Live Generously

This week we have a guest post by Dr. Bob Logan . He focuses on incarnational missional ministry and multiplication. He is a church planter, coach, consultant, trainer, writer, mountain biker. He lives in Los Angeles, California USA, and blogs at loganleadership.com. You can follow him on Twitter @drboblogan
Living generously is more than a matter of specific actions. It’s an internal posture of openness that informs all of our decisions and the way we live our life. Are we willing to unclench our hands and recognize that all we have is from God? Our money, our home, our talents, our relationships – they’re not ours. We are entrusted with them for a little while with the charge to use them to benefit the world around us. We are stewards whose master will one day come home and ask us how we have invested what he left with us. If we can lay hold of this reality, we will be changed. We will live with open hands, blessing those around us with our words, our actions, our resources, and our time.
Ask each other these questions to help one another journey along the way in this area:
  • How can you bless people with your words?
  • When do you most sense a spirit of generosity in your life?
  • What do you have to give?
This blog post is part of a series of nine entries, each highlighting one of the nine Journey Guides. Each Journey Guide is a three-week discipleship study. They can be engaged in separately or as a series. If you want to take people through a 3-week journey on this topic, visit the Logan Leadership Store.
www.barnabas.in

Power and Gentleness

Several years ago we lived in a town that was adjacent to a community where they had a special place for elephants. At this place, elephants were bred, raised, and trained for various purposes. These elephants were used to carry heavy loads, and to carry people on their backs. They were also dressed up and displayed during festivals and celebrations.
The strength of these beasts is amazing. Once in a while, an elephant would go out of control. Seemingly in a sort of rage. At that time, they really display their true strength – much beyond what you could imagine. People get thrown around like dolls, trees get plucked from the ground like plants, and trucks get flipped over, and complete havoc is the result.
But when these animals deal with their young, they are amazingly gentle. Their great strength is set aside for a soft and gentle approach. Just to deal with their young, they are willing to come down to their level rather than expecting their young ones to come up to theirs.
In the midst of his greatest struggles, Job looked to God and had an inward confidence. The confidence was that God would pay attention to him and come down to his level. Job said “would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me. (Job 23:6 ESV) His friends had accused him of severe negligence and sin. They said that all his “righteous” acts were just a cover-up for his sinfulness, and that his sins finally caught up with him. Now God is dealing fiercely with him according to his sins.
But Job had a confidence that God would understand his weaknesses and limitations. He knew that God would come down to his level and would listen to him. Although his friends could not understand, he knew that God would.
I am reminded of the concept in proverbs: “…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24b ESV) The best one to do that, is God himself. He is the one who knows us fully. He knows all our weaknesses and sins, but continues to love us and draw us closer to him.
So, in the midst of your greatest defeat or sin, remember the words of Job. “Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me.” (Job 23:6 ESV) Go to him. He will certainly pay attention to you.
Share your experience of God putting aside his great power to deal with you in gentleness.
Share it in the comments section of this blog post.
Photo by helga_ni Creative Commons license.
www.barnabas.in

The Mercy Gap

I still remember the words quite clearly: “Alexi, I don’t know what it is that I did to deserve this severe condition.” She was a precious child of God who had lived with pain for several decades. Now, for the last several years, she was bed-ridden most of the time. She had practically no visitors since her condition was so bad. For many hours of the day, she was alone in her room, silently experiencing the pain throughout her body.
In every area of her life, she had a positive influence. She was a good mother to her children. And in the churches she and her husband pastured  she remained active as long and as much as her body would allow. But the questions remained not only for her, but for me as well. Why did she have to suffer so much? I’ve known her since I was seventeen. I know that there is nothing that would warrant such pain for such an extended period of many years.
So there I was, standing by her bedside listening to some very difficult questions for which I had no answer. I am sure she had similar questions during these years that I’ve known her. But really, is God full of anger and violence? We see in the Old Testament that God had set some high standards for his people and expected them to live up to those standards. We also see him punishing those who do not live up to those standards. But between the high standards and the punishment, there is a lengthy time of waiting with patience. God wants his people to come to repentance, but his method is through showing mercy and kindness.
Job talked about rebellious people and their arrogant words against God. Then he acknowledged that God “filled their houses with good things.” (Job 22:17-18a ESV) Throughout Israel’s history, we see that “Mercy Gap” of time where God waits and expects to see repentance as a result of his mercy.
The writer of Romans also expresses the same idea with more direct words and says that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4b ESV). Thus God continues to extend his mercy to us in the midst of our sin, disobedience, and even rebellion. When we look at the history of the people of Israel, we realize that the “Mercy Gap” is quite an extensive gap where God stretches his patience beyond all limits. Then, when that limit runs out, it is still his mercy that drives him to punish. But that punishment is not meant to destroy but to build up and eventually bring us to repentance.
So, what about that lady who lived with pain for so many years? Since our God is a God of kindness with a large “Mercy Gap,” her problem was not due to the judgement of God. That we can safely rule out. She was a child of God who experienced much pain because of the brokenness of this fallen world we live in.
How have you experienced God’s mercy in your life? How large was that “Mercy Gap” for you?
You can share that in the comments section of this blog post.
www.barnabas.in

What’s In It For Me?

It was interesting to observe a transaction between a train passenger and a vendor  Such interactions are quite intriguing in a multilingual and multicultural setting like India. The passengers may know a language the vendor doesn’t and may use that to their advantage. The customers make a quick and thorough analysis of the product while speaking to one another in a language the vendor may not understand. But one must be careful since there are plenty of people with a working knowledge of four or more languages.

train vendor
So the item was passed around among the customers while they evaluated its quality, the price, the cost back in their own state. They may also consider the possible cost of manufacture, especially for a home made product. Then the bargaining begins with the customer suggesting a much lower price than the vendor’s original price. Normally a discussion follows with the possibility of an “argument” regarding the price and the actual value of the product. If the vocal exchange doesn’t turn into an explosion, several counter offers will finally bring both parties to an agreement in price.
The writer of Proverbs lived in a similar bargaining society. He describes a similar situation: “’Its no good, its no good!’ says the buyer – then goes off and boasts about the purchase.” (Proverbs 20:14 NIV) I suppose most eastern societies are similar. The whole bargaining process is developed into a well formulated art. The words spoken may have a variety of nuances. The buyer does everything possible to point out the negatives and to bring the price down. At the same time, the seller attempts to highlight its value and bring up the price.
It seems Job mentions a similar question, but regarding our faith in God: “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?” (Job 21:15 ESV) This question was asked by those described by Job as “wicked.” For them, serving God was for the purpose of getting something from him, like some kind of financial transaction. But for Job, this was not the case. In the midst of his deepest struggle he said: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15 ESV) Such a firm statement of trust clarifies to us that his faith in God goes deeper than material gain.
So, what benefit was there for Job? All of Job’s sufferings were intended to test and prove this particular issue: Did Job serve God to gain material blessings? God was inviting Satan to test Job and see for himself. God was convinced that Job’s love for him went deeper than material things in life.
So, what’s in it for me? What if I, like Job, was stripped of everything I value? Will my faith endure? I’m afraid to even think such thoughts. But what if?
Have you had thoughts about the depth of your love for God? What were your greatest doubts?
Share it in the comments section of the blog.
Photo by { pranav } Creative Commons License
www.barnabas.in

The Fine Art of Offense

I remember the discussions during my college days regarding what can be an offense and a “stumbling block” for others. It was in the early 1980’s and articles appeared in several Christian magazines regarding Christian rock music. Those writers opposed it heavily without any mercy. They opposed the idea of connecting the word “Christian” with rock music. They compared it with overt demonic manifestations in various countries. Somehow it was also connected with the worship of demons and Satan himself. Within the context of such arguments, we struggled with the concept of being an offense to others. We were trying to understand what our limits were. How far are we being a stumbling block to others?

The ministry and teachings of Jesus were offensive to some prominent religious leaders of his day. This was quite obvious and the disciples even responded and said to Jesus: “Do you know that the pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:12) In fact, the “offense” was so fierce that they labeled Jesus as a drunkard, glutton, and a friend of sinners. That’s quite a damper for a young rabbi starting out in the ministry at a young age. Jesus was offensive to those who were self-righteous. But to those who were weak and struggling, he was completely merciful.
While dealing with the issue of eating food and how one should choose what to eat, Paul urged them to be considerate of the weak (Romans 14). Paul’s admonition was that they should be directed by love and consideration for the weak. If their faith is weak, we must be considerate and loving towards them.
So, is the perspective of Paul different from that of Jesus? Rather than being different, the two views are complementary. To those who are mature, and to the hypocritical ones, be firm. Know what you believe and stand for it with all your heart. But to the weak, be kind and do your best to explain your actions and intentions. Most of all, be motivated by love and selflessness.
How have you handled the fine art of offense?
Share it in the comments section of the blog.
Photo by a2gemma Creative Commons
www.barnabas.in

When Life Ends Before Mercy Ends

Tom* was a man who really wanted his life to be different. He had always wanted a peaceful life. As a hard working man, he believed in making an honest living. As a skilled, qualified diesel mechanic, he always found work wherever he went. His employers sought him out for his uncanny ability to trouble-shoot the most complicated issues at work. He was their “go to” man for their difficult tasks.

But somewhere, his life began to make all the wrong turns. Everything he hoped for in life turned sour. Then he had no where else to turn but to the bottle. When he finally showed up in church one day, I looked into his blood-shot eyes and somehow we connected. I had him sit next to me during worship, but he just couldn’t sit for long. Periodically he would go out for a smoke then come stand in the back of the church until I called him back to the seat next to me.
The alcohol, tobacco, and life itself had taken a toll on his body. Now estranged from his wife and children, he had a very lonely life. No one wanted to spend but a few minutes with him. That was enough for most people.
Sometimes he would come to our home and we would spend time together while he told me his story. He had tried all other avenues of help such as rehabilitation centers, counseling and other government programs, but no change. I strongly believed the only answer for Tom was Jesus. So during the hours we spent together I tried my best to turn his focus on to Jesus. But his brokenness was so severe that he just could not see through the thick fog.
I knew that I had to compassionately show mercy to him. There were so many others in the church with problems, but I put that extra effort and time on Tom because of the depth of his brokenness. The only way I know is to show mercy and compassion and to keep turning him to Jesus.
Prayer was a key factor in my attempt to minister to this person. I tried every prayer I knew from my last thirty years of ministry. Something had to work to break through this thick fog. It worked for many others, and it certainly should work for Tom. I had to turn him to Jesus.
Then one day I heard the sad news. Tom died. My heart sank. Even now, I simply don’t understand. I often ask why the Lord just wouldn’t break through all those barriers into his heart. I suppose his life just ended before mercy ended. In my mind I have put this experience in my “Mysteries” file. I’ll figure it out one day.
I know that God’s kingdom has come through not in its fullness yet. But I wish it was in its fullness. It would have surely broken through the fog and into Tom’s heart. Although I don’t understand, I continue to show mercy and expect the power of God’s kingdom. It continues to impact so many lives – but I always remember Tom.
Have you experienced loss in the midst of mercy?
Share it in the comments section of this blog.
*Name changed
Photo by inkknife_2000
www.barnabas.in

Creating Space

While preaching last Sunday, I looked across the audience and scanned the faces. Each one has a story. They are all stories of God’s mercy in the midst of shattered human lives. One by one they experienced God’s power to save and restore them. They are all at different levels in that process of healing and restoration. All are a work in progress, just like me.

But what have I to do with all this? I don’t have any of those flamboyant and popular giftings capable of making one popular. No special oratory skills to be impressive enough to draw crowds. Ultimately all we have done is to provide space and an opportunity for people to connect with God. By creating an environment of love, acceptance, and forgiveness, we make the place suitable for those who are broken and suffering.
So, providing space is much more than providing the physical location where the people meet together to worship. It includes space for them to be accepted. It’s an acceptance of their person-hood. Once we create such an environment where the majority of the people in our church have adopted this perspective, we are on the right track. People with numerous needs will flock to us, because space has been created for them to be accepted.
Now, acceptance is fine, but love is a different story all together. You can simply tolerate people, and that could be misunderstood as acceptance. But you simply can’t fake love. If love is not genuine, it can easily be detected. It’s not love unless it comes from the heart. And when it comes from within, people will certainly know it.
Finally, forgiveness is a must. But it is surely complicated. We accept them and genuinely love them, but how often and how long should we continue to forgive? As people struggle with the complex issues of their lives, lots of rough edges show up on the surface. These rough edges show up as relational problems within the family and among church members. So, how many times and how long must we forgive? Jesus’ answer would be: limitless.
So, these are three important ingredients for creating space: Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. As more space is created, more people can come close to Jesus.
In what ways have you tried to create space?
Share it in the comments section of this blog.
Photo by nicubunu.photo Creative Commons
www.barnabas.in

When No One Understands

Once in a while Susan* would come out of her shell and try to talk with others and smile. But most of the time she was simply withdrawn and isolated. She came to church regularly and attended all of the special meetings and gatherings. But somehow she just couldn’t connect with most of the people.

Her problems were different. Others could not understand her situation. As pastors, my wife and I attempted to help her connect with the rest of the people in our church. We knew that would be good and healthy for her spiritually and emotionally. But she felt that no one else understands her pain and struggles. She just couldn’t see how anyone could possibly help her.
Several people tried to reach out to her, but they just couldn’t connect. Her problems were too deep and intense, and their patience in listening to her wore out quickly. So she remained in her “shell” for a long time. Visits to counselors and psychiatrists continued, but there was no change in her.
Susan just couldn’t understand how God could love her or understand her situation. She felt that she was too “broken” for God to ever want her. But the Bible is clear that God accepts these “broken” ones. The Psalmist says “The sacrifices of God are a broken Spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17 ESV)
The above mentioned Psalm was possibly written during a time when animal sacrifices were still common in Israel. But even in that time, a broken and contrite heart was understood to be the primary requirement. Yes, the sacrifices continued, but they had to be offered with such a heart that was open and contrite before God.
This is exactly what God wants of his people: brokenness and contriteness. This doesn’t mean that God wants his people in a mess. He wants us to be aware of our brokenness so we can be open to his love.
Its a fact that people usually remain the same. They’re busy with their own problems and struggles in life. They may not have the time nor even care to look in your direction. But God remains faithful. Keep trusting him, and keep moving forward.
What do you do when no one seems to care?
Share your experiences in the comments section of this blog.
*Name changed
Photo by jasleen_kaur Creative Commons

www.barnabas.in

Empowering Your Problems

After picking up the phone and the usual hello, I went on to a simple question: “So, how are things?” That question brought on a flood of tears and complaints about that person’s spouse, children, extended family, and church members.  As I stood there listening to this for a few minutes, I felt like my head was spinning as if I was on one of those crazy rides in an amusement park.

But there are other times when this person is light and bubbly, and everything is wonderful. At this point the questions are answered differently.  How is your spouse? “In God’s hands, safe as ever.” And your children? Oh their future is secure by God’s mercy.” As I go on asking about each item that previously troubled that person, they see it all from a different perspective.  Same problems, same people, but just a different perspective.

It seems Job also struggled with perspectives in his life. He said: “My spirit is broken; my days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me.  Surely there are mockers about me, and my eye dwells on their provocation” (Job 17:1-2 ESV). When I read these verses I thought about the person I mentioned above, as well as many others in similar situations.  Job said his eyes were focused on their provocation.  That focus led to the fateful words “the graveyard is ready for me.” Many things in life can be “broken.” But when your spirit is broken, that is intense.  As Job focused on his brokenness, the only hope he could see was the graveyard.

Job’s problem was that his eyes dwelt on the provocation of his enemies.  By doing that, he “empowered” his problems. He empowered them to have such a negative impact on him. He obviously could not recognize that his perspective was the problem, that it caused him to conclude his fate in the graveyard.

Getting our focus off of our problems and on to God doesn’t guarantee that all our problems will go away.  In fact, they may continue just as ever.  The difference is its effect on us. We won’t be shattered.  Our faith won’t be shaken.  And most importantly we won’t have to conclude that our only hope is the grave.

When the philistines drew up the battle lines against Israel, they had their “star” warrior Goliath right in the front.  It seems that the entire Israelite army was focused on Goliath.  And they were all clearly shaken. Their focus on Goliath and his might “empowered” that situation. But David was not impressed.  His focus was on God and that made all the difference.

So, do you find yourself focused on your problem? Are you “empowering” your problems and finding that you are ready for the graveyard like Job?

What is your greatest hindrance to fixing your eyes on God?

Share it here in the comments.

Photo by Fried Dough – Creative Commons

www.barnabas.in

Judgment or Mercy: Your Choice

Several years ago, severe persecution against Christians broke out in Orissa (Odisha), a northern state of India. The Christians in one district were attacked, beaten, and driven away from their homes, and many were killed. The people doing this heinous act blocked off an entire district and would not allow anyone to enter or exit their district.

A video recorded on someone’s phone was circulated over the internet and I got a copy. I watched that video in total amazement of what human beings can do to each other. Houses were burned down, churches were ransacked and looted, women were attacked and violated, and people were driven from their homes. One particular incident caught my attention. There was a video of a man being severely beaten in the middle of the street by a group of people with sticks, clubs, and other crude weapons. The man was begging for mercy as the blows landed on all parts of his body. Two places in particular were focused on: the head and the knee. If the person survived, he may never by able to walk properly as a result of shattered knee caps.
Right at that point, a man was walking by on the side of the road. When he saw this man being attacked, he stopped walking and observed for a brief moment. Then he walked to the middle of the road and kicked this man several times in various parts of his body and walked away.
Out of that entire video, this one incident stood out to me as peculiar. A passer-by who may have had nothing to do with the event that took place suddenly made the decision to join others in the attack. Then he walked away as if nothing happened.
I realize the above example is a bit too extreme. But daily, we face choices of varying degrees. We deal with people every day who are suffering at some level with numerous issues. For each, we have three steps to take: Recognize the suffering, choose how we will respond, and take action.
Recognizing the sufferings of people may not be as obvious as the story above. The people may go through all the normal activities of life without being outwardly affected by their struggles. Their sufferings may not be outwardly visible, but they are just as real. For some, their struggles are outwardly manifested as various habits and dysfunctions. These habits may be utterly irritating and may isolate this person from others.
A conscious choice must be made to respond to the pain of others. Proverbs says “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it” (Proverbs 3:27 ESV). But we may fear their rejection, the response of others, or our inability to help that person. Some respond by attacking them and making them feel guilty. But you can choose mercy like Jesus did. He was merciful to the broken and hard on the hypocritical ones.
Finally, when you take action, you are acting as an agent of God’s kingdom here on the earth. You become as God’s hand reaching out just as Jesus did. Remember that mercy triumphs over judgment. So we respond with mercy and God responds with love and transformation in that person’s life.
When you notice someone suffering, what is your greatest hindrance to responding with mercy? 
Share it in the comments.
Photo by rajkumar1220 Creative Commons
www.barnabas.in
%d bloggers like this: