Think Small

Sometimes the biggest blessings come in the smallest of actions.

Things like:
-Taking the time to pray for someone.
-Tell that person you prayed for them.
-Dropping a text, email, or note to say something encouraging.
-Sharing an item of which you have extra.
-Giving a small gift, just to let someone know you were thinking of them.
-Adding something to the tip jar.
-Making a snack or dessert to give someone.
-Smiling when you talk to people.
-Telling a person “Thank you” for what they have done.

How many times has someone made your day, week, or month better by some little action? We often want to wait to show our admiration and appreciation in one grand gesture. In reality, the little things mean far more, and they are something any of us can do.

There is no better time to do them than right now.

Are You Worried?

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow” – Swedish proverb

Too often, we view upcoming events in our life through the lens of worry.  Our minds are filled with anxiety and uneasiness as issues appear on the horizon.  We allow ourselves to dwell on the possibility of difficulty or trouble.  We see our uncertain future can only be filled with potential headaches.

Worry is a problem for everyone.  Jesus himself instructed his followers not to worry (Matthew 6:25-34).  And yet, I talk to Christians weekly who are filled with it as they walk into the future. 

One way to overcome worry is to be reminded of the size of the God we serve.  He is bigger than any problem we face.  It is also helpful to remember the actual size of the issues we face.  They can appear much larger than they are based on the size of their shadow. 

To overcome worry, we need great faith in an all-powerful God so that the small objects of this world pale in comparison. 

Meant as Compliment

Have you ever had someone say something they thought was a compliment, and you did not hear it that way?

“You look great for your age.”

“I love how you don’t care what people think about you.”

“You look so much better now that you have lost weight.”

I know people think they are saying something nice.  But when you think about it intently, you realize you could take it another way.  They truly meant it as a compliment, but you twisted it around to hear the negative connotation. 

There is a simple lesson here:  What you hear is as important as what people say. 

Sure, they could have said it better.  But the tendency is to take something someone meant to be an encouragement and turn it into something hurtful.  Our brains often only pick up the negative side and miss the positive.  The problem is not with them; it is with you. 

Oh, be careful little ears what you hear. 

It Depends on You

You cannot control how someone reacts to your words and deeds.  All you can control is your actions. 

Well, that is not exactly true. 

We are instructed to “make every effort to live in peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14) and to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)  And more specifically, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

When people respond to you negatively, you can also control how you react to them.  You can get angry at them and choose to speak evil. However, you can also make every effort to bring peace to the situation as far as it depends on you. 

You can control how you act along with how you react. 

Ministry of the Word

The widows were being neglected. Well, only a particular group of them were not getting their needs met. One group had a history with the believers. So they were fed first and were happy with their care. The other group had no background in the Church, and they were being overlooked.

It is an ugly picture of the Church not meeting the needs of people adequately. And isn’t that, after all, the most significant thing the Church should do? The people who follow Jesus serve others in love, especially those who are part of their congregation. This community of believers should be ashamed. Their leaders must have been an uneducated and uncommitted group of lazy Christians to make this mistake.

Well, this story is told to us in the book of Acts in the New Testament. The leaders of that Church were the twelve Apostles that Jesus left behind to carry on his ministry. Chapter six tells us the story in one verse, and then the following verse states, “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.'” (Acts 6:2 – NIV 2011)

Wait. What?

I thought meeting the needs of others was the highest calling in the Church. Believers are to serve in the name of Jesus, so shouldn’t the Apostles drop everything and feed the widows to set an example for the Church?

They make a statement that seems so counter-cultural to many Christians. They are not willing to neglect the “ministry of the word” to wait on tables.

The Apostles felt their most remarkable ministry and highest calling was to teach people what Jesus said and what his life meant for them. They appear to value Biblical education over all other ministries. They would not spend less time preaching and teaching to meet the everyday needs of the widows.

This seems wrong until you understand one thing: People’s greatest need is for Jesus and his salvation. If you feed people and they die without Jesus, the believers have failed. If people are getting their physical needs met, but not their spiritual needs, the Church has failed. People’s greatest need is to get right with God through Jesus Christ. Every other ministry comes after that one area of emphasis.

The solution was a plan that allowed the Apostles to keep preaching, and other Christians would meet the widows needs. The result is that the word of Jesus spread, and the Church grew. In the process, it sets a precedent for the Church of the future. Serve people, but make sure their soul is fed along with their body.

Fake Plants and Fake People

My wife loves plants. We have them growing all around our house, where she waters and cares for them. They thrive and grow under her watchful eyes.

I am the opposite. People bring plants to the Church building or leave them after a funeral. It is a nice gesture, but it requires someone to water them, adjust for sun, trim and care for them. The result is I usually have to toss a dead plant due to my lack of attention.

With this in mind, our Church has opted to purchase several nice-looking fake plants. They look lovely, require little care, and can be stored if we need them out of the way. I like the way it looks, but I fear it sets a poor precedent. It might appear to some as if we value exterior looks over the real thing.

For many people, our life is about as fake as those plants. We have learned that if we say the right things, people quit asking questions. If we have a few common religious answers at Church, then no one will question our spirituality. In our marriage, we can paint on a happy face in public and make everyone think there are no issues. Our social media presence is nothing but a mirage of smiles and joy. Some of us have developed the unique ability to fake smiles, fake laughs, fake interest, and even fake love so well that no one even notices anymore.

Fake plants look nice for a while, but they do not compare to the beauty of the real thing. They collect dust, have no pleasant smell, and fade in the sun. Time destroys fake plants, and no one cares.

The real thing has unmatched beauty, provides a pleasing aroma, comes back year after year, or leaves the seeds for a new plant. They arrive in the spring and bring joy to everyone who sees them. They are life and beauty and a blessing to the world.

Genuine people, even during their struggles, are a blessing. They help, offer compassion and empathy to others. They have a unique beauty in their soul that makes them a pleasure to be around. They bless the world with their presence.

So the next time you feel like you need to fake it, remember those fake plants. They are just a cheap substitution for the real thing. They will never be worthy of imitation.

Great Grace

Reading through the book of Acts in the New Testament, I ran across a statement about the Church that is unique and somewhat mysterious.  The English Standard Version puts it this way, “And with great power, the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33)

It is easy to read quickly and never notice these words, and for years that is what I did.  The passage says, “and great grace was upon them all.” What does that mean? 

Well, the English translations all seem to handle it a little differently.  The New International Version of 2011 is “grace was powerfully at work.” The New American Standard Bible is “abundant grace was upon them all.” Still others have translated it as “great favor.” The passage is most literally rendered, “grace, the great, was upon them.”

So what does it mean?  Most scholars suggest two explanations.  First, God was doing great things for the Church physically, and they saw it as a work of grace above the cross of Jesus.  Second, the people saw what was happening in this community, and not only was God showing his grace, but the local people looked on them with favor.  After those two ideas, there is no general agreement. 

Whatever was going on in the Church and the lives of those believers was something above the typical experience of grace.  I am thankful for what we have in Jesus, but I long to experience God’s gift in a genuinely great way, as they did. 

Being Clueless With God

No one wants to appear clueless. 

It is embarrassing not to know what is going on around me.  I am intelligent, and I should know my situation, circumstances, and future direction. I know to adjust my sails and make the future better than today.  I am smart, strong, confident, and have the ability to make things work.

And yet, when it comes to God, I rarely know what is happening.

Life twists and turns on things I cannot control.  One day things are looking good, and the next, I am sitting in a waiting room and asking God to intercede.  One day I think I am financially thriving, and then an incident has me unsure how we will pay for it.  People come and go, and they make decisions I do not understand.  The waves of life toss my ship more than I can admit. 

I am clueless as to what God is doing in my life.  I have no idea where he is taking me.  There are no simple directions that lead me down a narrow winding road.

Faith is about embracing the unknown.  It is about stepping out into the unknown without a clue how things are going to turn out in the end.  It is not reckless, but it is unclear. 

If you want to follow Jesus, you need to engage your head to know and learn.  But you also have to become okay with never knowing entirely what God is doing.  Being a Christian is an adventure into the unknown.  Once you accept that fact, your faith will become the map that leads you forward. 

Stained

I hope I am not the only one who has done this. 

I have gotten dressed up for an event.  Shave, shower, nice outfit, cologne, and looking good.  Take every precaution in the house, in the vehicle, and walking to the door.  Walk into the event and grab an hors d’oeuvre.  Still trying to look good and yet cautiously eat.  Only to have the sauce shoot out and land on your shirt.  Maybe it was that one tiny piece rolled off the plate onto your outfit. And there you are, stuck.  The napkin won’t clean it adequately.  Taking and placing it under hot water is not an option.  Here you are at this special event with a stain that you cannot hide. 

I’m not sure if you have experienced this, but I have done this more times than I care to recall.  Coffee stains, beverage mishaps, sauce spills, rolling food, and icing globs have decorated my clothing since I was young.  Still, I am never sure what to do. 

Do you hide and hope no one notices?

Do you ignore it and hope no one sees it or mentions it?

Do you embrace it and nervously laugh it off as you hope people do not think you are an idiot?

These same questions are worth asking about the stains on our souls.  When you have sinned, made a mistake, or failed, how do you handle it?  Do you hide it?  Do you ignore it?  Do you embrace it? 

The Bible instructs us to confess our sins to each other.  We are to find people who care about us, our spiritual life, and growing in our faith and tell them our struggles.  Reveal the stains and ask them for advice, encouragement, and prayer. 

Hiding your stains and ignoring them never make the problem go away.  It is only when we acknowledge them can we move forward in the grace God provides. 

How Many Times Will It Take?

Recently I said the same line in three consecutive sermons.  I explained what God desires from us as his followers.  Each time I used different passages in the Bible to demonstrate the need to serve others in the name of Jesus.  Then I made a statement to summarize the material I had covered with an application for today.  The line I said was, “Some people come every week, sit in a chair for an hour, then go home and do nothing.”

What is remarkable about this experience is that it motivated no one to do anything. 

Looking out over the people, this statement described the actions of at least one-third of them.  My prayer had been that one or two of them might desire to get involved.  Possibly one or two would sign up for our membership class where we explain what the Church is doing and why.  I had hoped that maybe the people who sit and nod in agreement would do what God wants them to do. 

And the result – Nothing.  Nothing happened 

Each Monday morning, I ask, “How many times will it take, Lord?” 

How many sermons does someone need to hear on a topic before they act?  How many times must someone read a passage from the Bible before they obey it?  How many programs, sign-up sheets, and volunteer requests will it take?  How long before someone really listens and allows their actions to be guided by God’s desires?

I still don’t have a clear and definite answer.  I keep telling myself, “At least one more time.” Then I write another blog, compose another sermon, and teach another lesson.  During this process, I hope and pray, “God, maybe this week.”

A Christian can only deliver the message.  The person who receives it is the only one who can answer the question, “How many times will it take?” 

My hope is that it will not take too much longer, and maybe it will start today.