It’s the Simple Things That Change the World

I love it when I’m able to brighten someone’s day.

A casual “good morning” to a stranger.

A favor granted for a friend in need.

A loving gesture for my wife that says, “I love you.”

All of these things and more bring me great joy when I’m able to lift the spirits of another, even if it’s only in some small way.

I’m not as good at it as I could be though.  There are many days when I count up missed opportunities, moments when I noticed someone down, someone in need, but I failed to act because I was focused too much on my own momentary agenda.  Sometimes I question or bemoan the state of society until I realize that I could be a small solution to that problem.  Christians, people like me, fret over how we can affect the world for Christ and the truth is, the solution is right in front of us every single day.  It’s not always a powerful sermon or an insightful commentary of God’s word that produces change in the world.  It’s also the simple things, the little acts of kindness and consideration and love that show the world what Christ is all about.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus gets right to the point of this matter when he says that we should care for the simple needs of those around us if we are to call ourselves Christians.  This is feeding someone when they are hungry.  It’s visiting those who need encouragement.  It’s actually noticing the other souls around us who we share this earth with and acknowledging them and treating them the way we would want to be treated.  Jesus is even serious enough to say that our reward in heaven depends on our service to others.  Refuse to love when there are obvious needs around you, and you are basically turning your back on God as well.

And in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, we see that we can do amazing acts of righteousness like having tremendous faith or powerful spiritual gifts, and if we don’t show love, we are nothing.  All of our works are in vain if we fail to show love while doing them.

Do you want to change the world?  Do you want to live your life with purpose, to have an impact on those around you so that they can’t help but question who God is because of your love?  Well, it’s the simple things that change the world.  The opportunity to be an inspiration may literally be waiting right around the corner.  Take it and you’ll be changed as well.

-Joe

 

Monday Motivation: Dressed Like Christ

Have you seen Jesus?  That was kind of a trick question because if you are reading this then you’ve never seen Jesus in the flesh.  Even though we’ve never physically seen him, we still have an opportunity to show Jesus to the world around us.  The Bible teaches that Jesus had an unassuming appearance, nothing that would draw our attention to him (Isaiah 53:2).  And yet, he was able to draw multitudes!  How?

I’m sure the miracles had something to do with it, but I think it was more than that.  I think it was what he wore.  Before you think I’m going to discuss the merits of appropriate clothing, it’s actually not Jesus’ choice of attire that I’m speaking about.  I’m talking about what Jesus wore on the inside and how we clothe our hearts and attitudes today.  In Colossians 3:12-15 it says,

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

I believe people were drawn to Jesus for the same reasons they should be drawn to us today.  If we are clothed with Christ, with his demeanor and attitude, others can’t help but notice the difference between us and the world.  Being clothed with Christ means we show…

  • compassion
  • kindness
  • humility
  • meekness
  • patience
  • forgiveness
  • love
  • peace
  • gratitude

Let’s not be the person who may dress in expensive clothing but is only judgmental and downright selfish.  Let’s be the person who has a Christian heart.  If we do, the world will get to see the reflection of Christ which is the way it’s supposed to be.

-Joe

Obese Spirituality

I was alarmed recently when I went to the doctor for my physical and found out that I had gained some weight.  Now, it may seem petty, but I have been between 180 and 185 lbs. for literally the last twenty years.  So you can understand my surprise when the doctor told me I weighed 192 lbs.  It’s not a huge increase, but I quickly realized that in middle age, the weight does in fact catch up with you like I was warned.

I can probably hear some of you saying, “I’d love to only weigh that much!”  I only mention it to show I’ve been a little undisciplined, that I’ve taken one too many trips to the all-you-can-eat buffet and listened one too many times to that ravenous voice in my head that says I need a snack at 11 o’clock at night.  Putting aside some very real medical and physical issues that cause some people to be overweight, most obesity is simply a result of taking in more calories than you can burn off.  Apparently, the problem is pretty widespread too.  According to the National Institute of Health, 74% of men and 64% of women in America are considered overweight or obese and the number is continually rising.

I believe there is a deeper problem behind the increasing rates of obesity and it has nothing to do with food.  In fact, we may be seeing the same phenomenon in parts of the church today and it’s becoming detrimental to our ability to win people for Christ.  I believe the problem lies with the fact that we have a consumer mentality.  In terms of our bodies, when we consume too much it gets stored as fat and can ruin our health.  In regards to the church, when we consume too much, we think only of our own spiritual appetite and miss the chance to be the true church to the world around us.

Ask any preacher or body of elders from any congregation of your choice and most will say that people primarily look at church as a means to be filled.  People want sermons that pander, programs that provide, and decisions to be made that fit their opinions.  Church has become a place where if your needs aren’t being met, you move on to somewhere else or leave the church altogether.  Instead, we should be fixated on serving rather than taking.  We should be asking, “What can I do with my life, my time, and my talents to serve God and his kingdom purposes?”

Sure, we should feed ourselves from time to time.  We should consume scripture because it brings life.  But we should also feed others, looking for ways to encourage, pray for, and teach those who need the life-giving sustenance that only God can provide.

I say, let’s all go on a diet together.  Let’s be more concerned about the needs of others and not just our own.  Let’s share the bread of life (John 6:35) and the living water (John 7:37-38) with as many people as we can so they can know Christ and have their spirits quenched.  I guarantee this diet will have a much bigger effect on your soul than any fad diet would ever have on your body.

(John 6:27a) “27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

(John 6:33) “33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

(John 6:51a) “51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

-Joe

Spiritual Sightseeing

I simply cannot get enough of the outdoors!

It’s not just enjoying a trip to the beach or a scenic drive through the mountains.  I want to immerse myself in the environment, to enjoy everything,  noticing and savoring the sights and smells and sounds.  When I go to Washington state, I love to visit Mt. Rainier and smell the rich scent of the evergreen trees and view the powerful glaciers as they make their slow advance down the flanks of the mountain.  When I go to the beach, I love to feel the coolness of the sugar-white sand and inhale the briny smell of the salty air.  When I’ve gone hiking in the woods on the Appalachian Trail, I’ve noticed the scattering of the birds and squirrels as they explore the forest floor, the soft trickle of mountain streams cascading over rocks, and the leaves exploding into an abundance of vibrant colors in the Fall.

One thing I’ve noticed is that very few people actually see or experience any of those things.  They either miss them because they’re too busy to slow down and take notice, or they never leave their car or the parking lot when they do visit the outdoors.  The statistics even bear this out as well.  According to a recent report by the U.S. Forest Service, almost 86% of people who visit a wilderness site only use developed facilities such as park roads, overlooks, campgrounds, and visitor centers.  And of the tourists who do leave developed areas, most never get any farther away than a half mile.  That’s too bad because they have no idea what they’re missing.

If you’ve been a Christian for even a short amount of time then you’ve probably noticed how people have this same mindset towards God and religion in general.  Some people are spiritual sightseers, never going any further than attending worship services and somehow thinking they now have a deep relationship with God.  I must ask, how can you possibly think you know God if you never immerse yourself in Him?  How can you know him and his will for your life if you are not being fed by his word?  How can you experience all the goodness God has to offer if you only act like a Christian for a couple of hours one day a week?

People are missing out on so much because they’re satisfied with a surface-level knowledge of God and his love instead of desiring intimacy with him.  Like Paul, we should declare that we, “want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10) and we can only do that if we are willing to learn about him and to make him the center of our entire existence.

Get off the beaten path and explore who God is.  Attend worship, read you Bible, pray, serve.  Go all in for God and you’ll discover far more about him than you’d ever imagine.

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Stay Focused

My weeks are so busy.  Every day at work, my schedule is packed so full that I barely have time to think.  I suppose that’s good because it makes the workweek go by a little faster, but it also produces a tremendous amount of stress as well, and I find myself mentally exhausted come Friday.

The other bad part about such a busy schedule is finding time for God.  Even the phrase “finding time” implies that I give God my leftovers instead of my first fruits.  And work isn’t the only distraction in my life.  Just about everything in life competes against God for my attention, and more often than not, God loses out.  He ends up taking a backseat to chores, hobbies, entertainment, and family.  An entire week will go by before I realize that I was so busy with my own agenda that God was nowhere to be found.

“We all want to spend ETERNITY with God.  We just don’t want to spend TIME with him.  We stand and stare from a distance, satisfied with superficiality.  We Facebook more than we seek his face.  We text more than we study The Text.  And our eyes aren’t fixed on Jesus.  They’re fixed on our iPhones and iPads- emphasis on “i.”  Then we wonder why God feels so distant.”

(Mark Batterson- “All In”)

Maybe God feels distant, not because of anything he’s done, but because we’re too busy to include him in our life.  This week, stay focused on God, even in the midst of your busy schedule.  Maybe consider letting a few things go for a while so you can dedicate some more time to worship, Bible study, and prayer.  There’s only so much time in the day.  Make sure God is at the center of how you use it.

-Joe

Would We Be Missed If We Were Gone?

The doors of the church building closed one final time.  The members said their goodbyes and departed, sadly making plans for where they would attend in the future.  No one thought it would happen to their church, but it did and it was time to move on.  The paint faded and peeled.  The windows were broken or stained.  The walls that once echoed with songs of praise now only heard silence.

Would we be missed if we were gone?

This fictitious story was meant to help us understand that churches close permanently all the time.  And with those closures come very real consequences for the surrounding community.  Or at least there should be.  If your church left the community or closed its doors for good, would anyone care or notice?  I know the members of a church that closed would definitely feel the loss, but would it really affect the community?  Does the church have a big enough impact on its surroundings that if it were gone, a huge void would be created?

The truth is, some churches are actively providing ministries and outreach that drastically help the communities around them.  And that is exactly what the church is supposed to do.  We are a vehicle by which people can come to know Jesus and learn how to effectively serve Him with the abilities they’ve been given.  For instance, an accountant by trade could use their knowledge to offer money management classes so that others can learn not to be chained to poor financial decisions.  Maybe a group of divorcees could offer a ministry to the community to help counsel couples on how to deal with real marital issues they may be facing.  Even if your talent is just being an encourager, you could use it in the community by volunteering at a local nursing home or classroom.  We must ask ourselves, are we truly being Jesus in our communities, not just preaching the truth, but being servants and meeting people’s basic needs?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

(Matthew 25:31-40)

I love this passage because it reminds us that being a Christian is not just about preaching the gospel.  Being righteous is not the only requirement to honor God.  We can help with social problems and teach the gospel and they don’t always have to happen simultaneously.  Sometimes a pressing physical need arises that needs attention before we share the gospel with others.  In fact, the true meaning of the gospel is really shown through acts of service.  The love that Jesus showed on the cross can also be shown when we sacrifice to take care of others.  Jesus goes on to say that if we don’t take care of these obvious needs around us, then we are essentially turning our backs on him as well (Matthew 25:41-46).  It means we can hole up in our churches and only focus on ourselves and be counted lost in the eyes of God if we look past the needs in the world around us.

I know that can be tough.  We are called out of the world and instructed to be careful of our associations (John 15:19, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18), but we are also sent into the world as well (John 17:18, Mark 16:15).  It doesn’t take long to look around and see some very desperate needs.  We definitely live in a hurting world where many have lost any sense of hope for their lives.  If the church doesn’t make every effort to meet those needs, who will?

I want to leave with the same question I posed at the beginning of the post.  Would we be missed if we were gone?  Would the entire community be affected by the closure of your church or would they barely notice?  I suppose it depends on our ability to love with our words or love with our life, and I believe that Jesus calls us to not only speak the gospel with our words but to live it out as well.

-Joe

 

The Choice to Glorify God

Life is full of choices isn’t it?  Literally, every day, sometimes down to the hour or minute, we have a multitude of choices to make.  Some are so miniscule that they barely affect our daily routine.  Others are so profound that they help shape our future for years to come.  Our choice to glorify God is exactly that…a choice.  It is not contingent on our circumstances but on our response to those circumstances.

Paul, in the book of Philippians, said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).  What’s so amazing about his statement was that Paul truly had dealt with some dire circumstances in his life.  This particular letter to the church in Philippi was composed while Paul was in prison which leads us to believe that Paul really had learned to be content and glorify God in whatever circumstance he found himself in.  If you read Romans 8, you can see Paul convincing his readers that we have already conquered all that the world can throw at us (Romans 8:28-39).  We have no other choice but to glorify God in any and every situation.

All this still doesn’t make focusing on God in times of distress easy.  In fact, glorifying God doesn’t always lead to success or to a rich, abundant life as some would have you to believe.  The writer of Hebrews informs us that while some were successful in their service to God, others faced harsh persecution and even death.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

(Hebrews 11:32-38)

The first part of this passage details some of the successful ways these biblical characters were able to glorify God.  The second part of the passage shows that there may be a great physical cost for following God.  Yet, these faithful Christians were still able to glorify God through their obedience and dedication.  Which side do you want to be on?  Are you willing to glorify God no matter the cost?  I ask because even Jesus warned that faithfully following him would be difficult.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

(John 15:18-20)

It seems to me that the entire Bible is very clear about the costs of following Christ.  Our reward is not found here (Matthew 5:11-12).  The cost is literally paid on a daily basis (Luke 9:23).  We will absolutely face trials and difficulties (James 1:2-4).  But the choice is ours.  No matter the temptations, no matter the adversity, no matter the persecution, we can always choose to glorify God in everything we do.

-Joe