Monday, December 31, 2012

January 2013: Love by Listening

At Immanuel First, our mission is to "share God's love, comfort and hope with all." I know that I frequently encourage our congregation to actively share the message with others. However, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests an alternate way to share God's love, comfort and hope. What about showing love by listening?

"The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God's Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. ... We do God's work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is to always have to 'offer' something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either. they will always be talking even in the presence of God." (--D. Bonhoeffer)

Love by listening. What a novel thought! When you listen, you are saying to the speaker...

  • I value what you say.
  • You are important to me.
  • I care about you.

As Christians we do this because...

  • God values us.
  • We are important to God...
  • ...and God cares about us.

One last thing about listening... listening is more than just hearing and nodding you head. The goal is "communication." The goal is "relationship." There is a technique called Active Listening. It requires you to periodically repeat key points of what the speaker says. In doing so, you confirm that you have received the communication.

It is amazing to learn how many people CRAVE to be listened to. I think the same is of God. I believe there are 145,000 people within three miles of us who CRAVE to be listened to, by God. Be that witness. Be that liaison with God. Love by listening. Sharing God's love, comfort and hope... by listening. Listen to someone today! Amen.

Monday, December 3, 2012

December 2012: Insignificant, Unworthy, Weak... and Chosen by God!

It is very significant that the first celebration of Christ's birthday is with shepherds. They lived in the fields with their animals. They weren't respected. They had no power or prestige. Yet, for some reason, God's angel came to them first and said, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ, the Lord."

When God came down and made His announcement to shepherds, it was as if he was saying, "According to the ways of this world you are insignificant and unworthy. But you will no longer judge your importance by what the world says. For you are to be My messengers of great news. For born to you this say, is the Savior."

God has always used the insignificant and unworthy to carry his message. He does so, so that the glory of the message can be seen. Had God used a powerful emperor, people may have followed because they wanted his favor. Had God used an eloquent speaker, people may have followed because of his personal charisma. Had God used a great teacher, people may have followed because they figured he was just smarter than they were. Instead, God used the things which were small in the eyes of this world to carry His great news. When God decided to select a mother for His Son, He went past the rich and famous. He went past the powerful and noteworthy, and went to an insignificant village called Nazareth. He found a peasant girl. She did not dress in designer clothes. She did not have a sophisticated education. But God selected her to be the mother of His only begotten Son. So when the Christ came, He was not born in a fancy hospital, surrounded by the emperor's doctors. Rather, He was born in a humble stable wrapped in rags and lying in a manger. The world looked down at its nose at the manger and said, "How insignificant. How humble." And in doing so, it missed the most significant event of history.

Sometimes we may think that for God to move in our lives there must be the miraculous. Yet many times, God uses the simple and quiet things of this world. God uses people despite their weakness, despite their imperfections. In fact many times He works through them. God is able to use the weak, the insignificant, the unclean, to do great things in life.

Why does God use imperfect people? "Because He can."

But it is important for us imperfect people to realize that we are in fact weak. Why is that? The way God empowers us, the way God brings success in His Kingdom is not the way the world thinks of success. The world thinks you must focus on your strengths to be successful. "Only the strong survive." Well, in God's Kingdom, it is the exact opposite. Only the weak survive! Huh???

God uses the weak to do His will, because His power is made perfect in our weakness. We are to live in our weakness, to live in our insignificance, because that's what it means to live in faith. Regardless of the circumstances that you find yourself in, regardless of the trials you are facing, God will provide the strength to carry on. As St. Paul says, "For when I am weak, then I am strong."

As you celebrate the humble birth of our Savior, may you remember the God's power is made perfect in weakness. Merry Christmas.