Tag Archives: love

#aztecstrong #marshallstrong #churchstrong

Have you ever been in a situation where pain is imminent? Maybe you’re about to fall. Maybe you’re about to crash. Maybe one false move could cause loss of limb. In any case, your sensed are heightened, and you are keenly aware of every motion in effort to stave off the potential harm that could befall you. No longer are you drifting in semi-conscious automatic behavior. Now you are engaged, and your focus is keen.

How about another scenario. What do you do when you cut yourself badly? Let’s say you are in the kitchen cutting vegetables, and your finger gets in the way trying to pretend it’s one of the vegetables. The knife goes right to the bone. Do you continue in your course of action? NO! You immediately stop, and all your consciousness and efforts focus on stopping the bleeding and healing the wound. In fact, even as the wound heals, your body cannot help but remain focused on the sensitivity of the wound.

Pain focuses us. Terror unites us. Routine divides.

When I think of the terror of the Aztec and Marshall County High School shootings, it strikes me how unified the communities have become in the aftermath of the tragedies. People are reaching out to one another in ways they never would otherwise. Aztec is reaching out in prayer and support for Marshall County. Those two groups would never have even known each other. We are unified when we are singularly seeking to survive from similar circumstances. We have empathy and concern for one another, and we show it outwardly.

In the first century, the church was hemmed in on every side with persecution from a variety of groups that did not like how the Kingdom of God defines by selfless love threatened their power schemes. Christians were imprisoned and killed. People ran for their lives. But the church was growing. How could this be? It would seem the persecution would eradicate this loosely-banded group of misfits claiming such an outlandish story.

Instead of hurting the church, it actually caused its growth. People were unified in their drive to survive and invite others into a better way of love, and as the persecution came, they moved and continued to share, thus spreading the gospel to all the lands within a matter of about two years.

Tragedy and persecution united the church, and it grew.

Today the church is apathetic. Sure, you have ministers, pastors, evangelists, and a handful of people in each congregation that are actively trying to reach out with the good news of Jesus, but the majority of every church is apathetic concerning discipleship and righteous living.

When the church was being persecuted, you didn’t participate if you were unsure. You didn’t ride the fence because that would cost your life. You were either all in or all out. There was no place for another option. Those who were all in banded together in unity of purpose and message and turned the world upside down.

Today, churches are full of people who are riding the fence concerning their relationship with God. They aren’t atheists, but they aren’t sure they want to be fanatics about Jesus either. Thus the church merely survives rather than thriving as in the days of tragedy and persecution.

As the church continues day-to-day as it has for over two hundred years here in America, she becomes less and less energetic concerning the salvation of all mankind. She becomes complacent regarding righteousness. She becomes divisive when, in her boredom, she has more time to focus on petty arguments within her body than with survival and the central message of Jesus.

We must wake up. Just like a person who has become complacent regarding health needs to get back on an exercise and healthy-eating regimen, so the church needs to get healthy again. Away with the infighting. Away with the laziness. Away with the unrighteous behavior that makes church people indistinguishable from the world. Away with the lack of love.

Instead, let us be active. Let us follow the guidance of the Spirit and be lit on fire with passion for the salvation that only comes through Jesus. Let us love enthusiastically, and let us work together in our churches and in the community. Let us reach out to other communities of faith and, in unity, encourage one another and pray for one another as we singularly reach out into the world to spread the good news of hope in this life and in the life to come.

Today’s the day of renewal. Let’s not wait until persecution comes back.

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Tell Me Something Good

Have you ever thought about what situations you find yourself in when you encounter a police officer? I’m not talking about if you’re a police officer or if you’re married to one; I’m talking about the average person encountering a police officer.

On most occasions, when I encounter a police officer, in uniform, and have meaningful dialogue on a regular day, it is because I messed up. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, its pretty humiliating and humbling. We visit with the police officer because we were going to fast or not wearing a seat belt or were texting and driving (don’t do that) or because we committed some other crime. We’ve done something wrong, and now we need to be visited by the enforcer of the code.

We don’t get pulled over because we were driving exceptionally well. Police officers don’t usually stop us to give out coupons to Denny’s. We don’t hear from them unless we’ve been bad, and that’s the way we like it. We want them to focus on their job of keeping people safe, and if we’re being safe, they don’t have to focus on us. We do right, and in so doing, we avoid police officers.

We perceive doctors in a similar light. We only see them when things are going wrong, and we want their help to fix whatever problem we are experiencing. The purpose of our encounter with doctors is to remedy some negative situation. This is different than in some Asian countries where doctors are paid to keep people well. They encounter the doctor regularly and pay them throughout the year, unless they’re sick. Then they don’t get paid until the patient is well again. This is a different, more positive perspective on medicine. It’s not like many of us who avoid going to the doctor unless we’re severely ill.

How do you communicate with those around you?

Are you the kind of person who automatically reacts to correct others? Do you see it as a need to police those around you (spouse, children, co-workers, etc…)? Do you need to fix others to better society?

What if, in our marriages, the only time we spoke to our spouses was when we were correcting something in them. We didn’t tell them hello or goodbye. We didn’t wish them well or encourage and congratulate them in their actions and endeavors. We didn’t dote upon the good qualities in them. We simply focused on the negative – kind of like the marriage police.

I will leave you alone when you adhere to the obviously reasonable demands I place on you.

Where’s the love in this? How long will this marriage last? Some of you may be thinking, “15 years and counting…” But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In a culture where everything is scrutinized, it is easy to constantly criticize – to focus on all the things you don’t like about another person. The problem is, this will change your perspective to where you can ONLY see what you dislike in another person.

If your relationship with another person (spouse, child, co-worker, peer, etc…) is constantly negative, you have a choice in what you see in and say to that other person. You can choose to criticize, or you can choose to bless. You can choose to tear down, or you can choose to build up.

“But I’m criticizing to help them be a better person. Isn’t that a blessing?”

Not to them. People know they need to change. Everyone does. It’s in front of them every day. They WANT friendship and acceptance. They want to know they can mess up in front of you, and you won’t take them to the mat because of it. They want to know you see the best in them in spite of their flaws, but if all they hear is the negative about them they’re already aware of, they will soon resist relationship with you.

Remember your flaws? Does Jesus hang that in front of your face constantly, or does He give you grace and call you better things than you feel about yourself, like “child of the King,”, “beloved”, “brother and sister”, “masterpiece”, etc?

We seek to avoid encountering a police officer, because they are there to enforce law and convict us of our crimes. If a relationship is defined by this kind of legalistic expectation, eventually at least one person in the relationship will begin to avoid the other like we avoid police encounters, and for many of the same reasons.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:2)

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Focus on the positive in others…and let your focus translate into your words and actions. This one thing may change every relationship you have.


#AztecStrong

My heart is breaking.

We lost three young people yesterday in senseless violence. Two of them were unsuspecting innocents that never stood a chance. The other one was filled with distorted, evil thoughts that provoked him to evil behavior.

This was violence caused because of a heart issue.

This was tragic.

Our whole community is reeling in the wake of this ridiculous scenario. Yet, we will not give up on life. We will move on.

Tragedies like these and natural disasters and other such devastating circumstances do something paradoxically wonderful to a community. It feel wrong to say it out loud, but while the killings were horrible (and I cannot imagine the grief of the families involved today and in the coming days) they did something wonderful within our community.

It is a shame it takes a tragedy to remind the people in a community to band together in unity. But time and time again across this nation, we see just such a pattern of events play out. Right now, in California, communities are banding together in support of the victims of the fires. The whole nation came together in support of the flooding victims in Texas. When 9-11 happened, the nation rallied together in unity.

I’ve been in communities hit hard by natural disasters and violent acts of terror, and in both situations, I have seen good come out of tragedy and evil.

Yesterday, the community of Aztec began to rally together in support for the families of those whose children lost their lives, and they continue to reach out and show support today, and they will continue to do so in the future.

But not long from now, we will forget what this feels like. This unity. We will forget to stay unified and go back to the routineness of our lives. It’s a sad statement, but it is true. I’ve seen it over and over again.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can keep reaching out and spending time with our neighbors. In fact, that’s what we should have been doing all along. We have been called by Jesus to love our neighbors. We have been called to carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (which is to love). We have been called to shine the light of Christ though His Spirit at work in us.

We, Christians, have been called to perpetuate this sense of unity and camaraderie in our communities.

Yesterday, I sat in a room full of pastors from various churches and experienced unity and humility as we sought to work together to help the community through the grieving process by hosting a vigil. There was no power struggle. There were no attitudes of superiority. There was humility and unity, and it felt great.

I’m proud of the way our community has come together in the midst of this horrible event. I’m proud of the way our churches have shown love. Let us not go back to the way things were. Let us not allow the deaths of these young people to be wasted by selfishness and division. Let us all remember that we are one community, and we need each other.


Practicing Perspective

What’s the difference between a happy person and a miserable one?

Have you ever noticed some people are always happy? They seem to find the best possible outcome of every situation. When you speak to them, you leave feeling better about yourself and the world around you.

Then there are also people who are always down. Talking with them sucks the life out of you. Nothing seems to go right for them. The world is out to get them.

What’s the difference?

Perspective.

There are people all over the world who scrape by to make ends meet. They aren’t sure where their next meal is going to come from, yet they share with others. They laugh heartily. They sing and smile. They have joy. For many people, to be in such dire circumstances would be more than they could bear, yet for these people, what they do not have is insignificant to what they do.

They have a different perspective on life.

Tragedy seems to come in threes. It may present with more or fewer troubling circumstances, but three seems to be the common, magic number. When problems begin to stack on one another, it is harder to breathe. It’s like stones are being stacked on our chest, and all we can think about are those stones crushing and suffocating the life out of us. We are absolutely sure the stones will kill us. But they don’t. They haven’t yet. And they don’t have to in the future.

Nothing is permanent in this life. Things are temporal. Pleasure is temporal. Life is temporal. Even your personality can be changed (and likely has already). Change is the only constant in this life.

That should bring hope to everyone. The storm you’re in is temporary.

What we tend to do, however, is focus on our storms.

When you’re dealing with tragedy in your life, all you can concentrate on is the tragedy. You eat, sleep, and breathe this tragedy, and when you do, it crushes you. Those who have that contagious joy don’t have fewer tragedies; they simply see through the tragedy to hope.

When you’re in a relationship that is struggling, it is easy to see all the negative in the relationship, and especially in the other person. So how do people find joy in relationships? Are they somehow blessed with fewer struggles? NO! They choose to see the good in the relationship and the other person in spite of the current struggle. When that happens, they resolve conflict more quickly and feel happier in the relationship.

So how do we gain this new perspective that breathes life?

1. We remember that this life is fleeting, and we have been given hope of resurrection, forgiveness, and inheritance through Jesus Christ. If you’ve been saved in Jesus, you have this hope. It needs to drive your life. This life and its troubles is not all there is. And Jesus promised to be with us, so we are never alone in our troubles.

2. We look for the good going on around us and in other people even in the storm. This will take practice. We, in our consumeristic, selfish culture, are used to seeing the problems more than the solutions in ourselves, others, and the situations we find ourselves in. It is discipleship to hope for good through love (1 Corinthians 13; Philippians 2:14).

3. Once we find the good (in self, others, situations, etc.), we focus on that. Satan will try to tempt us back into focusing on the negative and being consumed by darkness, but we don’t have to give in. When we focus on the good in our spouses, we fight less. When we focus on the good in even the worst situation, we find hope faster. When we focus on the good in us, we fight depression.

These steps aren’t easy, but they’re necessary. They take practice, especially if you’re used to seeing the negative. May we all find perspective that breathes joy in this world in spite of this world.


Inventory


It’s time to take an inventory.

Take a moment to inventory your friends list. Not the one on Facebook full of people you barely know; I’m talking about your friends you communicate with regularly. Do you have it? 

What are they like? Do they function at a similar economic level as you? Do you frequent the same places for fun? Do you have similar moral and religious beliefs? Are you roughly the same age?

When was the last time you spent an extended period of time with people vastly different than you? 

Some people hesitate to surround themselves with people of questionable morality or intentions. They are afraid that doing so will be a sign of condoning such behavior. Some are afraid that doing so will cause them to fall into sin (a worthy concern). Yet who did Jesus spend time eating and fellowshipping with? 

Over and over we see Jesus with people who aren’t religious. They aren’t moral. In fact, they are the people looked down on by others. They are the people with bad reputations. They were the people used as examples by the religious leaders. Yet Jesus went directly to them – not to preach at them, but to love them.

But how can we love someone so blatantly different than us? 

Matthew 9:36

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Jesus had compassion on the crowd. He didn’t look down on them in pity. He saw them as lost and helpless, and he hurt for them. They needed love first – then guidance. They needed acceptance – then deliverance. They needed true interest from him – then transformation. 

Jesus wouldn’t have been the great game-changer of history if he had gone around lambasting everyone for their blatant disregard for the law of God. No one would have listened. Instead, he loved people. He loved them in spite of their anger, lying, fornication, ignorance, betrayal, distrust, immorality, etc. He loves us in spite of our humanity. Maybe he loves us because of our humanity. 

Maybe you need to hang out in a place that is uncomfortable for you. Not just once. Hang out there often enough for people to get to know you and you to know them. And just love them no strings attached. 

It’s hard sometimes. 

When you’re surrounded by drunks it’s hard. When people are spewing immorality it’s hard. When someone walks up displaying their alternative lifestyle it’s hard. 

But it’s right to love them. 

Sometimes the hardest thing isn’t being there. Sometimes the hardest thing is keeping your mouth shut when you want to get preachy and share some superior moral wisdom. 

But when they see you genuinely love them, you may have more than ample opportunity in the future to share the love of Jesus with words because they saw his love in your actions. 


Is Church Worth It?


Is church worth the time and effort?

No.

If you only attend once a week just to make sure you’ve done your Christianly duty, then it has no true benefit to you.  If you hear the sermon but never put what you heard into practice, then what’s the point of showing up? If, during communion, your mind is everywhere except on the sacrifice and grace of Christ and the family with which you are communing, then why participate?

So many people wonder why they don’t get anything out of their church experience.  They complain that the messages are boring.  They complain that the church members never visit when they’re in need, yet they aren’t around enough for people to get to know them and their needs.  They complain that there aren’t enough programs for their kids.  They jump from church to church never planting roots, and they wonder why church doesn’t bring any true benefit to their life.

Does this sound familiar?

Is the church worth the time and effort?

If you come to the assemblies to give (not just to get), then you find that you are blessed beyond measure, and your life will be changed.

If you spend more time than simply during the worship assembly once a week with your brothers and sisters in the church, then you will build relationships that allow for many great benefits in life – not the least of which is real family. So many people are questioning the necessity of Sunday and Wednesday evening gatherings.  I, too, have wondered about their relevance.  However, when people overlook those assemblies, they miss out on a much more intimate time of fellowship and discussion that brings relationship growth in the body of Christ.  Those who attend the peripheral gatherings (Sunday morning class, Sunday evening assembly, Wednesday evening classes and others) find much more fulfillment in their church membership. This is due to the relationships that are fostered in these gatherings and the discussion that happens which brings spiritual growth.

If you come to experience the presence of God through worship and a message from the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, you will find God, and He will bring healing to you.

If you come to commune with your savior and your family in Christ, you will find renewed salvation and unity with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you come to offer love to those you encounter, you will leave feeling loved by others and by your Father in Heaven.

If you come to fellowship, you will find relationships that help drive out loneliness and can even help heal depression. You will find connection to something bigger than yourself.

If you come to volunteer, you will find that there are ample opportunities to serve, and those programs you wished were there could be manned by your involvement.

If you come looking for ways to connect – not ways to simply exist – you will find that church is well worth the time and effort.

Are you finding fulfillment and spiritual growth through your involvement in a church gathering? If not, I would like to suggest you try two things in this order:

  1. Get involved.  The more involved you get, the more you will find yourself in the middle of the relationships in the church.  This will bring community and connection that will help foster purpose and fulfillment in your calling to be a disciple of Jesus. This will allow you to experience the love of the body of Christ.
  2. If you’ve gotten involved, or tried to get involved, but the church is obviously lacking in its ability to love, then talk to the leadership of the church about your experience.  Don’t be shy.  They need to know.  If they listen and change things, GREAT! If not, it may be time to find another gathering where you can attempt number 1 again.

Church shopping shouldn’t be a trend, yet it seems to be. Instead of jumping from place to place looking for the coolest worship or the hippest preachers or the most energetic children’s ministries, get involved where you are, and see if you can help the church where you’ve been planted grow into the church it should be.

One last thought: A church that isn’t loving is not a church that is of Jesus.  If the church doesn’t follow the greatest commands (love God and your neighbor), then finding a church that does love seems to be the only viable option.

I know a great church in Aztec, NM that loves one another and seeks to invite others into that love.  If that’s what you’re looking for, then come be a part of our family at Aztec church of Christ.  God bless you all.


Confession Time


If I were to ask you to tell of your sins, how would you respond? I would assume you would balk at the question and do everything in your power either to change the subject or physically leave my presence.

Confession is a lost art in Christianity today, and its absence is keeping us in bondage.

When we have sin that isn’t confessed, it eats away at us.  It keeps us from truly finding healthy intimacy in marriage and even friendship relationships. And it keeps us from finding healing from that sin since we aren’t willing to ask for help.

Confession brings freedom.

I know the excuses. I know you’re scared to let someone know the things that are ugly about you for fear they might use that knowledge to abuse you. You’ve experienced it before. Hurt people hurt people, and you don’t feel you can trust someone enough to confess your sins to them.

These are valid. Trust is easily broken and much harder to build.

However, if a sin you’re struggling with becomes public knowledge, it may hurt at first, but there is freedom from having to hide it once it is revealed. Then you’re free to work on that issue without restraint or secrecy.

We treat confession like it is optional. We confess when we feel like it to whom we feel like it, and sometimes (often times) we don’t confess at all. The scriptures are pretty clear about confession.

James 5:16
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Proverbs 28:13
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Psalms 32:5
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Confession is essential to the growing godliness of the believer. Through confession we invite the accountability needed to actually stop sinning. It is possible to stop that sin you’re struggling with.

Confession is given first to God – not because he doesn’t know, but because you need to admit your problem.

Confession is given next to your brother or sister in Christ. If you’re married, start with your spouse. Beyond that, confession is better done with someone of the same gender. The purpose for this type of confession is to invite them into your struggle to pray with you, check on you, and walk with you as you grow beyond this temptation.

People in recovery programs understand the need for this kind of healing process. We shouldn’t think that because our sin doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs we don’t need the same process to overcome our sins.

If you’re struggling to confess, start small…confess the little things. Then you will see how they react and help. If you’re looking for someone to confess to, look to your minister and his wife or your elders and their wives. They would be honored to join with you in this journey of healing.

Remember, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Therefore, my sin stinks just like yours, so I have no right to look down on your struggle when I have my own.  If we all understood and behaved according to this fact, we would be much more eager to confess to one another.

May you find healing through confession, and by this, may the church become strong in unity and love.


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