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Living the Difference

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18 ESV

My world looks and feels a little different these days.

My family and I just returned from a week in Jeremie, Haiti where we served alongside Haiti Bible Mission over our boys’ Thanksgiving break.

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I have never witnessed such a glaring contrast in my surroundings. Nestled amid God’s glorious display of some of the best He has given us— amazing turquoise seas, lush jungle landscapes and rolling green mountains—bare feet walked dusty roads littered with trash, and half dressed children played in the streets, hungry for both food and attention.

My heart broke for them.

But then again, I had prayed before I ever boarded that plane to cross the sea that God would pierce my heart and open my eyes to see the people of Haiti like He sees them.

I had asked for it, and still it caught me by surprise.

The first time we stepped out of the truck and began walking down the street along the poverty stricken waterfront, a wave of emotion swept over me with such force, I had to ask God to strengthen me to keep on walking without tears.

Oh, how He loves them! My heart swelled with compassion. His compassion.

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? James 2:5

God sees those people the same way He sees you and me. He loves them. He died for them. He longs to save them. And He’s looking for people who are willing to show them.

Yep. That’s what I said. Not tell them. Show them. People are supposed to see who God is when they look at you and me.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. 2 Corinthians 5:20a

When people look at you, dear one, do they see Jesus?

Last week I had the privilege of seeing some of those ambassadors at work. I watched the HBM staff loving people, not just with words but through their actions. And when love is demonstrated instead of talked about, it moves people. Just like Jesus moved people.

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That day along the waterfront, the HBM team spent time and built relationships. They asked people to show them where there was need, and then they joyfully did what they could to meet it.

Carrying ladders and supplies, they moved from house to house, fastening tarps on the roofs of needy homeowners so they could keep out the rain.

Tying a tarp onto a roof seems a pretty small thing. It didn’t take much time. It didn’t even take much money. But you should have seen the smiles on the faces of those who received them!

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Then we bowed our heads together in the street, praising God and blessing the families in the name of Jesus.

The next day a man approached us in the street, hugging Pastor Mark and thanking him for the tarp. Grinning from ear to ear, he said, “It rained and I did not get wet.”

That man showed up as a first time visitor in church on Sunday.

In fact, three new people entered God’s house in worship for the first time as a result of a few men taking an hour to hang some tarps.

You see, love that gives draws people to seek the Giver.

God doesn’t just feel love in His heart toward mankind, dear one. He demonstrates it (Romans 5:8). And if you and I are going to be ambassadors through whom God makes His appeal, we need to demonstrate love too.

But here’s the good news. We don’t have to visit a foreign country to show God’s love. We can do it wherever we are.

Yes, God has commissioned us to carry His gospel to the ends of the earth. But He also mentions quite a bit about our neighbors.

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14 NIV

What if you and I stopped worrying about what we’re supposed to tell people about Jesus and just started loving people? What if we asked God to change our hearts and open our eyes to ways we can bless people around us and make a difference in their lives?

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It doesn’t have to be big things. It may only require a little time. But when we bless others, the life and love of Jesus gets poured out, and that changes things.

We may even find ourselves caught in the tide.

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:25

The Power of Ingratitude

“By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”  Exodus 13:21

Did you ever notice how God becomes just what we need from Him in any given moment?

Perhaps you haven’t noticed. Maybe, like the Israelites, you reap the benefit of His presence without ever giving it much thought. They were often so preoccupied by what they lacked, they didn’t appreciate what they were given. Instead of thanking God for His rich provision, they grumbled.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:2-3

Really? They spent their time in Egypt sitting around pots of meat? Isn’t it amazing how quickly the human mind forgets and distorts. Perhaps you’d like to see what caused God to send Moses to get them out of Egypt in the first place.

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Exodus 2:23-25

God added these words when He called Moses from the burning bush.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering . . . I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” Exodus 3:7,9

The memory of their groaning in backbreaking slavery quickly faded to illusions of grand feasts. Why? They were hungry. A desire of their flesh rose up and wasn’t satisfied, and that one thing became the entire focus of their thoughts. They forgot the extent of their suffering, as well as God’s miraculous displays of power on their behalf. And their momentary hunger made them twist His intentions. They threw God’s plan to rescue them back in His face, claiming He meant them harm.

Ever been there? That’s the nature of the unredeemed heart, dear one. It deceives. No wonder Jeremiah 17:9 states,

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

And that deceitful heart left unchecked brings bitterness to the soul.

Perhaps this is why scripture continually points the people of God toward gratitude. Gratitude shifts our gaze and changes the direction of our thinking. Instead of emptying the soul by dwelling on what we lack, it fills it by celebrating what we possess.

Sadly, few consistently choose the path of gratitude. Our own hunger for things we desire clouds our view and overshadows our many blessings. And that’s dangerous. Scripture teaches that refusing to acknowledge God with thanksgiving leads to futile thinking and a hard, dark heart.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:21-22

Ingratitude made the Israelites fools—fools that desired to run right back to the oppressive captivity they had cried out for deliverance from. Amazing.

Before we start casting stones at the house of Israel, it might be wise to shift our gaze to the nearest mirror. Is your heart content in the journey God has you on, dear one? Do your lips offer praise for the Light that marks your path, or are you preoccupied with an area that remains in shadow? Are you hungering for something so ferociously that all that God has already poured into your life feels empty?

God wants to see your heart at peace, beloved. He longs to satisfy your soul with a contentedness only He can bring. You see, dear one, only God Himself can satisfy.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14

Do you want a little joy and gladness that carries you all your days? It comes as the result of a choice. Choose to look at what God has done, not what He has yet to do. Offer Him praise and gratitude. You may just find that you encounter God Himself.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

Praise and gratitude usher us into the presence and power of God. Thanksgiving allows us to enter His gates. Praise carries us into His court. And when we encounter Him, we discover just what we needed. Emptiness fades. Our hearts fill with His very presence.

And we are satisfied.

The Sacrifice of Praise

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name." Psalm 100:4

Many of us will join with family or friends tomorrow to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. We will gather around beautifully set tables filled with tantalizing dishes that entice our stomachs and enthrall our senses, their aromas warming our hearts with the familiar comfort tradition brings. Many will pause before they feast to offer a word of thanks, choosing this day to recognize publicly something they have to be grateful for.

Some sitting around those tables will be wearing forced smiles, trying to mask the sorrow in their hearts. As they listen to words of gratitude escaping the lips of those around them, they know they should rejoice with them, but envy swallows any feelings of joy over their gladness. Instead of rejoicing, bitterness gnaws at the heart, and the temptation presents itself to rail at a God who appears to pick others as favorites.

Sometimes, our human nature feeds us the lie that we have nothing to be grateful for. Circumstances overwhelm us, pain engulfs us, and we begin to drown in a sea of sorrow as disappointments and heartache crash over us in unrelenting, crushing waves. The weight seems too much, and the thought of fighting our way to the surface seems impossible. So, why even try? Why, indeed.

God offers this promise in Isaiah 51:3.

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”

Do you know that we serve a God whose specialty is the rebuilding of ruins? Who turns wastelands into fruitful gardens? Who replaces emptiness with joy and gladness with such radical transformation that the recipient’s heart cannot help but respond and overflow with thanksgiving and praise?

Perhaps we have misunderstood the promise of blessing given to us in Christ. Sometimes we interpret abundance in Christ to mean that we should suffer no pain, but that’s not what His Word teaches. Jesus Himself said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus does not promise us a trouble free life. Unfortunately, until Christ returns to establish His eternal kingdom, we will all have to deal with pain. What He does offer is the means to overcome our troubles when we cry out to Him in the midst of them.

God delights when we bring our petitions before Him, and we should boldly approach His throne of grace to seek His aid. But one, singular response in us begins our transition from the wasteland to the garden: the sacrifice of praise.

Psalm 8:2 teaches, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Praise silences our enemy and begins to move us along the path to joy and restoration. Why? Because when praises to God escape our lips in our time of greatest need, those words we utter reflect a deeper seed taking root in the depths of our heart. They constitute a release of faith.

Praising God in the midst of our pain says, “I don’t understand, but I trust you.” It speaks to both God and our enemy that we are certain of things we can’t currently see. It says, “I know that God is here, I know that He loves, and I know that He does not fail.” Offering our praises to God lifts the shield of faith, and according to Ephesians 6:16, extinguishes all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Our enemy can’t hurt us with his lies if we refuse to believe them.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15). Let’s make every day a day of thanksgiving, asking God to shift our focus away from our troubles and praise Him for the many blessings we really do have to be thankful for. Sometimes praise does feel like a sacrifice, but when we offer it anyway, we open the door to grace.

Praise Him, dear one, and experience the miraculous as bit by bit the Spirit of Christ causes your heart to follow your lips. And,Joy and gladness will be found in [you], thanksgiving and the sound of singing” (Isaiah 51:3). Oh, glorious day!

 

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