Since then we’ve emailed, messaged each other on FaceBook and talked on the phone.  Here’s what he wrote three days after he returned to northern California: “I wanted to let you know that I start my new job tomorrow working for a moving company. Can't remember if I told you that I was staying with a friend of mine…, but one of the roommates is moving out, so we're gonna rent the room. God's so good when you follow directions 😊. Can't tell you how much we appreciate your prayers, friendship and spiritual guidance. In a world that I came real close to giving up on, God showed up in the form of His people. You. Thank you.”

Pray for T as he continues to make great choices and get back on his feet. Also, pray for the Body of Christ – all of us – to live intentionally and take the time to simply ask questions like, “What gives you hope?” You never know where it might lead.

 

Politics and the Kingdom

The Gospel changes lives.  Jesus redeems lives and influences real change in society. He affects all that we think, feel, say and do – including how we vote and how a person should govern. But the cause of Christ and His Gospel should never be confused with the ambitions, positions and celebrities of either political party. We truly believe Christ would have huge issues with both of the major parties. 

As a pastor, I’ve always emphasized that as a local church we will go out of our way to not be seen as friendly to any particular political party. Because of our missional foci, we long to have lots of Democrats, Independents and Republicans attending. Some members of our congregation will serve in political office.

We sometimes discuss moral issues that might be viewed as political, even at the risk of controversy. However, we do not want to advocate for a party or candidate who may agree with the church on one issue while taking a stand on another issue that is inconsistent with our faith.  Even identifying which candidates agree with our stand on a particular issue is sometimes dangerous. There may be an anti-abortion candidate, for example, who pushes some other immoral agenda in an election for an office.  Some candidates will not stress the need to help all people in society.  Some candidates will have no influence over, say, the abortion issue, as with, for example, the abortion position of the county auditor whose stand probably doesn't count for much in the big scheme of things.

Our mission as a Church is not to accomplish political agendas, yet we mustn’t shy away from open dialog in society. Instead, we encourage discussion on the major issues of our day without falling into the trap of endorsing candidates and without name calling or considering a person with a differing view as evil or stupid.  Opinions and convictions re: political stances are often discovered and tested through discussion and debate.  

We remain focused on the Kingdom. Our king - Jesus - said His is “not of this world”.  We do not advocate political complacency, nor a skeptical cynicism toward political parties.  Yet, we never want to be seen as confusing the gospel with either political party, nor putting too much faith in national, political schemes and plans.

All parties need the gospel, but the gospel needs to flourish, redeem lives and influence culture. This means we focus on actively loving others and believing that Christ through us can make a difference as we take His Universal Agenda – showing and telling the Gospel – to the world.  This means we’ll become people who allow God to burden us, change us and move us to love people, teach the truth and live for His glory.

We can't ignore politics and current events, but we have to be discerning in how deeply we get involved as a church.  Study the issues. Pray for God’s wisdom. Vote your conscience, while honoring God’s Word and supporting Christ-like character. Keep your mind on things of above. Work for the Kingdom.  As far as it concerns you, be at peace with all men – even agree to disagree with a brother or sister in Christ, but maintain the unity of the Spirit at all cost.

What is the Outrageous Promise?

The Outrageous Promise is found in John 14:12.  Jesus says something extraordinary to His followers,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”

The apostle John uses the word “work” (ἔργα in Greek). How he uses “work” throughout his gospel helps us understand what Jesus is promising to us in this call to greater works.

“Work/ἔργα” is used in the following passages. As we take a prayerful look, we find that the works Jesus did are characterized by …

·        … engaging the marginalized and introducing people to the Messiah (John 4:34 – his dialogue with the woman at the well; see the context from John 4:1-26),

·        … Jesus’ compassion regarding the most basic needs of others and their need to believe in Him (John 6:27-30 – Jesus is with a crowd following Him after He fed the 5,000; see context from John 6:22-40),

·        …healing the blind, and then seeing that man put his faith in Jesus – Jesus urged his disciples to work with diligence towards this type of ministry (John 9:3-5 – in discussion with His disciples about the origin of a man’s blindness; see context from John 9:18-31)

·        …establishing men and women in a faith-walk with Him saturates His prayer right before going to the cross (John 17:4 - Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer; see John 17:1-26)

The Outrageous Promise, a call to greater works, involves seeing more and more people being touched by the works and ministry of Jesus.  It is sharing the gospel of Jesus as love is put into action. It is loving people with the truth and living-touch of the Gospel – meeting a need, bringing healing, engaging people where they are, and bringing His word that they may turn in faith to Him.

See His Heart :: Remember His Capacity

Jesus put Philip and his disciples in an impossible situation when he asked, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" (John 6:4-7). Jesus brought an impossibility to Philip. 

Do I look at my challenging circumstances this way - that Jesus brought them to me?  It might help if I did.  But why would he bring them?  

It seems clear that Jesus sought to build their confidence in Him when they faced something impossible. His agenda often included facing "categories" that rattled their hearts and blew their minds. 

When Jesus sets the agenda, it appears that He wants faith to influence action. He wanted them to act according to His intentions and power, and not by what seemed normal to them.

It may have helped Philip if he would have remembered two things - Jesus' heart and Jesus' capacity. Jesus' heart is revealed in His desire to feed the 5,000. In the Mark 6 account of this story, Jesus saw this crowd as sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). Jesus' capacity is on display in feeding the 5,000 from meager resources - He brought a super abundance out of thin air (John 6:9-14). 

Jesus was testing his faith - He was looking for a certain response.  Philip overlooked both Jesus' heart and His capacity.

If I see God's heart and remember His capacity, I'd face difficulties and challenges differently. If God's heart is seen and appreciated, and I remember God's capacity to provide beyond all known resources, my response will be lighter when confronting the confusing.

God's heart and capacity can be forgotten or unnoticed. In that case, my response will be some form of complaint.  If it is remembered and understood, it will lead to adventurous and delighted submission.

Philip could have said, "I've seen you raise people from the dead, turn water into wine and bring health to a leper. What do you have in mind this time, Lord? I'm on board. You can provide an abundance from nothing."

His heart and capacity are expected to be understood by those who follow Him. Let's let Him grow our faith, and see His heart and remember His capacity in every surprising, new and difficult circumstance.