February 24, 2011
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thes. 5:11
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” – Mark Twain
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Prov. 17:22
“One word or a pleasing smile is often enough to raise up a saddened and wounded soul.” – Therese of Lisieux
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Eph. 4:29
Encourage everyone every day…
Over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring love. We’ve been given pictures of love through stories, we’ve examined the different types of love used in the bible and what they each mean, and we’ve talked about how loving people and having a spirit of generosity go hand-in-hand, but how do we go about loving others all the time, especially when their needs may not be so obvious? Last night, Aaron said the answer is pretty simple: encourage everyone every day.
As followers of Christ, we are called to build each other up, to inspire others, and encourage those around us. What Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 is not a suggestion or even a strong recommendation; it’s a command. We are to constantly encourage. Just like everyone has an IQ – intelligence quotient – Aaron believes that we all also have an EQ – an encouragement quotient – that constantly needs to be refilled one way or another. Of course, when you’re in need of encouragement, the first place to turn is the Bible, God’s love letter to you, but there’s no reason why we can’t all be seeking to help meet each other’s encouragement quotas at the same time.
While the idea of encouraging everyone every day may seem simple, making it happen is a little more difficult; encouragement is truly an art form – it’s a skill, just like playing an instrument, that you have to practice in order to perfect. That being said, Aaron laid out three action steps for each of us to partake in last night during the worship service, each of which was meant to show us how easy, necessary, and rewarding it can be to build some one up.
- Take a moment and think about the last time someone encouraged you… Now think about the last time you encouraged someone else…
Maybe you were able to think of both of those moments very quickly, but maybe not. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve felt encouraged, and maybe it’s been even longer since you took the time to encourage someone else. No matter how long it took you to remember, and no matter how long ago the encouragement exchanges actually happened, keep in mind that Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today…” In other words, Hebrews tells us that we need to encourage people now, right now, because tomorrow may not actually get here. Don’t let the moment pass you by; if someone is in need of a pick me up, or you notice that someone is doing a great job, tell them! Don’t wait for a “better” time; just like John Mayer says (over and over and over again), “Say whatcha need to say.” Go give someone a hug and say, “much love!”
- Start going out of your way to encourage people; make it a priority. Have you encouraged someone today? Maybe you should…
We are all so quick to criticize. No, really, we are. Next time you’re walking down the street, try to listen to your internal monologue; you may be surprised by what you hear. Not only are we quick to judge in our heads, but we’re often too quick to speak those words of condemnation or disapproval aloud. As kids, we were all taught that cute little nursery rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That, my friends, is a lie. Words do have an effect: they can either be medicine or poison. Therefore, be careful of what you say, even when you’re trying to be encouraging. Try not to tell someone that they’re the most Christ-like person you’ve ever met, or that no one else is as smart as them – that’s called evaluation, and all it does is put unnecessary pressure on the person you’re trying to encourage. Instead, focus on appreciating their efforts; say that they are a hard worker, or that they have really been putting their God-given talents to good use. No one wants to be judged, not even if it’s affirming. Take the time to leave an encouraging note for a family member, roommate, or friend.
- Establish relationships with people. Form a community that seeks to encourage everyone. Through that connection, you will pull closer to Christ.
In other words, there is a purpose behind constantly encouraging others. Paul says that his purpose for writing to encourage Christians in Colosse was “that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Col. 2:2). By taking the time to encourage one another (to love one another), you form connections to people, and those connections tether you all to Christ, from whom all love originates. Start making encouraging connections!
Encourage everyone every day.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging… The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:1-3, 7
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 4-5
Push Play: Before you can love someone else, you have to learn to love yourself. That’s a phrase that we’ve all heard a million times from friends, family members, mentors, teachers, etc. What they mean is that you have to learn to accept and be happy with who you are before you can fully accept and be happy with someone else. However, just like the “Sticks and Stones” mantra is a lie, so too is this beloved word of “wisdom.” It should really be: before you can love someone else, even before you can love yourself, you have to first love God. God loves you more than you could ever imagine, and until you start to understand that, love is always going to seem like a foreign concept – something that is just out of your reach. The thing is, loving God isn’t a stationary or a solitary thing. Loving God is a lifestyle, because when you believe in Him, and you accept Jesus as your savior, everything changes, including the way you live. Including the way you go about loving other people. Loving God requires showing love to other people, because when you love someone you listen to them, and God has told us repeatedly to love one another. Moreover, loving God isn’t something you ever perfect here on Earth, thus you can learn to love God by loving on other people. That’s right, it’s a circle. Love God -> Love People -> Love God -> Love People -> Love God…
February 17, 2011
Rewind: Last night, Mary told us that there are over 3,000 verses in Scripture that speak to generous living in one form or another. Some, like Proverbs 11: 24-25, encourage us to give abundantly: “Some people give much but get back even more. Others don’t give what they should and end up poor. Whoever gives to others will get richer…” (NCV) While others, like Proverbs 18:1, tell us selfishness is isolating and foolish: “Unfriendly people are selfish and hate all good sense” (NCV). It’s quite obvious from all this that God wants us to live generously, but how do you do that? You let God’s love pour out of you and into those around you. It’s like Mary said, “Love and generosity; you simply can’t have one without the other.”
As humans, we are consumed with selfish ends: what is it going to do for me? How do I benefit? What do I gain? Me, me, me! Think about it, we operate on this level pretty much from the moment we’re born. As soon as you’ve mastered the all important, “Mama” and “Dada,” the next words out of your mouth are “me,” “mine,” “I do it,” and “no!” When you get a little older, you learn about this strange concept – sharing – which is a bummer, because, after all, those are your toys. By the time you get to college, you’re really good at thinking about life in terms of “me,” so it seems only natural that you spend the whole four years focusing on my dreams, my goals, my talents, and my needs. Selfishness doesn’t end there, though; oh no, it only gets worse after graduation. Then it’s all about my job, my money, my car, my house, my money, my huge wedding, my future, and, oh yeah, my money. It’s just like Mary said last night: if we don’t pay attention, we turn into selfish beasts really, really fast.
Close your eyes and think back to just two month ago. It was December, and it was cold, and for us students, it was time for finals, but it was also Christmas time… There is just something about the Christmas season that makes people, Christians and non-believers alike, want to give, to help, and to love one another better. But what happens to that feeling the rest of the year? It’s like the spirit of giving gets taken down and packed away with the ornaments and twinkly lights! Jesus didn’t call us to love each other one month out of the year; He commanded us to love always. Remember how Jesus responded to the Sadducees? “The most important command is this… Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second command is this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. There are no commands more important than these.”
Is that how you’re living? Do you love your neighbors as much as you love yourself? Truth be told, that’s hard to do, because we love ourselves a lot. But just like Mary explained last night, learning to live generously – living a life that is brimming over with love – is as simple as reexamining what you place value on (people, success, honesty, money, possessions), and what your heart looks like when you give (cheerful, willing, and honest, or begrudging and deceitful). Keep in mind that giving isn’t always something tangible like money or goods; you can also give of your time and your spirit in the form of patience, kindness, grace, and forgiveness. If you’re looking for an example of loving generosity, just look to Jesus; there was certainly no room for selfishness on the cross.
“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” Deuteronomy 15:10
“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Luke 6:38
“But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:42-44
Push Play: It’s really easy to not give. It’s really easy to close your eyes or turn away from a need and convince yourself that you don’t understand or that it’s not your problem anyway. In the same way, it’s really easy to give a little bit because you feel like you have to. How many times have you given to a cause, any cause, just because the people you’re with have pulled out their wallets? Giving of your spirit is even more tricky, because, let’s be honest here, if you don’t want to, you probably won’t. After a long day, it’s hard to muster the strength to treat people with patience and grace, but that is what we are told to do. The truth is, Jesus calls us to give abundantly and willingly. In other words, we are to give more than what we think we are capable of – be it monetarily or spiritually – and do it with a smile in our hearts. Yeah, what Christ calls us to do is not always easy, but it is always rewarding.
February 10, 2011
Rewind: Do you want to change the world? Maybe you just want to change your world – your family life, what you’re used to, your friendships, or your expectations. No matter what it is you’re looking to do, big or small, the truth is that you simply can’t do it without love. I’m sure you’ve all heard it a million times before: Love is patient, love is kind… but have you ever paid close attention to what Paul says just a little bit earlier in his letter to the Corinthians? 1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Did you get that? Even if you do something great, something truly amazing, if you do it without love, it’s just noise – it doesn’t really mean anything. Whether you want to be an architect, an engineer, a professor, an athlete, a mom, a dad, a rock star, or a friend, if you don’t know what it means to love, how it looks to love, or how it feels to love, well, then, it just won’t matter that much.
Alright, so you have to have love, but what does that even mean? How do you go about defining love? Last week, you may remember, Aaron used stories to paint pictures of what love looks like and how love feels, but what about what love means? That’s a tricky question to answer because love is just so big. But, in an effort to establish a more concrete definition, last night Aaron looked to 1 John chapter 4 where in the space of 21 verses, John uses the word love 28 times.
As you may or may not know, there are four different Greek words for love, each with their own meaning and Biblical application. You’ve got storge (stor-gay), meaning a natural affection for someone; similar to the immediate, effortless bond between parent and child. Then there’s philia, meaning brotherly love, or friendship. There’s also eros, meaning a passionate, romantic, or sensual love. And then there’s agape – this is the word that John uses all 28 times in chapter 4. Agape is a God-sourced love; it is a self-sacrificing, self-surrendering, and unconditional type of love. It’s the kind of love that we need most, but don’t always want. It’s the kind of love that moved God to send His only Son to die on our behalf.
Especially with Valentine’s Day looming near, the word love gets thrown around quite a lot, but its meaning isn’t usually connected with agape. The love that most of us are familiar with says, “If you are intrinsically lovable, I can love you,” but what if you’re not lovable right now? What if you cut someone off, or step on their toe, or say the wrong thing? What then? It’s not always easy to love people, and it’s even harder to love people well, but agape says, “no matter what, I will love you.”
So how do you go about showing agape to people? Well, Aaron says it’s as simple, and as complex, as validating someone’s existence. Notice people; learn their names; actively listen to their stories; take an interest; say something kind; share a smile. When you validate someone’s existence, you are recognizing that they are there, that they matter, and you are letting them know you care that they’re there. Jesus did this all the time. He went to the outcasts – the widows, the tax collectors, the sick, the broken – and He spoke to them; He cared for them. He validated their existence. Every time you fail to validate a person’s existence, and this is something we all fail at a lot of the time, you become less than the person God has called you to be. The flip side, of course, is that the more you truly love someone else, the more love you feel in your own life. When you pour out God’s love, you make room for God to continue pouring more and more love in, which of course leads you to pour more love out, which makes room for God to pour more in, which leads…
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:8-11
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing… Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 2-3, 6-8, 13
Push Play: Go out and agape. I’m not sure that there’s a whole lot more I can say on this topic, because unfortunately, there’s only so much you can learn about love from books and talks. It would be really great if we could fully understand love as God intends it while sitting still, because then it would be easy, but as one of my favorite songs, “The Road to Jericho Is Lined With Starving People” by This Providence, puts it, “If lovin’ were easy, it wouldn’t be love.” So, whether it’s striking up a conversation with your waitress, as Aaron suggested yesterday, or smiling at the homeless man on the corner, or treating someone who tries your patience with grace and kindness, go do something. Start practicing agape right now.
Each and every member of Axiom holds a special place in the heart of the ministry. Whether you are a part of the leadership team, join us for retreats, or just worship with us each Thursday night, your presence makes a difference, and when you leave, you are missed. We want to give our graduating seniors the opportunity to speak their wisdom into our lives, and give our underclassmen the chance to meet, and be influenced by, the students who have come before them. Towards the end of each semester, I’ll be contacting the Axiom seniors to write a little bit about themselves – to say good bye to their friends and family here at the University of Illinois.
Admittedly, this Senior Spotlight is a little late, but Michelle was our only graduating senior last semester, and even though she’s been out in the “real world” for two months or so already, we’re still not willing to accept that she’s not around… So, without further ado:
My major was Undecided when I first applied to college. The week before my Junior year I chose to become a Psychology major, but 120 hours of classes, a workshop, and several career books later, and I still don’t know what my calling is. However, I do have a very long list of options, and I intend to start at the top and move down the list until I strike gold. If you could pray that I would find my vocation, I would really appreciate it. And, yeah, if you want to get into a long, ridiculous discussion about what it feels like to throw tens of thousands of dollars into the wind, gimme a call.
When I first came to the University, I had no idea what it would be like. Neither of my parents had gone to college, and none of us knew where to start or what, exactly, I was getting myself into. It was just the “next step” in life. I was in Romania when I applied to the University, so I didn’t even tour the campus. While I didn’t know what major I wanted, I was determined to find a solid Christian ministry to plug into. The first few weeks of school, I went to countless Bible studies and large groups, but I didn’t find anything that was right for me. When I talked to my friend Natalie from high school, she told me about her friend Joe Matuch, who happened to live at a house that had a ministry on the first floor. After an awkwardly declined invitation to Fall Retreat, I came to my first Thursday night meeting. I didn’t know what I needed at the time, but God did. In a place where I didn’t know up from down, God gave me a solid group of friends and a safe place to grow into maturity and, eventually, a leadership position.
On vacations when I’d come home and talk with my parents, I found myself explaining a lot about my time at Axiom; not just funny stories, but about Publicity team and the dreams that I wanted to accomplish and how difficult dealing with logistics was sometimes…and so on. My dad nodded thoughtfully and said, “Your real education is happening outside of class.” I really appreciate how Axiom gives people the opportunity to work with their gifts and serve their community. All you need to do is ask. My Freshman year, I bullied Ryan Mathews (before he was my boyfriend) into letting me help with the announcement slides so that he could worship with everyone else once in a while. I ended up turning down a position on the leadership team, at first, because there wasn’t anything I wanted to be a leader of. Later, however, when the Publicity team was created, I fell into a leadership role. Axiom runs on the generosity, willingness, and gifts of the students in it. If you want to do something that isn’t currently happening (or even something that is), just ask. There is a place for you.
Of course I miss Axiom. I miss being able to take a short walk across campus and visit my home away from home, full of many of my favorite people. Unfortunately, they tell me this is part of growing up. I’m not sure if I want any part of this growing up business – you’ll have to ask me in a few months or maybe years – but I am really excited about the amount of fellowship I know is possible, and I am determined to find it outside of campus. In any case, I hope to visit Axiom again really soon!
Michelle Husz, Graduated: Dec. 2010
February 3, 2011
Rewind: Love; it’s a word that has become watered down and overused, especially in the English language. It’s weird to think that most of us use the same four letter word to describe how we feel about pizza, chocolate, our favorite sweater, an interesting class, a movie star, our best friend, our pets, the snow, our parents, and our God. With all of those things wrapped up into our conception of love, it’s sometimes hard to understand what it really means to believe that God loves us. Try as you might – and I’ve tried a lot, because I really like words – words just don’t seem to cut it when it comes to describing love. But that doesn’t mean that God’s love has to remain a mystery.
Last night, Aaron took a page out of Christ’s play book (Matt. 22:1, for instance), and taught in word-pictures, stories. So, what is God’s love like? “Well,” Aaron said, “it’s kinda like…”
There was a guy named Randy who really had to use the bathroom. He dashed into the first men’s room he found, and went about his business. As he was washing his hands, however, he heard a voice call out, “Help!” It was coming from the handicapped stall. Now, Randy stopped to think for a moment: this guy hasn’t seen my face or even what I’m wearing; really, I could turn around and walk out of the restroom, and no one would know. But Randy didn’t walk out. Instead, he crawled under the locked door of the handicapped stall and helped the man who was stranded between his wheelchair and the toilet. It wasn’t pretty or fun; it didn’t smell pleasant, and they were both embarrassed, but Randy helped the man up, and cleaned him, the floor, the wheel chair, and the toilet. He then waited until the man was done, and helped him back into his wheel chair and out of the restroom. Randy and that man will probably never see each other again. God’s love is kinda like that. “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” Matt. 20:28
There was an airplane that took off just like a million other airplanes, and flew along its path just like a million other airplanes, and, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be like a million other airplanes, until it stopped being like those other airplanes. At some point during the flight, the plane hit intense turbulence and started going down. As you may be able to imagine, people panicked. They cried and screamed and fumbled frantically with seatbelts and the masks hanging from the ceiling. Amidst the chaos, one man, wearing a black outfit with a white collar, sat quietly observing the scene. He saw two small children, ages 5 and 7, crying while their parents freaked out nearby. The priest got up out of his chair, walked over to the kids, and started telling jokes. He comforted them, wiped away their tears, and made them laugh. Picture that for a second. This plane is falling out of the sky, the passengers are all going nuts, everyone is consumed with fear and worry, and there, in the middle of all of that, is a man and two small children, laughing and smiling. God’s love is kinda like that. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:7
One in two families go through a divorce now-a-days. A man came home one day to find his wife in the act of cheating on him. After the inevitable argument and a little time, the two decided to go to counseling together. For a while, things seemed to be getting better; they were back to laughing together and holding hands. The man was hopeful that they could move on. But then his wife cheated again. In fact, she cheated at least four more times. It got to the point where this man would go to where he knew she would be, just so he could bring her home again. Eventually, his wife moved out, but the man never stopped pursuing her. His friends questioned him repeatedly. Don’t you know what’s going on? Can’t you see that she has an infidelity problem and it isn’t going to get any better? What are you doing? Why don’t you just let her go? In response, all the man could say was, “I love my wife; I will always love her.” He said he had a promise to stand by her and care for her no matter what, and if she were to come back tomorrow, he would welcome her home with open arms. God’s love is kinda like that.
In fact, God’s love is so much like that last example that there’s a whole book in the bible depicting that same principle of undying love. Hosea was a prophet told, by God, to marry Gomer, a prostitute, and no matter how many times she ran back to her other lovers, Hosea found her and brought her home. Hosea’s relentless pursuit of Gomer’s heart mirrors the Lord’s relentless pursuit of His people who continuously turn away from His love. Just as the man’s friends questioned his actions, one can imagine that the angels sometimes question God. What are You doing? Don’t You know there is darkness in the Church? Can’t You see that Your people will only keep breaking Your heart? Why can’t You just let them go? He won’t let us go because He has made us a promise. He will fight for us, and care for us, and listen to us, and love us forever. He says, “I love the Church, and I will always love her; I will stand by her forever.” Yeah, God’s love is like that.
Pause: There are a few scripture passages scattered throughout the message above that I would strongly encourage you to look up and meditate on, but also read through these excerpts from The Message translation of Hosea. They speak to the heartbreak God experiences each time we turn away, and the unending love He has for us despite our perpetual infidelity problem.
“When Israel was only a child, I loved him. I called out, “My son!” – called him out of Egypt. But when others called him, eh ran off and left me. He worshiped the popular sex gods, he played at religion with toy gods. Still, I stuck with him. I led Ephraim. I rescued him from human bondage, but he never acknowledged my help…” Hosea 11:1-3
“My people are hell-bent on leaving me. They pray to god Baal for help He doesn’t lift a finger to help them. But how can I give up on you, Ephraim? How can I turn you loose, Israel?… I can’t bear to even think such thoughts. My insides churn in protest. And so I’m not going to act on my anger. I’m not going to destroy Ephraim. And why? Because I am God and not a human. I’m The Holy One and I’m here – in your very midst.” Hosea 11:7-9
“I will heal their waywardness. I will love them lavishly. My anger is played out. I will make a fresh start with Israel. He’ll burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring… Ephraim is finished with gods that are no-gods. From now on I’m the one who answers and satisfies him. I am like a luxuriant fruit tree. Everything you need is to be found in me.” Hosea 14:4-5, 8
Push Play: If you haven’t guessed already, the book of Hosea is one of my favorite books of the bible. If you haven’t read it, go read it right now, please. It’s only 14 chapters, and it goes by pretty quick. In my opinion, you simply can’t find a better love story. God’s love for us is real and true and far more moving than anything else in the world. When we are filled to the brim with God’s love, it’s only natural that we turn around and pour that love out into the world. True love is an action, after all. That’s why Aaron gave us examples, that’s why Jesus told parables, that’s why Hosea was made to chase after Gomer, and that’s why Axiom does things like Water on Green and Cocoa on the Quad. This week, let love motivate you to choose to serve others and act with grace and mercy even when it’s tough, because God loves you like that all the time.