Are you willing to go to prison for Jesus?  Are you willing to be separated from your family for years for Jesus?  Are you willing to die for Jesus?

If you are a follower of Jesus, you really need to watch “The Cross – Jesus in China”.  It was made in 2003, and it gives the history of the church in China.  Let me tell you that unless you are really hard of heart you will be moved.  The testimonies of these beautiful and dedicated people will cause you to reconsider what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  I believe you will also be convinced that no cost is too great to pay to follow Jesus in obedience!  It is rare that I recommend movies or books on this site (perhaps I should more often).  I put this on the HIGHLY recommended list.  I literally wept with joy and thankfulness during parts of it the first time I saw it. from this link you can watch it online (it does take a while to load…worth the wait) or you can buy the DVD.  It is a 2 disc 4 hour set for $15, and yet timeless and priceless.  If you are myopic and self-centered and want to stay that way, well then this video is not for you!  Watch at your own risk.

Are you willing to live for Jesus?  Luke 9:23-26, “Then He (Jesus) said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.'”



More so than usual it is extremely important to have a game plan for Christmas shopping this season.  With the economic situation as it is people will intend to spend less; however, many will still spend more than they should.

People, even those who are financially disciplined, will lose all financial reason leading up to Christmas. Many people feel pressured (often self-imposed pressure)  to spend more they can afford on gifts. In fact their generosity often backfires because the Christmas over-spending inhibits the ability to be generous to worthy things during other parts of the year.

Here are a few tips to help avoid post-Christmas financial hangover!

1. Know that love is more important than stuff.

2. Decide on a dollar amount that you can afford to pay before making the list of names and items. Get that dollar amount out of the bank and put it in an envelope.

3.  Make your list of names and divide the dollars between them as evenly or unevenly as you see fit. Decide if you will buy anything for yourself or not. (I’ve read that up to 50% of money spent on Christmas shopping is spent by the shopper for the shopper.)

5. Put items of appropriate dollar amount next to the names, and do web searches to find the stores with the best prices. Remember that sometimes people would prefer your time or expertise in a matter over a gift. They get something often more special and you don’t go into more debt. Examples: proofreading a paper or raking leaves or a coupon for a picnic for 2 at the park

6. Take your Christmas cash with you to the store and leave your credit cards behind. It’s just too tempting when you are at the store to impulse buy and overspend, “oh, so and so would just love this, and it’s on sale!”  If you buy something on-line then take the cash amount and put it back in your bank account, then pay that amount on your credit card on the same billing cycle.

7. Stick to your budget. When you are out of Christmas cash your shopping is over. You might not like that fact now, but you will appreciate not having the stress of Christmas bills still hanging on in March or later.

Most importantly remember that the whole point of Christmas is supposed to be worshipping Jesus. Having family and friends to love and be generous towards is an added bonus. Loving family and friends do not want to receive generosity at the expense of financial damage and stress to someone they love.

Luke 2:8-12, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Sharing the “good news of great joy” is a wonderful gift to give and enjoy this time of year and throughout the year!

Regardless of whether Obama or McCain wins tonight or whether you will be happy or shed tears after the election results, please keep a few things in mind if you are a follower of Jesus.

God’s people must let nothing keep us from the priorities that God has set before us – to proclaim the Good News about Jesus.  I am encouraged that so many followers of Jesus I know really love God and love people and strive to live what they believe.  Let us endeavor more to share the love of God!  Let us endeavor more to be generous with all that God has made us stewards over!  Let us endeavor more to help the most oppressed!  Let us endeavor more to be salt and light and hope in our very dark world!

1.  We have a responsibility to pray for our leaders (I Timothy 2:1-2).

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

The Scripture does not tell us to pray for them only if we like them.  Praying for our leaders to have wisdom, discernment, justice, peace, love, and truth is commanded for us to do.  

2.  Jesus is still the only true and eternal hope!  (Luke 4:18-19, John 14:6).

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
      because he has anointed me 
      to preach good news to the poor. 
   He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
      and recovery of sight for the blind, 
   to release the oppressed, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Words of Jesus)

 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

3.  We must endeavor to love, live, and share the Good News about Jesus, the payment for our sins (I Timothy 2:3-7).

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.”

4.  We have a responsibility to stand up for the oppressed.  (Isaiah 1:17)

“Learn to do right! 
Seek justice, 
encourage the oppressed. 
Defend the cause of the fatherless, 
plead the case of the widow.”

5.  Regardless of who our leaders are, God is still God, and our privilege is to look forward to the day when Jesus Christ will reign (Revelation 11:15).

“The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.'”

I am so looking forward to the day when there will be no more tears and no more pain.  In that day, we will no longer have to wonder whether our leaders know what they are doing, or if they have good or bad intentions, or if they are wise enough for the job.  Our King Jesus will reign and all will be as it should be – finally!  What a sweet and blessed hope we have in Jesus!

Let these 3 short phrases from my friends in Mexico sink into your heads. You will need them if you are serious about following Jesus.

Be flexible – because you and I can be hard to work with. When Jesus says, “love your neighbor as yourself,” it implies that we will have to bend to the needs of others. We can’t say, “Lord I will love my neighbors as long as it fits into my grid, my schedule, and my plans.” We must flex, forgive, and continue to press for love and peace in Christ!

Be adaptable – because you and I do not know what tomorrow holds. We are terrible predictors of the future. History has surely taught us that we can be certain of the future being unpredictable and not much more.  We must adapt to a constantly changing world and culture while at the same time standing firm on our foundation – Jesus Himself!

Be consumablebecause God’s glory, God’s church (all followers of Jesus), and your local church are far more important than you or I are.  Do you believe that statement? If you are reading this and have been heavily influenced by the culture of the U.S.A, then you will have a hard time with this concept. We are constantly taught that “I” am most important and that if we all look out for “#1 – me” then everything will work out just fine. I believe most people in local churches in the United States have no concept of the whole being more important than the individual parts.

Are we listening to the words of Jesus? Are we answering His call, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).

Love is the answer.

Principal 1: Love is to seek what is best for your neighbor.
Go back to the story Jesus tells of the “good Samaritan” (see “Who is my neighbor?” post). The Samaritan took care of the beaten man’s woundss and provided for his recovery. It is obvious that this is what the beaten man needed, and the Samaritan loved this hurting stranger as he loved himself.

Principal 2: Love is sometimes hard.

In the historical account of Luke 18:18-27, a young wealthy aristocrat comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus knew the young man had money as his god; so Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. The young man went away sad. We need to understand that Jesus had great love for this young man and was seeking what was best for him. Unfortunately, the young man refused to be helped because he loved money more than God. It would have been much easier for Jesus to tell the young man that he was okay just like he was and that nothing in his life needed to change. It would have been easy, but it wouldn’t have been loving.

Principal 3: Love cannot be forced on someone. (note exceptions)
We can lovingly invite a person to receive our help, but they must accept it of their own will. Just like hearing about the rich aristocrat, it can be a frustrating thing to watch someone make bad decisions while refusing legitimate offers of what is best. We can pray; we can invite; we can exhort; we can encourage, but we cannot force love.

(Exceptions: children, the mentally impared, those under the influence of drugs. It would not be loving to let any of these walk into heavy traffic because they wanted to. We would lovingly force them to stay on the sidewalk.)

Encouraging word, Philippians 1:9, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (NIV).

If you haven’t yet, you may want to read “who is my neighbor” (below) before reading this post. The conclusion was that our neighbor is anyone we have the opportunity and resources to help. This did lead to 2 other questions; the first being, which neighbor do I help? The help we are speaking of here could be that of a physical, emotional, or spiritual nature. We find further instructions in the New Testament, which give us an order to live by.
1. Your family. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8). It would be a terrible testimony to give your money away and have your own kids without enough food to eat. But it should be noted that “provide for” is very different than “be excessive”.
2. The church. (those in the family of God). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
I believe that following the principal of #1 the needs in your local church would take precedence over those needs outside of your local church. Ideally the leadership in your local church is using the resources given to take care of the needs within the church and follow God’s lead on work outside of itself. In the U.S., in this time of wealth, an increasing percentage of local church resources should be headed outside of itself. However, if the local church you are a part of is self-centered, wasteful, and materialistic then you may need to take more initiative to encourage the leadership to do well, and if that fails then to designate what your giving is used for.
3. The poor. Throughout the Old and New Testament we see God’s heart for the poor and the responsibility he puts on us to look after their needs. It is also consistent that along with taking care of physical needs a priority is placed on the spiritual needs (Luke 4:18, Luke 12:32-34). It is best to support the work of the poor by those who are followers of Jesus, who along with taking care of the immediate are also providing hope and opportunity for their eternal well-being. Now there are organizations that do good things but not for Jesus. There are plenty of people who aren’t Christians who can give to those organizations – so let them do that.
4. Other people that God puts in your path. Again as Galatians 6:10 states “Therefore, as we have opportunity let us do good to all.” So depending on their type of need each person we are in contact with is a possible recipient of God’s love and grace working through us.

Having biblical priorities helps us use our limited resources most effectively and keeps us from giving to things that don’t have a God centered impact.

Jesus was asked this question by a lawyer who wanted to justify his own life when he heard Jesus say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is commonly asserted of lawyers that they want good ideas and laws applied to other people but not themselves, and that they are well acquainted with searching for loopholes. The truth is we all have a little lawyer in us.

So to answer the lawyers question, Jesus told what we commonly refer to as the “story of the good Samaritan.” To summarize a man is traveling down the road and gets beat down by some robbers. It is a violent scene as they take all his possessions and leave him naked to die in disgrace. Two religious men of the same race and culture of the man who was left to die pass by without helping. They intentionally went to the other side of the road to avoid contact – to avoid the hassle of helping someone – to avoid the personal cost of involvement.

But a third man comes along – of a different culture and a different people – he is a Samaritan (half Jewish, half Gentile – hated by both). He helps the guy by cleaning up his wounds, giving him a ride on his mule, and taking him to a hotel to recover. He pays all the injured man’s expenses, and tells the hotel manager, “put any other expenses on my tab.”

Now these 2 men did not live next to each other, they were not of the same race or culture, they had no connection other than their common humanity and that one of them needed help and the other had the ability to help. So we see the answer to our question: our neighbor is anyone we have the ability to help. This presents us with tremendous opportunities and increased complexities as our world is more connected than ever. Though we have answered this question, we have created two more: which neighbor do I help, and how can I best help my neighbor? Check back for more posts on this and other subjects.

To read the biblical record of the good Samaritan see Luke 10:25-37
The painting is by He Qi – one of my favorite artists – you can visit his gallery.