Spiritual Formation

Lessons from a Homeless Man

Yesterday I officiated funeral services for a homeless man, who was murdered on Friday, December 30 in Yorba Linda. His daughter attends our church and serves as one of our small group leaders. The service was attended by about 50 or so family members and friends, as well as by several news reporters.

Dutch’s life was taken by a man who is now in custody and who has been charged in the stabbing deaths of four homeless men. While the family feels a sense of peace knowing that the streets are safer, they are still left trying to make sense of this senseless tragedy and trying to pick up the pieces as they grieve the loss of their loved one.

While no words can adequately comfort and answer the questions of why, I know many left yesterday’s service deeply touched with a sense of gratefulness for the lessons we learned from this wanderer. Here are a few of the things I shared, as well as few of lessons and reminders that I walked away with…

  1. Each of us are created in the image and likeness of God and we have infinite value and worth to our Creator. God loves us regardless of our race, social or economic status.
  2. Everyone one of us has a story and our lives have an impact on the lives of those around us.
  3. The homeless have a name and family members who love them and are likely praying for them. In this story, Dutch had three loving daughters and ten grandchildren who loved him dearly.
  4. Unconditional love truly breaks through the hardness of one’s heart. In this story, a daughter’s unconditional love and acceptance broke through a hard heart and opened new relational connections to the church, which may have never been.

While we live in a world of good and evil, we know from the Scriptures that evil doesn’t win the end! Yesterday, I saw the good that is in the world. And I left giving thanks to God, as I saw him beginning to make beautiful things out of the ashes.

People Grow Better in Grace

Peter clearly understood that people grow better in grace when he encouraged his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). But what does grace mean, and how does the experience of grace foster transformation?

While righteousness has always been by faith, God operated under the system of the law, with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. However, in the New Testament, God operates under a system of grace; because His wrath was satisfied in the death, burial and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul, in writing to the Ephesians states, “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and it is not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Grace is literally defined as “unmerited favor.” And because of God’s grace, one can enjoy favor with God, not because of what they have done, but because of what God has done.

Unfortunately, it’s so easy in our world to think we need to do something to earn God’s favor. As though God’s grace was too good to be true. But since our acceptance before God is not based upon our performance, we can find true freedom in Him, and our life becomes a thank you to Him for what He has already done. This is the experience of grace that fosters transformation, because no longer do we feel this nagging sense of having to do anything to earn God’s favor, but instead we simply respond to Him because of what He has done for us.

Grace transforms because it leads us to relate to a loving God not out of a sense of obligation, but out of love. The law was never intended to bring righteousness, and we are foolish to think that we can ever add anything to Christ’s completed work on the cross. Guilt and shame only lead us away from God and into hiding. Grace leads us toward God and toward one-another. Therefore, may the church always be characterized by grace, because after all, people grow better in grace.

An Undivided Heart

Going to college in Santa Barbara was the ultimate experience! For four years I lived life on the coast with the all the amenities and distractions that come with beach living. I remember failing one of my first exams during my freshman year after attempting to study at the beach on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Even studying in the library was a challenge, as almost every window in the library had an ocean view.

College was full of distractions! There were plenty of things that could have easily divided my heart and my interests. Each day I was faced with choices and challenges; however, as I faced those challenges, I remembered the promise I made to God, which was to live for him no matter what.

In 2 Kings we see a picture of divided loyalty. 2 Kings 17:38 says, “they worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods.” In other words, the Israelites had a divided heart. Jesus taught about this during his Sermon on the Mount when he said, “no one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

While the distractions in college were many, I find that there are so many more things to capture my affections in this technological age. I guess life has always had its distractions; however, I don’t want that to be an excuse. God desires that our heart would be unwavering in our commitment to him. May that be true of me! May that be true of us!

“give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” — Psalm 86:11, NIV

Say Wait?

They say “good things come to those who wait,” but frankly I don’t want to wait. Whether it’s some new toy, saving up to buy a new car, or working through a difficult situation, I want immediate resolve. And in an age of instant credit and microwave dinners, it makes it difficult to practice this discipline.

In Acts 1 the apostles were instructed by Jesus not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the Holy Spirit, which they heard Jesus speak of. In that culture it was a lot easier to wait, so this is what the apostles did. The outcome was phenomenal. A great thing happened in that the Holy Spirit came as promised. The result was that Peter was able to speak boldly about the things of God, and church grew by three thousand people that day.

I have to confess that waiting on God is hard. For years my wife Jennifer and I struggled with wanting a child and not being able to conceive. I was bitter toward God for not answering our prayers and giving us the desire of our hearts. However, I kept pursuing the things of God while I continued to wait. Then one day after a seminary class, I came home and Jennifer exclaimed “I’m pregnant!”  Ten years later we still rejoice over God’s blessing, our son Zachary.

Good things do come to those who wait.

God’s Purposes

Have you ever wanted to retaliate for a wrong done against you or toward another? Whether it is lashing out in anger, quietly plotting revenge, or sulking in our feelings, I am sure all of us have experienced this tendency to one degree or another.

The story of Joseph stands as the antithesis of our human tendency to retaliate. Joseph faced a multitude of pressures and trials: betrayal by his brothers, false accusations, and empty promises. All these could have caused Joseph to give up hope, give into the pressure, and turn away from God. Joseph could have accused God of being powerless to handle his problems, or not caring enough to come and rescue him. But Joseph didn’t do any of that. Instead, he knew some things about God. He trusted God, and he leaned into what he had been taught about him.

The pressures you and I face every day may not be like Joseph’s; however, no matter the situation, I believe God never wastes an experience. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph makes a declaration to his brothers. “You intended to harm me,”Joseph says, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” In other words, Joseph was able to see how God allowed the circumstances of his life to bring about the preservation of his family and the growth of a nation.

In spite of the circumstances, Joseph discovered the rich treasure of walking in God’s presence and in turn left this legacy for God’s people. Sometimes God’s purposes, in our pressures, may be far beyond anything we will see in this life, but whether we see clearly or not, he always has a purpose

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