These are socks…Love

16 01 2015

This is my final devotional in this series.  It has been based on how Coach Wooden, the legendary basketball coach for UCLA, would begin his first practice.  He started off each season by teaching his team how to wear their socks.   He believed the basics are what wins the game.

What are the Christian’s socks?  What are the basics we have to remember to be effective?  I believe there are three; faith, hope and love. Today I want to focus on love.

Love is the most overused word in our vocabulary.  Everyone has their idea of what love means.  I think there are two distinctive for the unconditional love we need as socks.

First, it must come from a place of strength.  John 10:18 is a uniquely powerful verse.  Jesus says he has the authority to lay his life down and pick it back up.  In other words, he was the only one who could die sacrificially in place of humanity.  This is critical to understand.  There are a lot of people who would die for another person.  While that is admirable, it does not have the same power as what Jesus did.  When Jesus laid down his life, reality was fundamentally changed.  Our relationship with God was fully and completely restored.  God did this out of the purest form of unconditional love.  There were no strings attached and no other agenda except love.

As Christians we tap into that love.  This is why Jesus says the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others.  It is only in my relationship with God I have the understanding to unconditionally love anyone else.

As a pastor and a Chaplain I have often seen people who love from a place of weakness.  They do things because they need to feel accepted, they want to portray an image or they want to cover up an area of their life.  The majority of the time they are not doing it with evil intent.  They are doing it because they are longing for love.  They will join churches and even go into ministry all with the hope of being good enough or accomplishing something significantly enough that will let them feel loved.  Sadly they are missing the true depth of Christian love. They are missing their socks.

God’s unconditional love comes from a genuine place of strength.  When I accept this type of love, it transforms me.  I rely on God to show others love.  In other words I operate from God’s strength.  Will there be sacrifice?  Of course but it comes from pure motives and a right perspective.  It is truly powerful and transformational.

This is a deep concept so I encourage you to meditate on it and talk to God about it.  Once it clicks, I promise you will be amazed and in awe of God.

The second aspect of unconditional love is boundaries.  Healthy relationships have boundaries.  The very concept of love implies a relationship so it makes sense there would be boundaries.  A great example is the marriage relationship.  If I say I love my wife but hurt her or cheat on her you could legitimately question my love.  Because God has invited us to freely choose to enter a relationship with him, it is reasonable that we would live within the boundaries of that relationship.

We need three things to know God’s boundaries.  First, we have to have an active prayer life in which we are not just asking God to do things for us but we are slowing down to listen for God’s voice.  Second, we have to read the Bible.  This is the sacred text of Christianity.  We believe it is inspired by God and unique in both it’s power and authority.  Finally, we have to be connected to a healthy church.  In a healthy church we can have good relationships to keep us grounded and help us grow and mature.  I know I often sound like a broken record when it comes to the importance of being connected to a church but I see the difference in lives of people who are connected and those who aren’t.

So do you have your socks on? I hope this series has given you something to consider.  Let’s make sure we have our socks on and let’s get into the game.





These are socks…Hope

29 10 2014

In my last post I shared about how Coach Wooden, the legendary basketball coach for UCLA, would begin his first practice. He started off each season by teaching his team how to wear their socks stressing the importance of protecting their feet. Getting a blister on your foot makes you ineffective on the court. Bottom line remembering the basics helps you win the game.

What are the Christian’s socks? What are the basics we have to remember to be effective? I believe there are three; faith, hope and love. Today I want to focus on hope.

Hope is a well-grounded confidence that allows us to face reality. Let that sink in.

The two most common verses I use as a Chaplain are Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4. Both of these passages talk about what can happen during hard times. In Romans “we rejoice in our suffering” because we will gain perseverance, our character will be revealed and we will see where we have placed our hope. James wants us to “consider it pure joy when we face trials” because the end result will be full and complete maturity.

Two people can go through the exact same circumstance. One person comes out stronger and one person comes out weaker. What was the difference? I believe it is often perspective and choice. We have to choose to become stronger and we need the right perspective to overcome our circumstances.

For Christians I believe life is a win-win situation. When we don’t have bad things happen, it is a win. When we do have bad things happen, it is also a win because we can grow and become stronger as a result of those difficult times. There is a practical truth to this. When we look back on what helped us become a better person, many times it was a difficult circumstance. There is also a profound spiritual truth to this.

As Paul mentions in Romans, our hope comes alive in suffering. If we truly believe that Jesus overcame both sin and death and one day will return, everything we are experiencing here is temporary. This does not mean I want to go through hard times. It does mean when I go through them I can have confidence this is not the end of the story. I have hope.

This hope actually allows me to face the situation for what it is. I am so thankful Jesus cried at Lazarus’ tomb in John 11. Why? Jesus knew he was going to raise him from the dead. He knew this was not the end of the story. He also knew people were hurting. They loved Lazarus and watching him die was hard and painful. He was able to connect with them and share in their sorrow. He faced reality but was not overwhelmed by the situation. He had confidence in the rest of the story.

When my socks of hope are on, I face reality with confidence. If there is injustice I can stand against it and call it injustice. Why? Because I know Jesus will one day return and make the final judgment. If I have sin in my life I can deal with it effectively. Why? Because I know Jesus died for my sins and conquered sin therefore I can overcome this area of sin in my life. When I see suffering or death I can cry and mourn with those who are mourning. Why? Because this life can be hard however I will not be overwhelmed by grief and sorrow because I know the rest of the story.

Christian hope is not simply being optimistic. It is grounded in the reality of who God is and what Jesus has done. When we let this reality settle all the way down into our socks, we have a profound hope that anchors us. We face reality boldly and we impact our world radically.

Is there something you need to face? Is there a situation you are avoiding or minimizing because your socks of hope have holes in them or haven’t been put on properly? This is when a mentor is really helpful. Talk with someone you respect who has hope in spite of difficult circumstances. They will give you wisdom and insight that will inspire you. You will need to be in prayer and take the time to really learn what the Bible has to say. God will lead and guide. The result will be a confidence to look at reality and see…hope.





Being Human

14 09 2014

Welcome to the human race!  How do you know you are a human?  Do you say, “I don’t care what other people think” but secretly do?  Do you feel like everyone else in the group “clicks” except you?  Do you have something you are ashamed or embarrassed about?  Do you feel you have to live up to an image instead of just being yourself?

I most likely hit the mark with one of those questions proving you are human.  What a relief!  We can all say “I am screwed up just like everyone else!”

I think the Apostle Paul nailed it (of course with God’s help).

He wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15-16:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Paul thought he was the worst sinner out there.  That is a very honest assessment.  Each one of us could say the same thing and believe it.  I often say the only reason Paul wrote he was the worst sinner is I wasn’t born yet.  We truly know just how bad we can be.  We are there for every single sin we commit.  We also know our thoughts and intentions.  We know what we are thinking and to be honest we can think about some pretty bad stuff.

Bottom line: Paul was human

His realistic perspective gives us hope.  If he can be redeemed.  If he can have a right relationship with God.  Then, we can be redeemed and have a right relationship with God.  This is critical because one of the most common misperceptions I hear is “I have blown it so bad there is no hope for me.” Paul reminds us there is always hope.

There is another amazing reality in this passage.  Paul does not list a whole bunch of things he has to do.  Instead he points to God’s mercy and Jesus’… patience.

You have to let that sink in.  God’s response to us being human is to give mercy and be patient.

No wonder the very next thing Paul writes is:

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Verse 17)

He had a moment of worship.  I am also humbled by the reality of these verses.  In our culture (the United States) we tend to focus on things we have to do or labels we can give.

Philip Yancey wrote a book called “What’s so Amazing about Grace.”  He shared a story in which a person is challenged to describe the gospel in a sentence.  I have modified the language but basically he said: “We are all screw-ups but God loves us anyway.”

Where are you today?  Have you bought into a lie that you are so screwed up you can not be redeemed?  Paul would disagree.  Do you believe you are redeemed but now are working so hard to maintain your relationship with God you have no joy or peace?  Paul would invite you to accept God’s mercy and be thankful for Jesus’ patience.

I love the picture of Jesus smiling and telling his Dad just how much he loves us as he shakes his head, takes a deep breath and is…patient.





Humbled

6 04 2012

As a Christian I believe Easter is the greatest event in human history.  Jesus demonstrated the full depth of God’s love and full extent of God’s power.  I believe God first hinted at his plan to redeem humanity as he faced the reality Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  He said to the snake, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  He intended on defeating sin and death in complete and powerful way.

God began laying out his plan in the Old Testament. When Peter wrote about the Old Testament he said:

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.  Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)

I love the idea of angels longing to look into what God was planning.  Before Jesus people had faith God could redeem.  In fact there were lots of examples of God redeeming and demonstrating his power.  After Jesus we know God can fully and completely redeem.  We say actions speak louder than words.  Easter was God’s actions shouting and confirming what had been said.

The author of Hebrews captured it well:

Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9)

God demonstrated that sin not only hurt us but it hurt him as well.  When God asks us to be obedient, he is not asking us to do anything he has not done.  Easter is both powerful and humbling.

The night Jesus was betrayed he said to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)

Jesus knew facing the cross would be the hardest thing he would ever have to face but, by facing it, he knew what would be accomplished.

My prayer is each one of us would have an opportunity to reflect of the deep meaning of Easter.  I pray we would encounter a loving and powerful God who redeems.  As we experience that redemption God invites us to follow him.  May our actions speak louder than our words as we humbly follow Jesus.





It is easier to be a slave than to be free

26 01 2012

I hope my title caught your interest.  How could it be easier to be a slave than to be free?  I have to offer a disclaimer.  Thankfully, it is safe to say that those able to read this are not physically in slavery.  So my focus is on slavery that we slip into.  I heard a speaker say one of the harshest forms of slavery is to be a slave to our own passions.  When we are controlled by things such as lust, greed or anger, they become fierce task masters.  They control and dominate us.  We become their slave.  I know you are thinking, “But I thought you said slavery was easier!”  Yes, I did.  So, let’s look at this together.

The idea came as I was praying and reading during my own devotional time.  I am currently reading through Exodus.  It is amazing to see how the people continued to look fondly at slavery and wish they could go back to being slaves each time they experienced a hardship.  This was in spite of seeing God do one amazing act after another.  While it would be great to pick on them, I see the same tendency in my own life when things get hard.  I want to go back to being a slave.

I think I see why.  What struck me was slavery removes two huge words from my vocabulary: ownership and responsibility.  If I am free then I can take ownership of the situation or circumstances.  Let’s take the example of anger.  If I am a slave to my anger then it was outside of my control and the circumstance or the other person is to blame.  They should have known better.  If I am free then I own my response to my circumstance.  I own the actions I took in responding to the other person.  This naturally leads to responsibility.  I have to take responsibility for my actions and I have figure out how to manage my anger instead of simply being a slave to it.  Taking responsibility means that I both acknowledge the need for change and, because I am free, I take the steps to change.

Imagine if the Israelites embraced their freedom.  They would have realized they needed to be part of the solution as each challenge came up.  They would have taken responsibility for their part and wanted to work with Moses and God to find a solution.  They would have come to God as free people looking for God’s guidance and direction ready to take ownership as they needed.  They would have become partners with God and Moses.

Galatians 5:1 Paul says:  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Paul wrote this because people had slipped into another form of slavery, legalism.  We have to be honest.  It is nice not to have to take ownership and responsibility for our lives and the things that go on around us.

My hope is that if something has you in slavery, it is eating at the back of your mind.  You know you have to take ownership and responsibility but you are honest that it would be easier to stay a slave.  What do we do?  I think the secret is with God and Moses.

First, we have to look to God and trust God.  We have to really believe that God is a better master than what we are slaves to.  God invites us to freely submit to him.  God wants us to live free and rely on him.  This means finding out what God’s standard and expectations are.  Second, we need each other.  Moses continued to point people in the right direction.  We need people we trust who will point us in the right direction and hold us accountable.  A sign a person is being like Moses is that they are looking to God and they have our best interest at heart.  I will boldly say we need both.  God works through people.  God used people to write the Bible and God continues to use people to be a part of his work in our lives.  When we trust both God and others the result is freedom.  Is it hard? Yes.  Is it worth it?  You better believe it!

I invite you to look at your life and see if you find yourself in slavery.  It may be an attitude, a bad habit, or even an unhealthy relationship.  Honestly evaluate what ownership and responsibility would look like.  Look to God and others who can help you become free.  It will be hard and there will be struggles.  Depending on how big the issue is, there may even be times when you will want to go back to being a slave.  Stick it out and work through it.  In the end you will experience freedom.  It will be truly worth it.