Thursday, August 21, 2014

Disciples will give

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, 
and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith 
and pierced themselves with many pains. 
1 Timothy 6:10

The Church and money is a touchy topic for many people. The vocal and visible minority of money-driven "televangelists" and prosperity gospel preachers has combined itself with the inherent greed that many of us are predisposed to in our flesh to produce an idea in the minds of believers and unbelievers alike that "the Church is just after my money." Add to this the mountain of debt we are under as a nation and for many of us, as individuals, and we see that money in general is a topic that, if left unaddressed, can skew, hamper, or even crush many people's faith.

Jesus understood this, and He talked a lot about money. Consider this quote from Howard Dayton:

Jesus talked much about money. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions. (quoted from preachingtoday.com)

I am convinced that one change of attitude would positively impact so many people in this area. As I am fond of quoting, the way we are to be transformed in the likeness of Christ is by changing the way we think to be in line with how He thinks. That is the essence of Romans 12:2. And in this area of money, we desperately need to understand that nothing, nothing, we "own" actually belongs to us. It all belongs to God and comes from God.

The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God, as does the earth and everything in it. Deuteronomy 10:14

No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. John 3:27

Just like the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, we are stewards over the wealth God has given us, not owners, and He expects us to use that wealth to advance His kingdom, not to pursue our own pleasures or to do nothing at all.

One question I have faced a bit of late is whether this giving should be to worthy causes or ministries or to one's own local church body. There can be a hesitancy to simply "dump" your gift into a large pool that may or may not be used for ministry. Many of today's churches have a *lot* of overhead associated with buildings and debt, and if they are anything like my previous church, those buildings are 90% full only 10% of the time. This can be discouraging from an individual Christian's perspective. 

Effective use of church facilities is a whole other topic that I feel very much needs to be addressed in many, many churches. I encourage those who read this to have those kinds of conversations with their leadership. But in the meantime, I would have you consider this about giving to your local church:

7 “Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Hosts. But you ask: “How can we return?” 8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!” You ask: “How do we rob You?” “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. 9 You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing Me. 10 Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the Lord of Hosts. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. Malachi 3:7-10

There is much more here than just an "Old Testament command" that we "don't have to obey" because we are "no longer under the law, but under grace". That is an unfortunate attitude that many in the Church possess, especially about this verse in particular. However, God gives a very specific reason as to why He wants the Israelites to bring the entire tithe: "so that there may be food in My house". Why was it important that there be food in God's house? Among other things, those who were called of God for full time service to Him (the Levites) were given this tithe as their inheritance. It's part of what God intended to help support His priests (Numbers 18:21, Joshua 14:4). The tithe was also the means by which the poor, orphans and widows were cared for in Israel (Deut. 14:29). Every three years, the Israelites were to contribute the tenth to a common fund within each city's gates for the purpose of caring for the priests and the poor.

We see both of these paralleled in the New Testament: elders and those "who preach the gospel" being supported by the church (1 Tim 5:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14) as well as the poor and widows (Acts 6, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, Romans 15:25-28). A church cannot care for those that serve it full time and those who need to be served if its members are not contributing into a common fund administered by that church.

As a new friend of mine recently encouraged me, if you are struggling to give for this specific reason, or for any reason at all, I encourage you to be obedient to God and trust Him for the results.

Disciples will give where and when God leads them to give, trusting Him for the results, because they know that it all belongs to Him anyway.

Give to everyone who asks you,
and from one who takes your things
don’t ask for them back.
Luke 6:30

Honor the Lord with your possessions
and with the first produce of your entire harvest;
then your barns will be completely filled,
and your vats will overflow with new wine.
Proverbs 3:9-10

Monday, August 18, 2014

Disciples will love

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

12 This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14

Anyone who has spent any time in the Bible at all knows that love is a popular topic. Famous verses on the topic include John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:16, John 13:35 and of course 1 Corinthians 13. I wrote a series about this passage last year. But when I think about following Jesus Christ as a disciple in the area of love, or what it means to love like Christ loved, John 15:13 is at the top of my list.

I so enjoy gaining new insight when I study the Word, especially from passages I consider familiar. And in gathering my thoughts for this post, as is my custom when studying the Word, I pulled up the context for John 15:13 to see the broader thoughts surrounding this famous verse. What I noticed that I had not really seen before is that verse 12 frames an entire line of teaching that Jesus is giving to His disciples, stating that He is commanding them to not only love one another, but to do so specifically as He has loved them. And the way He loved them, and us, is summed up in one simple yet potent word: sacrifice.

To be honest, the topic of love is really hard for me, not in understanding it from the Word, but in applying that understanding in everyday life. In one sense, I feel like I have it down. Every time I try to encourage my brothers and sisters to greater Christ-likeness, I am doing so motivated by a deep love for each of them that really can only be explained as coming from God. And no matter how many times I am rebuffed for whatever reason, despite the pain and frustration that usually causes me, I continue to persist in hope that the next time with the next person will be different. That is a sacrifice for me, as it would be so much easier to give up and just leave people alone. But every once in a while, my hope is rewarded, and I find no greater joy in my walk with God than those times when I can help my brothers and sisters take a step further down the path of becoming like Christ.

But from another perspective, I don't understand how to love people at all. As I wrote earlier, I have only just recently begun to realize that my complete lack of insecurity about myself and my total, unwavering trust in God seems to be the exception, not the rule. Like a broken arm or bruised rib, touching the wounded parts of people's lives to exhort them on in their walk with Christ requires extreme gentleness, a level of gentleness that is almost unimaginable to me. And like a gorilla trying to care for a wounded butterfly, more often than not what I leave behind is broken wings and fractured souls. I cannot even begin to express how much anguish I have felt over knowing the pain that I have caused so many people.

But still I persist, trying to learn from every interaction, failed or otherwise, believing that God will complete the good work He has started in me, that one day the love He has placed in my heart for my brothers and sisters will not be overshadowed by my clumsy, fat gorilla hands.

I imagine that those who read this have experienced times of being called to love when it's not easy. When you face those times, look to the example of Jesus. With every lash of the whip, every thorn in His brow, every clang of the nail, every labored breath on the cross, and every sin He took upon His sinless body, He was literally screaming I LOVE YOU! No hardship any of us face in loving those around us can even begin to compare to what He went through.

Disciples will love, even when it hurts, because that's what Jesus did.

But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!
Romans 5:8


Friday, August 15, 2014

Disciples will ...

Something my pastor said to me a month or so ago has infused itself permanently into my spiritual consciousness, which is rare considering how poor my memory is. I had in mind two ideas for ministries in our church that I wanted to build. One is a discipleship framework by which those who want to be discipled and those who want to disciple can be easily connected with one another. The second is an upgrade to the methodology of our current Involvement ministry. The Involvement ministry is responsible for teaching people the purpose of spiritual gifts, helping them to discover what those gifts are in themselves, and connecting them with service opportunities. Considering where we are as a church right now (a long story not for public consumption), he felt that it wasn't the right time to begin a brand new ministry. But seeing that I was approaching these two ideas as separate entities, he said three words to me that I believe have permanently altered my understanding of how best to teach, train, and exhort those around me to greater Christ-likeness:

Disciples will serve.

It is simple and yet profound, and I believe in that moment God was speaking through him to me. The point I believe he was making is this: Serving is a natural outgrowth of being a disciple, but it does not make one a disciple of Jesus. You can serve without truly following Jesus in your heart and your mind, but if you do truly follow Jesus, you will serve.

Of course, this got me to thinking, what else will a disciple do? The following is a list of what comes to mind, in no particular order:

Disciples will love. (John 13:35)
Disciples will give. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Disciples will learn. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Disciples will teach. (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
Disciples will serve. (1 Peter 4:10)
Disciples will obey. (1 John 5:3)
Disciples will persevere. (Romans 12:12)

I will be writing on each of these in the coming days and weeks. If I think of more, I will add them here as well.

For now, I do want to reiterate this point. It is possible to put on an outward approximation of each of these qualities and still not be one who is following Jesus. As I work through each of these, I will keep reminding anyone who reads this that if you don't see one or more of these qualities in your life, pray and ask God to change your heart and mind to want to follow Jesus in that area. If your inward desire does not match your outward conformity, you will likely become discouraged and miserable very quickly. The goal is not to simply conform outwardly but to be transformed inwardly. If you truly submit yourself to Jesus in your heart and your mind, external conformity to His teachings will naturally follow and will be a joy, not a burden.

Do not be conformed to this age,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
so that you may discern
what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fasting, self-control, and useless knowledge

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:22b-27 (ESV)

A couple of months ago, the speaker at our monthly men's dinner said three things that significantly changed my understanding of the necessity of fasting in my walk. One, he mentioned at one point that he used to be addicted to food. He once sat and ate two half-gallons of Blue Bell ice cream in one setting. Two, he quoted 1 Corinthians 9:27. And three, he mentioned numerous times throughout his talk how he fasted on a regular basis. At one point, he even completed a prophet's fast, 40 full days with nothing but water!

I honestly don't remember the context in which he mentioned all these things, but God used those three things to form a coherent train of thought in my mind. God convicted me that I was addicted to food myself. There's no other way to describe the self-destructive behavior of knowing in my mind what I needed to do to be healthy but being unable or unwilling in my flesh to act on that knowledge. For reasons only God knows for sure, something clicked in my spirit that told me I had to start fasting on a regular basis, both as a matter of health and as a matter of spiritual discipline.

I had had a spotty history with fasting, well, more non-existent, really. At a church I used to attend several years ago, many of the leaders there fasted regularly, and they encouraged the congregation to do so. I tried it once, fasting through breakfast and lunch. It was extraordinarily difficult. I remember sitting down to dinner with my wife that night and announcing that dinner was the first meal that I had had that day. Being very proud of myself, I fell into the very trap that Jesus warned against in Matthew 6:16-18. Having "tried it", I decided that it "wasn't for me", and coupled with the fact that the Bible doesn't command us to fast, that was that.

Just last December was my second experience with fasting. As I was contemplating leaving my old church (a different one than the one above), I had asked the pastor a couple of questions, and I was waiting on his answers. I prayed that if God wanted me to stay, the pastor would answer one way, and if not, he would answer the other way. I wanted to fast as I was praying, as it was only going to be 2-3 days before he gave me an answer. But like a couch potato who tries to jump up and run a marathon, I wasn't prepared mentally or physically to rise to the task. I fasted through breakfast two days in a row, and by lunch each day, I felt like I was starving.

Paul describes our christian walk as a race we are competing in, and just like an athlete, our "competition" requires training. He tells us to run in such a way as to receive the prize, not running "aimlessly" or boxing "as one beating the air". The first part of verse 27 literally means "I pummel my body and make it a slave". Part of the training we need to be engaging in as believers is the discipline of denying ourselves.

Then He said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, 
he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
Luke 9:23

By God's grace, after that April men's dinner, I began fasting on a regular basis. Over the last 2 months, more often than not, I have abstained from at least one meal a day, sometimes two or three, and a couple of times as many as 5 or 6 meals in a row. And when here recently God prompted me to fast specifically to seek Him in prayer and in His Word over the course of two days, I was physically able to do so because of the training I had engaged in previously. God has grown the fruit of self-control tremendously in my life over these two months. And during that time, I have continued to meditate on 2 Peter 1:5-8.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, 6 knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, 7 godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I have written before, there is a logical progression in the characteristics Peter lists should be present in the believer's life. I have also written about this verse in the context of using the specific test that Peter lays out to measure growth in your walk, namely are these characteristics increasing in your life (i.e. Are you more Christlike today than you were yesterday?) Two more things bear mentioning, though, and God showed one of them to me within the context of fasting.

One, there is a danger in failing to pass the test that Peter outlines. Having these qualities will keep us from "being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ", and without them, we are "blind and shortsighted". And in this progression, Peter says we should seek to add to our knowledge self-control. My knowledge of how to be healthy was useless and lacking in any fruit because I did not seek to employ that knowledge to produce self-control in my life. More broadly applied, one of the major themes in James' letter is that if the faith that you claim to know in your mind does not change who you are in word and deed, then your faith is worthless and will not save you (James 2:14-26). Even for those of us who are true believers with a saving faith, to have knowledge of what we "should" do without actually doing it is in itself sinful. (James 4:17)

Two, Peter's progression tells us that the road from faith and good moral character to godly devotion and love is paved with knowledge, self-control, and endurance. It's not enough to simply know the Word in your mind. You must do what it says and stay the course when times get tough. That's what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

19 My dearly loved brothers, understand this: everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man's anger does not accomplish God's righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil excess, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. 22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; 24 for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts-this person will be blessed in what he does. James 1:19-25

Friday, May 23, 2014

Faith and Insecurity

This is kind of the other side of the coin to my last post. Maybe it should have been first, I don't know.

I have taken probably two dozen different spiritual gifts tests over the years, studied spiritual gifts extensively, and even written my own test to try and address common shortcomings I saw in the standard approach to testing. So when I took another one a couple of months ago at my new church, I wasn't expecting to be surprised by the results or really to learn anything new.

Like so many other tests, the gift of Faith was one of my top-scoring items. And like so many times before, I dismissed the finding as being the result of a common (and in my mind, erroneous) testing methodology. After all, 1 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV) says that spiritual gifts are given for "the common good", and Ephesians 4:12 says they are also for "the training of the saints in the work of ministry" and "to build up the body of Christ".

That certainly hasn't been my response when I encounter a lack of faith in someone. I haven't tried to train others to have more trust in God, apart from what I consider just general encouragement from the Word, and I would be hard pressed to demonstrate that I have used my faith for the common good or for building up the body of Christ. My most common responses to people's unbelief, sad to say, have been either frustration or dismissal. Here recently I have graduated to trusting that God will show them in time, if He intends to. That's a little better.

But three things have happened over the last couple of months that God has used to grow my understanding. One, after taking this test, I shared (and promptly dismissed) the faith result with our ministry leader who trains people in the area of spiritual gifts. I shared the same line of reasoning with him as I outlined above, and when I said that I most often respond to people's lack of faith with frustration, he very quickly responded, "That's because you have the gift of Faith." I again dismissed what he said because I "knew" better. To his credit, he didn't argue the point further. Rather, the Holy Spirit went to work on me for a while, and I have been reminded of this leader's words at least a half dozen times in the last two months.

Two, I a have friend with whom I share a common understanding of and very solid belief in the total, absolute sovereignty of God. In fact, I always just assumed that that was where my unshakable faith and trust in God came from. Naturally, I expected him to have the same. But a few weeks after that spiritual gifts test and subsequent conversation above, my friend had a crisis of faith. I won't share the details publicly, but it traumatized him a great deal, and only now, several weeks later, is God starting to bring some real healing and understanding to his heart and mind. But the entire time he was going through it, as I would share from the Word to try and encourage him, try as I might, I really couldn't even begin to understand why he was reacting the way he was. I kept thinking in the back of my mind, "There it is in black and white (and sometimes red). Why don't you just trust what God says?"

Three, and finally, my pastor shared this video with the congregation this past Sunday:


It was a powerful message for me, but for different reasons than most people, I'm sure. I welcome the chiseling, sometimes even craving it. But his portrayal of the level of insecurity, doubt, and feelings of low self-worth that most believers apparently struggle with to some degree brought me to tears. I can't imagine having to deal with even the smallest level of something like that. After church Sunday, I said to my wife, "I really have no concept of just how insecure most people are", to which she replied "No, you don't."

As I continued to replay this video in my mind and see and hear this man's anguish, in my mind I cried out to God, "Why? Why would You do this to people? How do people even get out of bed in the morning if deep down that's how they really feel?" As gently and firmly as His counterpart in the video above, God brought this word to my mind:

My grace is sufficient for them, for My power is made perfect in their weakness.
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

I am beginning to understand that my faith is a gift in *every* sense of the word. Not just that I have been rescued from sin and death, as if that weren't miraculous enough, but that I have also been spared the loneliness, fear, and self-doubt that plague so many. And to borrow a phrase from Stan Lee, I am also beginning to realize that with great faith comes great responsibility. I don't know yet what that will look like, but I trust that God will reveal it to me in His perfect timing.

God, forgive me for taking for granted the special measure of faith
You have given me. By Your Holy Spirit, teach me to harness this faith to build up
my brothers and sisters for their good, to prepare them for the work of ministry,
and most of all for bringing glory to Your Name.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How do you measure growth?

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, 6 knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, 7 godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8

My wife does raised-bed gardening in some cedar boxes I built for her. This year we are trying three such boxes with a variety of vegetables. She is a bit of a tomato aficionado, so we have a couple of different varieties planted, though not as many as last year. She got the last of her plants in the ground recently, so now it is just water and wait.

The end goal of planting these tomato plants is red, juicy fruit that she can enjoy. It has been just a few days since the tiny plants were planted, so they obviously aren't there yet. But every day I come home from work, I can see subtle changes in her garden: a new flower here, a new shoot there. I swear the beans are growing like an inch a day.

Imagine if I were to go home today and say to my wife, "Well, looks like you failed with your tomato plants. We don't have tomatoes." Just a few days after she had them planted, she'd likely look at me like I was crazy, and rightfully so. Producing fruit take time. Just because they don't measure up to the standard today doesn't mean there hasn't been progress, and whether or not they eventually produce tomatoes is entirely up to God.

We all recognize how ridiculous it would be to demand full-grown tomatoes from a newly-planted seedling, and yet so many times an exhortation to growth on my part has been received as a demand for perfection on their part. As I wrote a few posts ago, a pastor I know asked me a while back why I was "impatient with imperfection." I have mulled that question over quite a bit for the last few months, and this is the conclusion I have come to: I'm not. My goal for myself, my family, and for those around me that God brings across my path is not perfection, but rather continuous improvement.

12 Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 
Philippians 3:12-15

I can't even begin to count how many times I was certain some idea I had or some advice I gave was right on target only to find out later that I was completely off base. I have said more stupid, insensitive things than there are seconds in a day. But one thing I know and one thing I do: I know that, by God's grace, I am more Christlike today than I was 6 months ago, and by God's grace, I continually put my past mistakes behind me and press on towards the goal of being conformed to the image of Christ.

So the question remains, when I encourage others to do the same, to not be satisfied with where they are but to press on towards the goal, why does it come across as being "impatient with imperfection"? I ask this because, while this pastor was off in diagnosing my intent, he was spot on in identifying a very common response.

I am sure that some of that has been my methods. I am continually evaluating my interactions with others against the goal of gentleness. But I am also convinced that part of the "you're just demanding perfection" response is raging against a message that is pervasive in scripture: 

While God loved us enough to save us as we were, 
He also loves us enough not to leave us as we are. 

Being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) is a difficult and often painful process, and when God uses a brother or sister to highlight an area that needs to be addressed, sometimes it is just easier to condemn the messenger rather than consider the message. And for some, that may be because they condemn themselves for not having reached the goal already instead of rightly evaluating incremental growth that God has likely already produced. Jesus said that when a vine starts producing fruit, rather than just leaving it alone, He cuts off unnecessary parts to produce even more fruit. (John 15:2)

I used to be in a small group with a husband and wife team (J & N) several years ago. They are wonderfully giving and caring people. One phrase N used quite often to describe persistent difficult interactions with certain people is that these individuals were "sandpaper people" for her. It's a great way to look at those interactions. They may be rough, but if we are willing, God uses them to sand off the rough edges on us, scraping away our dead flesh so that the living light of Christ can shine through us.

When you encounter those individuals that take the time to exhort you to greater Christ-likeness, I urge you not to just see someone highlighting your faults. And I especially urge you not to slay the messenger. Rather, take the time to consider the message. Maybe it really is time to take another step down the path, to sprout a new leaf or produce a new tomato bud. Don't let satan condemn you in your flesh, for there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Instead, lay hold of the promise that God will complete what He started in you (Philippians 1:6). And I bet that, somewhere along the way, He's going to use a little sandpaper to do it.

Iron sharpens iron,
So one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17 (NASB)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Do unto others...

"I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves." - Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

The Ender series of books by OSC is by far my favorite fiction series. I reread the entire thing recently (some 8 or 9 books in all) in anticipation for the new movie that came out a few months ago. This is one of my favorite quotes. There is something about it that just feels true, and like a faint echo, I am always reminded of Jesus's words in Luke 6:31.

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31 (ESV)

I have spent some time thinking about this verse off and on over the last 9 months or so. Really, it has been a bit a paradox for me. One of the things I value most highly is truth. I seek, I uncover, I ponder, I want desperately to understand. One of the ways I apply that is that I want to know the truth about where my life doesn't measure up to the standard in God's Word, where my thoughts and actions do not honor Christ. So many times, it is extraordinarily difficult for me to see unChristlikeness in myself, and so I value immensely those around me having the courage to point it out to me. And therein lies the paradox for me.

Nearly every fellow believer I have ever known does not appreciate having their own failings exposed to the mirror of God's Word with the straightforwardness that I crave. No matter how true, no matter how necessary, no matter the intention of the messenger's heart, all they see and feel is the inevitable pain inherent in facing one's own shortcomings, and the messenger is proverbially slain. And so, for the longest time, I was left wondering "What do I do, then, with Luke 6:31? When I do for others what I want them to do for me, it nearly always turns out poorly, coming across as unloving and not gentle."

A pastor I met recently (a different one than the one I mentioned two posts ago) was able to see some things about me and relay that to me in a way that was exactly what I needed, and yet would have likely crushed and/or angered most people. I thanked him for it after the fact, and he shared an interesting bit of insight about his thought process behind it all. He said basically two things, one, that it felt unloving (in a general sense), but that two, he sensed that saying it as directly as he did was the best way he could show love to me, specifically.

There was a lot of Spirit-lead wisdom there, and it has helped me to see a bit more clearly a principle God has been working on in me from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

19 Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. 21 To those who are without that law, like one without the law—not being without God’s law but within Christ’s law—to win those without the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. 23 Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits.

Paul is saying here that he made himself whatever other people needed him to be in order to present them a life-saving message, namely the gospel. He did not want there to be any obstacle to his message in his methods. He kept his eye on the goal of sharing the gospel and endured whatever process was necessary to make that happen.

In being so direct with me, this pastor, who admitted that such potentially hurtful directness is definitely not the norm for him, made himself what I needed him to be in order to convey a message he knew I needed to hear.

This paradox of Luke 6:31 is not so unclear any more. It will take some time to work it out in practice, but I am beginning to understand that its not about the method; it is about the message. What I want others to do for me is to love me enough to not leave me as I am. I would hope that all believers want this from others as well. The key as I see it at the moment is to know them well enough to understand how it is they receive love. For me, it is simple, direct truth: "This is what I see, this is what God's Word says, and this is how you need to change." For others, as I have "learned" the hard way, it is going to be different. I must learn to love others enough to become whatever they need me to be so that a life-changing message is not hindered by imperfect methods. 

3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4