Love your neighbor. Start with a name.

One evening, Duke Hammond (the president of 6:8), shared a little Bible nugget to the group. In part of his talk, he touched on the Greatest Commandment.

Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Love God. Love your neighbor.

Duke went on to share a little experiment they did with one of the teams. Each member of the team was given a picture of a tico (the common name for a Costa Rican) with nothing more than what part of Alajuelita they were from.

No name, just a picture. The task was to find the person.

What the team found out was that everybody in Alajuelita knows their neighbor. Every team member found their assigned person by simply showing the picture to people in the community.

Eventually someone would lead them to where the person lived.

I live in a townhouse with a total of eight connected units. Show me a picture of the person who lives at the other end of my building (less than a 10 second walk away) and I wouldn’t know their name. In fact, I wouldn’t even recognize their face.

How can you love your neighbor, let alone express that love without at least knowing their name?

This little nugget came alive and started to resonate within my spirit later on in the week with a woman named Serena whose story I will share in a future post.

It is a testimony to the power of knowing your neighbors.

Here are the eight people in my building.

  • me
  • Missy
  • Neighbor 2
  • Neighbor 3
  • Neighbor 4
  • Neighbor 5
  • Neighbor 6
  • Neighbor 7

I hope to fill in the missing names soon.


Grandma, please believe in Jesus

A few years ago I found out my unsaved grandma was about to die. Unfortunately, my Chinese was not up to par, so I couldn’t say what I wanted to say to her. Instead, I wrote a letter and had my aunt read/translate it to my grandma.

The purpose of the letter was to tell her about Jesus. I don’t know why, but I felt like digging it up and sharing it.

And I wish I could tell you there was a happy ending, but there wasn’t.

It’s okay though. Through it all, I came to understand Jesus still sits on the throne in situations like these.

The Letter

Dear Grandma,

I want to write you a letter and tell you how much I love you. You’ve
always been very close to my heart even though we’ve been separated for
awhile. For the longest time you were a mom to me, making sure we got
up for school and taking care of us when we were sick.

I remember when I was younger I would wake up in the mornings and lay in
bed for a few minutes. Then I’d yell “Grandma!!” and wait for you to
answer. Once you answered, I’d be satisfied and get out of bed. If you
didn’t answer, I’d keep yelling and yelling until you would. Sometimes
I’d even start crying until you answered. I didn’t want to talk to you
or anything; I just wanted to know you were still around and close to
me. It made me happy to know you were.

I love you. I want you to know that if I could, I would take your
sickness on me. I would even trade places with you and die so that you
could live instead of me. I never understood that kind of love until
someone did the same for me. Someone died for me. And now I want you
to understand that kind of love. Listen to me now because I would give
my life to anyone if only they’d believe and understand what I’m about
to say.

The man who traded his life for mine was Jesus Christ. To him I owe
everything. I owe him my life and my complete devotion. He’s done so
much that I have to share it with you so that you have a chance to love
Jesus as much as I do. Jesus lived awhile ago and spent his life
sharing God’s promises. These promises eventually led people to kill
Jesus because they were afraid of him. Jesus could have run away and
avoided dying, but he let the people kill him because He wanted everyone
to know how much he was willing to sacrifice for us. He wanted to show
us his love for us.

Even though Jesus died, three days later God raised him from the dead so
that we could experience God’s promise. That promise is that if we
believe Jesus was the Son of God and that God raised him from the dead,
then we can also be raised from the dead when we die. Everyone who
believes will be able to live forever in Heaven with Jesus and everyone
else who believes. But only if you believe Jesus died for you.

Grandma, that’s what I want for you. I cry at night when I pray for you
that you would understand this because it would hurt me so much to call
your name in Heaven and have you not there to answer. This is important
to me.

So Grandma, know that Jesus loves you. He traded his life for yours as
well as mine. Jesus wants to see you in Heaven. I want to see you in
Heaven. All you have to do is believe in your heart that what I just
told you about Jesus is true. I know it is because I’ve believed in
Jesus for five years now and Jesus has revealed himself to me, letting
me know He’s still alive and in Heaven waiting for me.

I pray that you would understand all that I just said. I pray that God
will heal you so that you have more time to live and let Jesus reveal
himself to you as well.

I love you Grandma,


Reading the Bible for New Christians: A Well-Rounded Approach (1 of 2)

I’m looking for a little guidance in getting closer to God with respect to reading the Bible.

What was your approach as a “new Christian?”

I feel it’s time to really jump into the Word and am just kind of unsure of where to start. I am confused as to what verses or sections to start first.

If you are a new Christian or have come to the point where you realize how critical it is to immerse yourself in the Word of God, these are some great questions.

It’s been almost 8 years since I first started to read my Bible. In that time, I’ve done a lot of experimenting and wrestling with what is sustainable, effective and worthwhile. With the next two posts, I hope to share some things that have maximized what I get out of my daily Bible readings.

In this first post, I want to share two different approaches Bible reading that I feel should be blended together to form a well-rounded Bible reading strategy or plan.

I’m going to use a visual from Genesis to help illustrate the two approaches. Keep in mind this is just a visual, so please don’t make a doctrine out of it. ;)

The next post will be more practical and talk about some ways to implement that strategy.

So without further ado, the visual …

Tree of Life

Genesis 3:22 (NIV)
22 […] He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Living forever. The tree of life are the things that will make an eternal difference. Namely, a transformation of your insides. Replacing your old self with the new self. One that loves, lives and serves like Jesus.

When you read the Bible not just for reading sake, God is able to make it come alive in your current life and situation.

Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)
12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Reading the Bible as if it were the tree of life is what allows God to bring hope, encouragement and strength into our lives. If we’re struggling, it penetrates deep within our hearts to offer comfort. It reflects who we are and who God wants us to be. It changes us from our old, carnal selves to new, eternally-minded and outward focused servants of Jesus Christ.

It is the kind of reading that will produce changes in our action, behavior and attitudes fitting of being called a disciple of Christ.

Tree of Knowledge

Genesis 3:6 (NIV)
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree [of the knowledge of good and evil] was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom […]

Knowledge is good. It feeds into wisdom. The Bible talks a lot about seeking wisdom and knowledge (check out Proverbs) and meditating on the Word of God and its commands (read Psalms).

But you can’t gain wisdom/knowledge or meditate on the Word if you’re not reading it. Reading the Bible for the tree of knowledge is simply gaining exposure (reading just to read). To familiarize yourself with the main characters, stories and teachings of the Bible.

With each read through of the Bible, you lay a stronger foundation. You become more familiar with the main principles of the Bible and eventually God is able to use those commands, stories and parables you’ve planted to bear fruit.

You will begin to live your life unconsciously by the Word of God.

Conclusion Anybody?

Here’s a different way to look at the two trees.

Tree of Life: Reading for the here and now. Is God speaking anything to your current situation in life? In how you’re living your life?

Tree of Knowledge: Reading for the future. Planting seeds so that God has stuff he can remind you of later when you (or someone else) need it.

For example, you might remember the story of how God wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. So you go back and read it again. But this time, instead of just being a story … it comes alive and speaks to what you’re going through right now.

Anyway, in my next post I’ll share my current Bible reading strategy which incorporates elements of both the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.


Faith in its complete form

I find it “coincidental” that my last two posts have unknowingly followed a progression that will be completed with this post.

If you’ve been following along, you know that recently God has given me a greater level of faith and the right “heart” desire to walk out that faith.

Since I’m in a season of life that is requiring faith and I find myself struggling to walk out that faith, I decided to read up on it today. I needed some encouragement, so I went to the Word. Pretty cool idea, huh? ;)

Here’s an excerpt from The Bible Exposition Commentary.

… faith is based on God’s Word, and it involves the whole man. […] The whole person plays a part in true … faith. The mind understands the truth; the heart desires the truth; and the will acts upon the truth.

I’m going to go through those three things, but the focus of this post is really on the third one (the will).

The Mind Understands the Truth

The truth that I’m understanding nowadays is the object of my faith. It is definitely and utterly no longer myself that I have faith in.

“Faith is only as good as its object.” The new object of my faith is in God and Jesus Christ.

The Heart Desires the Truth

Really, I think this boils down to an internal surrender. A willingness to let go of your life and allow God to freely direct it as He sees fit. This is the kind of heart attitude and faith that says . . .

“Bring me anything that brings You glory.” Bring it. I’m game.

The Will Acts Upon the Truth

This final stage is where I find the current battle taking place. I have the mental understanding. I have the heart attitude.

But now, I need to walk it out. This is where it sucks to be me. And probably you if you’re in a similar situation. ;)

James 2:21-22 (NIV)
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.

Only when the three things above (the mind, the heart and the will) operate does faith become complete.

If we want to see completion happen in our current situation, not only do we need to understand who our faith is in, surrender the situation completely to God, but we also have to execute and walk out surrender in our daily lives.

Had Abraham not continued to walk up the mountain to the place where God wanted Isaac sacrificed, Abraham’s faith would not have been completed. God’s plan would not have been completed. Abraham’s promise would not have been completed.

Faith and action work together in order to complete God’s work in us and in order for God’s work to be complete through us.

Imagine walking up the mountain as Abraham.  With every step, you look over at Isaac.  You know full well what you’re about to do, but you continue walking.

With every step and every look at your “Isaac,” you are one step closer to completion.

Continue walking to the place of completion.

There you will find God returning what you have given Him (Genesis 22:12; Luke 6:38).


An act of worship that hurts

I received some advice once. It was “give it back to God.”

That advice really began to come alive at a concert I was at couple of weeks ago. MercyMe was closing out the night with a song called “Bring the Rain.”

God was wrecking me through this song. ;)

The chorus goes something like this:

Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain

During this song, God gave me a new take on the story of Abraham and Isaac.

There are times when God asks you to surrender the very things He’s given you. The very things you hold dearest and closest to you.

In the case of Abraham, God asked him to sacrifice Isaac. The same son Abraham had waited 20 years to conceive. The same son that Abraham had raised as a boy and understood to be part God’s promise to him.

The thing closest to your heart.

White-knuckled and protective. The thing you hold the tightest.

“Give it back to God.”

It hurts. There’s turmoil. Inner pain. Rampant emotions.

But should we expect anything less? God expects our very best. He wants our first fruits. Why wouldn’t he also want whats dearest to us?

What struck me about the song was the line “But if that’s what it takes to bring You praise.”

If my pain brings You praise. If my sacrifice brings You praise.

Then Jesus, “Bring me anything that brings You glory.”

We may focus on the hurt it brings us. But is our hurt not an act of worship?

You want to fight it. You want to make sure it never really leaves your hands. The flesh wants to retain control. You look around. Maybe there’s a way out.

There is. “Give it back to God.” Freely and completely. Complete surrender and sacrifice.

It is worship that hurts.

Abraham worshiped God in this way. The power of this story is that God returned the sacrifice back to Abraham.

If I were Abraham, I probably would’ve cried afterwards.

You know why?

I knew what I was about to do would have hurt me in a ridiculous way. I knew how badly I wanted to modify God’s plan (even just slightly) so that the hurt would be less. I knew the internal struggle my spirit had with my flesh and how drained I was.

But . . . I sacrificed willingly and completely. I worshiped God with my pain.

I would have cried knowing God had returned it back and it was untouched and unblemished by me. Instead it was purified and accepted by God.

It had God’s approval on it.