Dear LIFEhouse Friends,
Some of my friends and people I love the most are Jewish…You know what happens when someone says something like this…
“O, no, here it comes…”
But, in my case I say this accurately because one of my closest friends is Scott Friedman, a Jew, and I also have daily conversations with a whole cohort of Jewish friends at my gym. Occasionally, we go to lunch and dinner together. As I have taught you, when you eat together you are more than an acquaintance. Then, there is one of my favorite women in the world, my sister-in-law, Shari, and my beloved nephew, Avi, and my amazing niece, Emma…All Jewish.
I mention all of this because I am a human being. I am naturally impacted when slaughter and murder affect those I am connected to one way or another. Just like, it is close to home for me and I pray for God’s mercy for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted and murdered in many parts of the world.
But, right now, we are all thinking one way or another about Jewish people after the recent despicable and malevolent slaughter of the innocent in Pittsburgh. We are grieved and, yes, puzzled, because something like this is so rare in the United States. Rare too, because other than Israel, the most welcoming country in the world for Jewish people to live in is the United States.
But, there are always people who do evil and dastardly things in life, including in our own country, and even more close to home, including in our own lives. In fact, at times, the evidence there is a devil can seem to cast a strong shadow over evidence in a loving God. But, if you are honest and observant, you will see that God always shows up in remarkably powerful ways.
So, what do we do? Well there is no “we.” We are all individuals and each has a story. My story includes being your pastor, your shepherd. I have the joy of being a shepherd of people who value me, people who are precious to me, whom I value. My friends, here are some observations I trust will be helpful.
How are we expected to live together spreading good? We all have moral values. Even when people say they have no moral values, that, in itself, is a moral value. So what are good moral values?
Here is what I know.
Here are my moral values.
I follow Jesus.
Frequently you have heard me give a definition of love from the biblical sense. Love is “to seek the good of another within your range of influence.”
We love something when we are devoted to its good or well-being.
It starts with God. Jesus said to love God with everything we have. That comes first. Then he said to love our neighbor as ourself. When we are obedient to our loving Father it is possible to love our neighbor as ourself.
Who do we love? For Christians, Jesus tells us to love each other. This becomes a model for the rest of the world.
Then he expands this when he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s brothers and sisters in the faith and others who aren’t followers of Jesus.
More specifically, your neighbors are those you connect with on a regular basis; those closest to you, beginning in your own household.
And, according to Jesus, before you love your neighbors, created in God’s image, you have to love yourself.
This starts with working for the good of another person who is created in God’s image. In other words, you. Working for your own good. Treating yourself with respect. Being responsible for caring for yourself.
To start with loving yourself means defending yourself against others taking inappropriate advantage over you. You are God’s precious sons and daughters, worthy of love and respect, and God is using you to change the world. You sacrifice your needs for the sake of others, but you also must learn to bargain for yourself so that you don’t end up being stepped on. In the long run this will only make you resentful, vengeful and cruel.
You need to determine how to act toward yourself so that you are most likely to become, and to stay, a good person. It is good for you to be good to yourself to make the world a better place. It is good for you to treat yourself like God wants to treat you. As his precious son or daughter.
A major step in becoming one of those who love their neighbors as themselves is to decide to live compassion. This is made possible by loving God first and seeking his Kingdom.
As we are filled with the power of love that comes from the Holy Spirit, we go beyond anything humanly possible.
Jesus tells us we can love those who hate us and he expects that out of us. Work for the good of those who work against us. You see, how different this is, than what is considered the way of the world?
Jesus makes it clear by saying these very things.
“Love your enemy.”
‘Ask God to bring good into the lives of those who persecute you.’
Now the world around us doesn’t necessarily understand what I have just written. For many today, everything is politicized. The way “politicized” works, is those who disagree with you are demonized and the enemy. This is clearly against the teaching of Jesus.
Lord have mercy on those who politicize everything.
The wisdom of Jesus is so much greater than anything anyone else could possibly teach you, especially if it is politicized. There is a vast difference between teaching wisdom and indoctrination. It doesn’t have to be that way and I know you, as my brothers and sisters, are working hard at not being that way.
Lord have mercy on those who seek to indoctrinate rather than seek wisdom.
Another challenge many people have in our society relates to Judaism. Though you know much of the history of the Jewish people from your studies and what I have taught you, many people have no idea what the Jewish people have gone through for about 4000 years. The history of the Jewish people is not well known.
Anti-semitism has always been a way of life for many, as it is today. In fact it is so accepted all over the world that in many places you can openly hate Jews, and you will not be called on it. For some of you, in your own lifetime, people could openly slaughter Jews and not be called on it.
Lord have mercy on those who hate Jews.
Continue to practice loving your neighbor; those who are near. Live out the ways of Jesus by working for the good of others within your range of influence. As you love, start close to home and personal. And pray for God’s continued presence as he expands that love more and more
Lord have mercy on us all,
Recently I wrote about what it means to “love yourself” as this relates to “loving your neighbor has yourself.” So, I have learned to love myself, now what?
The first major step in becoming one of those who love their neighbors as themselves is to decide to live compassion. This can only be done if we love God first and seek his Kingdom.
This explains why neighbor-love is not the first, but the second, commandment. Actually, two separate commandments, but one with two aspects. Love God (primary) and love your neighbor as yourself (can only follow loving God first)
What is compassion?
Compassion is to feel the needs of others.
Dallas Willard says this about compassion.
“Compassion is not something that can be turned on and off like a water faucet. It is always on. It is a constant burden of life, which many people reject. It requires resources of personal strength and it requires wisdom in action. Loving your neighbor as yourself is a matter of who you are, not, primarily, of what you decide to do. You can “afford” to be compassionate only if you know there is abundant compassion for you, toward you, by persons who have appropriate means. This is primarily God. “We love because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19)”
So, through intentionally receiving the love of God first, you can become the kind of person who can be compassionate.
Now, suppose, you are this person who has received compassion and can, therefore, afford to be compassionate. What’s next?
The Story of God answers big questions in our life, very importantly it tells us who we are, whose we are, and what we are here for. And how we tell our own personal story should also help others begin to look to God and his Story for those same answers in their lives. God is the HERO of every story!
Enjoy seeing LIFEhouse folks getting ready for the Easter breakfast and the glorious Easter we shared! Thanks to Barbie Winters for putting this together…
“I thank God for all who made this Holy Week and Easter a tribute to our Lord, Jesus Christ. The thoughtfulness of using your gifts and generosity for preparation, cleaning, serving, assisting at worship, and being models of a joyful people is much appreciated. Be blessed as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord!”
Enjoy some photos from the week!
11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.
12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
First, a brief history lesson. The earliest Christians are Jews who trust in Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is the King. Jesus fulfills God’s call for Israel to become a blessing for the whole world, not just Jews. Sure enough, Paul is called by God to share the good news of King Jesus to the non-Jews of the world. The Gentiles.
But, there is a problem. Back at Church headquarters all the leaders are Jewish, because all the first Christians are Jewish. So, there is the temptation to keep practicing the Jewish rituals while following Jesus. If you don’t follow the Jewish way to being a Christian you don’t have the approval of the “Mother Ship.” This is adding to Jesus. Jesus plus…you might call it
Yet, Jesus himself, rebelled against following rituals in order to be right with God. It is trust in God that counts, not human rituals. But the Jewish Christians didn’t want to give up their human rituals. The most important human ritual for Jewish males is the initiation ceremony of circumcision. Cutting off the foreskin.
This is a problem for two reasons.
- You are making a human action a condition for being a Christian.
- This action is cutting off the foreskin of a man’s penis. The Jewish tradition is you do this when a baby is 8 days old. But, what if you are an adult Gentile? Hey, do you want to become a Christian? Well, do I have a deal for you.
Do you see the challenge Paul is facing?
The early church leaders are adding to what it means to be a Christian. They will only give their approval if the Gentiles follow the Jewish ways, along with following Jesus. Yet, Jesus himself specifically said we are no longer to follow these rituals. So, basically the early church leaders are saying if you want their approval you have to go against the teachings of Jesus.
Paul will have none of this nonsense. He says it is not cutting away the foreskin that makes you right with God. It is surrendering your whole body, your whole life, to Jesus that makes you right with God. Joining Jesus in his mission to transform the world. And when you are transformed by Jesus, it is his power working through you. Trusting in God has nothing to do with man’s approval.
What are examples of human rituals you have seen made into something added to what it means to be a Christian?
…not the king. 9 In him, you see, all the full measure of divinity has taken up bodily residence. 10 What’s more, you are fulfilled in him, since he’s the head of all rule and authority.
The only one who has right thinking all of the time is God. And we can begin to know what God knows and think like God thinks because of Jesus. In Jesus, God becomes human, and Jesus takes on all of God’s way of thinking. So, like Jesus, we just have to live close to God all the time.
Well, how do we find God? We don’t have to find God because he is already there with us wherever we are. Through Jesus, the Kingdom of God is here. Put it this way.
People are seeking all different ways to get ahead in life. Negative ways like trying to manipulate or attack other people. Positive ways like trying to be kind and mindful.
But, none of this works if it is human-powered.
The negative is human beings allowing themselves to be Satan-influenced and using manipulation and evil thinking as a result. This isn’t going to work because God is stronger and defeats this way of thinking in the long run.
And the positive, without God, isn’t enough. You can try to be as kind and mindful as possible, but if this is under your own power you will fail. You will be overwhelmed in the long run. No one is strong enough to save themselves.
But not if we are living with God. God is always where we are. We need the supernatural power of God to live a good life where our thinking is in line with God’s thinking. Where we have the “mind of Christ” as the Bible says. Well, we can have all of this because where we are is the doorway to heaven. We just need to be mindful of this. We need to pay attention. Watch out! In a good way, keeping our mind on Jesus. Like the old song. “I woke up this morning with my mind set on Jesus…”
That’s what this means. What’s more, you are fulfilled in him, since he’s the head of all rule and authority.
To be fulfilled in him means we are full of him. Nowhere is this more important than our thinking! When our thinking matches the thinking of those who dwell with God in the heavens, starting with Jesus, then we know everything is going to be just fine for us here on earth. Then we know we lack nothing because we have access to the heavenly blessings now. Then we know we need not fear evil. No human being, not Satan himself has the power we have because Jesus is the head and we are fulfilled in him.
This is the life available to us right now. God is where we are.
What does it mean to you to be “full of God?”