Foster Care and Love

I don’t usually get personal but today I will. On Friday, our two foster boys left and I felt a sadness I did not know I could feel. It is a hard thing doing foster care because going into it you know they will leave, and you know you will be broken hearted. You know this but you still do it. I think one of the things that makes it that much harder is that they take all their stuff with them. You have little things that get left behind but when you are used to having a house full of toys and fire trucks a block here and a car there does not really cut it.

I can say that now more than before I understand God’s love for me. To do Foster Care right you need to open yourself up completely. Don’t get me wrong I think I did more wrong than right but I think I opened up fully. Back to the point though, you need to completely love these kids because while you know they are leaving they need security and love. They need to know that their past does not define them and that their hurt can be healed. They need to be washed in love every day and that requires you to be only concerned with their well-being. That is hard.

It is hard because you know their love for you is not as deep as it is for their bio parents. Regardless of their former home life and how messed up it might be that was home and that was normal. You and your love are abnormal. The point is you need to be all in regardless of whether or not they are. You need to love them as if they were yours not because the feelings or actions may be reciprocated but because that is what love does.

We loved those boys fully. I made mistakes but I loved fully. Now I hurt fully. I hurt when I think about them, I hurt when I see a toy or their little Nashville refrigerator magnets, and I hurt fully when I know I will not see them after work. But I also smile. I smile because I know they are happy, healthy, and they know they were loved. I smile because I got hugs I would have never gotten, I smile because I got to hear I love you, and I smile because the little one used the potty. I smile because I was able to love.

We have to love people and we have to be willing to be hurt. We cannot say no because it is hard but I will because it is worth it. Whether it is a hard child, a hard adult, or whatever we must love because loving people is worth it.

I think about how God loves us and how the Bible says “while we still sinners Christ died for us.” God gave fully because that is what loves does. Even now there are those who refuse Him and want nothing to do with Him. Yet He still loves them and He is still calling them.

There is a whole world out there waiting to see what the church will do. They are waiting to see if we will walk like Christ. They are waiting to see if we will come to them and love. They are waiting. Are we willing to walk in and out of love?

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Eph 2:4-5

Just a thought,

Mike

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A Miracle with a Message

In Mark 8:22-26 Jesus heals a blind man in a very unusual way. Jesus spits on the man’s eyes and the vision is partially restored. Then Jesus puts the His hands on the man’s eyes and his vision is totally restored. I know the first couple of times I read this passage I was beyond confused because I could not figure out why Jesus did not restore the man’s vision all at once. After all, He is Jesus He could easily do this.

I have heard all sorts of explanations for this ranging from the man did not have enough faith at first to Jesus had already said “Woe to you Bethsaida” because they did not repent. The former has to do with our faith being the power and the latter has to do with Jesus withholding blessing an individual because of corporate failure. Both in my humble opinion fall short because neither treats Scripture properly and both place the emphases on the individual passage and not in context.

If we read the whole of Mark 8 we can see that before this Jesus rebukes the disciples because they did not understand His words about the yeast of the Pharisees and then later Jesus rebukes Peter because he tried to Jesus (never a good idea). Yet right in the middle is this miracle. It is a miracle with a message. The message is clearly given before the miracle in 8:21 where Jesus says, “How is it you do not understand?” In short, the message is that you can walk with God and miss the point.

The point is not to go to church, tithe, dress better, do better, get stuff, or correct people. No, the point is to love God with all your heart soul and mind and love others as yourself. That is the point of walking with God. First, we walk with God and learn to be like Him, loving what He loves and giving ourselves wholly to Him and then because of that we love others and concern ourselves with their well-being.

That is why Jesus did not heal the man right off the bat. It was not because He could not or did not want to. He was going to heal the man we can tell because He did. The point was to demonstrate to the disciples that they are seeing part of the image but not the whole thing. They had some vision but not the whole picture. They were not trusting Jesus for who He is but instead still had their focus on the bread which is really to say on their immediate needs. Jesus wants us to be concerned with more than our immediate need He wants us to give Him our full attention and devotion. He wants us to walk with Him and trust in Him.

Just a thought,

Mike

Will We Listen

If you read through the Bible you find that when God speaks things happen. Starting in Genesis we read that God spoke and the world was created. We read that God would flood the earth and He did. We read that God would confuse the language and He did. We read that God said Abraham and Sarah would have a child and they did. We read that the children of Israel would live in Egypt in slavery for 400 years and they did. We read that the older (Jacob and Esau) would serve the younger and he did. All of this and not only is this just the first book but this does not even cover it all.

It happens time and time again in the Bible that God speaks and things happen. Now we can get all excited and jump up and down about when God speaks for what we want to happen and we can call on God to speak in our favor but that is not the only type of speaking God does. We know how to handle that kind of speaking because we want that kind of speaking but can we be as excited and obedient when God speaks in other ways?

Sometimes God speaks and says no. Sometimes God speaks and tells us what we do not want to hear. David wanted to build a temple and God said no. That was still God speaking and it still happened the way God wanted. God spoke to Moses and told him he would not enter the promised land and that is how it happened. Both men obeyed and thankfully the outcome was good. But there are examples of God speaking and saying no to something but people not listening. Honestly, about half the Old Testament is the prophets telling Israel no or recounting the stories of their failures. God was still speaking in those situations.

Other times God speaks and says not now. He delays promise fulfillments and says there will be a delay because He is God. These are still examples of God speaking and the outcome is still as God says.

The truth is that God speaks and things happen but He is not always saying yes. In Isaiah 55:11 God says through Isaiah that His word does not return void but accomplishes what He sent it to do. We have to be as willing to receive the no and not yet as we are the yes.

It is the same as when God speaks about what will happen or answers prayer, He gives direction and calls us to something. In the Gospels, we read that Jesus called the disciples and they followed. We read that Jesus called Saul who was a persecutor of the church and he followed. We read that Paul (formerly Saul) had a thorn in the flesh and when he prayed for it to be removed God said no. That was still God speaking and Paul chose to listen.

My question to you and to me is do we listen we God says no or not yet. Are we willing to listen even when the answer is not what we want? One of my favorite biblical examples of this is Jerimiah 42 and 43. In chapter 42 the people come to Jerimiah and say ask God what we should do and we will do it. In chapter 43 they reject what Jerimiah says. They said they wanted to hear from God but what they wanted was to hear what they wanted. It is a dangerous game asking for God to speak because He might not tell us what we want to hear. The question is this: Are we willing to listen and obey?

Pruned Like an Apple Tree

In John 11:6 Jesus hears that Lazarus was sick and about to die. Jesus’s response was to wait two more days. I briefly talk about this on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/p/BTuogAvh9KL/) so feel free take a quick detour and read that.

Today I want to quickly look at John 15:2 where Jesus says that every branch that bears He (the Father) prunes, that it may bear more fruit. I am not a gardener but I have been told that that is an accurate statement about how you get a plant to produce more. I think that is fine for plants but I am not sure I like it for me. To be honest the pruning process is hard and often long.

I have recently been thinking that the last few years have been a pruning process for me. I have grown tremendously and while I am thankful for that the process has been painful. There has been long days and nights, lonely days, thankless work, removal of selfish desires and plans, and so on. I am not perfect by any stretch but I am better off than I was before the process started.

This is not at all to say the whole time has been painful as there have been some bright spots but overall, I think it was a pruning process. I am still not sure I like it. Again, I am thankful for it but that does not mean I need to like it. The question I have is why does God prune us if we are bearing fruit?

Well in short, because He loves us and because He is a good Father. He prunes because we are producing and wants us to produce more. It is an odd thing but it works. Think of in terms of apples. If you are currently producing 5 apples then that is good. But God being a good gardener sees your potential and wants you to live up to that potential so He prunes you back a bit and next year your produce 10 apples. This harvest is even better so the process repeats. Next thing you know you are producing bushels up on bushels. Now all the trees in the garden are envious and want to be like you, yet they do not know the pain that was endured to produce so much but you do and you know it was worth it.

God is good like that. He wants the best for you and sometimes the best requires pain to get there. I am not sure this season of pruning is over. I would like it to be but if not, I still trust that God is good and that He has the best for me. The funny thing is that even if this season is over there will be another later on. I suppose that is good news even though I still don’t like it. Of course, the alternative is not be pruned and not produce fruit but we know how that goes

Just a thought,

Mike

Born to grow

It should be no secret to anyone who reads my little thoughts that the Gospel of John is my favorite book. It should be clear that when I say it is my favorite book I don’t just mean my favorite biblical book either. No, it is my favorite book of all time. Moreover, my favorite part is the prologue section (verses 1-18). There is so much depth, beauty, and theological truth in that one section that it captivates me every time I read it. I will be honest, and I am sure this does not happen to you, but sometimes I have a tendency to read my Bible and skip over things I am familiar with and while this does happen on occasion with John’s prologue I always go back and re-read it carefully because it draws me in.

As I have mentioned elsewhere the main point of this section is verse 12 because it sits right in the middle of the chiastic pattern. The beauty of it is highlighted by John 20:31 where John says that everything that has been written was written so that you might believe Jesus is the Christ and that in believing you might have life. The beauty is that Jesus just wants you to live and to be a child of God.

But as many as received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believed in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12-13 (NKJV)

I have been following Christ for a long time now and I am still captivated by this simple idea that God loves me and wants to call me son. He does not have to but He wants to. He does not require me to do something to earn that sonship, He does not force it upon me, and He does not threaten to take it away. He just loves with a passion for me. I cannot escape that simple yet profound truth.

God’s great and wonderful love compels me to be different. Yes, Christ places commands upon me but His love compels me to comply. I do not do things differently because I must but because I desire to please the one I love. I desire to be better because He believes in me. I desire to grow, to live sacrificially, and to mature because the one who loves me sees me that way. The funny thing is that the more I grow and mature the more I realize I am not as good as I previously thought. The more I control my temper the more I realize I have much work to do. The more I give the more I realize I am not as giving as I desire to be. The more I love others the more I realize I do not express it enough. The more I become like Christ the more I realize I am still too Mike.

I catch glimpses of who I am to be but the picture is not clear. I daily confirm what Paul says in 1 Cor 13:12 that I see in dimly in a mirror. My prayer is that of the hymn Come, Jesus, Reign in Me “All foes cast out, let this poor heart Be filled with love divine; Securely fixed, no more to part. From this poor heart of mine.” And to be clear it is not a pressure or a feeling like I am not good enough but a desire to be more like Him who loves me. I desire to be that man. I desire to be that son.

The love of God should change you and if it does not you should question whether or not you understand that love. It would be like saying that you do not desire to be different for your spouse. Not that you have to change for them to want you or love you but because you are in a relationship with them you naturally want to be a better husband or wife. The love that exists between the two of you creates an environment where you can grow. If you do not think you have growing to do then I would suggest there is much growing to do. The relationship you have with God our Father does not only create the environment to allow for change but because the Holy Spirit indwells believers you also have the power to change. God gives us the desire, the environment, and the ability to change. All we need to do is walk it out in humble obedience. Trust me on this, the walk is worth it.

For perfect love I long have groaned,
I would be wholly Thine;
Yes, I would have the Lord enthroned
In this poor heart of mine.

Come, Jesus, reign in me,
My heart Thy throne shall be;
Oh, tarry in Thy throne,
’Tis Thine, and Thine alone.

All foes cast out, let this poor heart
Be filled with love divine;
Securely fixed, no more to part
From this poor heart of mine.

Let perfect love my portion be,
To Thee my all resign;
O Holy One, come dwell in me,
And rule this heart of mine.

No earthly language can express
The love in Christ I find
’Tis boundless and it’s measureless,
In this poor heart of mine.

Come, Jesus, Reign in Me

H.R. Jeffery, 1885

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Acts 19 – Four Responses to the Gospel

In Acts chapter 19 we are given four responses to the Gospel message. It is sort of a unique chapter in that regard because it shows how different people or people groups can react to the message of the God’s love and grace in one short space.

The first group that is presented with the Gospel is a group of John’s former disciples. These were ones who knew of the message of repentance that was taught by John the Baptist and they had participated in John’s baptism. They had some knowledge of Jesus and desired to do the will of God but they were missing some key parts of the message. When Paul heard this, he explained to them what they were missing and baptized them into Christ and they received the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting to me that they worked with what they knew and were humble enough to admit they did not know what they did not know. I think we can all agree that we only know so much after all 1 Cor 13:9 says we know in part so we should be humble enough to admit that. The question is not do we know in part but what do we do with that fact. We should not believe every spirit but we should be willing to listen to those who are experienced in the faith and learn because there is much to learn. More importantly, we should learn that when God brings new knowledge to us we need to them walk in that knowledge. We are called to learn and grow in Christ and part of the growing is walking out the new things God brings to us.

The second group was the members of the synagogue. Paul went and preached to them for three months and their response was to harden their hearts and become angry. They had no desire to turn from what they knew and instead spoke evil of the Way (Christianity).

There are some people who no matter what will not want to hear that God loves them. They have their own ideas and preconceived notions of who God is and anything outside of that is wrong. Maybe they have been hurt by the church or maybe they are just bitter but for whatever reason, they do not want to hear the Gospel. Like Paul, I would suggest you tell them anyway because some water and some reap but God gives the increase. Our job is not to decide who gets to the hear Gods message of love and reconciliation but to tell everyone. We are not in a position to decide but to deliver.

The third group is interesting because they knew the power of the Gospel and the power of Jesus but it had no place in their hearts. There was a group of men trying to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name and the demon essentially jumped them. This demon said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I acknowledge but who are you?” Jesus was known by the demon. Paul was known to belong to Jesus but these men were unknown because they were just using the name.

For the Gospel to have any power in your life, it has to be something that is in you not just known by you. I can know that cold medicine will help my cold but if I don’t get it in me then nothing changes. You can know all about God but if the love of the Father is not in you then you have nothing. James says, you believe in God good, even the demons believe that and shudder. It is not enough to know the stories or to know about God, you need to know Him and be known by Him. You can say God all day long but the question is do you respond when He says your name?

The last group just got mad because it messed with their livelihood. These men where makers of idols and for someone to walk around talking about a God who exists without human hands or intervention was not good for them. The message of the Gospel is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die on a cross taking our sin and shame and then rose again three days later claiming victory over sin and the grave. This message gives you no wiggle room to please God on your own and idol worship is all about pleasing God and yourself on your own.

To move it to today you could say these men were like pimps, hustlers, and charlatans. They made their living off people trying to please themselves through self-fulfilled worship. You need this to make you happy because you are the one who needs to feel that connection. Take this drug to feel good. Take this stuff to feel better. Take this person to feel powerful. Take this to please yourself. Listen to my great wisdom to be better. Anytime you come across someone peddling that message you are going to run a high risk of making them mad telling them that you cannot please God and you cannot find satisfaction in your efforts to feel better.

Again, I would reiterate that our job is not to judge who is worthy of the message but to deliver it and to pray for all those we share it with. I would also suggest that sharing the good news is not always about giving a full presentation of the Gospel message and trying to get someone to “say the prayer.” Sometimes if not most times it is just about being real and being true. It is about letting people know that God loves them and you love them. It is about praying for people and letting them know you will pray for them. We need to be real with people and in turn, I think we will find they will be real with you.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Praying for gifts

Today I want to talk about the Holy Spirit. There are many things that can be discussed when talking about the Holy Spirit because as an equal member of the Godhead He is holy and magnificent. The Holy Spirit is, along with the Father and Son, the power that raised Jesus from the grave. If you don’t believe me read Romans 8:11, John 10:17-18, and Acts 2:24. When we read Scripture in its totality we get a bigger and better picture than if we just read one part. When we read Scriptures together we start to see a picture develop that we cannot see by reading a verse here and a verse there and so partly that is what I want to do here. Now granted I will be using a verse here and a verse there but that is also the difference between writing about Scripture and a personal Scripture reading. What I think might be helpful is to look at a few things that Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit does or offers.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to speak Acts 1:8; 1:16; 2:4 and so on. The Holy Spirit gives us direction see Acts 8:26 and 13:2. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts see 1 Cor 12:8-11. The Spirit also has fruit for us see Gal 5:22-23. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the ability to confess that Jesus is Lord see 1 Cor 12:3. The Holy Spirit also seals us for salvation see Eph 1:13 and 4:30. Now we could certainly spend an entire post just talking about what the Holy Spirit does and offers but instead, I would like to talk about two specific things – The gifts and the fruit.

This is not meant to be an in-depth talk on either of these things. There is much debate on whether or not the gifts of the Holy Spirit are applicable for the church today and spoiler alert I believe they are but regardless let’s at least look at the ones that are not questioned. Generally speaking, most Christians will agree that wisdom, knowledge, faith, and discernment are active gifts today. That is a long enough list for me right now.

If we look at the Fruit of the Spirit we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I would dare say that all Christians believe this list to be correct and active and while the lists are quite different they do have some things in common.

I have belabored my point long enough so the topic for today is this – Is your praying for the gifts or fruit of the Spirit in vain? Now there are quite a few reasons why it could be in vain. You could have sin in your life that prohibits God from pouring out these gifts and allowing that fruit to be produced. You could simply not actually believe in Jesus as the risen Lord in which case the gifts and fruit are of no use. You could be wasting the gifts and spoiling the fruit you have been given to which no more would be added. Lastly and I think much more common you could be asking for these gifts with the proper context.

First, if we look at the gifts of the Spirit we have again wisdom, knowledge, faith, and discernment which all carry a common thread throughout them. These gifts are mostly for you to use on or with someone else. If you add healing and interpretation of tongues back in the mix we see even more that the gifts are for you to use on or for others.

What good would it be for God to give you a message wisdom if there is no one around to deliver this message to? Yes, you might be built up but for what purpose? What purpose does a message of knowledge have if there is no one in need of that knowledge? Yes, you may receive some insight but to what end? A gift of faith is great to help you get through the situation but lacks any real power without others to receive a bolstering to their own faith or encouraging from it. As to discernment like the others, it has some personal benefit but if you are struggling for discernment that much alone you have bigger problems.

For the gifts to be used to their full capacity you need others to receive the benefit of the gift. So, my question is this, how often are you spending time in community? If you are praying for or simply desire for the gifts are you also in situations that requires the use of them? If not, I think you may pray and desire in vain. James says that often we pray and do not receive because we pray with the wrong motives. We often link this to material prayer requests but could spiritual gifts not also be included here? Do you pray for these gifts so that you may spend them on others? Why pray for something that must be used in community if you do not want to spend time in community? Additionally, if you are not already spending your time in community then would you really spend the gifts of the Spirit in community. If we do not spend what we have freely in community then why would we think God would give us more to spend in community? If you desire the gift of wisdom but refuse to be around people who need wisdom then what good is the gift? If we desire the gift of faith but avoid those who are suffering and need someone to intercede then what good is the gift? I might as well live on a sailboat and pray for a motorcycle. I might receive it but it has no value.

If we desire the gifts of the Spirit and more importantly if we desire the Spirit then we must be in places and with people who need those gifts to be active. This requires us to be around broken and hurting people and the good news is that is all of us. We need to be around each other. We need to be active in each other’s lives. We need others and they need us. They receive gifts to spend on us and us on them and this is the community of the early church. Many times I have heard of people asking how do we live like the early church and I do not think it is living in communes, although I am not necessarily opposed to that idea, it is by allowing their lives to intersect with ours. It is by allowing them to be a part of our lives and by that, I mean an actual part. Not a social media part. Not a snapshot of the happy moments part but an actual part of our ups and downs. A part of our good and bad. It is about being willing to let someone pray for your need and correct your sin. We have to be transparent with one another and often this is painful. We need others to be so involved that they can tell when we need help and when we need correction and we need to be willing to accept both.

Next and naturally I think is the fruit of the Spirit which has another common thread which is that the in order to receive the fruit you need adversity. If we look at the list again it is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and if you notice these gifts all require something to make them useful. To group them might help us save space. Love, joy, and peace require hostility. Love must be shown in action and situation because anything less is only a word. Joy requires a trial for you to remain joyful in. Peace should go without saying but peace requires hardship for you to remain peaceful in. The next grouping would be patience, kindness, and goodness and these require trial. Patience requires you to wait for something. Kindness is only shown when you involved with another person who needs that kindness. Goodness or the quality of being good means you have something that requires that goodness. For the last grouping, we have faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and these require a situation that is not yet complete. Faithfulness means we are waiting and believing for something. Gentleness is the ability to be gentle regardless of the situation. Finally, there is self-control and what use is self-control unless you are being tempted in some way to be selfish and not hold on?

Much like the gifts of the Spirit, the fruit requires and environment to be shown and we should understand that most of the time community will be that environment. Either way, you pray in vain for the fruit if you do not allow situations where hardships and trials can come. If you shut yourself off from community and situations that require you to grow you in a sense refuse the fruit of the Spirit.

 

I for one and am ok with admitting that I need community but it has taken me a long time to get there. I need others to come alongside me and help me grow and mature in my faith. I also realize that in order for me to walk in the gifts that the Spirit has given me I need to be around others to let those gifts be used. This is not hard as it requires sacrifice. It requires time to be spent. It requires you to open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt and you will be. Living in the context of community is one of the hardest and most painful things you can do but I say do it anyway. I am not there, none of us are. As we learn to live in that context God reveals a little more of how we are not doing it and we open a little more. The only way to walk like the first-century church is to walk in the community and I think we can do that.

 

Just a thought,

Mike