“and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you.”—I Thessalonians 3:12
Servants of Excellence
It was Paul who gave us I Corinthians 13, which many refer to as “The Love Chapter.” Throughout his writings we see so many times where he implores, exhorts and encourages fellow believers to love each other. If I didn’t know better, I’d think love is a big deal!
Jesus told us that the world would know we are Christians not by our ability to quote Bible verses, not by our piousness, and not even because of the “bad” things we avoid doing. Instead, Jesus told us the best way to convince others of our faith was by loving each other.
And now here is Paul, talking to the Thessalonians like a broken record about this “love” thing. Here’s a thought—maybe loving each other was difficult for those in the early days of Christianity, and it’s still a challenge today.
But love must be incredibly important to our faith.
Paul’s desire is that “the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you . . . .” But why? Why is this so vital? One possibility shows up in the next sentence, where Paul says, “so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
Paraphrasing, it looks like love brings incredible joy to God. If we have love, we have the kind of heart God adores. In truth, if we choose to love in every situation, we’re blameless before God.
Is love easy? No. We face conflict all the time, challenging our ability to love. We must deal with people who are frustrating and exasperating. To love these people with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is . . . tough!
This challenge must be why Paul uses these words to the Thessalonians to pray for them, asking the Lord to intervene and cause love to increase and abound as they try to get along with each other.
In our offices, we carry the same challenge. We’ve got great co-workers, but sometimes . . . things get a bit difficult. Maybe we don’t see a situation the same way as someone else might. Or perhaps there was a misunderstanding. Love becomes elusive in these moments.
As a reminder, let’s keep this verse in front of us. We might even pray it together from time to time. Because wouldn’t it be great if the Lord caused us to increase and abound in love for one another? If we consistently invited Him to increase and abound our love, we could go new places as a ministry. And like Jesus said, the world will take notice—and that’s a great thing to see.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Luke 5:8
Peter had a problem. All night he had cast his fishing nets out into the water with no return. None. Nothing. Nada.
The next morning Jesus showed up, asking Peter for boat access as He taught a gathering throng. Peter of course, obliged. When Jesus was finished however, Peter still had no fish. Until Jesus asked him to cast the net just one more time.
When Peter did so, we know what happened. So many fish hopped into the nets, Peter needed his friends to help keep them from breaking. A good day, for sure.
But Peter’s response sounds weird today. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Peter quickly realized that if a man could make thousands of fish appear where there were zero fish just a few minutes before, that same someone—if he got close enough to Peter—could see Peter didn’t deserve the miracle. Hence, Peter was afraid.
Yet how did Jesus respond? Did He forgive Peter? We don’t see this in the text. Did Jesus ask Peter to reconsider his sinfulness? We don’t see this, either.
What we do see is Jesus offering Peter a great opportunity to follow along. “Do not fear,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching men.”
In other words, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, Peter.”
Here’s the bottom line. Peter focused on his problem (his sinfulness). Jesus focused on Peter’s potential (“You can be a fisher of men”).
What is it about us that makes us focus on our problems? We are constantly our worst critics, pointing out our flaws and our failings. But then there is Jesus, telling us we have potential. We have the God-given ability to influence others, encourage others, and change the lives of others.
As we move forward in our work, let’s focus on the potential God gives. Let’s see it in ourselves, and let’s see it in others. The next time we are tempted to consider how much we fall short (“Depart from me, for I am a sinful person!”), let’s turn our perspective to how Jesus sees us.
Jesus placed us in this ministry to go fishing for people. He sees potential in each of us. In fact, He sees so much possibility, He has no time to blab with us about our failures. He’s ready to grab us and go fishing. All we need to do is follow. And once we decide to follow, we’re past our problems and primed for the possibilities.
“And last of all, as if to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” I Cor. 15:8
The Apostle Paul was known for his ability to connect his faith to disparate groups, from fellow Jews to Greeks in Athens, to political leaders. Paul could “make the case” for Jesus and His resurrection like almost no one else. He wrote much of what we call The New Testament.
In short, Paul was a force to be reckoned with.
Was Paul a great theologian? Sure. Heck, he invented theology, for the most part. Was Paul a terrific apologist? There was probably no one better, except for Jesus of course.
But if we get to the core of who Paul was, we find he was quite simple. Because when it came to theology or apologetics, Paul stuck with one tactic, using it again and again. We might say that when it came to sharing his faith, Paul was mostly a one-note wonder.
His crafty strategy? Telling his story. We find this in I Corinthians 15, where he lays the foundation of the Good News, that Jesus “died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” Simple stuff. But there’s more.
Paul goes on to speak of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to Peter, the twelve disciples, another 500 people, James, all the apostles, then . . . “as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
Paul told his story. In fact, Paul’s story of Jesus appearing in front of him was Paul’s connection to the resurrection he speaks of so often.
We see the same in Acts 22, where Paul spoke in front of the Jewish council, beginning with his story of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:1-21). Later, in front of Agrippa in Acts 26, Paul shares the same story.
Certainly, Paul did much more than tell his story. But in so many of his encounters and letters, he refers back to this one story as the foundation upon which he builds his defense of the One he followed, Jesus.
We can do the same. When we have opportunity to talk about our faith, we don’t have to know every verse or defend against every argument. All we need is our story. Because just like Paul, our story is more than enough to show someone Jesus is real.
The next time we sense the need to talk about our faith, let’s start with our story. Because for many, our story will be more than enough to open the door for a valuable, faith-filled conversation.
“. . . But rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:6
Jesus’ message to Saul—who would later become The Apostle Paul—is one of four examples of how Jesus dealt with people we would call “sinners.” The other three would be The Woman at the Well, The Adulterous Woman and The Thief on the Cross. It’s an interesting question to ask, “How then, did Jesus deal with sinners?”
Of course, we’re leaving out the religious leaders whose “righteousness” Jesus often called out as hypocritical and egregious. While these were sinners in Jesus’ eyes, few among the people of the day could see this.
But what of these four, rightfully accused of sinful behavior? How did Jesus deal with these “sinners?” Did he give them a proper rebuke? Demand confessions? Let’s see . . .
We all know the story of the Woman at the Well. She had gone through five husbands, though we don’t know the reasons for this. We do know she was living with a man, widely viewed as sin. So, how did Jesus respond?
First, Jesus complimented her for her honesty in saying she had no husband. Then, without spending a word on whether living with a man was right or wrong, he went on to share with her that he was the messiah for whom she and so many waited. For the record, she—this woman in sin—was the first to hear this news.
Next, Jesus did something else which is so memorable. Remember that as Jesus healed so many, he would ask them not to speak of him? He gave no such instruction to this woman, and we see she was more than excited to share this amazing news with the people of Sychar. In short, he freed her to tell her story.
With this woman, Jesus saw who she was and yet gave her an amazing opportunity to learn of his identity and spread the good news.
What about The Adulterous Woman? We know this story, too. When others wished to stone her, Jesus halted the mob by asking that only those without sin could participate in the execution. All left, and Jesus closed the incident by saying, “Neither do I condemn you. No go, and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t whitewash her situation, but we do not see Jesus asking for sackcloth, ashes or gnashing of teeth. Instead, he offers a new opportunity to go forward.
The Thief on the Cross? Jesus’ response to this man’s plea for grace was, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Another opportunity.
Then there is Saul, a man who persecuted Jesus’ brothers and sisters, even to death. Later, this same man would call himself “the chief” of sinners for his actions before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus.
If ever there was someone who needed a good tongue-lashing for his misdeeds, it was Saul.
But when Saul asked, “Who art thou, Lord?” Jesus answered without disdain, saying, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
Then, Jesus shifted the narrative entirely. He gave Saul the incredible opportunity to join His family: “But rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.”
Four sinners. And in each encounter, Jesus offered immediate restoration, hope and a path forward.
In our work, we may have similar encounters, times where we connect with those broken by decisions they’ve made. As we do, let’s always remember Jesus’ responses. As we bring restorative words, hopeful encouragement, and an invitation to join the family, we change hearts.
And whenever we see a heart is changed, we’re fulfilling the incredible mission God has for us.
“. . . that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us; that the world may believe you did send me.” John 17:21
In John 17:21, Jesus is making a huge request of his Father, “that they may all be one.” Jesus is asking for his followers to be unified behind a bold endeavor to reach the world with the good news. At the end of this verse, Jesus gives his reasoning for such a bold prayer: “that the world may believe that you did send me.”
Aha. If we look at this prayer simply, Jesus is asking for a basic, “If God grants X, the result will be Y.” The X is unity, the Y is that belief in God, and in his son, will flourish. Again, quite simple.
Jesus no doubt knew division would be a temptation, and he was right. In the early days of the apostles, we see Paul calling out Peter (Gal. 2:11) for distancing himself from Gentile Christians. Division, right? And in Acts 15, we see Jewish Christians telling the Gentiles to obey the Mosaic Law (Acts 15). More division.
One more example, one which pertains directly to us comes again from Paul, in Phil. 4:2-3. Here, Paul encourages both Euodia and Syntyche—two women who Paul says, “shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel”—to live in harmony. Apparently, two good people had become divided.
And this is the point. Good people—even in our work—can at times lose a bit of focus, leading to division. Often, this is because these people are driven to change things, to make the world better. They might have strong opinions, which is hardly a negative characteristic. Attempting to do good, they charge forward—sometimes not realizing they’ve failed to bring others along by taking the time to explain their thinking or listen to other thoughts and opinions.
I wonder if this is what happened to Euodia and Syntyche. And they weren’t the only two. Remember our friend Paul? He split from Barnabas over a disagreement about Mark’s ability to serve (Acts 15:36-39). Thankfully, we never see the two share sharp words publicly, and later (II Tim. 4:11), we see Paul asking for Mark, the very man he once thought would slow his work.
Jesus saw unity as vital, because he understood that it would be our unity—our “stick togetherness”—which would capture the world’s attention.
Yes, there are times when we must separate ourselves from toxic situations and people. Our friend Paul dealt with this, telling Timothy (I Tim. 1:18-19) that two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, shipwrecked their own faith to the point that Paul disconnected from both.
But before we divide, let’s ask ourselves, “Is this situation as important as the gospel itself?” If it isn’t, let’s talk through the issue and find unity. While we have differing denominations and beliefs on many issues, this does not mean we can’t remain united.
Because when we are united, belief in Jesus will flourish. Jesus prayed for us, that this will happen. Let’s stay united, and answer his prayer.
“. . . but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:6
When we think of the word, “repentance,” we often think of confessing sins, feelings of guilt (perhaps shame?), and determining never to do that—whatever the “that” might be—again. This isn’t wrong of course. It’s important that we “confess our sins to one another,” and that we understand doing wrong is not good for us or anyone else.
But . . . can we also consider the possibility that when it comes to repentance, we can sometimes dwell too much on the guilt, the feelings of remorse, the frustrations with how we fell short of expectations?
I put before us Exhibit A, a man named Saul. He would soon become Paul, the greatest writer of the New Testament. He will also declare to us (in a letter he penned to Timothy) that he is the “foremost” or “chief” of all sinners.
On a road to Damascus (on his way to persecute more Christians, by the way), our friend Saul was felled to the ground and blinded by a bright light, courtesy of one Jesus, the Christ. Smart guy that he was, Saul referred to the person who blinded him as “Lord.” Good call, Saul.
Saul asked this Lord, “Who are you?”
The answer? “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Oh. If you’re Saul, this is not good news to hear.
So, what kind of “repentance” did Jesus ask for? Was it sackcloth and ashes? A prayer of repentance? An acknowledgement of sins? How about a simple apology, as in, “Gosh, I’m persecuting the wrong people here! I’ve been on the wrong team all along!”
Remember friends, this is the chief of all sinners. As in, Number One. If anyone needs to do some serious, “I am a worm and not a man” repentance, it’s Saul.
But Jesus asks for none of this. Instead Jesus says, “but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told what you must do.”
In other words, Jesus is saying, “You’re on my team now. No time for looking back. Let’s get you started.”
What does Saul do? He is taken to Ananias, who lays hands on Saul and restores his sight. From there, Saul is filled with the spirit of God and is baptized. Just after these events, we see Saul spending time with the disciples and proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God.
The lesson? Saul didn’t let his past hold him back from advancing the good news. His version of repentance was about shifting his thinking from persecuting to going.
The question we must ask ourselves? “Is there something in my past which I believe still needs my attention, something which is holding me back from sharing the hope I’ve found?”
If we think we still must dwell on our past, perhaps it’s time to be more like Saul. Let’s let it go. Let’s listen to Jesus, who tells us “rise and go.”
Acknowledging our past has its place. Saul—when he became Paul—did so more than once. Yet, Paul only pointed out his past with brief glances. Paul’s focus was forward, on the “rise and go” aspect of repentance. It’s a lesson we can always keep in mind, because all of us have places to rise and go. Let’s not waste time gazing on the rear-view mirror. Instead, let’s go.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
Let’s be honest and admit, working in a pregnancy help ministry doesn’t simply ask for faith, it demands faith. We see broken, wounded and hurting people every day. Many times, we never get to see the results of our interaction with a client. Instead, she walks out the door and we have no idea whether she saw our concern for her, our desire to help her and our willingness to walk with her through her journey.
And we don’t hear from her again.
Faith. We’ve got to have faith.
As the writer of Hebrews says, faith is real when we believe, even when we can’t see.
Faith is watching her walk out the door with no hint of her decision and saying, “God is at work. I know He is.”
Faith is when she tells us her baby is no more and we comfort her, believing God will use even this moment to draw her to Himself.
Faith is watching her go back to an abusive situation and remembering, her story is still being written.
Faith is seeing a baby born into a desperate and dysfunctional home and saying, “She has a chance, and with God, all things are possible.
Each day, we walk in the door with faith. Without apology, we believe there is never a situation where God is shaken from His throne, there is never a time when He cannot move in someone’s life, there is never a situation too desperate for his intervention.
We know this. When one of us stumbles, we encourage. When one of us struggles to believe, we build up. We grab each other by the hand and press on, because . . . faith.
The “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 honors those whose faith led to incredible victories. But it also honors those who lost everything because when faith was needed, they would not be moved.
So it is with each of us. We stand strong. Our faith is immovable—just like those in the Hall of Faith-- because regardless of what we see, we choose to believe.
“Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Luke 10: 8-9
The story of Jesus sending out the 70 recently captured my attention, making me say, “Why not us?”
I can identify with the 70 more easily than with the twelve, for whatever reason. Maybe it is because we gave the twelve special titles. They are “apostles,” after all. I don’t think I qualify.
But the 70? They were hanging around Jesus from just a bit more distance. The 70 probably knew the 12 but when the big stuff happened, they were on the outskirts. But in Luke 10, the 70 take center stage.
Jesus called the 70 together to create His “advance team,” for lack of a better word. Their mission? Go to cities where Jesus was going, proclaiming peace as they entered. Then, with no Jesus around to help, they were to heal the sick and say those words Jesus said so often, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Wow. What a calling.
Jesus asked these 70 to go into homes and say, “Peace be to this house,” (in other words, simply be kind), to eat anything put in front of them (meet people where they are, regardless of traditions), and as we just mentioned, heal the sick (find the wounded and cure them).
Jesus didn’t ask them to go barreling into someone’s home and declare them sinners, nor did He ask the 70 to begin any interaction with an agenda to “fix” anyone. Their mission was all about the good news--God’s kingdom was so close they could almost touch it.
The only rebuke Jesus called for was if a city rejected the kindness and goodness the 70 offered.
In our work, we often feel an urgency to “help” our clients see the error of their ways. Perhaps, on the rarest of occasions, this may be appropriate. But perhaps we are more like the 70.
When a client or patient comes in our door, what if she found peace in our speech and actions? What if, like the 70, we sought healing for the many emotional wounds she carries?
And what if—like the 70—we found a modern-day version of the phrase, “The kingdom of God has come near to you?”
Sometimes, a hurting client with the odds stacked against her needs to know, “No matter what you see, I promise you, God is on your side. He is for you. Even now, give Him a chance to help. He won’t let you down.”
The 70 came back with stories which amazed even Jesus. Apparently, they did something right—these 70 who weren’t even in the “inner circle.” You know what? Maybe we can do the same. We start with peace, meeting our clients where they are. Then, we add healing and a simple message: The kingdom of God has come near to you.
It might just work, even today.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement SpecialistHeartbeat International
“Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Luke 19:5B
Jesus would have been lousy at Instagram. While Jesus would have millions of followers, likes and shares on any social media site, something tells me He wouldn’t have spent much time trying to get the perfect photo to share or musing on creating a viral meme.
And when we look carefully at Jesus’ ministry, He never appeared interested in the big numbers. Instead, he almost always focused on the “one,” or only a few.
Yes, Jesus spoke to hundreds and even thousands, but we never see Jesus trying to pull together a crowd. There were no banners proclaiming, “Jesus to Speak on the Mount Today! Don’t Miss it!” If crowds showed up, Jesus didn’t turn them away. But most of Jesus’ most memorable moments took place with one person here, a small group there.
Think about it. Jesus chose just twelve disciples. Many others followed and were disciples as well, but Jesus zeroed in on just twelve. We see story after story of Jesus healing one blind man, only ten lepers, one boy possessed by a spirit, one centurion’s servant, one blind man, one man suffering from dropsy. We could go on—the list is long.
And Jesus’ stories? He told us of one lost sheep, one good Samaritan, one prodigal son and his relationship with one loving father.
Jesus spoke to one woman at a well, one curious Nicodemus, and called out for one Zaccheus, almost lost in a huge crowd.
Yes, Jesus fed thousands. He healed . . . who knows how many? But at His core, the good news Jesus talked about spread because of one here, one there. Because of Jesus’ focus on the “one,” He earned the trust and love of the thousands.
As we serve those we see, we likely wonder sometimes whether we’ve made much of a difference. One came in the other day and we’re not sure we reached her. Another made a life decision, but we can’t know for certain what her future holds. We wonder, is our work truly making a “big” impact?
Jesus knew how to make a “big” impact. He reached one here. Then, he walked for miles and reached one more. Then, another. And another. By doing so, He created a blueprint for us in the pregnancy help community—one we follow each day.
We don’t know if following this model will make us social media influencers or draw crowds of people desperate to hear us speak. But we do know this model is Jesus-inspired. And, regardless of whether we see instant results, connecting with the one brings God-sized results.
So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. John 4:40
The story of the Woman at the Well is familiar to all of us. We often think about this story in terms of Jesus reaching out to someone struggling in relationships and life in general. And we consider how Jesus chose this woman to reveal Himself as the Messiah.
It is a story of love, hope and new beginnings.
And, it is a story of a common-sense approach to racial reconciliation, a great need in our culture today.
The Woman at the Well was a Samaritan, and we know mainline Jews never talked to Samaritans. Upstanding Jews never traveled through Samaritan areas, never connected with Samaritans, had no place for them in their synagogues.
But Jesus cut through all of this, building a bridge of connection with five powerful actions.
Jews went around Samaritan villages, not through them. But Jesus made it his mission to go into Samaria and connect with the woman at the well.
Starting with a simple request for water, Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation. He never judged, never pushed his opinion on her. He let her do as much talking as He—a great lesson for all of us.
When the Samaritan woman tried to bring Jesus into a debate about theological issues (“You people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship”), Jesus didn’t take the bait. Instead, He focused on bigger issues (“An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”).
By not debating the smaller matter of where to worship, Jesus could zero in on the major issue--Who to worship. In doing so, Jesus opened the door for anyone—including the Samaritan woman—to join Jesus’ team.
When the Samaritan woman told Jesus she knew the “Messiah is coming,” Jesus didn’t hold back, sharing with her that He was the One she was looking for. Because we’re talking about Jesus, it’s easy to overlook: Jesus was taking a risk. She could have laughed at him. She could have argued with him. She could have walked away in dismissal, even if still wondering how Jesus found out about her background of having five husbands.
Because we know the rest of the story, we know she went to her city, proclaiming that she may have met the Messiah. Through her story, many followed Jesus. But it all started because Jesus was willing to risk sharing His identity.
The story of the Samaritan woman doesn’t end with her going back to her village. A few verses later we see the Samaritans asking Jesus to stay with them. Jesus moved quickly from place to place, but for two days—a long time for Jesus—he stayed in a land forbidden to Jews.
Simply put, Jesus stuck around to invest in the community. While there, “many believed because of His word.”
In today’s chaotic world, we can become overwhelmed with the news of the day, believing society’s problems are too big, too complex to solve. They aren’t.
As we serve those who come in our door, we know that—regardless of our color—we will serve those who don’t look like us or believe like we do. Differing backgrounds often create differing world views.
Jesus is our example for how we approach these situations. First, He went out of his way to find those different from Him. From there, He started a conversation, didn’t leap in to take a side when a tough subject came up, risked transparency . . . and He invested in a community which was not His own.
And, He changed the world.
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