Last week, as our church (along with numerous churches around the country) conducted business as usual, carrying on our regular Sunday morning worship services, one of our sister churches was attacked by an armed man intent on disrupting and destroying lives. This is not the first time such a tragedy has occurred in recent days. Not long ago, a church outside of Nashville, TN was visited by a gunman, before that is the record of a Wednesday prayer meeting in North Carolina attended by and then shot up; only eight years ago, a beloved Baptist pastor in our own state was murdered in his pulpit, and the list goes on.

“What can I do?” is the question that hounds those of us who watch the terror unfold in our country.

Other atrocities also face our modern society: human trafficking, domestic abuse, and abortion to name a few.

“What can I do?” we repeat again, because we feel alone and overwhelmed. “I am just one man/woman.” We reason.

And today, a day that has been designated as a day to bring light to the needs of thousands of orphaned children around the world, we continue to cry out, “What can I do?”

Perhaps I can suggest that we start on our knees, praying for the kinds of needs mentioned, but don’t let us assume that this is adequate. Continue to pray, after praying for the comfort and healing of those affected by these tragedies, and ask God to open your eyes, my eyes, to a tangible response that I, you, we can do to address the hurt, the need. Then having pray, do what God has opened your eyes to.

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.—Isaiah 1:17

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Godliness is wrapped up in a package: beginning with faith, adding goodness, to which is added knowledge, then self-control, perseverance, godliness, and mutual affection. The bow with which the package is tied is love. (Note: 2 Peter 1:5-7) Not just any love, but the best kind of love.

From the Greeks we learn that there are levels of love. At the lowest level is a purely physical kind of attraction which is included in our desire to fulfill our own wishes. This is what spurs on statements like, “I love chocolate or bacon (maybe chocolate bacon?),” or “I love the Astros.” It bears no depth at all, and those who camp out at this level of love usually have shallow relationships with others.

Stepping up, we find what we would call brotherly love. It is the same attribute we added to our faith that we called mutual affection. At this level of relationship we place aphorisms like, “Blood is thicker than water,” reminding us that those who are close to us (family, intimate friends) deserve more than a passing nod on the street.

But the love that unifies all of the other attributes of a godly life is a self-sacrificing love. It is the kind of love that drills down to the core of our being making us willing to give up preference, comfort, and even life for the welfare of another—even another who might prove to be ungrateful or unresponsive to that act of sacrifice. The love that Christians aspire to is this selfless kind of love that embodies what real love (the love of choice). It is our goal.

Let us raise our level of love.

“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” —Jesus, John 15:13

Okay, so it’s a beer commercial. And it’s from years ago. But there’s something that happened because of this ad campaign: it legitimized the option for men to show affection to one another—“I love you, Man!”

My big question is: why did it take the beer industry to make mutual affection between brothers legitimate? Mutual affection (or brotherly love, if you prefer) has been in the DNA of the church since its inception in the first century. We are not talking about the purple dinosaur singing, “I love you, you love me . . .” to the tune of “This Old Man” but about the genuine concern that the family of Christ has for one another.

Sadly, the church has slipped out of the habit of openly loving one another. It seems that we (the Bride of Christ) are developing a reputation for back-biting, distrust, and negativity, when we should be building a reputation of mutual love, admiration, and joy.

Today, let us make a conscious decision to be positive with one another, to express love one to another, and to lift one another up. If we can do this we may begin to show the world a life that is worth their attention, their time, and eventually their acceptance.

 

“Let brotherly love continue. Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.—Hebrews 13:1-2

My personal vision statement says, “It is my desire to become more like Jesus in order to help others become more like Jesus.” This is a giant wish, but it is one that I think is healthy for Christ-followers. I understand that Jesus, the Son of God, is perfect. I am not. When Jesus took on flesh to walk this earth as a man, the Son of Man, He did so in perfection and without sin. I do not. Even so, each day I can (with the help of the Holy Spirit) be more like Jesus than I was the day before. My constant prayer is, “More like Jesus today than yesterday; more like Him now than ten minutes ago.”

The goal, then is to be more godly—on a constant basis. And believe it or not, I get help in this endeavor from my local church. If I am to add godliness to my faith-filled life, I must make godly practices a part of that life. Daily time with Jesus in Bible study and prayer, constant submission to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in my daily activity, and regular gathering with God’s people for the purpose of service and worship toward God help me become more like Jesus—who was ever in touch with His heavenly Father.

If, for instance I made the kind of commitment to my local church family that early believers did in the first century church (they met together on a daily basis for worship and then rotated hospitality duties for meals). The result was more new believers daily. If we want to be more godly (more like Jesus), then we must make a commitment to God that includes sincere love for His church.

 

“Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”  —Acts 2:46-47

Like many who are reading this today, I grew up with a story that taught me to “stick with it.” The story written by Watty Piper eighty-seven years ago is about a little train engine that has to take over for a bigger engine that has broken down. The trouble is that the tracks take them over a steep hill, and no one is sure whether the little engine is able to pull the heavy train over the hill to get it to the other side. All the way up the hill, the engine pulls and pulls saying to himself in true chug-chug fashion, “I think I can, I think I can.” Upon arrival at the destination station, the smiling engine rests with the words “I thought I could, I thought I could,” echoing through his smokestack.

You might argue that this is a story about positive thinking, but if you look closely you will discover that it is really a story about perseverance. Even when the task is long and hard and arduous, don’t listen to the nay-sayers and pessimists who will continually try to convince you that it can’t be done. Instead, remind yourself—especially in light of your relationship with Jesus—that staying the course and holding on until the task is complete brings the rewards that caving in to negativity will rob you of.

And always remember the best thought that will help you stick it out until completion:

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.—Philippians 4:13

“Ding dong! Avon Calling!” You might remember the old commercial for the make-up representatives who sold to housewives door to door.

Some calls are easier to hear and to head than others. Whenever Mom steps out on the back porch and calls, “Suppertime,” the kids come running from all directions. My father used to come to the back fence and purse his lips together emitting a shrill whistle. We recognized that as a call to come in from wherever we were. He had a different call from the pulpit when he was preaching—to call one of his four errant children into line, he simply snapped his fingers. I don’t think anyone in the congregation noticed except the four little Potters whose ears perked up as they immediately straightened in their seats.

The call of Jesus is a like that. Some hear it clearly while others miss or almost miss it. Many church members think that Jesus only calls ministerial or missionary types with a special calling. But the moment that a person responds to the offer of eternal life, there is a special call upon them. The call of Jesus to be Jesus to the world around them.

Can you hear His calling? Are you responding to His calling? Or are you simply coasting by on His grace and mercy without adjusting your ways to His?

 

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.’”   —John 20:21

Church auditoriums are really big—especially for a six-year-old boy. And while it may not seem that the second pew is very far from the altar, from a first-grade point of view the distance is a huge chasm. And that’s what it was when I surrendered to the saving power of Jesus.

Some might say, “A six-year-old boy! What does he know?” Well, I’m glad you asked. When that six-year-old boy has been given opportunity from the earliest age to hear about Jesus, to learn of God’s love, and to experience the community of the church on a regular basis, he knows a mountain of spiritual things.

For instance, God is love. Humans turned their back on God and His love through disobedience. Jesus, the very Son of God, became a man—born on a miraculous day we celebrate at Christmas—lived a sinless life, died for the sins of all mankind, rose on the third day after His burial, and will come again someday (nobody knows when).

That knowledge is the start down a road that leads a first-grader to turn his life over to Jesus for safe-keeping (which we in church circles call “salvation”). What knowledge do you have of Christ, of God, and of godly matters? Take it from a six-year-old boy: it’s better to build up your knowledge of God than to turn a deaf ear. It leads to a life of liberty and joy.

 

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’”   —John 14:6-7