Sunday, August 6, 2017

Going Back to School

School-time conjures up feelings of great joy for some and great dread for others. What is school about? Learning, as they say, can be fun; but it depends on your willingness to make it that way. Consider the Apostles’ education in ministry that they enrolled in when they accepted Jesus’ invitation to “follow me.” Throughout those three years, they learned how to pray (Luke 11:1), they learned that Jesus truly was the son of God (John 11:42; John 17:7-8), and they learned how to bless people the way Jesus did. The blessings Jesus focused on weren’t strictly miraculous, but generous and highly encouraging.

Upon graduation (Jesus’ ascension) they had to go out on their own. But they weren’t alone, because Jesus had promised a helper would come once He had ascended to the Father. John 16:7, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” And, once the helper came, that’s when they would realize how much God was really with them helping them know what to say (John 14:26).

Although we may not encounter the situations the Apostles faced on a day-to-day basis, we still have the responsibility of putting our “education” into practice; and that always helps when you are prepared for action (1 Peter 1:13) and when you have someone to work alongside of you.

They learned how much they needed to get rid of some non-essentials on their journey. We read about some of the things we need to get away from in places like: 2 Timothy 2:23, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” Colossians 3:5, “So [get rid of] the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don't be greedy.…” Hebrews 12:1-2, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.…”

But Christianity is not just a bunch of “thou shalt not’s.” In fact, these things are put away to make room for more beneficial things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.…” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those are what causes the real fruit to be seen. Or as Peter said in 2 Peter 1:8, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we want to learn the ways of Christ, we’ll aim to carry the good things and ditch the bad things so we will put our knowledge of Christ into action.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Read It Out Loud!

In the Middle Ages, there was virtually no literacy in Europe, except within the Church societies. In fact, many cultures didn’t seem to rely on the written word much at all compared to the spoken word. From tales of history, to popular literature, to ordinances, that were many times accomplished by someone like a town crier; an old fashion public announcement – oral reading was common.

However, during the early 15th century, there were notable changes happening all over the world. Things like the invention of the movable type printing press in 1436, but also political changes that opened the doorway for more exploration into educational and religious venues. The collapse of Constantinople in 1453 for one, and the events leading up to the Reformation Movement. So, for the first time in a long time, on a grand scale, more people were able to read, or at least had access to the written word. People heard the unaltered story of the gospel for the first time; straight from the text itself.

Hearing the actual words of God, not just sermons about God, caused people to think about their lifestyle, their faith, and even their death more biblically. When we look through the pages of the Bible, we quickly discover that those same kinds of problems had happened before, and the public reading of scripture had been a part of it.

After 400+ years in Egyptian slavery, the Israelites set out for the Promised Land and were given the opportunity to hear the will of the Creator spoken to them by Moses. In Exodus 19:7-8 after Moses shared everything with the people they answered, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” 40 years later, Joshua read the laws of God to the Israelites and they too responded, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.” (Josh 1:16). Then in Nehemiah 5:12 and Ezra 10, the people wept because they had heard the words of God spoken to them again.

It may be tempting to regard preaching about the Bible and reading the Bible out loud as one in the same, but I encourage you to consider that there is a difference. Although they both may have the same basic message, there is something unique about hearing the words of God read from the Bible. Paul said in 1 Timonthy 4:13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hope Matters

2 Corinthians 1:8-10, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again.”

A better understanding of God’s Will can drastically change how you face the trials of life. Just look at Abraham; a man who hadn’t had much experience in the faithfulness of God, and he really didn’t understand the promises of God all that well, but we read in Romans 4:20-24 that “Abraham never wavered in believing God's promise.” In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this, he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises. And because of Abraham's faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn't just for Abraham's benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in the one who raised Jesus from the dead.

We could continue to look into the lives of many people we read about in Scriptures who really didn’t have much to go on, but they had faith. Hebrews 11 might be summed up as a list of people who endured some horrific situations because they had hope in a promise that they didn’t even fully understand.

Hope happens to be the theme of the Bible: hope of salvation, hope of eternal life, hope of forgiveness, and hope of purpose. But what is hope exactly? A feeling of expectation, a desire for something yet to come. 

For Paul, the reminder of new life made possible because Jesus returned from the grave was enough to motivate him to endure many trials. Although we may not face the trials that Paul experienced, they are still trials that test us. The result will either be stronger faith or weaker faith. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians was that their trials wouldn’t snuff out their faith, but make it bolder.

The truth is that is not normal. Our human nature will often cause us to get angry, discouraged, or depressed when trials rattle our cage. Yet, we’re not living according to the human nature, but the spiritual one.

In the verse above, Paul expresses how the trials of life can push us closer to God if our mind is focused. A quick reminder to us is that God is in control, so quit trying to micromanage Him. Instead, humbly make it your aim to talk of Him and His promises often. Learn to be content in the circumstance you’re in. Pray as if you really believed that HE is our savior, and not ourselves. Then keep your eyes on the promise God made long ago to those who trust in Him – eternal life.

Satan works hard at distracting us from that, but God (who cannot lie) wants us to “set our minds on things above, not things below” (Colossians 3:2).

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Effective Communication

If you’ve ever been “the boss” or managed people on practically any level, you know the difficulties that come with communicating instructions. You may give crystal-clear instructions about what you needed done, but later discover that they didn’t get the message. It’s this dilemma that challenges many leaders: getting things accomplished AND keeping those doing the work, happy (and/or focused).

Truth is, that it’s exactly the issue Jesus faced with His disciples, and it’s what the Apostles faced with the Christians they’d shared the gospel with. So here are a few practices that some high-up managers use in accomplishing the task of effective communication of instructions.

Ask, don’t command
Emphasize what to do, not what to avoid
Explain why it’s important
Give freedom of action

Some would argue that these may work in an employment situation, but not in worship. While worship, and whatever is linked with worship, should be exalted higher than a secular job, the truth is we’re still dealing with imperfect people that can easily misunderstand. There’s a reason many of the effective communication skills work with employees, therefore it’s worth considering something similar within the realms of worship.

The Jews were known for their strict attention to details, even to a fault. This was something Jesus addressed on several occasions (Matthew 23, Luke 11); yet He wasn’t complimentary of it, but critical of it. Perhaps because within their strictness and their overbearance, they lost sight of what was important and how to communicate God’s will to the people. The reality is that they didn’t understand His will.

Paul compliments the Thessalonians for their understanding of the commands of God. They realize what faith leads us to do, and how love, and how that is a reflection of our faith, and that when these are combined with a godly motive we remain in the hope of the Lord. They got it; unfortunately, there are many that don’t. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:17, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” So, consider how well you grasp the place of faith, hope, and love in what you do in life, at work, or in worship.

God wants us to stand firm in the truth, but this takes a clearer understanding of what His will is for us. Thus the reason, to “meditate on His word day and night.” The great thing is that if we realize we haven’t been living with an accurate understanding of God’s will, He invites us to simply humble ourselves and begin today. It’s really not as complicated as many would like to make it; Paul said in Colossians 1:9-10, “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Let’s make that our aim as well--understand and DO the will of the Lord.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Answered Prayers!

When do you stop praying for someone? Some might respond to that question – “never!”, and even quote 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” While that is true, there comes a time in most people’s lives when we naturally stop praying for something or someone: a sick person recovers, a person dies, problem resolved, etc. Typically, when the conflict is truly behind them is a natural time to stop praying.

Perhaps it’s more in our attitude that determines a stopping point rather than simply overcoming the conflict. The pattern in Scripture shows us a lot about the purpose and policy of prayer.
In Joshua 7, the Israelites face their first real disaster on their Canaanite conquest at the city of Ai. In the end, it’s discovered that Achan violated a command, which resulted in their loss in battle. Joshua tore his clothes and mourned for Israel, but God said to him, “Get up!” He goes on to describe why they’ve suffered a loss; then He tells them to take action. The point we can take from this is that there is a point when “just praying” may be an act of cowardice instead of a noble or godly thing.

David modeled something similar when he prayed for his sick son born of Bathsheba to survive in 2 Samuel 12:16-23. Once his son died, he got up and resumed his duties as king – the prayer for his son was over. However, after Nathan rebuked David, and during this trial in David’s life, he wrote Psalms 51, a prayer of repentance to God. We can read of many Psalms afterwards that reflected on God’s mercy and blessings.

The point is prayer is our appeal to God for guidance and wisdom, but at some point we must act on the wisdom and guidance we receive from God. At that point our prayer may change from a prayer for wisdom to handle a situation correctly, to a prayer of thanksgiving that He is a God who listens and cares about us.

At Samuel’s farewell address in 1 Samuel 12, he recounts all the challenges Israel faced in becoming a kingdom. The people, realizing their rebellious actions throughout their history, pleaded with Samuel to pray for them. His response in 12:23 was, “far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you…”

Paul demonstrates that he continually prays for the church in Thessalonica, as he does for many of the congregations he was part of. In the Thessalonian letter, he starts with a prayer of Thanksgiving for their obedience to the Gospel. Then he offers a prayer of Endurance, for their continued faithfulness. Finally, he concludes his letter with a prayer of Hope.

We too can share in those prayers for our congregation and our families. Let’s be in constant prayer, but realize when our prayer may need to come from a different angle.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Are you bold enough?

What’s the theme of the Bible? Most would say something about redemption, salvation, or hope. All that is wrapped up in what Jesus came to offer us – eternal life. That is in a nutshell, the Good News. When someone realizes they’ve been a slave to sin, and then finds there’s a way out, it would seem difficult to understand why they wouldn’t want freedom. However, freedom isn’t free, and often times, isn’t easy to come by.

Throughout the Bible we read of many stories about people facing seemingly impossible tasks and situations, but they trusted in God and amazing things happened. In the book of Acts in particularly, we read of many conversions of people coming out of bondage to sin. But there was a cost. Some were ostracized from family, kicked out of town, abused terribly. All because they wanted to be free.

Peter and John set the tone for the beginning story of Christianity in Acts 4:13-20 when they were arrested for preaching the gospel. Here we read, “When [the Sanhedrin counsel] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus… (17) They ordered them not to speak about Him anymore, but Peter answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Paul also demonstrated that kind of boldness in proclaiming the good news to the Gentiles. He reminded the brethren at Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2, “You yourselves know that our visit to you was not a failure. Remember how badly we were treated at Philippi, yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition.”

The boldness of Peter and John lives on in those willing to stand unashamed for the freedom Christ brings us. There are many people hungry to hear the good news. People that recognize that where they are at is spiritually (and physically) dangerous. They are people who will listen if we’ll be bold enough to tell them. But we must do as Joshua commanded those heading into Canaan land in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Christians today need to understand that they’re not alone. Knowing that faithful people all around the world are standing in the gap proclaiming the Good News to those trapped in spiritual darkness, should inspire each of us to be more bold in our own faith. Paul reveals the kind of battle we are facing, and the kind of weapons we have to boldly fight with in Ephesians 6:10-17. But then he concludes in (18-19), “pray at all times… keep alert with all perseverance… so that [our] words may be [preached] boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…”

Friday, June 9, 2017

How do your shoes fit?

Have you ever bought a new pair of shoes that look and feel great in the store, but once you’ve worn them a day or two discover that they wear blisters on your feet? At that point you have to decide if the blisters are worth the wearing. It would be easy to go get new shoes, or put those on the shelf somewhere in the back of the closet. While that might be good advice when you’re talking about shoes, but when it comes to spreading the gospel it’s a different story.

Paul said in Romans 10:14-15, “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

Try to put yourself in Paul’s “shoes” when it comes to his efforts in Thessalonica. You show up to Macedonia’s largest city where you had tremendous success in spreading the gospel. But your success also came with a lot of opposition. While the Gentiles welcomed the message, the Jews caused such havoc for you that you had to sneak out of town at night.

How would you feel about the new brothers and sisters in Christ who stayed behind, who lived there, worked there, and worshiped there? There’s an old saying, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” which basically means just because the water's dirty, don’t get rid of the treasure inside of it. Paul had a longing to see those brethren strengthened so that they would stay “faithful unto death.”

In his letter to those who worshiped there, he says in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

In spite of those who made it their aim to ruin the work and influence of the church in Thessalonica, the genuine followers of Christ let their light shine beyond their borders. This is the challenge for any congregation anywhere in the world – to let their light shine regardless of those who may do everything within their power to snuff out the light. Keep burning bright for our Lord!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Joseph's Lesson

Why did the Prodigal son wait until he was eating pig slop to go back home? Maybe it was pride, maybe stupidity, maybe something else; but regardless our reasons, we can only imagine what was going through his mind before he came to the realization of his situation.

We can read in Luke 15:17-20 and learn something about his situation that perhaps we can all relate to at one time or another. “When he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger…'”

Maybe coming to your senses would be equivalent to waking up from a hard fall that you can’t remember, or waking up in a fog after being under anesthetics. No matter what picture it paints in your mind, Jesus is describing a man who had been blind to his condition and/or the consequences of his decisions.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan, the god of this world, is who presents situations to us that make it easier not to see God’s will for our life.

But Hebrews 5:14 describes those who aren’t blinded by Satan; they are the mature, “…who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Solomon said in Proverbs 22:3, “The prudent (wise) sees danger (evil) and hides himself, but the simple (the blind) go on and suffer for it.”

The Prodigal Son accepted that coming to the father may require a totally submissive position, one filled with humility. He not only accepted it, but made every effort to get there. The story of Joseph found in Genesis 37-45, and his journey from Canaan Land to Egypt. He endured a lot of things that caused him to feel like he was living in pig slop. Even though God was leading him there in order to save many people, Joseph didn’t figure that out until later.

As you consider his journey, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see how his pride in who he was, or what God was going to do for him, caused him to act in such a way that resulted in being beaten up and rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery, and sent to prison.

The point I hope you take from this is how much humility may have changed his situation in life. As was stated, God had a plan for him, but doesn’t He have a plan for you and me? God is working in our lives, and one of the best things we can start putting into practice is that quality of humility. Joseph learned it; so can you.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day

Our nation recognizes those who have given everything to preserve, and even usher in freedom as we know it. One of those special days we celebrate is Memorial Day. It was originally called Decoration Day, and was first officially celebrated in 1868. During the Civil War, there were more fallen soldiers than in any other national conflict up to that point. So this was an opportunity to honor those lives, and remind others of the destruction that comes with selfishness, pride, and hate.

It doesn’t take much to appreciate their sacrifice, and a day like Memorial Day helps us focus on the gift they helped to make possible. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ gave His own life on a cross. Jesus’ sacrifice gives us hope at eternal life with our Father in heaven. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

The blood of Christ was shed on a cross so that you and I could live. Jesus died so that we could live eternally. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

We gather on the first day of the week so that we can remember the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We observe and remember Him every day of our lives, but we have a memorial set in place on every Sunday. It is the Christian’s Memorial Day. Memorial Sunday. The Christians in Troas were gathering every “first day of the week…to break bread” (Acts 20:7).

I hope we are forever thankful for the men and women who died for defending our country. But I also hope we are even more thankful for a Savior who died to offer the ultimate freedom, the freedom from sin.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Mother's Love

It’s in the unspoken words that some of the most profound speeches are made. It’s in the stillness of a moment where some of the most tender comforts are given. It’s within the unseen acts of love that mothers tend to reside. They don’t show compassion or give advice for notoriety or fame. They do what they do because they love us. Words and hugs are not always needed, just their presence can make us feel safe and loved again.

But perhaps because of the often silent and unseen acts of love by our mothers, we may forget to let them know how much of a blessing they’ve been to our lives. There are so many things that our mothers have done that no one ever knew they did. What lengths would a mother go for their children? Our mothers have helped to shape us into the kind of people we’ve become.

In time, who they have been to us and what they did for us can often be seen and appreciated better. To watch my wife care for our children, and now reciprocate many of the same actions my mother demonstrated towards me has a deeper meaning now. The children we’ve been blessed with have now defined who we are; they are the ones who in their often whiny or stubborn ways have given our life a more fulfilling purpose.

To watch my wife become a mother to our children, to care and nurture them, allows me to see how the cycle goes. And the more I see the cycle in motion the more I understand God’s nature. He, too, is a loving parent that has a nurturing side, a compassionate side, a tender comforting side. He loves us more than we can know, and often He doesn’t receive the recognition He deserves.

Romans 5:8-10 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

A fingerprint of His selfless nature can be seen in how mothers tirelessly serve their children without complaint. Never asking for anything in return, but to quietly long for their love in return. They represent an important part of God that we cannot overlook. Fathers may represent to some degree the provisions and protection of God, but mothers often represent the unfailing love of God.
God was willing to go through extreme rejection, humility, and pain in order to save His children from eternal destruction. When we realize that, it should convince us that hell is no joking matter, that it must be so bad that God would do anything to keep His children out of there.

In Proverbs 31:10-31, Lemuel describes a godly mom and a godly woman, but he also describes the kind of care and compassion that our God has towards us. As Jesus expresses in Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

Proverbs 31:15, “She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens.” – She’s sacrificial.
Proverbs 31:18, “Her lamp does not go out at night.” – She’s long suffering
Proverbs 31:20-21, “She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet.” – She is generous
Proverbs 31:26, “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” – She gives good advice

How much does God love you? What lengths is God willing to go to keep you safe? God loves each one of us. He wants us to succeed, He wants us to rise above the pits of this life, and He wants us to trust in Him for the strength. Our mothers, as great as they are, have physical limitations; our Heavenly Father has no limitations. He’s all powerful and is able to wipe away every tear.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Faith = Works = Grace

Grace, in the Biblical context, is undeserved favor. But why don’t we deserve it? Well, we’ve sinned. We’ve been rebellious towards God. And while we all have to admit that describes us at some level, it’s tempting to have the attitude of "I do deserve it!"

“Undeserved.” This has a negative connotation to it. The idea that you’re not good enough, you didn’t perform well, or even you’re unworthy to receive whatever it is – and that’s a tough pill to swallow, especially for the trophy-generation, the ones who think that everyone needs a trophy, even if you didn’t earn it.

The longer people refuse to face the truth about themselves the harder they fall when the truth is revealed. For that reason, a person who refuses to see their faults often becomes angry for being rejected. Consider Cain in Genius 4; he didn’t “deserve” a praise from God for his sacrifice, whereas Abel did receive praise for his appropriate attitude. Although the feeling of anger may have been legitimate for Cain, it was his call what to do with that anger. God asked him, “Why are you so downcast (upset)? You know what you need to do. If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Acceptance and praise that would be deserved was within his power, but he had to humble himself, make corrections, and then try again. Similar to any one of our kids sports teams; if they messed up in a game, they should: take note, fix it, overcome that problem, and next time don’t fall to it. Sounds easy enough, but this is rooted in humility. If I refuse to recognize that I didn’t “deserve it,” then I will naturally fight to justify my sloppy or rebellious nature.

The other side of the definition of grace is “favor.” Favor is basically being accepted, receiving praise or approval, or winning support from someone. In the case of Christianity, we would therefore be winning the support of God! Sounds pretty cool to have Him in your corner. But that’s where the problem lies, since “we’ve all sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory,” we quickly realize that God won’t support my nature by itself.

So, Jesus came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, the perfect offering to pay for my sins. By doing so, He allowed God’s gift of the Spirit to be given to those who will trust in that sacrifice. The gift of the Spirit, therefore, becomes the vessel through which we find the ability to “rule over it,” or “master sin” as God told Cain to do.

Perhaps this is an over-complication of a simple concept, but it seems too many people get caught up on the idea of “grace” or “works,” instead of realizing that Jesus introduced us to the Spirit of God for the purpose of giving strength to our weakness. That strength becomes the evidence of God’s grace. If Cain had humbled himself and admitted that how he made his offering wasn’t acceptable to God, and then DO what he already knew what to do, he would find favor with God.

James 4:5-8, “Do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore, it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts.”

Sunday, April 16, 2017

God's Passion

“You can't force passion.” Ask a starving artist or an author dealing with writer’s block if that’s possible: So how do you find your passion? Basically, you could determine what you enjoy spending your time on, or what is deeply satisfying to you even if it’s a struggle to do it; and it will typically show in your work.

Our culture has a tendency to determine what our passions “should” be. We should be passionate about making money. We should be passionate about sports, or art, or hunting, or shopping, or technology. While those things may be okay, are those things something that brings deep satisfaction to your life? Passions could be summarized as those things we do that bring us joy, and bring us peace. And joy or peace are deeper feelings than simply “fun.”

What would God’s passion be? What brings Him joy or peace? What is truly satisfying to Him?
His children are His passion, and most of us can sympathize with that. We do what we do for our kids because we love them; but at the end of the day, our children may bring us tremendous grief or tremendous joy. Most parents aren’t seeking accolades for their efforts, but a more genuine response. Psalms 51:17 reminds us that “the sacrifices that please God (or bring Him joy) are those from a broken heart and a pure heart…”

Or as Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Because people displaying a consistent and genuinely pure heart display a love towards their fellow man similar to God’s display of love for mankind.

God’s actions have proven that He loves us so much. Or as John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Seeing His children excited about running to their Heavenly Father, wanting them to want Him around, and listening to His guidance brings God joy. His actions continually prove that He wants them to have that passion within themselves.

The Passion of the Christ is more than a ritualistic scene depicting Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross. Instead, it’s a glimpse into God’s desire for us to want to be near Him, and the lengths He’s willing to go to make that happen.

What keeps you from bringing joy to God’s heart? Consider the words of Hebrews 12:1-2, “Let us throw off every sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame.”

Friday, March 31, 2017

Are you choosing godly behavior?

Spirituality wears many masks; all but one leads to eternal death. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That thought continues when Jesus said in Matthew 12:22, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” In context, Jesus was rebuking someone accusing Him performing His miracles by the power of Satan. But as Jesus said, “A house divided against itself will fall!”

With a culture so interested in exploring NEW ways to experience spirituality, we have to be careful not to fall into a trap of accepting something other than the truth. While Wiccan faiths, the Occult, and other more Satanic based faiths are on the rise, the more prevalent attack is getting us to accept things God is opposed to.

We live in a sin-sick society that is constantly attempting to justify sinful behavior by somehow associating it with goodness or spirituality. The truth of the matter is, there is absolutely nothing spiritual about grotesque and uncontrollable desires. Everything about that kind of chaos, negligence, or even ignorance is displeasing to God, it goes against what He’s instructed us to avoid.

The apostle Paul drew a stark contrast between the sinful works of the flesh and commendable fruit of the Spirit. In fact, he wrote: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another” (Galatians 5:16-17). Then Paul listed several works of the flesh that God condemns as sinful and destructive. He said: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness...drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand...that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). The outrageous claim that spirituality can be achieved by engaging in sinful practices is little more than an attempt to “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).

True spirituality can only be achieved when a person chooses to crucify “the flesh with its passions and desires” and foster the fruit of the Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-24). Let’s consider how to protect our entire life from Satan’s sneaky attacks on our soul.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Satan's secret approach

The Reformation Movement of the 16th century brought about a renewed respect for Scripture. Like nearly all acts of reform, it meant some old customs had to go away, and some stricter enforcements were instituted.

Strict adherence to the commands of God is important, however, done with poor motives or done too hasty can prove to be counter-productive. An example of this was in New England during that same time in Salem, MA.

The Salem witch trials in 1692 became instantly famous, so many people’s attention were focused on the series of hearings and prosecutions of the people accused of witchcraft. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, fourteen of them women, and all but one by hanging.

We can look into many situations similar before or after those events and see people taking extreme and unwise approaches to stamp out the impact of Satan. However, many times what results is an attitude that plays right into his hands – hate, favoritism, hypocrisy, etc.

Paul warns us in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” The right spirit or attitude is an important element in keeping us from falling into a temptation as well.

It takes wisdom to respond to the evils around us in a way that won’t lead to further ungodliness. Satan has interwoven his philosophies so deep into our culture that it requires us to have discernment on how to approach those who are caught up in ungodly behavior.

Hebrews 5:14, “Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

In a culture that seems more intrigued by Satan’s presence, we have the sensitive balance of being stern against acts of unrighteousness, without shutting the door on the very ones held captive by Satan in their choices and lifestyles. Consider these words in Jude 18-23, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions. It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Is Satan attacking your house?

There have been many movies made glorifying master-thieves. Those adventurous movies may be okay on a screen, but in real life burglars give most of us the creeps. There are all kinds of reasons a burglar would break into your house, but the crazy thing is many detectives claim that many thieves prefer to target the same house repeatedly. It may seem odd, but here are the reasons why: familiarity and the expectation that you’ll replace expensive items.

Why wouldn’t more homeowners take precautions so there wouldn’t be a second time? Who knows, but consider the burglary of your soul. Why are so many people easily lured away from faith in God? How is Satan so successful?

Jesus was accused of working for Satan, but Jesus gave an illustration that might answer how a person protects against spiritual burglary. Luke 11:21-22, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” In context, Jesus is the “stronger man” taking away the power of Satan. But the illustration should be understood -- that anyone who wants to protect his house better be prepared.

Satan doesn’t plan on easily giving up those he’s deceived. He’s a master thief that works rigorously to plunder your goods. The reality is that Satan is “roaming around looking to devour someone,” and his likely victim is the unprepared person.

Time after time we’re told to be “sober and alert,” “to stand firm,” or “prepare your minds for action.” As followers of Christ, we’re given that protection from God. We see how Jesus modeled His use of Biblical wisdom to fight off an attack from Satan while fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4). More detail for us is given in Ephesians 6:10-17 on how to don the armor of God.

Jesus spent three years teaching His disciples how to pray (Luke 11), and instructing them on mission work (Luke 10), and even how to stay faithful during persecution (1 Peter 2:21). All of these kinds of things help to keep us in His protection. Yet so many Christians go about their life without taking serious measures to keep Satan out of their life. They often decided to walk in complete “ignorance of his schemes,” making them easy targets.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be looking into the realities of Satan’s attack from a historical and modern perspective. The Bible reveals so much about our adversary for a good reason. Join us as we study about the spiritual war we are engaged in.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Growing Relationships

“It’s hard to get well when you dwell among the sick,” a Buddhist monk told a young traveler. “Realize that sickness longs for company.” If that’s true for the flu, then it’s equally true for spiritual sickness. Solomon gave similar advice to his sons about using wisdom when encountering those of the world.

He said in Proverbs 22:10, “Drive out a scoffer (a person who mocks and sneers at people), and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease,” and Proverbs 22:5, “Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.” But, instead, he shows us the right directions; Proverbs 22:17-18, “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips.” Or in Proverbs 22:3, “The prudent (wise person) sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”

It’s easy to adopt the attitudes of people around you, but we have to overcome the temptations to become negative or ungodly. Under the New Covenant with God, He’s offered something that helps us in that process: the Holy Spirit, which we’re told we receive as a gift to help us in the discernment process. Consider these words from Galatians 5:16-17, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

God has shared  His wisdom with us to help spot sin before we step in it, and make the appropriate decisions, but all of this is contingent upon us wanting to listen and being willing to follow. Unfortunately, too many folks do not rely on the Spirit to guide their thoughts and actions, which leads to a hardened heart.

Parents serve as examples to help prevent this from happening, as well as grandparents, and brothers and sisters in Christ. All of us can help be the voice of reason that keeps us from rebelling against God’s wisdom in dealing with folks around us. How do we do that? You probably already know the answer. Read the directions, ask for help, slow down and think.

2 Timothy 2:15-16, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness…”

Take advantage of the opportunities around you to encourage another brother or sister.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sharing the Load

During Jesus’ ministry on earth, He often took the time to spend His time with people no one else wanted to associate with. Although there were, and still are, many social barriers that keep us from stepping over the lines of some other group of people, one big reason is TIME.

For some, the time spent in one area means another area that will suffer to some degree. We can call that "finding balance." It takes balance to determine what is worthy to put energy towards and what isn’t worth our time. When it comes to the well-being of a soul, no shortcuts should be taken; however, reality is that we can’t address every problem of every person who shows up in our circle of influence.

Consider Moses’ approach to judging the people of Israel while they were in the wilderness. Jethro confronted Moses about taking on all the problems of all the people alone. He says in Exodus 18:17, “What you are doing is not good.” Advice was good, but bearing the burden alone was not good. He advised that he assign groups to handle the “lesser” problems of the people and he would focus on the “most important” things.

In the New Testament, the church found herself in a similar situation. The people were bringing their problems to the Apostles for advice and counsel. Although they were willing to help, it wasn’t healthy for the apostles to bear that burden alone. So, in Acts 6 we read where Peter and the others called a group together to address an oversight among the widows. To ensure that all groups were being treated in a Christ-like manner, they appointed seven men who were “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” Today, that example helps us to determine the role of a deacon.

Paul later gave instructions to Timothy and Titus about the kind of men that define “good repute” or “full of the Spirit and wisdom” would look like as they duplicated the process congregation after congregation (1 Tim 3, Titus 1).

It’s important to note the correlation between these two scenarios – they both served as servants and disciplinarians at times. They both had to make tough judgments and be sure to offer plenty of encouragement. But we can also see that same responsibility given to an even smaller group, but a group that everyone on the planet is part of – family. Fathers serve as an example of discipline and love; a model of instruction, protection, and guidance as well as the rebuke and one who confronts sinfulness. Both parents play a role in the development and nurturing of children, but God put the bulk of that responsibility on the shoulders of the father.

Ephesians 5:28-29, “...husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…” Then the father is given the instructions in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Be sure to encourage those appointed to nourish and cherish, discipline and instruct souls in need of guidance, whether that’s an elder, deacon, or parents.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A True Valentine to God

Valentine’s Day is a time when people take the time to acknowledge those who mean a lot to them by giving them a love note, a cute card, or things like chocolate and flowers. Regardless the sign of appreciation shown, it feels nice to be appreciated.

How would you send a Valentine to God? What would you say to show how much He means to you? Some have suggested it would be by showing up to “His services,” AKA worship service. Others might suggest, as Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.”

God said this was His Number One Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3) In other words, “love Me more than anything else, and when you do, you’ll care to follow where I’m leading you.”

Jesus was quickly known throughout Judea as the prophet who heals people. People from all over flocked to Him wherever He was at for healing, for food, and to hear His teaching. Jesus had something  that drew people to Him.

In John 7:3-7 we read of Jesus’ brothers trying to persuade Jesus to go to the feast of Booths where He was sure to have a following there. But they were mocking Him, since they really didn’t believe He was who He claimed. They said, “Leave here and go to Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works You are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” But Jesus didn’t go.

He wanted people to be genuinely attracted to Him, not just because of His miracles. Today it’s not different. God wants people to be genuinely attracted to Him for who He is and what He offers us. Statistics show that people consider worship to be nothing more than an empty religious ceremony. With each generation, the devotion to what Christ promoted becomes less visible.

Thankfully, what Jesus taught and demonstrated in His life is still attractive to people today. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve, He came to seek and save the lost, and He came to be a light for people in dark places. We too have been given a similar commission to the people around us.

To be attractive to a lost and confused world, we must be genuine, we must be compassionate, bold, courageous, and—most importantly—loving. Living in that way shows appreciation for God and sends Him a true Valentine.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Sermon Within

Moses was a man who was asked to do something bold and dangerous. God commissioned him to confront Pharaoh and demand that the Israelites be freed. But Moses doubted his ability to do the job.

Exodus 4:1, “They will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, 'The Lord did not appear to you…”

God, however, thought differently. He gave Moses tools to prove to the people of Israel and the Egyptians that he was indeed sent by God. From his staff, which was miraculously turned into a snake when he let go of it and turned back into a tool for guiding sheep when he picked it up again, to contracting leprosy and being healed from it all by putting his hand in his coat, God gave Moses what he needed to prove His power. But Moses still didn’t feel up to it. His next complaint was his lack of speaking ability.

Exodus 4:10, “O Lord, I'm not very good with words. I never have been, and I'm not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” (NLT)

But God’s response to Moses is something we should remember as well. He asked Moses, “Who makes a person's mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”

Many times we fail to speak up and share our faith because we feel like Moses—inadequate. Yet Jesus gave a similar bit of encouragement to the apostles in Luke 12:8-12, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, ‘for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.’”

The scenario Moses found himself in is not unique to him. Even though we may not be leading people out of Egyptian slavery, we may be setting them free. Many people are in spiritual bondage because of their choices, because of their environment, or many other reasons, and our words may be the light they have been looking for.

Never underestimate the power of talking to someone whenever God is behind our words. Think of the encouragement that Paul gave to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

You may be the only Bible some people ever read, so live powerfully for God. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

Friday, January 20, 2017

Gaining Wisdom Through Listening

One cornerstone characteristic of wisdom is listening. A wise person listens, as opposed to a fool who won’t listen to anyone. Solomon commended his sons to live wisely and by doing so, they would find life. Proverbs 1:5 is one of many sayings Solomon gave to his sons that shows how much wisdom makes life better, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance….”

God is pretty upfront about what He thinks of pride…He opposes it! (James 4:6). Satan loves it when we are full of ourselves because then we won’t listen to anyone else—even God. When we don’t listen to God, we will be separated from our Heavenly Father who has shed light on our path in order to lead His children home. Trusting God’s light, His words, His guidance becomes a necessary part of reaching our eternal goal.

Ultimately, listening to God is a fantastic demonstration of faith. People all throughout Scripture model for us the blessing that comes from listening, and there are also many that serve as examples of what NOT to do by their refusal to listen.

Solomon said in Proverbs 15:31-33, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”

As we seek deeper faith, take a moment to reflect on how much listening to instruction helps our faith. And with deeper faith, comes a better display of faithfulness, which is a goal of a true child of God. Faithfulness isn’t just about attendance or Bible knowledge, it’s about being effective in God’s kingdom. Therefore, faithfulness may be better recognized by the way situations are handled, or temptations thwarted, or love shared.

What we soon discover is that we become more effective in God’s kingdom when we are able to be taught, when we receive instruction, and when we can practice things like forgiveness and mercy, which takes wisdom.

Solomon mentions a few characteristics of the wise in this way:
Proverbs 29:11, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit (let’s his temper fly), but a wise man quietly holds it back.”
Proverbs 16:21, “The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive.” (NLT)
Proverbs 17:28, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

Consider some ways you can model wisdom more effectively in your life. People will notice, you will notice, but most importantly, God will notice.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Understanding Holiness

It’s been debated for centuries: "Does a person learn a talent, or are they born with it?” I’m sure genetics plays a part, but I believe that a majority of a person’s talent is derived from their discipline to learn whatever it is that they are talented at, be it athletics, intelligence, or artistic ability. For those that believe that to be true, they might also see how that’s true spiritually. Can a person accidentally become holy? Can someone be born into holiness apart from their desire to become holy?

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after reaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” I’m sure it wasn’t easy staying focused on living a holy life when unholy people were constantly making his walk with God challenging: ridicule, imprisonment, beatings, stoning, not to mention the other natural phenomenons like shipwreck, starvation, etc. (2 Corinthians 11:24-29). But Paul realized the blessing of holiness.

Hours in a gym perfecting a pitch, a throw, a jump, a lift, a run, a swim, anything that causes you to be credited as talented, is at the heart of it. The desire to be good at something, and the discipline to perfect it. 1 Thessalonians 4:4, “Each one of you [should] know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.”

Hebrews 12:7-14, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? … discipline [is] for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it….”

It's easier to credit talent or goodness to being born with it. Perhaps it’s a way those that choose not to discipline themselves can make an excuse for mediocrity. Jesus said, “If you sow sparingly, you’ll reap sparingly.” It should be our goal to encourage one another to do as Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Once we are IN Christ, we are a new creation. We don’t feed the weak-minded things of mankind, but we feed on the strength found in spiritual things. But we all need reminders not to focus on human limitations, but instead do as Paul said in Ephesians 4:24, “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Friday, January 6, 2017

Godly Separation

Separation…. The word naturally conjures up negative emotions for most folks. Separation means saying good-bye, it means losing something, it means being apart from something or someone. But there is something else about separation that can be good for us. In fact, one cliché describes separation as a way to grow fonder of what you can’t see or touch right now, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

It’s been suggested that part of the reason grandparents go bananas with their grandchildren is because they don’t see them all the time. I’m sure most parents would like to try that concept out with their children at times.

So, although separation generally sounds bad, it may have positive attributes to it. Consider the scenes at creation and how God defined what went where. God took something that was formless and void (that has been described as chaotic), and He turned it into something beautiful; something God called “good”.

Day 1 – Separation: Light from darkness
Day 2 – Separation: waters of atmosphere from waters of the ground
Day 3 – Separation: fertile soil from infertile soil
Day 4 – Separation: sunlight from moonlight
Day 5 – Separation: birds and sea creatures “according to their kind”
Day 6 – Separation: land animals “according to their kind”

And He made mankind; a special creation separate from all other created beings, because Adam was made in the image of God. By separating every created element, it actually brought beauty and order to the earth. Our lives aren’t much different; our old self must be separated from the new self in Christ. When we separate the old sinful actions from the new righteous actions, our life becomes more beautiful. Thus order can bring beauty, and order may cause us to have a different emotion. For many folks, order equals consistency, constant, maybe even faithfulness.

Separating the old habits of life from the new ones may require a lot of initial heartache, but if the end result is something beautiful, I think we’d all agree it would be worth it. Let’s continue to make our lives something God would call “good” by living for Christ and loving the way He loved.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Sharing the Love of Christ

Does your life after coming to Christ look different than life before becoming a Christian? What we may not always see, others will notice. When we claim to be followers of Christ, people will hold us to a higher standard.

Peter said in 1 Peter 2:12, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when He judges the world.” Live carefully! Does that mean never make a mistake? Ideally perhaps, but more importantly, be consistent in your kindness, in your generosity, in your forgiveness, etc.

In our culture that honors pride, success, and being the best, it can be challenging to think of “others more important than ourselves.” But when we esteem self, Jesus usually gets pushed to the background. Therefore, when we understand what God has done to our thinking about those around us, we see how important demonstrating our faith really is. How will people ever know Christ by my life if my life doesn’t look drastically different than the world around me?

Jesus prayed in John 17:15-18, “I'm not asking You to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by Your truth; teach them Your word, which is truth. Just as You sent Me into the world, I am sending them into the world.”

The world around us becomes our mission field, our canvass where we paint a godly picture from ungodly things. All of this requires our thinking differently about our enemies and those who abuse us in ANY way. Paul gives instructions on how to think about everyone we come in contact with: Love one another.

Focus on how you can glorify God in ALL the people you come in contact with, and that will be an indicator you actually UNDERSTAND the gospel of Christ.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Trained to Understand

Why do we do fire drills? Why go through safety classes at work? Why take a self-defense course? To prepare us for the day that a fire happens, or a high voltage explosion occurs, or we’re attacked at the mall. The reality is that we’re involved in activities every day that will prove to be even more detrimental to our lives.

We are engaged in a battle for our soul. Satan wants to do all within his power to convince us to abandon God and follow our own will while God is passionately revealing the truth about life as often as people will listen.

Satan doesn’t waste time; early on he convinced Eve, along with her husband, to abandon God’s garden paradise for selfish knowledge. He hasn’t lost any steam; from the garden to the patriarchs and the judges, the kings and the prophets, Satan has been consistent. Even Jesus was offered a taste of his tricks (Matthew 4, Luke 4). However, like Jesus, we’re armed for the fight and we must UNDERSTAND the difference between the truth and a lie.

One place this is described is in Hebrews 5:14 where we’re told that “Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.” The solid food is the meat of God’s word, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “deeper truths,” but understanding – “he who has an ear let him hear.” Jesus warned the church at Thyatira in Revelations 2:23-25, “…I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.” The Christians there failed to have an understanding of God’s will; therefore they were entertaining “the deeper truths, as they call them—depths of Satan, actually.”

The instructions Jesus gave in Revelations 2:25, “hold tightly to what you have until I come,” are the same instructions we can offer one another. Hold tightly to the truth. Matthew 28:20, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Paul helps the Colossians “see” what an understanding of the truth looks like in our daily actions. As we dive into specifics about living by the truth, let’s be proactive in helping our brothers and sisters gain a fuller understanding of God’s word. James 1:22, “But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

Looking Beyond Our Past

Overcoming our past starts with me. For many of us, our past becomes an anchor from progress, from healing, from becoming more like Christ. Although we’re told that “all have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23), Satan can use our own “worthlessness” against us if we’re not careful.

A powerful illustration of Satan’s attempt to use our sins against us to keep us from seeking God more diligently is found in Zechariah 3, where Satan accuses Joshua of sin. In that vision of something like a courtroom, it’s very comforting to hear God’s response to “the Accuser’s words.” God says in Zechariah 3:2, “I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.” Instead, God had new clothes put on Joshua to replace his dirty ones.

Sin has always separated man from God, but God has consistently made avenues to lay aside our old ways, and He gives us new ways that allow us to continue our walk with God. The folks in Colossae were no different than Joshua or the Israelites who came out of their years of captivity, nor were either of those situations different than our own. They needed hope; we need hope.

The “Good News” of the gospel is that Christ has made progress possible. The Holy Spirit becomes our guide when we put on Christ in baptism. A gift from God that helps us “understand” what God wants from His children. He sees something different in us than we often see in ourselves.

As we grow in our understanding of God’s will, we are not only motivated to say NO to our own sins, we also, because of the pattern left to us in Christ, eagerly seek out how to help others who are bogged down in poor choices, and bad lifestyles; just as Jude 23 describes, “Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.”

This week I want to challenge you to consider the different areas you may have to dedicate more time to, or humbly lay aside so that you can become the child of God that you were designed to be.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Who's the boss?

“You’re not the boss of me!” Have you ever heard some six year old say that? Or maybe a 36 year old. Truth is we are a people that don’t like to be fenced in. Therefore, identifying who the boss is really is important. The wrong “boss” keeps us from doing what we want to do, the right one gives us more freedom.

So how do most people feel about surrendering their life to Christ? In essence, we submit to His authority and let Him be “the boss.” Why is that so difficult? Perhaps the same reason that six year old doesn’t want to surrender their right to be “it” to someone else. How do we know that “the new boss” will do what I want? Or even more basic, treat me fairly?

Jesus made it clear throughout His ministry, and even more so after His resurrection that all authority had been given to him. But what would Christ do with “all power and authority” while He’s in heaven? Why would He need it up there if He’d already proven that His mission wasn’t to control people but to persuade them to follow Him, to listen to Him, to act like Him?

When we understand just how God “abides with us,” then it begins to make more sense why He has all the power and authority. This is what Paul was praying that the Colossians would do, to come to a “complete knowledge of his will and to [have] spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.” (Colossians 1:9-10)

Letting someone else “be the boss” is easier to do when we know them. Unfortunately, many Christians really don’t put much time into getting to know God. Too often, our time is spent following the leadership example of the Pharisees rather than coming to an understanding of where and how Christ is really leading us today. Spend an unrealistic time in prayer this week, dedicate too much time to meditating on God’s word this week, go volunteer too much of your time to help someone in need, or go tell too many people about why you believe in Christ as your savior. By doing so, you’ll probably notice how much of a comfort letting Christ be the boss really is to your daily schedule.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Life After Grace

Kiosks and infomercials are wonderful places to discover gidgets and gadgets you never knew you needed. Sometimes you don't even know what it does, even if you buy one. In many respects, someone who is able to convince you to trade your hard-earned money for something you don't even understand is the sign of an effective salesman. While that may seem borderline unethical, what about things that we know aren't gimmicks? What about salvation?

Consider what a person knows about God, Christ, and Christianity before becoming a follower compared to what you'd think they might know after taking the plunge. Sadly, there isn't an app in your head for instant understanding; you just got to see how this actually works.

Since the Church of Christ broke away from the Disciples of Christ in the early 1900's, there has been a concerted effort to help people better understand what it means to become a Christian from a biblical perspective. The Scriptures make it plain what a person needs to know before they should choose to follow Christ – He IS the Messiah, the promised son of God who came to earth, AND He IS the only way through which any of us can become part of God's family. Outside of that there isn't much a person needs to know... yet. After a person realizes their need to be added to Christ's body (God's family) by being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins, there opens up a whole new world of behavior transformation.

For the most part, the Apostles would spend the rest of their earthly lives helping believers understand life after grace. The Epistles were written to do just that. Colossians is one of several letters (books of the New Testament) written to help us out.

The complaint many new Christians have is that they felt welcomed and included while they were considering becoming a follower, but nearly forgotten once they make the decision. As mature believers, we have to follow the example of the Apostles in spending more time helping believers understand their new life, and not leave them half finished. 2 Peter 2:20 reminds us it would be better never to have known the way, than to have known it and then to fall away.

Let's encourage one another to be students of our faith.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Battle Line

Color Guard: typically refers to a detachment of soldiers assigned to the protection of regimental colors (AKA, the flag). It’s the duty of a selected soldier to carry “the colors,” while being guarded by experienced soldiers. The job is simple: protect the flag.

Throughout history, as armies trained they began to adopt different formations to serve in some capacity during war. In the chaos of battle, or dust and smoke on a battlefield, soldiers needed to be able to determine where their regiment was. If the soldiers couldn’t find their way to a rally point, they could find themselves fighting alone.

The colors needed to be able to be seen at all times, because this meant they were still in the fight. Similarly, as Christians, we need to be sure that our flag can always be seen in spite of the chaos Satan attempts to bring to the battlefront.

It’s interesting that Paul highlights one of the elements of Satan’s strategies in battle to cause us to lose sight of our “colors.” He says in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11, referring to the man they had corrected from 1 Corinthians 5, “…forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ's authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.”

Jesus had told the apostles in Matthew 16:13-19, while in Caesarea-Philippi, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” But Jesus wanted to know if they knew who He was, what flag were they holding up for the world to see, so He asked them, “But who do you say I am?” It was Peter’s reply that indicated he recognized “the colors.” He said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

It took an entire earthly ministry with Christ before they would truly understand what His flag was really about. As they argued over who would be the greatest in His kingdom, and as they were concerned with how Jesus would fulfill his age-old promise of salvation, it was critical that they realized where to rally when the battle was on.

Jesus told them, “You’re blessed because you realized this from watching me, not from the teaching of man. It’s that confession that will be the solid rock you’ll need when all the powers of Satan will come crashing against you. But trust in me, the Messiah, and Satan cannot defeat you…” (paraphrased)

Yet Paul explains how Satan uses internal division and conflict to try to defeat the Lord’s army. Many times people reject church because they see the chaos of battle right within the walls of a place that claims to be a safe haven of rest. The spirit of a congregation, much like the colors of a flag, should represent Christ and all his examples. Doctrine is important, but doctrine cannot contradict the simple message that should always point to Jesus Christ. Peter recognized it, Jesus encouraged it, and we must follow it. Jesus said that fulfilling the greatest commandment would sum up all other commands – Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind (100%), and to do that you must love your neighbor as yourself. Let’s model Christianity well so that others will see our churches as a rally point during battle.

Friday, October 28, 2016

God's Promises

Consider how many decisions you make because of a promise. From buying a car to tying the knot. A promise is simply a declaration or assurance that a particular thing will happen. In life, there can be consequences for failure to deliver what was promised, which hurts trust in the one who broke the promise.

Spiritually speaking much of what we do and why we do it is built upon a promise; and much of that promise is future focused in eternity. Paul gave some words of hope to the Christians at Thessalonica by speaking of the resurrection of the dead with this simple command, “so encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Mary was encouraged when Jesus spoke with her at the tomb after his resurrection. Later the other apostles would all be encouraged, and finally, all people would be encouraged to know that God has promised to do the same thing for us that he did for Christ–resurrection from the dead.

However, the promises we have for our life here are nothing to shake a stick at.  In fact, God made many promises to us that we need reminding of occasionally. Jesus made some promises at the beginning of his ministry that had more to do with what we will experience if we stay faithful to God before the Judgment Day. In Matthew 5:3-10, Jesus gave his followers some attitudes to live by: The Beatitudes.

There were promises of rewards, protection, guidance, and more. Jesus said to a mixed crowd of believers and skeptics, in Luke 11:13, “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

God wants to bless us. He’s made those blessings possible by both modeling someone who trusted in the promises of God, in Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry; and the many stories of people that experienced a fulfilled promise throughout their trials of life. We read in Rom 15:4, “the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God's promises to be fulfilled.”

Perhaps the question to you is, do you believe God has made promises for all parts of your life? If so, do you live like those promises are true, or do you live as though you don’t trust them? We read throughout the bible, written by inspired men that devoted their life to God’s promises, “his truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began…” (Titus 1:2).

Discover how God has given us many promises to help you in your walk towards eternity.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Solomon's Investment Strategies

Investments can be exciting. They can also be horrifying. There is a level of skill, boldness, and patience in any good investment strategy. Money can be made quickly, but it can be lost quickly. The key is knowing how to manage the money you have as best as you can for as long as you have it. That may not mean you’ll be rich, just responsible.

Responsible people pay attention to signs, they watch out for dangers, and they listen to good advice. Solomon happened to be the wealthiest guy any of us will ever hear from. Therefore, he’s a pretty good source of learning about what a responsible person does with money, but he’s also a good example of what an irresponsible person does with money.

He gives some great advice in Ecclesiastes 11:1-2, “Send your grain across the seas, and in time, profits will flow back to you. But divide your investments among many places, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead.” Diversify your investments so you won’t have all your eggs in one basket.

Ecclesiastes 5:14, “Money [that] is put into risky investments [will] turn sour, and everything [will be] lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one's children.” Once again we’re reminded to be responsible. Do your homework. Look before you leap.

However, there does come a time for action. Ecclesiastes 11:4, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.” Be assertive. That can be done with a fair level of certainty, but at some point you just got to do it.

Ecclesiastes 11:6, “Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don't know if profit will come from one activity or another—or maybe both.” Try to find multiple income streams to help diversify, and perhaps the extra income can help pay off debts.

The biggest challenge in obtaining wealth is learning how to get rid of it. That may seem counter-productive, but the more we view our money as a tool for God’s kingdom, the less worried we are if we end up with less than our prospectus promises. Solomon said in Proverbs 11:24, “Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything.”

Solomon didn’t always use his money to glorify God, and in the end his irresponsibility hurt his legacy. He said in Ecclesiastes 10:19, “A party gives laughter, wine gives happiness, and money gives everything!” The reality is that too much money really can open all kinds of doors to sin. For Solomon, his abundance of wealth afforded him the ability to seek pleasure in women… lots of women.

Nehemiah said in Nehemiah 13:26-27, “Wasn't this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin? There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives…” Money is a wonderful tool, but it’s a dangerous one. Be careful not to get tangled in the love of it. Money doesn’t care if you ruin your life or not, but God cares very much about your life.