Loving as He loves

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

Disqualify you? Well, if we are honest, it disqualifies most of us. We fail at love because most of us, if not all of us, do not truly understand what God intended love to be.

Love is patient…

Paul writes out a list of characteristics of love. I don’t know about you but I’m still stuck on Love is patient. 

Did you know patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit? The opposite of patience is of course impatience which is the fruit of selfishness and entitlement.

Selfishness is one of those characteristics that has its own private party at the expense of others. Love seeks its happiness in the other person not in itself.

Our culture today is all about personal feelings. I remember flipping through the channels at home and coming across a well-known therapist. He asked the question, “And how does that make you feel?” He continued to ask the question over and over again. I wanted to throw the remote!  I chuckled to myself because it is the way of the world – we do what we “feel like doing” when we “feel like doing it” without thought of consequences or others. Immediate gratification. It is the “I want it now” mentality, and the world has caught on to it very well.

I believe Paul opens with this trait because it is simple really; we must be patient with others because we ourselves have failed many times too. We, ourselves, have sinned; have made mistakes; have hurt others; have ______________ (You fill in the blank) – and God has continued to love and wait on us to come around.

Love is long-suffering – it waits – it listens – it sits beside – it ponders – it says, “I’m here for as long as it takes.”

As long as it takes? Sounds like commitment to me. Sounds like the definition of loyalty.

Today think about how you love people in your life. Are you committed or do you quit at the first signs of trouble? Are you a “stand by his/her side” kind of person, or are you more about how the relationship impacts you?

I want to challenge you to process what love looks like in your life. If you need to change what and how you act in love, ask God to help you to love as He loves.

Every morning I ask God to allow me to love my wife as He loves her. I ask Him to allow me to see people as He sees them. I pray for the commitment to be the friend I need to be and have the loyalty of Him. He will never leave us or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Reason and Hope at the State of the Union

The CAAP, Coalition for American Action and Principles, recently launched its petition for faith-based immigration reform. The goal is to strengthen the grassroots network and work to educate and inspire pastors, community leaders, and politicians to defend Christian rights.

The Coalition for American Action and Principles, is a movement of Christians who believe in traditional family values in American public life.  They believe in protecting the lives of the unborn, and defending the sacred institution of marriage.  Below is an article that was recently released by Rev. William “Bill” Owens.

Rev. Bill & Deborah Owens
While watching the theater that now constitutes our annual State of the Union address, I couldn’t help but wonder … what must other countries think?

Because I know what I thought.

I thought that it was bizarre to see Democrats refuse to applaud the idea of protecting the life of a newborn child. What a moment to make it clear that you embrace abortion at every stage and will even champion infanticide rather than admit that a fetus is a human being.

I thought it was offensive to see that the lowest recorded unemployment among African Americans and Hispanic Americans wasn’t worth applauding for some politicians if it meant applauding the President.

And I thought it was ridiculous that knee-jerk opposition to the President has led the Democrats to stubbornly resist any kind of immigration reform, despite the fact that it is desperately needed.

If I were to go by the studied applause boycotts during the State of the Union, I would be forced to conclude that the Left wing of the Democratic Party is in favor of infanticide and sex trafficking, but opposed to more jobs for minorities.

Like I said earlier, what must other countries think? For that matter, what do Americans think? Do they see this partisan display and realize that this division is why we cannot get things done in Washington? And why critical issues like immigration reform are going unaddressed?

As an ordinary American, I was inspired by President Trump’s speech. It was the best State of the Union address that I’ve heard in my lifetime. I was moved to see how the president tried to speak with compassion, but remained firm as he outlined his vision for our nation. He spoke with optimism and love for our country, and aimed to bring unity to our fractured country. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was cheering when the president declared:

“America was founded on liberty and independence –- not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

And I was proud and pleased to hear President Trump talk about the First Step Act and the bipartisan effort to pass criminal justice reform. Recently, I met with the president to discuss the issue and many of you signed our petition urging Congress to pass the First Step Act. So it was gratifying to hear the president say, “This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African-American community. […] America is a Nation that believes in redemption.” If the politicians are too mired in partisanship to see the truth then we will have to force them to acknowledge it. The American people want change. We need immigration reform. And we need it now. 

That’s why CAAP launched its petition for faith-based immigration reform. Our plan echoes that of the President in calling for secure borders and a barrier on the Southern border of the U.S. We want to see an end to violence, illegal immigration, and the crime and devastation wrought by drug smugglers and human trafficking. We also want to see a compassionate response to the humanitarian crisis at our border.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign our immigration petition today. Then share it with your social network, and urge others to sign.

Will you help us confront the partisan politicians in DC with a hard dose of truth? If you watched the president’s speech, you were probably as angry as I was to see the behavior on display. One moment, women would cheer the president’s statements about paid family leave. The next, they sat on their hands as President Trump decried the pain babies feel when ripped from their mother’s womb. 

The hypocrisy is staggering. Are these people we trust to act for us? To lead our country? The Left has become so entrenched in identity politics that they are unaware of how foolish – no, how morally bankrupt – they appear.

Help us send a message to the radical left. We will not let our country fall prey to their divisive, manipulative, and immoral philosophy. We need donations to help fund our work for 2019, especially projects that were not part of our original plan. Your gift will help us continue to fight for faith, family, and freedom.

In his address Tuesday night, President Trump painted a stirring picture of why we cannot allow unfettered illegal immigration to continue. The current state of things is harmful to Americans and unfair to those who are being lured into our country on false promises. Let us work together to find a solution that is practical, effective, and compassionate.

For faith, family and freedom, 
Rev. Bill Owens

Tomorrow?

Tomorrow. We utter the word probably more than we do yesterday or today. Tomorrow gives us justification. Tomorrow gives us hope. Tomorrow is our excuse for not doing it today.

We like to tell ourselves, “I will quit tomorrow. I will start tomorrow. I will do better, tomorrow.”

The reality of life is – tomorrow never comes. The Bible tells us in Psalm 90:12, ” Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” 
It is a prayer we should request every day. Our lives are now…not tomorrow.

Some of us profess to develop a better relationship with God – tomorrow. We talk about forgiving – tomorrow; studying scripture – tomorrow; spending time with our children, our spouse, our parents, our friends – tomorrow. And so the years pass.

Isaiah 40:7-8 tells us, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.”

I cannot open the newspaper or click on the internet and not see a tragedy: automobile accidents, plane crashes, natural disasters, and war. Life is but a fleeting moment – like grass and flowers – life withers and falls. What a brief moment we have here on earth; yet, we do not live as though it were.

The reality is our days are numbered. We tend to ignore the true value of time. Many of you know the quote, “Never put off today what you can do tomorrow.” It has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde. No matter who said it, the words hold true today. Time haunts us all. We look back at yesterday with longing and with regret. We make vows for the future to change, to do it differently.

Start today. Make today the day you have a closer relationship with God. Make today the day you spend more time with your family. Make today the day you adapt a healthier lifestyle; you start your degree; you change careers; you _____________________ (fill in the blank).

With God, our past failures, our sins, our brokenness are gone. With God, today is fresh and new, and our future is in His Hands.

Can you be a Disciple?

Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” 

When I first read this scripture, probably 40 years ago in Sunday School, my first thought was, “Luke must’ve gotten it wrong! Jesus didn’t say that!” How can the Son of God, who commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), who tells us the greatest of all commandments is to love one another (Matthew 22:37-39), who tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), say such a thing? You mean I have to hate my dad and mom? My sister? Hate myself?

As I’ve grown older and a little wiser, I have learned what Jesus was describing, what He expected from disciples; and it is no easy walk. Love to Christ is absolute. The definition of absolute according to Merriam-Webster reads, “A value or principle regarded as universally valid or viewed without relation to other things.” If you think of it in terms of absolutes and opposites, love for Him is absolute, and therefore every other love in comparison is hatred. Our love for Him is to be absolute.  When it is, no other love even comes close in comparison – not love for a person, a car, a pet, a career, a hobby, a home; nothing should compare. The love we have for our wife or husband, our children, our parents, and our siblings is secondary when ranked next to what He expects from us if we are His disciples.

Like most things, it is easier for us to think of victory, Christ resurrected. I remember reading to my children the scriptures regarding the Cross and the crucifixion. One of them yelled out, “Daddy, just get to the resurrection!” Aren’t we all a little like that? The crucifixion is messy. It is horrific and grueling. It turns our stomach. The pain He endured is incomprehensible. We just want to get to the part that saves us – the part that tells us we are going to Heaven – the part where Christ wins! Just skip the other parts, particularly when it tells me I have to be totally sold out, absolutely in love with Christ.

Christ longs for us to understand the requirements of being a disciple.  That is why He clearly articulates the need for absolute love for Christ.  “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Hold on, I have to carry a cross?  Yes.  And part of that cross is placing Christ on the throne of our hearts, making Him such a priority that everything else pales into insignificance.

It is a higher calling to be a disciple of Christ, a calling that requires suffering at times; a calling that requires disobedience to acts of government that go against the teachings of God. A sold out heart worships God, “Lion’s den or no lion’s den,” to summarize Daniel’s words. Saying “no” to political correctness; to peer pressure; to cultural acts contrary to God’s law. How would you respond if you were outside the safety of the United States. We read and study the word, worship and praise God, and walk safely in the assurance of religious freedom; but would we seek Him fervently in China? In Iran? In areas of the world where worshipping God is a death sentence? Are we praying for God to bring peace and prosperity to our nation, to our world, while refusing to allow God to bring it through us? Are we the disciples Christ has called us to be?

If you take the word Christian and remove the letters CHRIST, you are left with IAN – an acronym for I AM NOTHING. Without Christ, we are nothing, simply beings, living and breathing the goodness of God with no regard for Him.

Christian discipleship is about walking with Jesus; carrying the cross you are asked to bear; loving one another; and being committed wholeheartedly to Him.

Removing the Glass

Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Lately, I have spoken to many people who express the same concern: “Pastor, I don’t believe my prayers are getting through to God.”

In Daniel Chapter 9 and 10, Daniel is seeking an answer from God regarding the future of Israel. During this time period, Israel is being held captive by the nation of Persia. Daniel begins to pray to God through fasting. After 21 days of fasting and praying, an angel appears to Daniel and says in 10:12-13, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.”

The scripture is a window for us into the spiritual world around us. A messenger angel has been sent  to bring Daniel revelation from God on day one of his fasting and praying, concerning the prophetic future of the nation of Israel. We learn that the angel was detained because he did not possess enough power or authority to break through against the powers of the dark world controlling the spiritual regions above Persia. Michael, an arche angel of the Lord, comes to overpower the forces of darkness and to open up a passage for the angel to pass through and deliver God’s message to Daniel.

Do you know you can block your own prayers? The culprit? Unforgiveness. When we harbor bitterness against someone; when we refuse to let go of the hurt and betrayal; when we insist they deserve our judgment for their actions; we are interfering with our requests of God. We are putting a glass ceiling preventing our desires to reach God.

My son Daniel loved to shoot glass bottles and jars with his pellet gun when he was younger. He’d put a few on the fence near our home and fire away. The shattering of the targeted glass thrilled him. Can you imagine how much it thrills God when we shatter the glass ceiling above us separating us from Him.

It isn’t easy to forgive. It isn’t easy to remove anger and replace it with love; but it is the key to an open relationship with God. Bitterness only hurts you. No one ever changed through the hatred of another. No one ever says, “He hated me so much that I decided to change.” People change through love and compassion. You are probably saying, “Well, he deserves my hatred and unforgiveness. I have a right to be bitter toward him!” And you probably do; but if you want to break through the walls preventing you from all that God wants to give you in your life, start with forgiveness. Remove the bitterness. Start healing, moving forward, and hearing from God.

Plans?

It is a new year! The holidays have come and gone. I can still smell the turkey from Thanksgiving; yet, we are now in 2019! Over the past few weeks, my friends have been sharing their plans with me – their New Year’s resolutions. Their lists sound a lot like mine: eat healthier, exercise more, stop a particular habit, get organized, keep a better schedule. Familiar?

We all have them, those aspects of our lives we want to change. It is a time we focus on ourselves for improvement. It is a time to daydream of what we can become. But is our focus correct?

Unfortunately, the resolutions I do not hear frequently are “to have a closer relationship with God. To focus on God. To make God my daily habit.”

Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

Psalm 50:15, “…and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Isaiah 55:6, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on Him while He is near.”

The reality is most New Year’s resolutions fail. We start out with tremendous enthusiasm and plans. We brag to our friends and, with the best of intentions, realize somewhere around January 20th that our proposal was a bit too tough. By mid-February we realize we are right back to our old ways. Is it that we lose focus?  Or is it that our focus is on the wrong thing? God tells us to call on Him! The closer we are to Him, the easier it is for us to have a victory in Him.

Put God at the top of your list this year. Commit to daily devotions and Bible study. Commit to prayer. Determine now that you will eliminate the junk in your life that is contrary to God and His laws. You know what needs to go – throw it out. Rededicate your life to God. I can guarantee you, if you stick to God, He will definitely stick to you.

Join me daily this year as we learn how to be disciples of God, one day at a time. May God bless you in this coming new year. Happy New Year!

Is it really 2019?

2019

My son commented the other day, “Hard to believe we are approaching the 2020’s!”

He is right. 2020 sounded like something from a futuristic space movie to me, but now it is rapidly approaching.

What does your 2019 New Year look like?

Are you excited to start a new fresh year  with the hope of pursuing your best self? Or, are you more of the persuasion that 2019 is just another year?

Lamentations 3:23, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.

It is a verse that I hold close to my heart because some years are easier to start than others, especially when there is conflict or loss in our lives. Sometimes it is hard to find something to look forward to or it is difficult to believe we can possibly make a change which will impact our lives.

But God promises us something different. Because of His great love – HIS GREAT LOVE – for you and for me – we are not consumed.

Today you may feel consumed. You may believe God has forgotten you, and there is no hope in your future. Whether you are 5 or 95, God has a new morning for you. He is faithful. You will not be consumed.

There are 4 truths I recommend to those who are struggling with a New Year.

  1. God is with us… “…because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence,’The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ ” – Hebrews 13: 5-6             
  2. He keeps His promises…  ” ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you. ” – Isaiah 54:10.
  3. He will provide for you…      “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19. 
  4.  He will protect you… “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” – Exodus 14:14.     

I want to encourage you today to keep these scriptures close to your heart as you start this New Year! Incorporate them into your day. Speak them over your life. Believe that God holds your answer.

A Fresh Start

I like to reflect on who I was in 2018, and how I can make myself better for the Kingdom of God in 2019. As a pastor of a church, I realize the cycle of life in the lives of those around me and in my own life. I can be rejoicing with one person one minute over a victory in his or her life and grieving with another person the next minute over a tragedy. It is simply how life is. Today take a moment to think about 2018 and then look ahead to 2019. What will your fresh start look like?

The new year brings enthusiasm, hope, and the potential for change. The potential is there for this to be THE BEST YEAR YET!

This morning I was thinking about how we start over. How we undo what has been done, regroup, and start again. The temperature is a bit cold, and the weather is predicted to turn bad over the next few days. Snow? Ice? Or just cold and rainy. I’m not sure. As I look out my bedroom window, I think of spring.

But you and I both know, in order for spring to come, winter has to end. I can’t have both seasons. The fresh green grass and spring flowers could not thrive and grow in this kind of weather. No, in order to start new, something has to end.

Really, it is more about ending than beginning. We have to let go of what we are holding on to so that we can start fresh. One cannot exist when the other is around. How do we let go so that we can start new?

The words “Love Me” enter my heart. When we commit our hearts and lives to God fully, the love we have for Him overshadows the grip of sin and death. When we sell out to God, like the thawing of the ice upon the ground, new life pushes through, fresh and green.

When God spoke to Moses and instructed him to go to Pharoah, Moses asked Him, “Who do I say sent me?”

God responded, “Tell him, I am.”

I am ______________ (fill in anything you wish). He is more than enough. He is the answer to every problem. He is exactly what we need. He is our portion.

Make this year the year you commit daily to a loving relationship with God. Make this the year you study His word every day. Communicate with Him throughout the day. And make Him front and center in your home. Make this the year you end your former self and begin fresh and new in the love of God.

May you love God deeper and experience the wonder of a fresh new start in Him.

The Birthday Party

It was the Innkeeper that day in Bethlehem who uttered the words. I used to see him as some sort of villain. You know the type, dark eyes, disshoveled hair, angry faced, and rotten teeth. Who doesn’t make room for Jesus, right?

In my mind he stood with his hands on his hips; he pointed his finger; and in the deepest of voices he shook his head, “We have NOOOOO ROOOOOM for YOUUUUUU!”

In actuality, we are that villain, that innkeeper who wouldn’t provide even a small space in the Inn for Mary, Joseph, and their soon to be born son, Jesus. In our busyness, our schedule, our cell phone, our social media outlets, our ballgames, our careers, our school, our socializing, our ______________ (you fill in the blank), we utter those words every day.

When I was a little boy, my Sunday school teacher gave me the best illustration of Christmas which sticks with me today. She asked us to imagine that it was our birthday. My eyes closed. I could see the decorations, the food my mom prepared, the delicious, decorated chocolate cake with the words “Happy Birthday Mike!” and the candles.

She then told us to imagine the presents. I could certainly do that! Boxes decorated with bows and wrapping paper, colorfully designed, and all with MY NAME on the tags. I could see them stacked on the table my mom designated for guests to put their gifts to me.

My Sunday school teacher continued with the pretending by saying, “Imagine that I come to your party. I bring three gifts! Not one – but three! The gifts are beautifully decorated with oversized bows. They are the best looking gifts of all.”

I am involved. I can see it all! My Sunday School teacher is at my house. She is bringing three gifts. The excitement built as I envisioned it all.

She continued, “It is time for you to open my gifts to you. The first one…you tear open the perfectly decorated package…there must be something really special in this box to be decorated so beautifully! You peel back the glitter tissue paper, and lift out the….what?”

She described the gift inside as a pink lady’s robe with a fur sash sized Medium! She gasped, “Oh! It’s a perfect fit for me!”

In my imagination and not in my imagination, I can see myself staring at the robe.

The second gift? An Estee Lauder Makeup set. “Just the right colors for me!” my Sunday School teacher smiled. This is the best party EVER!

The third gift? Perfume – Eternity by Calvin Klein. What a treat!

Wait a minute…it’s MY birthday!

She stopped talking and we all stared at her. She had our attention.

“That is what we do every Christmas to Jesus. It is HIS Birthday – not ours!”

This Christmas – make it about Him – not you. Take time to read His story. Talk about the reasons for His coming. Rejoice that He is a part of your life.

As you go into the New Year – make room for Him in your heart. Don’t be that mean old innkeeper! Intentionally carve time for Him every day.

A Sword and a Bat

Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

In Samuel 23 we read about King David’s Mighty Men. Although the story is brief, it is one of my favorites. Eleazar was considered one of three of David’s mightiest men. A warrior for David and servant of the Lord, Eleazar fought even when the Israelite army retreated. Samuel 23:10 says, “…but he stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.”

One Sunday morning my Sunday school teacher told us the story of Eleazar. As an example for us, he recalled an incident when he was in high school. There was a boy named Zane who was mentally disabled. He functioned at a very low-level mentally but was able to attend school. Zane loved baseball, and for Christmas that particular year, he had received a bat autographed by none other than Babe Ruth.

Any time my teacher told stories about Zane, he totally held my attention. Zane was a big guy, and the coach of the high school allowed him to be a part of the baseball team as the equipment manager. Each afternoon after practice, Zane, escorted by a few members of the baseball team, walked the few blocks it took to get to his home. The coach preferred for some of the guys to go with him just to make sure he made it to his house. That particular day, Zane had taken his autographed bat to show the team. Some bullies from his school started taunting him on the walk home and telling him they were going to cut him if he did not give them his bat. When the gang produced the knives, Zane’s teammates ran, leaving him to face five of them, alone.

No one knew that Zane was not only a big guy and loved baseball, but Zane had a heart for the Lord. His dad read him the Bible every night before bed and every morning at breakfast. Zane couldn’t read but he could memorize and he shouted, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty,” from 1 Samuel 17:45.  He pulled up his bat, started swinging, three went down, and the other two ran.

When the coach arrived on the scene, the players having run to get his help, Zane was still swinging at the air, quoting scripture and praising God. It took about an hour to pry Zane’s fingers from the autographed bat, a modern-day Eleazar.

The Lord brought about a great victory that day,” not only for Eleazar, son of Dodai the Ahohite and mighty man of David, but also for Zane, a devoted son of God and equipment manager for the baseball team.

Was it the sword and the bat that made the difference? If I were a betting man, I would wager against it. The sword that brought victory for the Lord both days was His word – the Sword of the Spirit.

What battles do you face today? When we arm ourselves with the Word of God, adding an “S” to the beginning is easy to form our weapon and ultimate victory in Him. Set the Lord before you. Know that with Him at your right hand, ‘you will NOT be shaken’.