Thanksgiving, Ferguson, and the Kindness of God

 

This Thanksgiving I find myself reflecting on the responsibilities we all have when we realize how blessed we are. On this day when we recount the blessings we’ve received from God, it’s also a great time to ask ourselves how we can BE a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2).

One day King David woke up with this same quest on his mind: “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?” (2 Samuel 9:3)

If you know David’s story, he had experienced lots of hardships on his way to becoming king and fulfilling his destiny. As part of God’s training process, he had overcome lions, bears, giants, and a deranged, homicidal king. At times he had to run for his life, living in caves and other dark places.

But by the time we get to this episode in 2 Samuel 9, David was feeling overwhelmed by how much God had blessed him. He recognized that he had abundantly received “the kindness of God.” And as a natural by-product, he wanted to find someone to share the blessings with.

Sounds something like Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?

David had a particular desire to bless those from the lineage of his former enemy, King Saul. What a great example this is for us. Perhaps there’s someone you need to reach out to who was once your nemesis. Maybe there was friction or suspicion in the past, but it’s time to overcome all of that with kindness and generosity.

Remember the Pilgrims and the Native Americans? Talk about cultural differences! But what if we could reenact that same kind of spirit in our cities today, where police officers and the black community sat down to break bread and share their resources together?

In David’s case, the options were pretty limited. It turned out that the only person left of Saul descendants was a bitter, crippled man named Mephibosheth.  This son of Jonathan was living in a desolate place called Lo Debar, and his self-image was so low that he considered himself no better than a “dead dog” (v. 8).

Just the kind of person you should invite to your home for Thanksgiving, don’t you think?!

Remember: When you’re looking for people to show kindness to, they might not be the easiest people to love! In fact, you can count on the fact that the people who need love the most will be the hardest to love.

But love them anyway.

Mephibosheth was described to David in such a way that the king might have been reluctant to get involved with such an unsavory character. Yet David immediately had the man brought to Jerusalem to eat at the king’s table—just as if Mephibosheth was one of David’s own sons (v. 11).

Thanksgiving is a time for families, of course. But it also can be a great time to invite someone else to sit at your table, as David did with Mephiboseth.

I’m feeling blessed today, and I hope you are as well. If so, is there someone you can show the kindness of God?

 

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The Canary in the Coal Mine

 

We all need an early-warning system about the hazards of life.

I woke up today thinking about how coal miners used to take a canary with them into the mine shaft to warn of the buildup of carbon monoxide and other toxic gases. The poor bird, much more sensitive than the miners, would keel over sooner in the face of dangerous conditions. That would give the miners time to escape or put on protective respirators.

We all need a canary in our mine shaft—a hypersensitive early-warning system to alert us to approaching dangers. Just as carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless toxin, the dangers of life often will arise undetected unless we are warned by a canary or some equipment beyond our own senses.

For a Christian, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate early-warning system. He is constantly speaking to our human spirit, giving us discernment about things we can’t see with our natural eyes. He can detect dangers in the spiritual realm and warn us of coming threats.

However, sometimes I’ve ignored the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I’ve allowed my spiritual senses to grow dull. I’ve become like a miner who arrogantly thinks he no longer needs to take the canary with him.

But it’s dangerous to ignore or disable our early-warning system. And to use another analogy, we periodically need to check the batteries in our home CO2 or smoke detectors. Having detectors with dead batteries will just give us a false sense of security.

In addition to the direct voice of Holy Spirit, God has put people in the church and the culture who are called to sound a prophetic alarm when unseen dangers are on the horizon. Like canaries in the mine shaft, these folks are sensitive to things most of us are oblivious to.

But let’s be honest: Prophetic people can also be irritating. They’re hypersensitive by nature, and hypersensitive people often are annoying and hard for the rest of us to deal with. And sometimes it’s much worse than that: Some of those claiming to be “prophetic” are just strange, delusional, or puffed up with thoughts of their own importance.

And history has shown that sometimes those who claim to have a prophetic warning for the church or for society are just plain wrong. We need alarms, but not false alarms. If a canary in a coal mine drops dead, the miners might assume the problem is toxic gases. But the canary’s demise could also be the result of old age or other causes. We have to be careful how we interpret  our “prophetic” promptings.

Although canaries and prophets can be problematic at times, I hope you have a few of them in your life. We all need faithful friends who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and who love us enough to warn us when danger is approaching. And on gloomy days these canaries may even sing us a song of encouragement to boost our spirits.

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5 Things You Can Expect When Jesus Is in the House

 

Churches all over the world claim to have Jesus “in the house,” but sometimes there is scant evidence to support that claim. Mark 2:1-12 provides us with a vivid outline of what it looks like to have Jesus actively working in our gatherings. The chapter begins by saying that Jesus had come back to Capernaum, His home base, and word had gotten out “that He was at home.”

I pray that this kind of word-of-mouth marketing is happening for your congregation today. Long before Facebook and Twitter, word quickly got out that Jesus was in the house, and a number of stunning results followed.

Here are 5 things you can expect to happen when people hear that Jesus is regularly “in the house” during your church gatherings:

  1. Crowds will come. Verse 2 says, “Many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door.”  While your congregation may not be a megachurch, the Biblical model makes it clear that large numbers of people will be attracted if they truly know that Jesus is in the house.
  2.  The Word of God will be taught. Verse 3 tells us, “He was speaking the word to them.” Other aspects of Jesus’ ministry would be demonstrated later in the story, but first He taught the Word. Today we have many churches that teach the Word, but which demonstrate no power. We also have churches that are highly experiential, with very little teaching from the Scriptures. Yet when Jesus is in the house, the two go hand in hand.
  3. Radical faith will be sparked. Hearing that Jesus was in the house, four men carried a paralyzed friend to the meeting place. When the large crowd prevented them from bringing the paralytic through the doorway, they climbed up on the roof and dug a hole to lower the man on a pallet in front of Jesus. What radical behavior! This kind of passionate determination would be so out of character for polite, conventional, American Christians. Verse 5 says Jesus SAW their faith—quite a contrast to the common misconception today that faith can be a private, personal matter that we keep to ourselves.
  4. Forgiveness will be released. Although the man had been brought to the meeting for healing of his paralysis, Jesus saw a much more critical need, telling the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (v. 5). Countless people today are paralyzed because of a need for forgiveness. Either they are immobilized by guilt and shame over things they’ve done, or else they are locked in an emotional prison because of their unwillingness to forgive others. Jesus was about to perform a miracle of physical healing as well, but first He made sure that the forgiveness issue was fully dealt with in this man.
  5. Miracles will happen. When was the last time you witnessed a genuine miracle in your church? Yet that’s the kind of thing that can be expected when Jesus is in the house. After He had taught the Word and dealt with the forgiveness issue, He boldly told the paralyzed man, “Get up, pick up your pallet and go home”  (v. 11).When people saw the man immediately set free from his paralysis, they “were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’”  (v. 12).

I absolutely love this conclusion of the story. God was glorified  by what had happened, as He always is when we invite Jesus to freely work in our gatherings.

People testified that they had never seen anything like this before. That’s exactly what will happen again today when you and I allow Jesus to come and fill our house today. Even if we’re longtime Christians, we will marvel at the blessings and miracles released by our Lord’s presence among us.

So let’s not settle for anything less in our churches and our homes than to have Jesus in the house.

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4 Steps to Your Breakout Moment

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that most people are paralyzed or imprisoned in some way. No wonder the Bible tells so many stories about those who got healed of paralysis or set free from bondage and imprisonment.

When we read such Bible stories today, it’s easy to miss how these events apply to our lives. If we’ve never been physically paralyzed or lame, we can struggle to relate to the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12 or the lame man in Acts 3:1-12. And if we’ve never done jail time, we can assume there’s not much we can learn from Joseph’s release from an Egyptian dungeon (Genesis 39-40) or the supernatural prison breaks of Peter (Acts 12:1-19) and Paul and Silas (Acts 16:16-40).

But, you see, the imprisonment most people face today is emotional and spiritual rather than physical. They’ve been traumatized by their journey through life, whether through the consequences of their own bad decisions or through the unkind actions of others.

In John 20:19-29 Jesus’ disciples were locked in a self-imposed prison after experiencing the trauma of their Master’s unjust arrest, brutal beating, and horrific crucifixion. Today we sometimes call those events “Good Friday,” but there seemed nothing “good” about the cross of Calvary at the time. The disciples were understandably devastated, gathered together behind locked doors because of fear of the Jewish leaders.

Suddenly Jesus appeared to these shell-shocked men. Although preachers sometimes say, based on Revelation 3:20, that Jesus always knocks before entering our situation, that’s simply not true. This time He just came right on in, bypassing every defense mechanism in order to release these traumatized followers from their emotional bondage.

This is one of the most pivotal scenes in the entire Bible. It’s not an overstatement to say that the whole fate of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom rested on what would happen in the lives of these shattered men.

The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus, believing that their lives would ultimately change the world. Now their dreams seemed to have reached a cruel dead end. Dazed and confused, they were very unlikely candidates for any kind of heroic, world-changing mission.

So how did Jesus turn the worst of times into the best of times for these emotionally damaged followers? He addressed four different snares that were holding these men in spiritual captivity:

  1. FEAR – Not just once, but twice, Jesus told them, “Peace be with you.”  And when they “saw the Lord,”  their fear and anguish were replaced with great joy. If you are feeling “stuck” in some area of your life today, it’s likely that fear is one of the things holding you back. Just as He did for the disciples, Jesus wants to penetrate your closed doors and replace your fear with faith, and your anxiety with His peace and joy.
  2. PURPOSELESSNESS – These men who had taken such bold steps to leave their careers and families in order to change the world with Jesus were now left without a purpose or a vision. They had abandoned and denied their Savior in His hour of need, and now their traumatized condition seemed to disqualify them from any significant usefulness in His plan. Nevertheless, Jesus re-commissioned and affirmed them with fresh vision and purpose: As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” What an encouraging story for us today. Even when we feel like failures, unusable by God, He can reaffirm our calling and give us a new commission to impact the world.
  3. WEAKNESS – In addition to a lack of purpose, Jesus’ disciples were suffering from a lack of power. A new commission would have fallen on deaf ears unless they also received new empowerment. Recognizing their need, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  In their own strength, they never would have been able to fulfill His majestic plan for their lives—nor can you or I. But, empowered by the Spirit, we can transform the world (Acts 1:8, Philippians 4:13).
  4. FORGIVENESS ISSUES – Jesus showed them His wounds, proof that they had been forgiven by His shed blood. But then He talked to them about their calling to extend His forgiveness to OTHERS. If you are in some kind of spiritual prison today, there’s a good chance that forgiveness is one of the keys needed to set you free. Perhaps you need to RECEIVE God’s full forgiveness of your past, releasing you from any guilt, shame, or condemnation. Or maybe you are still locked in emotional bondage because you’ve not yet forgiven someone who has hurt you. Either way, forgiveness is an indispensable key to your spiritual and emotional freedom.

I encourage you to read this list again, asking God to show you which of these four keys are needed to help you get unstuck and ready to fulfill your destiny as a follower of Christ.

Perhaps you’ve been hiding out behind closed doors for a long time now, traumatized by some experience that has been hard to shake. But if Jesus could take these distraught men from the shadow of the cross to the glory of resurrection life, surely He can transform your life and give you a new beginning.

Like Jesus’ disciples, you may seem like an unlikely world-changer today. But once He has freed you from fear, given you fresh vision, empowered you by His Spirit, and dealt with your forgiveness issues, your life can be amazing. You don’t have to wait any longer!

 

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Disinfecting Your Emotional Wounds

 

When I was a student at Dominion Junior High, I had a rather idyllic life and no concept of emotional wounds. But lately I’ve found myself reflecting on the lessons I learned from a physical wound I experienced in gym class one morning.

We were running track events that day, something I never was very good at. While trying to jump over a hurdle on the school’s crude cinder track, I caught my foot and plummeted to the ground. Although the main thing hurt was my pride, I also incurred a bad scrape to my knee during this mishap.

This really didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I just vowed to be more careful and jump a little higher the next time I ran over hurdles.

After gym class I took a shower and tried to wash my knee the best I could. I figured it would be red for a while, but certainly nothing serious.

However, a few days later, I noticed there was some white pus on the area of the grapefruit-sized wound. And by the following day, the original red wound couldn’t be seen at all—just a disgusting thick layer of yellowish white pus.

Things got so bad that my mom had to take me to the doctor to address this repulsive condition. He warned that the infection might have spread throughout my body if I had waited any longer.

With the help of some antibiotics, the infection finally cleared up after about a week. But this experience provided a lesson I would never forget: Often our original wounds are relatively minor, but the secondary infections can cause us real problems.

Emotional wounds work the same way. We’ve all been wounded emotionally at one time or another, to one degree or another. Just like my scraped knee in gym class that day, our emotional wounds are seldom debilitating or life-threatening in themselves.

However, I’ve met many people over the years who’ve allowed their emotional wounds to become infected. Because they weren’t diligent to keep the initial wound clean, toxic conditions such as unforgiveness, resentment, and bitterness set in. What started as a temporary, treatable condition grew into something much more severe and chronic, robbing them of their joy and peace of mind.

If you’ve been emotionally wounded by traumatic events in your life, there’s no need to panic. Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6), ready and able to heal your wounds. But you have a vital role to play in keeping the wound clean so a secondary infection doesn’t set in.

This means forgiving anyone who has hurt you, allowing the crystal clear waters of God’s love and mercy to regularly cleanse you of any resentment or bitterness. And if you see that some yucky white pus is developing at the site of the wound, you may need to ask God for spiritual antibiotics to keep the infection from taking over your life.

Is this an easy process? No, not at all. But the longer you wait, the harder the healing process will become.

And don’t be deluded by the old line that says, “Time heals all wounds.” That is only true if the site of the wound is kept free of secondary infections.

Remember that you aren’t the only one who has ever had to deal with infected emotional wounds. The Scriptures are full of instructions like this:

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (Ephesians 4:31-5:2).

My knee is perfectly fine today. There’s no on-going infection or scar. And I’m convinced that, with the right treatment, our emotional scars can disappear as well.

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