Category Archives: Love

The Cost of the Life of Worship

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

I have a friend who is a pastor in another country. Their church has gone through difficult times. Because of decisions made, which were based on following what they felt led by God to do, about half of their congregation left the church. To make matters worse, the government has determined that churches like theirs will no longer be recognized as an official church; therefore creating additional struggles for them, logistically, culturally, and financially, as they try to reach their community with the gospel.

However, at the same time, God continues to bless his ministry and the church. God is using Him to reach thousands of people throughout his country and beyond, as he teaches and reasons from the truth of the Word of God. His ministry reaches into his culture and into the theological, academic, and political communities of his country and beyond. Recently, he found out that their church would have to move locations. This could be a hardship on their church. However, he looks on this as God opening the door for ministry, as their new location is in an impoverished area, where there are thousands in need of hope. He is excited about the opportunities this will provide to spread the gospel.

I have another friend who is a pastor. The church he pastors has also gone through some difficult struggles. The economic impact of the past few years has taken a toll on families within the church. Several individuals or families have left the church, either because they feel led to go somewhere else or because they have issue with someone in leadership or something within the ministry of the church. These circumstances, and others, have together impacted the financial situation of the church.

Therefore, to be faithful to manage God’s resources well, decisions were made to cut spending. He informed the congregation of decisions to tighten spending, providing an overall view of the cuts. What he did not tell them was that he, along with the other full-time staff member, agreed to have their salaries cut by 15%. They sacrificed so that the part-time staff would not be impacted financially and so other areas of ministry were not stripped of additional resources. So, they quietly sacrificed for those they serve, at significant financial cost to themselves.

However, the Lord continues to bless this ministry. This pastor continues to faithfully teach the Word of God to his congregation. He continues to pour out his life in service to those in his congregation. And God is blessing this ministry, as he, the elders, staff, and ministry leaders strive to implement the vision that God has provided for growing disciples and reaching the community with the gospel. People are learning and growing in the faith through the impact of the ministries of the church. Over the past months, several people have come to Christ and are now growing in their faith. Other believers, who have been less active within the life of the church, are now fulfilling God’s call to serve His people and spread the gospel. Still others, already pouring out their lives, are giving even more of their time and resources. God is at work, even in the midst of uncertainty and struggle.

We could speak of many others, who live throughout this country and the world, pouring out their time, their gifts and talents, opening their homes, giving away their resources and money, living in the face of opposition and danger, and even giving up their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are not looking for power, fame, and prosperity. They are looking to a greater blessing, that of knowing Jesus Christ and living for the glory of their God. They have counted the treasures of this world as worthless compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and the eternal treasure that is Him and through Him, both now and for eternity.

So, this leads me to a question. What does following Christ cost us? If following Jesus Christ does not significantly impact our lives (spiritually, culturally, emotionally, physically, financially, popularity, and availability), then we need to examine our lives and priorities. Does the way we live demonstrate that we treasure Christ? Or do we value our earthly possessions, homes, cars, careers, sex, popularity, success, vacations, entertainment, time, and leisure more than Christ?

Here in the American church, I think it is time for a serious evaluation of our lives. How are we different from our neighbors or the culture? Earlier in the letter to the Philippians, Paul urges the church to shine as lights in the world, as they live in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Philippians 2:14-18). How are we doing? Do we shine like stars or do we blend right in? If we are to shine like stars, there should be a significant difference in our lives.

Jesus said that people would know we are His by the way we love each other (John 13:34-35). Frequently, some of the greatest damage to Christians is done from within the church. Churches can be ripe with gossip, slander, lack of respect and criticism towards leadership, bitterness, an unwillingness to forgive each other, rebellion, and more. Who needs enemies outside the church? We do the enemy’s work for him. Why get involved in ministry when I can lob grenades from the sidelines? Remember the words of Jesus. The world will know we are His disciples because we love one another.

We are called to give up the temporary pleasures of sin and to pursue God in holiness, through the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit. We are to put to death what is earthly in us, whether sexual immorality, impurity, overindulgence, coveting, slander, lying, malice, obscene talk, or any of the other sins that entangle us. We have put off the old self, with its practices, and put on the new self which is being renewed into the image of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:5-10). There is a cost to pursuing Christ in righteousness, forsaking those public and private sins. We give up the temporary, but empty, pleasures. But if we yield to His work within us, we will reap joy and the wonder of becoming more like Christ and enjoy fellowship with Him.

Does following Jesus impact how I spend my money and use my resources? The New Testament is full of examples of those who gave abundantly, sacrificed beyond their means, gave up possessions, comfort, and lived humbly so that they could give to God and support the work of the gospel. Many believers throughout the world today make great sacrifices to follow Christ. They give up much and, many times, have things taken from them specifically because they are Christians. Their generosity and forsaking of worldly gain can put us to shame here in America.

How significantly should following Jesus impact us financially? This is a question that every follower of Christ has to ask themselves. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

When, at the end of days, we stand before Christ, I don’t think we are going to wish we had spent more money on homes, cars, going out to eat, entertainment, the newest electronic devices, or the myriads of other things that flash across our computer or television screens. So, how much do I have to give? If I am asking myself the question in that manner, my heart is not in right place. I think we should pray that God would allow us to give as much as possible. “How much can I give, God? Please help me be able to give more!”

When it comes down to it, the cost of being able to live the life of worship is very expensive. However, the ultimate price is not paid by us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9.

We cannot pay for salvation. We can only receive it. We can never repay God for what we have received. We can only participate in the grace that we have received, living by His power and wisdom, and by following the example of the One Who gave His life for us. And by valuing the eternal and letting go of the temporary, which will fade away in the end, we bring glory to God and are promised the rich reward of our God.

It may be rough going at times, as we learn to leave the things of this world behind and face the backlash of those who hold onto this world and its temporary pleasures. We will face opposition, sometimes even within the church. But the reward of God is eternal and it will never end and it will never fade away. More on that later.

Together for His glory…

The Life of Worship: The Greatest Commandment

I love my wife, Cheryl. I love her a lot. We have been married for almost 30 years. We have known each other for almost 40 years. She is my best friend. There is no one I would rather spend time with. No, things are not always smooth and tranquil in our relationship, but we are committed to one another, for life. And I do not want it any other way.

Now, I could be committed to staying with Cheryl, honoring my marriage vows to remain true to only her. However, in our relationship, I could keep myself closed off and isolated from her. I could withhold my love and affection. I could go about my life and never do any acts of kindness for her. I could take care of my own needs and neglect hers. On the other hand, I could be unfaithful, and not remain true to the commitment I made to be faithful to her all the days of our lives together. At the same time, I could do all kinds of wonderful things for Cheryl, showering her with gifts, attention, and affection, while being unfaithful.

In both of the situations, there would be a disconnect. Whether one way or another, Cheryl would be getting part of me, but not all of me. My life would be a contradiction. The actions of my life would be in opposition to each other. I would not be fully devoted to her as my wife. Unfortunately, when it comes to our relationship with God, we frequently have the same disconnect. Well, maybe I should not speak for you. For me, there is.

“And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.’” Matthew 22:37-38

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” This is basically a restatement of what Jesus is saying in the passage above, which He is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, where the Jewish nation is given this command to love God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Moses gave the command to the people, as God had given it to Him. Jesus confirmed and validated it as the greatest commandment. Therefore, as those created by this Almighty God, this is our highest call.

There are many commands and principles in the Bible. Sometimes, it is hard to keep them all straight. However, Jesus said this command, and the next greatest command, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves, encompass all of the Law and Prophets. In other words, every other commandment given by God falls under these two (Matthew 22:37-40). For me, this is freeing. I don’t have to remember a long list of dos and don’ts. I give myself to Him through a life of love and devotion and He will work in me to fulfill the whole of His law.

On the other hand, it is an enormous task. To love the Lord with my whole being is a great challenge. In fact, on my own, it is impossible (more on that next week). It involves a total and complete devotion to the Lord.

It involves loving the Lord with my mind. This means that I seek to know Who He is in a greater way on a daily basis. I must pour His truth into my mind, conforming my thinking to His thoughts. But growing in knowledge is not enough. As my knowledge of God and His character and ways increases, my devotion for Him should grow as well. My relationship with God should become deeper and richer. My love for God and my joy in Him should be expanding every day. Then, as my knowledge and devotion deepen, I should grow in my giving myself in service and living out my life in obedience to God, loving God with all of my soul and strength.

The conflict arises when we think we can have one of these aspects without the others. Even though we don’t think it, practically we live it out. Ultimately, we live a lopsided life, overemphasizing one aspect of our lives. We get a lot of head knowledge, but have little love for God or don’t live in obedience. Or maybe we love God, what we know of Him anyway. But we don’t grow in our knowledge of God and the faith, so our love is ignorant and uniformed and we often live lives based on our own wisdom or fantasies, rather the truth. Or maybe we are very busy serving God, but we don’t spend time renewing our minds with His Word or we have little devotion for Him. Our service has become obligation, not a life lived in joy and love for God.

All of these options are less than best. That is why I think God contained all of the aspects into one command, to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Without one, the others are incomplete. The result is a relationship that is lacking and not fruitful, just as marriage that is not fully devoted in all aspects.

God wants all of us, not just part of us. It is not that God is needy or greedy. He knows that there is no greater fulfillment and joy for us that can be found in any other person, place, or thing. Our highest joy is found in loving Him with all that we are. The pursuit of the life of worship begins with this call. Let us seek to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is no higher calling.

Together for His glory…

The Incredible Impact of Love

A couple of weeks ago, my family attended the funeral of my wife’s grandmother. She was 97 when she died. The visitation and funeral were attended by many family and friends. As we were driving to the cemetery following the service, I looked at the long line of cars in front of us. I looked in the rearview mirror to see the long line of cars behind us, going out of my range of sight. I looked at the cars stopped on the other side of the road, watching the long procession go by. I could tell, by the expression on some of their faces, that they were wondering who this person was, that so many people were attending the funeral. It must be someone really important.

As we continued to drive, I asked my wife if she knew what was significant about this long procession of cars. She gave me an answer or two, but it was not the answer I was looking for. Grandma Ray had a large family. Her obituary states that she had nine children, twenty-two grandchildren, thirty-two great-grandchildren, and twenty-three great-great-grandchildren. The sheer number of this group, especially if you add in spouses, could make for a large turnout. However, I have known of people with large families who would not have many attend their funeral. In Grandma Ray’s case, many of the family did attend. Many friends attended as well. Why?

Grandma Ray cared for others. With a family this large, it would be easy for people to fall through the cracks. But no matter how old or young, whether you came by frequently or seldom, whether your life was a mess or you seemed to have it all together, whether you had been in the family more than 70 years or just a day, you were always welcome at Grandma’s house.

Grandma Ray probably did not think that she was anyone of great importance. She was just a regular person. In the eyes of the larger world, most people would not know who she was. Neither Hollywood nor Washington DC ever came knocking on her door. But if you ask her family and those whose lives of families she touched over the years through babysitting or ironing (which she did almost up to the very end), they would tell you that Grandma impacted their lives significantly. And they will tell generations to come about their mom, mother-in-law, grandma, babysitter, and friend, and about what a special person she was.

This is the message I wanted my wife to hear. Many people do not see themselves as great persons, highly gifted and influential. They don’t figure that their lives make much of a difference. And yet, I believe that, most of the times, it is the regular people that God uses to make the biggest impact in other’s lives. I think that Scripture teaches this.

The Bible teaches that it is servants who make the biggest impact for the kingdom of God and that to be the greatest, you must be a servant. Only if we humble ourselves will we be exalted in God’s eyes. Even Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life up as a sacrifice (Matthew 20:25-28; 23:11-12). In fact, God chooses to use those who not viewed as great in the eyes of the world (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). God uses these people to demonstrate His love to others. I believe this is why Grandma Ray’s life impacted so many. She was trusting in God and the sacrifice of Jesus for her life. And God’s loved worked through her life in a loving and sacrificial way that impacted many others.

God’s love is amazing, beyond our comprehension. When we receive the life He offers us through Christ, He pours His love into our lives. But it is not just for our benefit. It is for the benefit of others as well. Therefore, we become a means of God showing His love to others. He uses our lives to touch others with His love. By His grace we are saved, not by our good works, but as a gift from God, in order that we might do the good works that He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:8-10).

I believe that Grandma Ray’s life was an outpouring of this love from God. The impact of her life could be clearly seen from those who came to pay their tribute to her that day. It is a reminder that God has specially created each one of us. Today, if you think you are not specially gifted or talented and that you will never be able to do great things, you need to think again. In fact, if you think you have anything to offer to God, you also need to think again. Those who come with empty hands before God can be used to share His love in ways that will impact others for generations. The life of worship is not doing big things for God. It is being faithful to share the love of Christ as we walk along the way. God may use us to do some big things, but most of the time, it will involve being faithful to serve and touch the lives of those we meet. God will use us in ways we could never imagine. The world may never notice, but our eternal reward will be great. And God will use us to impact others with His love.

Together for His glory…

Spotted Dishes and Wrinkled Shirts

Yesterday and today, I wore a wrinkled shirt. Seems kind of strange, I know, but I had my reasons.

Earlier this week, my wife and I spent a day out, going to lunch and doing some Christmas shopping. Our oldest son graciously agreed to stay at home with our youngest son, Caleb, so we would have the day out together. I have always been very thankful for how our older sons, and now also our daughter-in-law, have been so willing to spend time with and care for their brother. Even though they have busy lives, they will help out with “man-sitting” whenever they are able. “Man-sitting” is, of course, another one of those Caleb coined phrases called “Calebisms.” It was first used a number of years ago, when he did not appreciate the term “baby-sitting” being used to refer to someone taking care of him for a day.

Returning to the topic, my wife and I were spending the day out together. When we arrived back home, we walked in the door and noticed the dishes were all done. Our oldest was sitting on the couch and my wife asked if he had done the dishes. He said that Caleb had done them. He then proceeded to tell us that Caleb had also done a load of laundry. He had decided to wash our dress clothes. I walked back to our room and saw the pile of clean clothes on the bed. Normally, when our hang-up clothes come out of the dryer, they go straight to the hanger. However, Caleb, not being a normal part of doing the dress clothes, did not do this. So, the clothes were in a big, wrinkled pile.

My wife said to me that she would re-do them, but I told her not to. I would wear the shirts wrinkled. It would be a reminder that our son did something special for us. Besides, what are a few wrinkles, right? She did, however, rewash the dishes. There were quite a few missed places. But the point is, however, Caleb was trying to do something special for us and it was meaningful to us.

As we go through our lives as Christians, I think there are many times when we try to do things for God. For some, they may do this out of obligation, only because they think they have to or because they think it earns them points with God. Neither of these attitudes is reflective of what God wants for our lives. But when we, out of love and gratitude for God, respond in celebration and service to Him and others, it reflects a genuine life that wants to be a part of doing something special with and for God.

And yet, we are limited and flawed human beings. How can we offer anything of value to the eternal God Who possesses everything? The same way our children offer something to us, such as taking care of their brother or trying to wash dishes and do the laundry. They demonstrate their love for us. When we think of all of the things we have tried to accomplish over the years as Christians, it must be a wonderful assortment of spotty dishes and wrinkle shirts in God’s collection.

I don’t know how God fully operates, for Who can fully know the mind of the Lord? However, I know from His Word that He delights in His children and rejoices when they rejoice in Him. We can never earn His favor or approval through good works. But we can express our love and gratitude for Him through a pursuit to know Him better and living to glorify Him and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. No, our human efforts will never be perfect, but when done out of love for God, I believe they are a fragrant offering to Him, just like a wrinkled shirt.

Together for His glory…

Do I Love You More Than Before?

I do not love my wife the same as I did when we were married. We have both changed over the years. Our relationship has changed. Our roles have adjusted and shifted during our years together. We are several years older. It is just not the same as it used to be.

Cheryl and I met when we were in 7th grade. I was interested in her from the first time I saw her, but we attended different school districts, so I did not see her that often. In high school, she started attending our church. We knew each other on a surface level until we reached our junior year of high school, which is when we started dating. Our relationship was very serious from the beginning. By the spring of our junior year, we had already discussed marriage. By our senior year, we had started discussing timelines. My father, seeing where this was all going, said he wanted us to wait to get married until we had finished two years of college, which we agree to do. We set the wedding date for the weekend following finals of our sophomore year!

Our dating and engaged years had been filled with time spent together, going on dates, spending time with family, church and youth group events, and many phone conversations. The first two years of college were spent in different parts of the state, so there had been many letters, cards, and phone calls (and phone bills). About every four or five weeks, I would make the drive across the state. We would spend every second possible with each other. As the wedding drew near, I started coming back every other week. I could not stay away. Then, we were married, and things began to change.

Life happened. Our first son was born. I graduated college. I attended seminary. Our second son was born. I worked in ministry. I left seminary. Our third son was born. We returned home to St. Louis. We lived with parents. I worked various jobs. We moved out on our own. Then, we lived with parents again. We moved out again. After nine moves in thirteen years, we finally lived in the same home for fifteen years. I worked the same job for over 15 years, while working in ministry also. Cheryl homeschooled our children. Two of our sons went to college, graduated, and got jobs. Our first grandson was born. One of our sons was married. And so life continued.

As I said, things in our relationship were changing during these years. You may think I mean that they changed for the worse, but that is not the case. Oh, we had, and have, periods of struggle and distance in our life and relationship together. However, as the years have passed, our relationship has grown deeper – richer. There are times of backtracking, but we have eventually been guided and worked through those things and move forward. So, today, I can honestly say that I do not love my wife the same as I did when we were married. I love her far more.

We have weathered trials, uncertainty, failings, and sorrows together. We have celebrated victories, joys, and many special moments together. I have seen her giftedness, compassion, and giving spirit displayed on a level that I could only hope to duplicate. She has endured with me when I am at my best and when I am at my worst. She knows me better than any other human being on this planet, and she loves me anyway. I can be a royal pain to live with. I have a personality that can be annoying and flat out depressing. I have a tone (so I have been told) that can come across as very critical, especially with those I am the most comfortable with. Cheryl sees more of this than anyone. Yet, she still loves me and puts up with me. And Cheryl, my love, if I had it to do all over again, I would choose you, every time.

Our love for each other is great, but it is limited and imperfect. There is a love far greater – a perfect love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:14-19).  This past Sunday our pastor taught from Philippians 3:1-11. Here, the apostle Paul speaks of the exceeding greatness of knowing Christ and that there is nothing else in life that can even compare with it. Jesus Christ bore the punishment and shame that belonged to us. He took upon Himself the judgment of the Father for my sin and your sin – the sin of every human being that has lived, is living, and will ever live. He also bore the pain of our sorrows and suffering – every evil that is the result of sin (Isaiah 53:4-6). The weight of it all was placed on Him on the cross. Just the sorrow and weight of anticipation of the cross was almost enough to kill Jesus (Matthew 26:36). Any sin we have sinned and any pain or sorrow we have suffered – Christ bore them all. He endured it all for the glory of the Father and to provide our redemption. He died to save us and set us free.

So, the question I ask myself is how well do I know Jesus today? Do I love Him more than when I first started on my journey with Him? Have I taken advantage of the time I have been given to grow in knowledge of Who He is and what He has done in my life? Can I say, with the apostle Paul, that I consider everything else a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ? That is pretty tough stuff. That is a pretty high standard and regardless of how I answer this question right now, it also provides motivation for me to continue the journey. Because what Paul is saying is that I will find no greater joy and satisfaction in life than through knowing and following Christ. It is to my advantage, as a follower of Christ, to pursue Him. And the more I know of Christ, the more I will love Him and want to become more like Him. Christ, working and dwelling in me, will transform me.

I love my wife more now because of the journey we have traveled together and because she knows me even better than at the start, and yet still loves me. That makes her more precious to me. Jesus Christ knows everything about me and, in love, drew me to Himself so that I would reach out my hand to Him. He saved me and is renewing me daily into His image. He never grows in knowledge of me. He knew me completely before I was born, and loved me still. I, however, can grow in knowledge of Him through His Word and His work in my life. And as I grow in knowledge of God’s glory and holiness, I better understand how far from that I am. I become more aware of how amazing and unbelievable the love of Christ is. I understand more clearly how hopeless I would be without Him. I am grateful for His mercy to me, a sinner. I know that I have so much more to learn, but I want to know Him better because as each page of discovery opens before my eyes, it is better than the one before. If we open our eyes, God will never cease to amaze us – every day and for all eternity.

Do I love Him more than I once did? I would like to think so. Only God really knows. I long to know and love Him more because I know that is where true joy and satisfaction is found. Let us spur one another on to a greater knowledge and love of our great Savior.

Together for His glory…