Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sunday Preview - More Than We Ask

It's disappointing when something that has been overhyped fails to live up to our expectations. A good principle for business and personal dealings is to "under-promise and over-deliver." That's exactly the principle God works under. He never fails to come through and always exceeds expectations. Several times in scripture people came to Jesus for something, but they were thinking too small. He blew away their expectations and went above and beyond. The Lord still operates under this principle today. Whatever blessings He has promised us, we can be sure He will come through far beyond our wildest dreams. Join us Sunday morning as we delight in our God who does "More Than We Ask (Ephesians 3:20)."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

High Standard of Love

I was discussing marriage with some friends recently and I mentioned a little exercise I sometimes use in marriage counseling. I have couples read Paul’s great little treatise on love in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8 “Love suffers long [is patient] and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (NKJV). I tell the couple that this is what love does. It is an action, a choice, not merely an emotion. Then I say that since this is the standard of how we should be loving one another (especially our spouse), then try substituting your name every time you see the word love. The passage takes on a new meaning. The goal is to live our life and love others so that all those statements are true. I hadn’t done that exercise myself in a while so I began to go through it. 

“Rob is patient.” 

Ouch. Really Paul? We have to start there? I couldn’t get past #1 due to my wife’s laughter. Or maybe it would be because of the pained look on her face. Either way, I start the exercise with a big ole goose-egg. “Rob is kind.” OK, I think I do pretty well at this most times. Would my wife and kids agree? My co-worker? My cashier? Go down the list and see which sore spots of yours get poked. I guarantee they’re in there. I overheard a member tell a preacher once that his sermon had poked him in a sore spot. The preacher, a very compassionate and wise man, gently replied, “Brother, if I may ask, why is that spot sore?” Likely because we already know we have a weakness there. Continue down the list and see where you are coming up short: jealousy, pride, cynicism, etc. I’ll bet few would even muster a passing grade if we’re being honest. “Well thanks, Rob, for making me feel lousy about myself.” Hey, blame Paul, he started it! 

The point is not to make anyone depressed, but to challenge us to a higher standard. It is a pretty tall order, but I do know of one Man who was able to do it. Jesus Christ. Substitute His name for “love” and every word is true. 

“Jesus is patient” with me when I fail and stumble into sin again. And again. “Jesus is kind.” No one has ever been kinder. “Jesus does not envy.” Who does He have to be jealous of? “Jesus does not parade Himself and is not puffed up.” He didn’t come to earth to win fans and fill stadiums. He came to save souls by dying a humiliating death. “Jesus does not behave rudely.” Even when rebuking the Pharisees it wasn’t because He hated them, it was because they were stubbornly resisting the truth about Him to their own souls’destruction. He was merely frustrated at their foolish pride and how they tried to lead people away from the truth He was preaching. Jesus lived out the often misunderstood principle of “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” On down the list we could go. 

Perhaps my favorite part and the one which may be most encouraging to you is “Jesus hopes all things.” Jesus loves us and always hopes for the best in us. He knows our hearts and yet He still has hope that we will do the right thing. Often, we won’t, but He HOPES we will. He believes in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves. He is our cheerleader saying, “I know you fell into that sin again, but you can beat it! Get up and we’ll try again, you and Me. I’ll be right beside you.” That’s love right there. If Jesus believes in you, can’t you try to believe in yourself? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). 

“Rob never fails.” 

Sadly, this is not a true or accurate statement. But “Jesus never fails” is 100% true. Jesus has never failed and He never will. Never. In John 13:34 Jesus told His disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” That’s a pretty big challenge, as we have seen. We may fall short, okay, we WILL fall short, but let’s at least TRY to do what Jesus said. Aim for that high standard and we will certainly be closer than we were before. You can do it! May the Lord shine upon you.

In His service,
Rob Lester  <9)))><

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Been There, Avoided That

There is a great difference between empathy and sympathy, even though they are often used interchangeably. Sympathy is limited to an emotional response. You feel compassion for someone because of their suffering. We may send a “sympathy card” to express sorrow for whatever they are going through. Empathy goes beyond simple emotions. Empathy means you enter into that person’s suffering and share the experience with them. We may feel compelled to do this because we have experienced the same kind of struggle before. This might mean we can offer hope and insight into their struggle. Certainly empathy is a deeper and more intimate response. But we may carry this distinction between sympathy and empathy too far. 

In the midst of their pain, people often say you cannot relate to their struggles unless you’ve been through it yourself. This may be partly true. If I have never lost a child, struggled with addiction, or faced serious illness I may not be able to fully appreciate that situation. My advice may seem shallow or even uncaring. For example, “Why don’t you just stop doing whatever your addiction is?” If we have not been through what the person we seek to help is suffering, we should choose our words and advice very carefully. 

Maybe the best advice to give is none at all. Consider the three friends of Job who sat in silence with him for seven days before he spoke a word. They were offering love and sympathy that whole time. When they opened their mouths and began trying to “help” Job see the source of his troubles, they became “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) and only added to his suffering. For this reason, some are hesitant to offer any sympathy because they don’t know what to say and fear they will say the wrong thing. But empathy may not always be the best route after all.

Instead of rebuffing someone who hasn’t “been there” perhaps you would be wise to listen. They may not be simply preaching at you and rendering judgment on your failures. Maybe I am in a position to help you specifically BECAUSE I’ve been able to avoid falling into those traps and mistakes. Why would you want advice from someone who failed? Don’t you think I’ve been tempted to steal, lie, cheat, pursue pleasure, and take the easy way out too? Maybe my life has been better because I was able to avoid those things, therefore, maybe I can help you avoid it too. It is not necessary to swim in the filth in order to encourage someone else to get out of the hogpen. I don’t have to dive in to know that I don’t want to be in there. There is a place for both sympathy and empathy. The challenge is to know which and when.

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15 NKJV). Jesus was tempted in every way but didn't fail. That is what makes Him perfectly suited to help us. He can sympathize because He loves us and has compassion for us (Mark 6:34). He can also empathize because He endured every kind of temptation we face. The difference is that Jesus conquered every one of those challenges where we often fail. This does not disqualify Him from helping us, but rather makes Him the perfect advisor. He can offer words of wisdom and comfort unlike anyone else. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). 

In His service,
Rob Lester  <9)))><

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sunday Preview - Martha's Faith

A sacrifice is, by its definition, something that costs you. We talk about "making sacrifices" for things such as our family and careers. It is a decision we make that one thing is more important than another. Worshipers of God under the Old Testament offered sacrifices of animals, grain, and wealth. They made the decision that pleasing God and obeying His commands was more important than holding onto those things for themselves. Under the New Testament, Christians do not offer animal sacrifices, but we are still commanded to sacrifice. What should our offering be? Paul describes it in Romans 12:1 by telling us what we must offer to God and how. Join us Sunday morning as we consider what it means to be "A Living Sacrifice (Rom. 12:1)". Lazarus is remembered for being raised from the dead by Jesus Christ. His sister Mary is remembered for anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. But Lazarus' other sister Martha is usually remembered as the one busy doing housework. This should not be. While her brother Lazarus still lay dead in the tomb, in the depth of her grief Martha made a startling confession of faith in Jesus. This confession is written in John 11:27-28. It is this which she should be remembered for. Join us Sunday evening as we celebrate "Martha's Faith (John 11:27-28)." Hope to see you there!

In His service,
Rob Lester <9)))><