Have You Seen Him Lately?

Every Person

When Jesus walked this earth he was seen by sinners, saints, rich, poor, insiders, outsiders, Jews, gentiles, believers and non-believers.

In John chapter one, he records, “The Word(Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory.”

We have seen his glory.

I think of the woman at the well, the shame of five failed marriages, an outcast in her own village, soul parched and empty, going back to tell them about this man she had met, transformed by his gentleness and grace, embraced by salvation’s story, declaring His kindness is better than life and this Samaritan woman sees his glory.

I think of the Prodigal son, ashamed of his past, hopeless in his present and fearful of his future, sitting at the banquet table that was set for his return, overwhelmed by his father’s unreasonable mercy, renewed by his Abba’s love and this rebellious, forgiven prodigal sees his glory.

I think about Zaccheaus, insecure, empty, shallow, crooked, betrayer of his own people, sliding down the lookout tree as fast as he could, generosity springing forth out of his bones, transformed by God’s patience, going home to have dinner with the giver of undeserved gifts and this remorseful tax collector sees his glory.

I think of the woman, ashamed of her past, tears in her eyes, anointing the feet of the one who did not judge her.
And while the religious voyeurs are scoffing and condemning, hearts of stone, the son of man looks deep in her eyes and for the first time there is a man who does not want to take something from her but wants to give her everlasting worth and she is restored by her master’s touch and this abused woman see his glory.

I think of 10 men, full of sores, untouchable, being touched by Emanuel, God with us, no longer exiled, future renewed, dignity restored by Jehovah’s power. And strangely, only one comes back to thank him and this grateful, healed man sees his glory.

I think the same gentleness and grace, the same unreasonable mercy, the same undeserved gifts, the same everlasting worth and healing power is available to every broken, rebellious, wayward, ailing, greedy, lust filled, wronged and mistreated person today when we choose to SEE and RECEIVE HIS GLORY.

Have you seen Jesus and his glory lately?

Today, we see Jesus dwelling among us and glimpses of his glory through the church.

When a man, homeless, broken by drugs, hopeless about the future, shows up to church on a Sunday morning, and instead of being judged is served, loved and given shelter, we see the hands and feet of Jesus, dwelling among us and in a tender, affecting way, we have seen his glory.

When a family, devastated from the loss of their teenage son, receives gentle love and deep care by a group of selfless volunteers called the funeral support and grief share team, amidst the sadness and the tears, we see the hands and feet of Jesus, dwelling among us, and in a heartbreaking, counterintuitive way, we have seen his glory.

When broken couples get fixed, wandering students find direction, empty bellies get filled, tired hearts get renewed, restless souls find peace, guilt ridden lives get set free, and lonely wanderers find a home, over and over, we see the hands and feet of Jesus, dwelling among us, and in obvious ways and not so obvious ways, we have seen his glory.

Tell me some ways you have seen Jesus and his glory lately.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.” ― Teresa of Ávila

From Charity to Justice

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St. Francis once said, “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. For it is in giving that we receive.”

Being involved in charity, which is not a bad thing, means to give to a person or an organization who will be doing the reaching down and the lifting up of people.

They are what you would call, a middleman, buffering you from the actual experience of reaching and lifting.

Charity allows you to help someone or a group of people without having to experience the pain or discomfort or inconvenience of what they are going through. Charity protects you.

But charity also robs you. It robs you of depth, purpose and the joy that can only come from reaching down and lifting up the people that your charity has actually protected you from. Charity can actually distance you from God.

Did I say that charity is not bad? I think I did. And it’s true. We need charity. We need generosity. We need to give to causes that we cannot personally be involved with.

Organizations that are on the front lines of war, disease, hunger and extreme poverty need our charity.

Yet…ultimately, God is not a God of charity but a God of justice. And because God is a God of justice, then so must we.

Justice is about a young girl in Africa having the same rights and opportunities as a young girl in the United States.

Justice is about a mother in Guatemala having the same access to medical care as a mother in the U.K.

Justice is about an inner city student being given the same quality education as an upper class suburban student. Bill Gates has said that “Until we’re educating every kid in a fantastic way, until every inner city is cleaned up, there is no shortage of things to do.”

Justice is about a foster child in America receiving a family support system that will propel them towards a sustainable future.

Justice is about a hungry belly at the bottom of the caste system in India having the same access to food as the bulging bellies of the upper caste system.

Justice is harder than charity.
Justice demands results.
Justice requires skin in the game.
Justice means sometimes eliminating the middleman.
Justice means we have to get our hands dirty, our knees skinned, our ego’s humbled and our comfort shaken.
Justice means we must learn to get along with each other so we can accomplish a greater good.

Justice is harder than charity, but it is exactly in these hard places that we see and experience the heart of God.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

He also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, which reminds us that we must be involved in local and global justice.

I am not sure if you will meet God in a worship service and I am not sure you will meet God in a sermon(there are some bad ones out there), but I am sure that you will meet God when you get involved in justice.

Shane Claiborne says “Charity can function to keep the wealthy sane. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, also function as outlets that allow Christians to pay off their consciences while avoiding a revolution of lifestyle. People do their time in a social program or distribute food and clothes through organizations which take their excess. That way, they never actually have to face the poor and give their clothes, their food, their beds. Wealthy Christians never actually have to be with poor people, with Christ in disguise.”

This is counterintuitive to our segregated, protected, “stand at a distance” kind of church life, but we must not just care about the poor, or give to the poor but we must meet, hang out, know, befriend and touch the poor.

Shane Claiborne goes on to say, “But when we get to heaven and are separated into sheep and goats (Matt. 25), I don’t believe Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me” or “When I was naked, you donated to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He is seeking concrete actions: “You fed me, … you visited me, … you welcomed me in, … you clothed me.…” If we are to truly be the church, poverty must become a face we recognize as our own kin.” http://www.thesimpleway.org/resources/content/downward-mobility-in-an-upscale-world-by-shane-claiborne/

When Jesus says feed, shelter, comfort, visit, clothe,  you are doing justice and it can be difficult but that is where you will meet him and you will experience a joy that cannot be taken away.

When the prophet Isaiah says to defend the defenseless and to fight corruption and abuse, you are doing justice and it can be painful, but that is where you meet the God of Justice and your legacy will be as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of cities, and you’ll experience a sense of fulfillment that you have been  searching for.

When the writer of Proverbs says that when you give to the poor, you are lending to God and he will repay you well, you are doing justice, and it may be cause you to have to change your lifestyle, but you will learn to trust the God who will provide for your every need and you’ll experience a spirit of generosity that will set you free.

God simply asks us to show up, for a grieving mother, a lonely elder, a sick child, a hungry family, a struggling addict, a lost soul, and as we show up, though we can’t solve everyone’s problems, somehow God uses us as agents of healing and miracles happen.

I see it all the time, by just showing up.

A few Saturday mornings ago, 250 people showed up to my church campus at 8am in the morning. All in glow-in-the-dark t-shirts.

What were they doing? Where were they going?

They showed up to love forgotten seniors by fixing abandoned decks and to build liberating wheel-chair ramps.

They showed up to plant 1600 life giving vegetable so that hungry families can eat nutritious food this year.

They showed up to bring dignity where there was too little and hope where there was only despair.

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250 people.

Saturday morning, 8am.

What were they doing?

They were doing justice.

They were meeting Jesus in disguise.

I challenge people who call themselves Christians to show up.

Show up in your own backyard where orphans are called foster children, to the jungles of Peru where mosquito’s kill children, to the slums of India where young girls are violated, to the famine deserts of Africa where bloated bellies scream for nourishment, to the inner cities of America where young men are growing up fatherless and drug dealing is the career of choice, I challenge you to show up.

For big causes of justice and small causes of justice, show up!

Albert Einstein said, “In matters of justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.”

When the Church is at its Best

dig•ni•ty/ˈdignitē/ Noun: The state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.

What do a single senior veteran, a senior widow, a senior widower living alone suffering from Parkinson’s, a seniors mobile home park, another senior widow, a single woman who is trying to care for her quadriplegic father, a disabled senior man, another single senior woman, a transition house for girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking, another single senior woman, and 65 year old woman who is terminally ill with cancer that has metastasized throughout her body have in common?

They were all served by my church on a Saturday morning by about 120 volunteers.

Racking, mowing and weeding of yards and property, painting of homes, repairing of roofs, building of fences, replacing of trim from dry rot, building and staining of decks, the pouring of concrete to fit walkers and wheelchairs, cleaning and repairing inside of homes, repairing of retaining walls, installing of gutters and so much more were involved on this Saturday.

What else do these precious people have in common? Most of them have never attended any of our church services.

They are the forgotten people that our culture so easily throws away.

Jesus told us to take care of the forgotten, seemingly unimportant people in our neighborhoods.

I am thankful that my churches philosophy is to take care of “the least of these.”

I am also thankful that my churches philosophy is that we consider everyone who lives in our community part of our church, whether they attend our services or not.

I am grateful for these days of service, not just because we get to bless someone who needs help.

I am grateful for these days, selfishly, because I think we are the ones most blessed.

When the church is offering DIGNITY, I think it is at its best!

While these service projects were going on all around our community on this beautiful fall Saturday morning, there were some beautiful things happening on our church campus as well, that happen every Saturday morning, 52 weeks a year.

Around three hundred people were fed a warm breakfast, while waiting to pick up a bag of groceries and a bag of vegetables grown from our churches organic garden, to help them get through the week.

Around 1500 articles of clothing were given away from our clothing ministry.

These precious people consist of senior citizens, single parents, families going through difficult financial times and a portion who are homeless.

Every Saturday morning, people come through our doors and experience not only physical food but they also experience spiritual and emotional and relational food as they experience words of encouragement and hope, and are treated with God’s grace.

When the church is offering DIGNITY, I think it is at its best!

While this is happening inside our church, every Saturday our garden team shows up to help produce hundreds of pounds of potatoes, squash, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, pumpkins, radishes, cucumbers and so much more.

While this is happening at our garden, there is another ministry happening not far, cutting and splitting wood so that people will have warm homes during the cold winters.

Over the last few years, we have averaged giving away around 150 truck loads of wood to the elderly, single moms and to those who cannot afford to heat their homes.

A certain word comes to mind…DIGNITY!

On any given Saturday, over 100 volunteers make this happen. They would tell you it’s the best day of their week.

On Monday and Tuesday nights we have an auto ministry where men and women come and fix cars so they can be given to single parents, families and seniors who are in need of reliable transportation to get them to work, to school, to the doctor and even to church.

A certain word comes to mind…DIGNITY!

I love my church.

We are not perfect, but I see so many volunteers using their time, strengths and resources to bring dignity to those that are overlooked and marginalized.

I see how loving people in tangible, practical ways, in Jesus name (dignity) is transforming lives and changing our community.

I see homeless people getting back on their feet and finding jobs and being able to afford shelter. (Dignity)

I see addicted people being set free from the burden of addictions. (Dignity)

I see lonely, forgotten senior citizens finding new hope and new friendships. (Dignity)

I see single moms, overwhelmed by the pace of life, being offered resources to keep them going, allowing them to not give up, but to finish their race. (Dignity)

I see people who were far from God, entering into a new eternal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. (Dignity)

I see people who came to our church to get help, resources and hope (Dignity), now offering that same help, resources and hope (Dignity) to others.

I see the impact my church has in our community through the selfless acts of hundreds of volunteers and I often ask this one question.

With around 450,000 churches in the United States, I wonder what our country would look like if every church would get involved in a volunteer revolution offering in Jesus name, dignity.

In the words of Bill Wilson, “We want God to touch our country, but God is asking us to touch our country.”

When the church is offering DIGNITY, I think it is at its best!

And I think our country and world is at its best when the church is at its best.

Just a few thoughts, let me know what you think?

Throwing Stones

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Anne Lamott

Many of us have felt the emotional sting of being judged.

A high school girl feels the rejection of not fitting in the “in crowd.”

A divorced person feels the shame of married friends looking at her like she is a failure.

A person of Arab descent, feels the looks of people all around him as he sits in an airport waiting to visit family.

A single mom struggling to make ends meet, her car 15 years old, clothes not the latest fashion, she notices that when she is in a crowd, she seems to be invisible.

A man struggling with addiction, has lost his family and messed up his career, is afraid to talk to anyone about his issues, for fear of being judged.

We have all felt the sting of being judged.

It is a sting that stays with us far after the judgment has been rendered.

You may feel that sting right now.

Jesus said, “I have come to save the world and not to judge it.”

Jesus knew the sting of being judged.

Jesus once spoke, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgments you give are the judgments you will get, and the standard you use will be the standard used for you.”

Have you ever judged someone because they were different than you?

Please be honest with this question.

I do not want lightning to strike while you are reading this.

A couple of years ago I was working on a weekend message at a coffee shop.

As I was working on a message that I am sure had to do with the love of God, I saw from the corner of my eye a young man walk through the doors that was tatted up, wearing skinny jeans(ouch!) and a very tight tank top.

He came strutting in like he owned the place.

I do not have an issue with tattoos, but I did not like his body language. Plus his jeans made me hurt.

I instantly identified what this kid was all about.

He was a pompous, insecure, “life is all about me” kind of guy. You could just tell.

That all came to me during the 30 seconds I looked at him standing in line to get a cup of coffee or for him probably a frappuccino.

I quickly got back to my message about God’s love.

About 5 minutes later I noticed someone standing real close to me.

I tried to ignore this someone because I was putting together a message about the love of God.

But it got a little awkward, so I looked up, and standing there was this skinny-jeaned, frappuccino loving, arrogant punk.

Great. Now what?

Before I could say anything he gently put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You are the pastor at Green Valley aren’t you?”

I didn’t think it was a trick question, so I said, “Yes I am.”

In my mind I was telling him to please hurry, I have to get this sermon on God’s love done.

He smiled and said, “I want to thank you so much for all your church does. I have lived a pretty rough life, and I found Jesus and acceptance and recovery at your church.”

He then started getting emotional, and I started feeling like a complete idiot, and he finished with, “And now I am starting to volunteer with high school students at the church helping them get on a good path, so they don’t have to experience what I have experienced.”

He thanked me again and walked off with a smile on his face.

I tell you that story to show you what a spiritual giant I truly am.

You and I were made to be in the life-saving business, not in the judging business.

The Apostle Paul once said, “Accept one another.”

Those 3 words create a very powerful sentence.

To accept someone means to be FOR THEM.

It does not mean to approve of everything they do.
It means to want what is best for them, no matter what they do.

Judging is the opposite of accepting.

A great example of Jesus accepting someone was when a woman who was caught in adultery by the religious “peeping tom” leaders wanted to kill her with stones.

They said it was Moses’ law and they needed to obey the law.

Jesus said, “That is the law, so why doesn’t the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”

No one could throw the stone(judge), because everyone had sinned.

Let me ask you a question:
HAVE YOU EVER HELD A STONE IN YOUR HAND?

I think of myself as a pretty compassionate person, but I know I have.

Maybe that stone is:
A judgmental thought or comment about another race or culture.
A self-righteous attitude towards those who are involved in a destructive sin.
Gossiping or belittling someone who has a different political or theological view.

FACT: The energy you use holding on to the stone begins to drain the ability to love out of you heart.

It’s hard to be in the life-saving business when your heart is empty of love.

Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

The scriptures say Jesus was a friend of sinners.

They liked being around him and longed for his company.

Meanwhile, legalists found him threatening and morally soft.

The legalist separated “loving God” from “loving people.”

THEY THOUGHT IT WAS POSSIBLE TO LOVE GOD and THROW STONES.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the judgmental, the self-righteous, are in that danger.”

Jesus said “Let him who is without sin among you throw the first stone.”

What might a family, community or our world look like if nobody were to pick up a stone?

You have any stones you need to let go of?

SHARE WITH ME SOME OF THE STONES YOU HAVE HAD TO DROP IN ORDER TO JOIN JESUS IN THE LIFE SAVING BUSINESS.

SHARE WITH ME WHAT YOU THINK OUR WORLD WOULD LOOK LIKE IF NOBODY PICKED UP A STONE.

The World Needs More Parties

God loves to party.

The Old Testament is filled with parties.

Jesus said that Heaven has a party every time someone decides to follow him.
Jesus spent a lot of time at parties with friends and soon to be friends.

When Jesus was at parties, it bothered the religious leaders of the day who seemed to have their halos on a little too tight.

God’s parties are a lot better than other kinds of parties.

You will never have a bad hangover after one of God’s parties.
You will never have any regrets after one of God’s parties.
You will never find yourself lying on the floor around the toilet making deals with God after one of God’s parties. (Some of you who attended college know exactly what I mean.)

God’s parties are regret free, energizing and can be very addictive.

Tony Campolo writes about John Carlson, a pastor in Minnesota, who gained national attention when he came up with an innovative idea that there should be a special party the night of the senior prom for those who did not have dates.

The pain of not getting asked to the prom can be very demoralizing.

Usually these kids have taken years of abuse at their school as being outsiders and the prom simply provides the finishing blow.

John Carlson thought this was not the kind of party that Jesus would have liked.
It was too exclusive. It seemed to be reserved for the beautiful and the popular.

John planned an alternative prom called the reject prom.
Those who did not have dates were especially invited and the kids loved it.

The reject prom was held the same night as the senior prom and it turned out to be far more fun than the actual senior prom.

Each year the numbers grew. The party got press coverage. The reject prom began to get corporate sponsorship.

It wasn’t long before some of the kids who could get dates and go to the “normal” prom decided not to go.

They preferred to join in the good time that the “rejects” were having at their party.

Tony writes “It’s the kind of party that God ordered in Deuteronomy 14:22-30, where the special orders were to make widows, orphans, the crippled and the blind the guests of honor!!”

Jesus’ party instructions were, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

One of the biggest “Jesus” parties that I have had the privilege of being a part of recently was my churches Thanksgiving Banquet.

It was for those who were going through difficult economic times.
It was for the lonely, the elderly, the forgotten, the homeless or anybody who just needed a warm meal.

People came expecting a food line where they would be handed food and told to keep moving.

What they experienced was something totally different.

We had decorated our food café with linen table clothes, some of our best china and gorgeous centerpieces.

We had happy live music playing.

We had greeters at the door dressed in black and white, who welcomed our guests and directed them to their assigned table where their hosts greeted them as their dinner guests.

Separate servers served drinks, and volunteer chefs cooked the most exquisite five-star thanksgiving meal with some of the most fattening desserts that could be made.

Our guests sat, relaxed, laughed, filled their stomachs and felt valued and loved.

We ended up feeding 500 guests that day, with about 150 volunteers, serving, cooking, welcoming, singing, laughing and crying together!

It was an event that is reshaping the way we do parties.
It has changed the way we do our weekly food and clothing giveaway.

I met one gentleman that day who was all alone.

He had burned bridges with his grown-up kids because of his alcohol addiction.
He was blown away that the banquet was for him.
He came back the next week to church and told me he had not had a drink since the banquet.
I began to see him every week after the banquet and 6 months later, he has still not had a drink.
His kids have noticed a huge change in him, and as I write this, he is having regular visits with his kids and reconciliation is happening.

It started simply with a “Jesus” party.

Jesus said, “Listen, if you follow me, don’t throw parties for people who can give you something back in return for that will be your reward. Throw parties and invite people who can’t do any thing for you, and not only will they be blessed but then I will be the one to reward you.”

I don’t think the world is partying too much.
I just think they are having the wrong kind of parties!

I think the church should find ways to party more often.

I challenge you to carve out time from your busy schedule to get involved with more “Jesus” parties.

You will experience an addiction that you will not want or need to overcome.