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.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Money Maintenance

In the shop, a jig is a pattern that helps provide repeatability, accuracy, and versatility in building something. In theory, a jig reduces mistakes; but it may have taken a lot of trial and error to come up with a working jig. Similarly, when you finally figure out how NOT to live, what NOT to say, or anything like that, it’s important that you find a way to help with your new change so you don’t end up repeating that behavior again at some point later on. Groups like AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, even Weight Watchers, and other accountability programs try to offer the help you need. All this requires a new way of thinking; and this is obviously true of spiritually, too. If we’ve been accustomed to reacting to people selfishly, in anger, or lustfully, we will have to determine where our problem is and come up with a solution, or build a jig.

Paul said in Ephesians 5:17, “Don't act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” God defined how he wants us to live from the very beginning. And all throughout scriptures he continues to point to the way that will change our thinking so as to avoid living sinfully.

Hebrews 5:14 says in regards to how a mature person’s understanding of Scripture helps with life, “Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”

All this being said, once we make a big lifestyle change like trying to live debt free, or living outside of some other kind of bondage, we must continue on the right path that enables us to continue to live free. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”

In many ways, the path to financial freedom has similar steps needed for the path to spiritual freedom. Both require recognizing the danger of staying where you’re at (before freedom), and then developing a strategy to keep from going back to bondage. Paul warned us in Galatians 5:1, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law.”

Do you have a plan to maintain, or achieve, financial responsibility? More importantly, do you have a plan for spiritual maintenance in your life? Since money can be such a dangerous tool it’s important that we guard ourselves from greed and discontentment, which will lead us back to financial and probably, spiritual bondage. Thankfully, God gave us plenty of instructions on both issues. Culture may tell you to indulge in any pleasure, but we know that following that path leads to bondage, destruction, misery, or even separation from God. Let’s be “faithful unto death” so we can receive the real treasures that God has prepared for those who love him and obey him.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Messiah's Model of Money Management

There are two things that are commonly acknowledged as the driving force of people – power and money. And the more money you have, the more power is assumed. Therefore, it doesn’t take much to see that money is a huge factor in our society; and it always has been. And yet many churches shy away from preaching about money, and if they do it typically comes in the form of “give to the church more,” or something like that.

Let's look into the role of money in our life as a Christian and better ways to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to managing the money you have. The holiday season is a time when many folks end up getting themselves in a pinch because of the lack of discipline and wisdom.

But Jesus shared several tips about money that reveal the contentment factor that Jesus wanted us to have with material possessions. He said in Matthew  6:31-34, “So don't worry about these things, saying, 'What will we eat, drink, or wear? These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need. So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today.”

Ultimately, He helped us see that a treasure in heaven is far more valuable than a treasure down here (Matthew 6:20). That takes a lot of contentment, and that contentment comes from our faith in His ability to take care of us just as He said He would.

Hebrews 13:5-6, “Don't love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, I will never fail you. I will never abandon you. So we can say with confidence, The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”

While we know the verses, it’s still hard to let go of the pursuit of money when we live in a culture that seems to have a one-tracked mind to obtain more of it. We can learn a lot about others, or even ourselves, by looking deeper into how we deal with money.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Family

Family: a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household

'Family' is a single word, with many different meanings. People have many ways of defining a family and what being a part of a family means to them, but what every family has in common is that the people who call it a family are making clear that those people are important in some way to the person calling them his family.

As you look over the landscape of our culture, it’s clear to see that an ultra-broad and all inclusive definition of family hasn’t proven to be healthy for most folks. As Christians, we are people that are trying to submit to God’s will in order to live an abundant life filled with a peace that comes only by a confident outlook on life based on God’s promise. That doesn’t mean that our families, our lives, or any part of the world we touch will become instantly perfect just because God’s in it. Instead, we begin to have a clearer picture of the reason for family, a reason for God’s promises, and therefore a purpose in life.

Because of the vast number of broken and patched together families, it can be difficult to talk about what God had in mind with family, but it’s important to do see what He says about it. Perhaps, similar to a special ops military unit with a secret mission, the family works with a common and urgent goal of survival and protection all wrapped up in the overall theme of purpose.

Moses explains to the fathers in the exodus group in Deuteronomy 6:1-9 that it’s their responsibility to teach, explain, encourage obedience to God to the family. He says, “[you must] repeat these [commands] to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up…” all the time.

But it wasn’t just a set of rules that God wanted them to share, but the essence of those “laws” which helped to train people how to think about the events of life: conflict, love, stress, fear, excitement, etc. Ultimately, God wanted this group of people to help them think godly, and by doing that they would find peace and purpose in life that would protect them from Satan. (1 Peter 5:8)

Parents have a common goal of seeing their kids succeed. Although the definition of success may be different from parent to parent, success is no doubt the goal of most parents for their kids. But as Jesus said, “to gain the whole world and lose your soul, is of no real gain.” Family has the purpose of keeping those included on target. The spiritual family is no different.

You are important to this family of believers. All of us need to constantly be reminded and remind others of that fact. Every hurt, joy, stress, and success is of concern to this family. Just as 2 John 5 says, “I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning.” I encourage each of you to understand and emulate the difference a godly, spiritual family can make in a world that in so many ways has become confused on what family really is.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Gospel Summary: Cleaning Out The Junk

The overall theme of the Bible could be described this way… God created mankind to have a deep relationship with them, however sin (Satan) drove God and mankind apart through selfishness, pride, etc. (1 John 2:16); the same things that destroy our relationships among each other today. From that point on, God made the initiative to help us change our way of thinking about ourselves all the time, by giving us some guidelines to help us out (the laws). However, we needed to be shown how to be selfless and compassionate towards others. Once Jesus came to earth to dwell among us, He would model what a good relationship with God would look like. Finally, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to save the ones God loved from the growing virus of sin, by giving us access to the anecdote to selfishness, pride, etc., and then our relationship could be restored. (John 3:16, Hebrews 7:27)

Perhaps that’s the extreme condensed version of the gospel, but like any relationship resolution, it takes mutual effort to make a relationship work. One side cannot do all the work and expect to have a loving relationship. That’s where our role in this relationship redeeming project comes in: We must accept His resolution, listen to him, and then get rid of pride and selfishness. (Matthew 17:5, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)

By listening to Him, it simply means when He has something to say, we actively listen to it and demonstrate that we respect Him by doing everything within our power to comply with His requests. (James 1:22) To help us out, He even gives us a tool (the Holy Spirit) to help see the blessing of His way of thinking, and to even convince us to act on those actions. (Romans 8:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22)

So the official beginning of the relationship rebuilding process would be our compliance in being born again to this renewed effort to make this relationship work. In the form of washing away our old lifestyle filled with selfishness, we are baptized. (Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21) Without over-simplifying salvation, this is a snapshot of the process. We are simply trying to make a cosmic relationship work. The other side of this summary is the fact that if we’re not interested in making this relationship work, then God will “move on.” He won’t force you to be in this relationship with Him. However, since He created this entire physical realm in order to have a relationship with those He created, by rejecting the relationship resolution, we reject the reason we’re even physically here, and so you choose to be separated from God. Meaning if you choose not to fulfill a relationship with God, then you go where everything that has no purpose goes – the garbage. The catch is, God is eternal, and time means nothing to Him; therefore, nothing biodegrades in His garbage heap. (Matthew 13:37-43, Matthew 25:41-43)

This brings us to the main point. We must accept Christ in order to have our relationship with God restored. (John 14:6) Once we do, we got to get rid of the sin in our life. How? You may ask. That’s where that spiritual guidance from his instructions (the Bible), other people wanting that relationship to work (Christians), and recognizing selfishness when we see it (via the Holy Spirit), all of these things help us say NO to sin. (1 Corinthians 10:13) It’s not impossible to trust God; we’ve just got to want to do it. We won’t always see every trap, but like in any good relationship, God knows if we’re trying or not.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Timing is Everything

“Timing is everything” is a phrase that's applicable to a lot of things: cooking, medicine, finances, even a joke. With any of these things, timing makes the difference between a disaster or a delight. But timing is important in your spiritual things as well. Peter reminds us that the Second Coming of the Christ is a matter of timing–God's timing. Jesus was very conscious of His own timing while on the earth. He lived with an understanding that timing is everything:

* John 2:4 – “My time has not yet come”
* John 7:6 – “The right time for me has not yet come”
* John 7:30, 8:20 – “His time had not yet come”

But throughout the Bible, we read of people that weren't aware of God's timing in their lives. From Moses and his attempt to liberate the Hebrews, to Achan and the penalty he received for plundering the conquered towns during the conquest of Canaan, these people all quickly realized that God has a timing that is perfect. If we’ll be patient enough, and obedient enough, to follow His lead, we’ll be blessed.

It’s important not to see our situations and react in ways that don’t include God’s way of doing things based on our feelings. It’s easy to count something as lost before the battle is over, or to claim the victory too soon. Do you know how to look at the situations in your life and see how God might be working with you?

Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”

We have been called “according to HIS purpose,” not ours. In a world that so quickly gives up on Godly principles because of a lack of focus or because of some selfish agenda, we have to stay faithful. People often make these kinds of justifications for practices that don’t line up with God’s will:

* you get tired of waiting for the right "someone" and so you agree to live together or you marry someone who is not right for you.

* you want something now so you charge it rather than waiting until you have the money and end up paying more and digging yourself into financial bondage.

* Instead of waiting for a nice quiet and calm moment to talk to a friend about a problem, you blurt it out in a spirit of confrontation when others are around.

* Instead of a church waiting for the "right time" to build, they rush ahead and get into a mortgage that hampers ministry.

God knows what He is doing. His delays are always purposeful. When we dare to live by His timing, great things happen.

Friday, September 2, 2016

It's An Honorable Thing

Starting something new can be very intimidating. Aside from a lack of confidence, the risk of doing something wrong and being embarrassed, and probably worst of all, failure, newness can keep many people from venturing off into the unknown.

That may be true for many adventures, but it’s equally true in Christianity. Many people claim they don’t want to make the plunge to follow Jesus because they don’t have it down yet, or their not good enough yet. While those may be legitimate fears, a person can’t expect to hear “well done good and faithful servant, welcome into heaven” if they live by those fears.

However, like many activities and choices we make, having friends and a support group to bolster our confidence, take away the fear of embarrassment, and keep us on the straight and narrow path makes all the difference. Basically, you don’t have to do this alone–God designed the church.

So the natural tendency should be to look to those who have developed into a mature Christian as our examples. A person who as Hebrews 5:14 describes as one “who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.” Their insight is inspiring.

It’s for that reason that Paul instructed Timothy to go find qualified men to serve as mentors, leaders, examples to new believers so that they could face the uncertainty of life with faith in God’s ability.

He describes the kind of men to fill those roles in 1 Timothy 3:1-4. “It’s an honorable thing to aspire to fulfill this position. Therefore, he must model his life above reproach, be faithful to his wife, must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him.”

The position of elder and deacon is less about “an office” and more about being a spiritual-minded person who is able to guide others into deeper faith in God. I encourage you to reflect on this list of qualities as just that: qualities that make a person a great example to follow. Let’s show our appreciation and full support to the men that serve as deacons in our congregations. Let’s keep on encouraging them to be the bold and loving example to Christians, new and old.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What Would Jesus Do?

What Would Jesus Do? Commonly referred to as W.W.J.D., it’s a quick reminder for us to consider how God would handle whatever situation we’re in. Sometimes we may feel we have to just guess on how He would react; other times we’re shown in Scripture exactly how He handled identical situations.

One of the interesting things about the Scriptures is that it’s a unique set of commands meant to keep us away from things that harm us and filled with stories that serve as examples for us. Simply put, it’s unique because as Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “The word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.”

Jesus often spoke in parables not to confuse people, but to allow His holy words to penetrate our thinking without us really knowing it, kind of sneaking in below our radar. He told His disciples in Matthew 13:11-15, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, for they look, but they don't really see. They hear, but they don't really listen or understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’"

Many stories serve as symbolic examples of a deeper Spiritual meaning; they help us see things the way God sees them (as much as we can grasp). I encourage you to find your favorite story in the Scriptures and see if you can identify which people might represent God, which people might represent Satan, which people might represent the humble, or which people might represent the proud. When we see the final outcome in the story and we can identify those characteristics, we might be better equipped to handle the Word of Truth more accurately.

Friday, August 12, 2016

P.O.L.I.C.E. in Action

Tragedy can break us, or make us. It may sound like a cliché but there is a lot of truth to that statement. Many people have faced devastating events with an attitude that not only helps them get through, but even inspires others to persevere as well.

For the apostle Paul, he regarded his prison experience as a greater benefit for the church, since “my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God's message without fear.” (Philippians 1:14)

He also said in Romans 8:28, “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” While we would probably all agree attitude makes the difference, we still hurt when devastations enter our lives.

Counselors work diligently trying to help people cope with losses. They may give advice like:

1. Don’t deny yourself the chance to grieve.
2. Be patient with the process.
3. Acknowledge your feelings, even the ones you don't like.
4. Get support.
5. Try to maintain your normal lifestyle.
6. Take care of yourself.

As we study through the lives of people in scripture who had to deal with tragedies, it’s encouraging to be able to see their method of coping, or their dialog, and especially how God helps them. In the book of Ruth, we get to read about how God helped her in her grief.

Due to a famine and probably civil war, Naomi left with her family to the pagan country of Moab. However, while she was there, more tragedy struck leaving her, and her two daughters-in-law, widowed. Broken and hurting she decides her homeland is where she should be.

When she reflected on her life, she told the people of Bethlehem, “Don't call me Naomi. Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?"

Although most of the story is about her daughter-in-law and how she was invited into the lineage of David and ultimately of the Messiah, we get to see how God was blessing Naomi through Ruth, also.

Ruth helps us see how to help those dealing with depression and grief. First, she could sympathize with Naomi. After all, she lost her husband too, a man both Ruth and Naomi loved. Second, she was patient with Naomi. She stayed with her throughout all the trouble in Moab and even back to Bethlehem. Third, she did what was needed to take care of Naomi’s daily needs by finding a job, which allowed Naomi to maintain a normal lifestyle.

Basically, we see how compassionate Ruth was. However, Naomi must have lived in such a way that prompted both Orpah and Ruth to fall in love with her. Perhaps Naomi modeled tenderness, selflessness, and kindness in the early years to such a degree that she inspired Ruth to do the same.

This is what P.O.L.I.C.E. in action looks like. Every day we are given some kind of opportunity to model P.O.L.I.C.E., that stands for Perseverance, Obedience, Loyalty, Inspiration, Courage, and Encouragement. Let’s follow the wonderful examples from scriptures and be a light to the hurting. We can encourage and inspire the next generation to let their light shine even brighter.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Need for P.O.L.I.C.E.

There is much unrest in the world: wars, rumors of wars, shootings, riots.... All of it points to one problem–the reality of sin. Sin is rebellion against God, and all of
us have done it from time to time.

Ruth, Esther, and Job are people from the past who, directly or indirectly, demonstrated such devotion to God. I want to encourage you to study their stories in the Bibles and learn from their amazing examples.

However, this Sunday we’re going to look at another man who is a great example–Noah. During his life, he lived in the most sinful time this planet has probably ever seen, and yet he modeled something for us in how he dealt with sin. Noah reveals the need for P.O.L.I.C.E.

When bad, evil, scary situations happen in our lives, we need to remember to use the P.O.L.I.C.E. to help us get through it. Not necessarily the “boys in blue,” but the characteristics of:

Perseverance
Obedience
Loyalty
Inspiring others
Courage
Encouragement.

These were part of Noah’s task; they were part of Ruth’s, Esther’s, and Job’s tasks as well; and it’s our task too.

Sin is an ever growing problem in our world, but when we use P.O.L.I.C.E., we will find that they really do help in many ways during times of trouble.

May you be blessed with an understanding of the need for these qualities throughout your life.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Responsibility

I saw a quote that read, “It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.” The Bible echoes that statement in various ways and is filled with positive and negative examples of people and the responsibilities God gave them to do something great.

After Jesus' resurrection, He met with His apostles and told them, “...you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), which is exactly what they did. They waited to “receive power whenever the Holy Spirit came” (Acts 1:8). What the Spirit would bring would be power, wisdom, and every tool necessary to spread the good news of salvation to all people. However, when you think about the responsibility God was placing on their shoulders, it could make some people squirm.

In fact, historically when God called people to take on big responsibilities they often squirmed. Moses was called in Exodus 3 to go deliver a message of salvation to God’s people enslaved in Egypt, but he used every excuse he could think of to get out of it. Later, some spies were given the responsibility of reporting on the Promised Land, but 10 out of 12 of them caved in to fear and rebelled. Then, several times, kings were given the responsibility of leading their nation to war against evil and they negotiated with them instead, or flat out refused to fight, or even became just like them.

Prophet after prophet was given an awful responsibility of proclaiming judgment against God’s people, but they were faithful. They did what needed to be done regardless of how difficult it was to carry it out, trusting on God’s power to help them.

Some argue that the great commission was given to the apostles only, however, the more you study the more it appears that each of us are given the responsibility of sharing the hope of eternal life with people all around us.

We’ve been invited to a great wedding feast where we (the church) are the special bride. The invitations have been passed out ready to mail, we are given the responsibility for getting them to the mailboxes of people everywhere.

John D. Rockefeller once said, “Every RIGHT implies a responsibility; every OPPORTUNITY, an obligation; every POSSESSION, a duty.”

Let’s be sure to be part of the legacy of positive examples of faithful promoters of God’s invitation to the lost of this world.

God bless you!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Good News & Bad News

There is a lot of bad news out there, as mirrored on TV and the internet.

The stock market is in trouble, thousands of American jobs are on the line, and threats of terrorism are shadows in the background. And then there are our own personal pain and problems to contend with. Financial, physical, medical, and relationship problems touch all of us from time to time. The bad news will always be here as long as this earth exist.

But the good news is, God’s good news lasts FOREVER! We are told to rejoice in the Lord always! (Philippians. 4:4).

The good news takes care of life’s biggest problem: sin and its terrible results.

The good news gives us hope, the promise of eternal joy, a pure purpose, and a rewarding relationship with God our Savior.

The good news of God’s grace enables us to overcome all the bad news that the world and the devil can throw at us.

So be encouraged. God’s good news is victorious over bad news!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Being like Dad

As I ponder over the years I’ve lived,
I know you’re by my side.
Guiding me in every step I take
From that I will not hide.

Your love for me is forever strong,
Your words were always right.
Every day since I was born,
Your love has been my light.

You’ll always be my father,
I’ll always be your son.
Until I see your face again,
I won’t stop until I’m done

The work you set my hands to do
Is to help the world to see,
That you truly are a loving God,
which they’ll know by watching me.

Can we be bold enough to echo the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ”? Jesus understood that the best and only way for people to truly see the heart of the Father was to do what the Father did. Therefore, it was vitally important that He listened to His Father, understood His Father, and loved His Father. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have done all that He did for us.

The same is true for each of us. If we want others to see and understand the Father’s heart, we have to be “imitators of Him.” Thankfully, God designed the family to serve as a miniature earthly model of God’s relationship with mankind. The father = God, family = multitudes of people, wife = church (bride of Christ). When each part understands how they fit into God’s grand design, people will see God. When it’s butchered by Satan, people can’t see how a father relates to God or the wife relates to the church.

Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Daniel Diet Challenge

Everyone should take some time periodically to focus on a particular book of the bible, a study of some topic, or something to let your mind meditate on God’s holy scriptures. Paul said in 2 Tim 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

For those of my church going on the Mountain Trek to Colorado to hike up Mt. Antero, our focus will be the book of Daniel. Daniel and his friends faced constant adversity, and time after time we read of their faithfulness to God. It takes their kind of commitment to “finish the race” to overcome the biggest obstacles that we face in life.

 Although not everyone will be going on the hike, everyone can participate in a 10-day challenge to do as Daniel and his friends did to prepare for the service of the king. They would be required to serve King Nebuchadnezzar, whereas we are privileged to serve our King, Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth.

Starting this Sunday, June 12th until June 22nd, anyone who would like to but their faith to the test as Daniel did can join us in a "Daniel Diet” of vegetables and water. Throughout these 10 days, we’ll be reading a chapter of Daniel per day and some related Psalms to encourage us.

In about 605 B.C. Daniel was taken captive to Babylon along with many other dignitaries and elite from Jerusalem. So Nebuchadnezzar began training them to act like a Babylonian. Everything from language, culture, and even the diet. But in Daniel 1:8-16 we can read of Daniel’s dialogue with Ashpenaz (the chief of staff) and how he stood out from the others:
“Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. But he responded, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded." 
Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff to look after Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah:
"Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water," Daniel said. "At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king's food. Then make your decision in light of what you see." 
The attendant agreed to Daniel's suggestion and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king. So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the food and wine provided for the others.

Hope you’ll join us!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Jesus: Our Rescuer

This week is our Vacation Bible School, and we will be focusing our attention on superheros of our faith. Throughout the Scriptures, we read of superhero-like people who served God in scary situations, who served each other selflessly, and through their examples, we know how we ought to live while on earth.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we don’t have what they had, or that we just don’t have the ability like other people do; but whatever you think you are, or are not, is not an obstacle for God – He can use us all in a very special way.

In comic books, there is often a villain who tries to destroy peace and harmony among people. That’s when a superhero arrives just in the nick of time to rescue the people from the bad guy. In reality, we know that we do have an adversary. Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” He’s out there among us and as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”

Jesus came to us as a very real super-hero; saving us and teaching us how to fight against the efforts of our enemy – the devil. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:9-10 that we must “rely on God” because He’s the one who “rescues us from mortal danger.” As we acknowledge what He’s done, we also realize what He’s called us to be. We end up becoming His agents, ambassadors for His purpose of pulling people from the grips of the deceiver and bringing them to the light. In other words, we become His instruments.

There is a song that we sing called "Make Me an Instrument" that expresses the fact that we are tools to be used. Romans 6:12-13, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Let’s answer the great call of God to follow His son into battle against the forces of evil and fight bravely by His side. Romans 12:21, “Don't let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” Join the team of faithful believers engaged in serving others to fulfill God’s mission to rescue people.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Beatitudes Are Necessary for Freedom to Flourish

Over the past several weeks, we've been looking at the blessings in the Beatitudes. These were intended to define the attitudes necessary for followers of Christ to employ in order to remain effective and faithful to God. Throughout His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus introduces practices that seem foreign to most folks, and yet surprisingly logical. They are logical as long as you can see the overall goal and objective of living according to those divine directives.

In many ways, the founders of this nation realized in order to maintain a free society, these Christ
sanctioned ordinances must be in place, otherwise freedom as we know it can’t exist. Listen to a few of our founders’ statements on the necessity of these attitudes amongst our citizens for freedom to thrive, or even last.

Patrick Henry: “… virtue, morality, and religion [are the] armor, my friend, and [it is] this alone, that renders us invincible. These are the tactics we should study. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed (1891).”

John Adams: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.... Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other (1854).”

Noah Webster: “[T]hose who destroy the influence and authority of the Christian religion, sap the
foundations of public order, of liberty, and of republican government (1832).

Jedidiah Morse: “To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism. All efforts to destroy the foundations of our holy religion, ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness. Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them (1799).”

George Washington: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness [which are] the duties of men and citizens… Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. (1796).”

Proverbs 29:2-4, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan. The king establishes the land by justice, but he who receives bribes overthrows it.”

Our job as Christians is to promote what Christ introduced as the “pillars” of following him. These
Beatitudes are essential for the church to remain a divine institution rather than a man-made mockery of God, and these same principles are what are required for any nation to enjoy freedom. This Memorial Day, take time to remember those who modeled Christianity well according to the pattern Jesus laid out for us in the Beatitudes.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Be A Blessing

For nearly a decade I’ve served in some capacity with a homeless service. Throughout those years I’ve gained a different perspective on what helping someone is really about. It’s easy to think if someone gives someone something they need that they have “helped” them. While that may be true in some sense, what it lacks is awareness. Not awareness of the service you’re providing, but awareness to those being helped how to avoid going back to the same spot again.

In the midst of some of Solomon’s counsel, he gives a proverb that illustrates what needs to be present to be of lasting value when it comes to helping people. He says in Proverbs 19:16-21, “He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but he who is careless of conduct will die. One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed. Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death. A man of great anger will bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again. Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days. Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.”

So the awareness comes in opening the eyes of those that are lost. Those that are afraid. Those who are plagued with difficulties in life. Once their eyes are opened they both see their struggles for what they really are, and they can see more easily how to avoid the paths that continually lead to more pain and frustrations.

How would you value the awareness you bring to other people’s lives? Do they understand their purpose better since you’ve been in their life? Have you aided people in gaining an understanding of how, and the benefit of, self-control? The list could go on.

As a minister this goes through my mind often. The word minister ultimately means to attend to the needs of someone. It’s not really about a position of power, but of service.

Much like what Jesus said to the apostles after He washed their feet. In John 13:12-16, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Jesus was ministering to the apostles, but for a purpose. His purpose was to enlighten them, and to bring awareness to the opportunities for Kingdom work that is opened up through the acts of service. If I have one wish for those I have the privilege of ministering to, it’s that they would see how fulfilling and productive our lives can be when we serve for the purpose of bringing awareness to God’s plans.

“Give a man a fish, you help him for a day. Teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” In essence this is at the heart of the kind of helping that brings awareness. That’s what I hear in these words of Solomon: help with needs, with behaviors, with emotions, and direction, but with the purpose of enlightenment. This was what Jesus was eluding to when he invited the apostles to follow Him at the beginning of His ministry in Mark 1:17. He would make them fishers of men. He would open their eyes to see how service to others helps others to come to the awareness of God and His plan for mankind.

Jesus was only going to be with them for a short period of time, then they would have to carry on the work. A minister basically does the same thing. Encourage others: to live more boldly for Christ, to respect God’s direction, and to be more aware of God in our lives. Praise God for opportunities, and may these words of praise, encouragement, instruction, and challenge be a blessing to you.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Spiritual Goodness

Good versus evil. Millions of dollars are made in illustrating the struggle between the two. The good has always been intrigued by the evil.

One of the first attributes of God ever displayed for us is His goodness. “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth….” After each phase of creation, He gave His stamp of approval by declaring “It is good.”

God also declared us “good.” James 1:17-18, “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us His true word. And we, out of all creation, became His prized possession.”

Although we were good, God found a flaw in what He’d made. It was “not good for man to be alone.” He needed companionship. What is so good about companionship? Solomon concludes in Ecclesiastics 4:9-12, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.…”

Whether that success we hunger for could be interpreted as pride might be debatable, but we do know that it was ultimately pride that ruined the good relationship that mankind had with God in the garden. The intrigue of evil won out. And once Pandora’s Box was opened, simply having knowledge of evil was enough to make good deeds less common.

From the beginning, God has also given us guidelines and instructions (commands) that lead us away from evil and lead us closer to being more like God in desiring good. James 4:7-8, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.”

What Adam and Eve failed to do was to surrender their will to God's. Had they done that, they most likely would not have taken the fruit. But what’s different today? Hasn’t God still left His word to guide us away from evil and towards good?

3 John 11, “Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God's children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.”

The Spirit is God’s gift to us to be that voice inside. The cognizant reminder of what is the good thing versus the evil thing. We have to make the choice to listen. Cain learned the hard way in Genesis 4:6-7 that listening to God will thwart Satan’s plans for evil. God told him, “But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Cain ignored God.

This is the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. Hebrews 5:14 says that those who are mature (eating spiritual solid food) have their senses trained to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Jesus reminded us in Luke 6:40, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.”

Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

As goodness may sound vague, it is in essence the understanding of the choice before us. We can follow what God has established as good, or we can listen to alternative instructions outside of God that will ultimately result in becoming, or doing evil.

As we reflect on the goodness of God, we should accept that God has done something that changes how we view the options before us by giving us His Spirit. Paul says in Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave His life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.”

Good deeds--done with good motives--please God.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Spiritual Kindness

Random Acts of Kindness, also known as R.A.K.’s have been popular among churches, schools, even individuals just helping someone out unexpectedly. However, just because the recipient wasn’t anticipating the kindness, and just because it was “random” doesn’t mean it wasn’t premeditated.

When looking deeper into the fruit of the Spirit, it’s important to see that the Spirit wants to produce these qualities in us consistently. What separate someone’s kind actions who is in Christ from someone who hasn’t trusted in Christ yet, is their motives. God’s Spirit reveals God’s kindness, and that’s done for a purpose. Kindness is an action as well as an attitude. The attitude behind our kindness is what softens people’s hearts.

God’s gift of the Spirit sees through whatever circumstance we are in the middle of and helps us understand the purpose in demonstrating what’s mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – regardless. This list sums up what people are looking for in life, and those IN Christ have been given the tool to help others understand how to achieve these.

Ephesians 1 describes God’s mysterious plan of kindness towards us. The New Living Translation Bible says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” Although we receive the spiritual blessings because we’re in Christ, the act of receiving the blessing wasn’t done without a cause, and it wasn’t random.

The New American Standard Bible uses the phrase, “His kind intentions”, here’s where we see God’s premeditated act of kindness. Ephesians 1:4, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

In spite of some beliefs, which use this passage to describe God’s partiality without reason, this verse instead illustrates the kindness of God with a reason. In His kindness, He extended grace to everyone who will trust in His son; and He decided to do this “act of kindness” before the world began. Jesus Christ came to rectify the problem of sin for every human being.

Not one person has to go to hell, all because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins by offering Himself as a living sacrifice. Paul continues by further explaining God’s “kindness” in Ephesians 1:6, “So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins. He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”

We are chosen through Jesus. Not that Jesus picked one over the other, but everyone who is added to the Lord’s body, the church (Ephesians 1:22-23), have been “sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance…” (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world was God’s ultimate act of kindness.

Spiritual kindness is what Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:43-48 when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” Being randomly kind isn’t a bad idea, but being intentionally kind is even better. Jesus reminds us that His kindness is part of His perfect nature, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Consider some Random Acts of Kindness that you can participate in this week, month, or year; and premeditate on what you need to do to make it happen.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Spiritual patience

Patience.

Just saying the word makes you want to grimace or roll your eyes.

Patience.

But it seems as though we're always waiting for something. Waiting for a certain thing to happen, for one thing to begin and another to end. Waiting for more time or more money. Waiting for our marriage to get better or for our spouse to change. Waiting for the kids to grow up. Waiting for our prayers to be answered. But God says that waiting is good. That's because it produces patience in us.

Paul tells us that patience is a byproduct of having God’s Spirit living in us (Galatians 5:22). However, just because we’re waiting doesn’t mean that we’re being patient. And yet, we can't have patience without the waiting.

What does waiting on God do for us?

David says in Psalms 26:2-3, “Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart. For Your loving-kindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth.” Sometimes waiting can reveal our true motives.

One pre-marriage counseling suggestion is to watch how your future spouse handles waiting for something to download on a slow computer, or how they react to being put on hold for 45 minutes waiting to ask a simple question about car insurance or something. Those periods of waiting really do test our character.

Another benefit of waiting is the anticipation that builds for whatever we’re waiting for. Consider the wonderful benefits of waiting to have sex until we’re married. Consider the benefits waiting to graduate before trying to find a career. These are just a few benefits that help us appreciate the rewards that are associated with something better, later.

Part of the problem is failing to see how God will use that wait time. Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:11-12, “But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you…” In context, he’s warning against the dangers of money. The temporary allurement of wealth can cause us to quit on the things that last forever. Money can end up being the antithesis of patience.

Hebrews 11:24-26, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt…”

So how do we get that Moses-like patience? Or the heart that truly pursues godliness even if I have to wait a long time for it?

We may need to pray for patience. It’s taboo in our culture to say that, but it’s true. What if Satan helped to promote that notion that praying for patience was a mistake? It would serve his purpose better than it would God’s purposes for your life.

Another step might be to re-evaluate what I’m doing while I’m waiting. We live in a multi-task culture that is always “finding something to do with our time.” So why not try that spiritually?

Psalms 130:5, “I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.”

Micah 7:7, “But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation.”

Waiting on the Lord gives me the sense that something is going on, but I just can't see it at the moment. But I wait with eager anticipation to see what God is going to do.

For that, it leads me to be thankful. We’re constantly reminded in scripture to be thankful. Whether it’s in what Christ did on the cross, or for God’s design for the church, or even for our trials we face, God works amazing things through those who love Him.

And instead of complaining about our obstacles, we could keep quiet and do as Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” Complain less, pray more with thankfulness knit within every situation. Even if we don’t understand the situation.

But perhaps waiting on God, and demonstrating patience, is a powerful method for not giving up. He’s promised a reward to those that persevere through whatever happens to us (Revelations 2:10), and time after time epistles were written to churches urging them to stay in the game. Run as if you want to win, not like a quitter who stops when it gets too hard.

We might be surprised how much exercising patience grows our faith to unheard of levels. So pray, wait, thank God, be still, and press on towards what God is willing to do in you… if you’ll wait on His timing.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Spiritual peace

“What caused you to become homeless?” This is a common question we ask people that find themselves on the doorstep of a homeless organization I’ve helped with for years. The question is less for our benefit as it is for the person in trouble. The problem is that many don’t see the connection between their current situation and the decisions they made at an earlier date.

When I asked this question to a middle-aged man covered with scars and half blind he said, “I had to get away from where I was at; it was too dangerous for me.” Whether he made the connection between his druggy roommates and his now homeless situation I’m not sure, but I know that most of us find ourselves using the same kind of logic at times. We run from one problem only to be faced with another problem.

As we explore the Fruit of the Spirit, we come to peace in Paul’s list from Galatians 5:22. Peace is ultimately the absence of conflict or trouble. Peace is what most people want in their life. The man in the homeless office sought peace in the form of a place to stay; but based on that way of thinking, peace is always contingent upon our circumstances. What would he find at his new place to stay? Had his previous dwelling place been an answer to prayers for him at one point?

Conflict and struggles are part of life. In fact, every day will present a new series of struggles and difficulties to face. Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Therefore finding peace in life takes a different way of looking at what I have to face. I ouldn’t know I had peace unless I knew what the opposite of peace looked like. For the Israelites, they had known struggle and conflict most of their existence as God’s chosen people. Yet perhaps like the homeless man seeking help, many of their struggles were brought on because they ran from one problem to find another one around the corner. From seeking gods to finish what Moses started at Mt. Sinai to Judah turning to Egypt for deliverance from the countries God sent to chastise the rebellious Jews, Israel seemed to remain in a state of struggle and conflict.

However, perhaps as we think about the words of the angels to the shepherds outside of  Bethlehem, we can appreciate what they were announcing. They shouted out in Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Immanuel, God with us, would not only pay the penalty of our sins which bring us struggles in life, he also modeled a way to stay focused through the struggles we face.

Paul said in Romans 2:7-10, “To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath, and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

God’s way of living gives us a new perspective of the events we face in life. We may not always understand them, but the more we learn to trust God to work something good from our situation, the more likely we’ll understand God’s kind of peace. This opens another dilemma, which is, “Will I find peace if I continue down the same road I’m heading down that caused me so much trouble?” Just because we look for God to make something good of our mess doesn’t mean we’ll truly grasp Godly peace. Godly peace is a product of “walking according to the Spirit.” Paul concludes the list of Spiritual qualities produced in those who love him and obey him this way in Galatians 5:24-26, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.”

Godly peace is a product of listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which is directed by God and His eternal words given to us.

Ultimately, the struggles that many of us face are because we are engaged in a battle of the wills -- my will verses God’s will. When I follow my will, I am more likely to find myself in a situation tied to the consequences of living selfishly. However, when I follow God’s will, even if I go through a horrific experience, I’ll find myself walking hand in hand with God as He leads me towards the eternal rewards prepared for those who love him. A place that truly is a picture of real and lasting peace.

The angels had a good reason to be excited for the peace that Jesus would bring to earth, but it wasn’t about the absence of struggles but a new way to look at them until we reach the home God has promised us.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Spiritual Joy

Salvation has often been equated to a gift that can only be enjoyed if we take it. God won’t force us to accept his tremendous mercy and kindness, but why wouldn’t you want it? It’s a valid question that has boggled the minds of passionate evangelists throughout the ages, “Why wouldn’t someone want to go to heaven?” Yet as Jesus says in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

The Bible is filled with passages that help us see just how wonderful heaven will be, and how loving God is to make the way there possible for us. One of the most quoted passages in scripture speak to this; in John 3:16-21, “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” However, it goes on to explain who can have this promise and why someone wouldn’t want it. He says, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God's one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God's light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”

How awful it will be for those who reject the wonderful offer of salvation made possible through what Christ did on the cross. However, how about the person that refuses to receive the gifts given to the believer?

We’re told that at the point when we recognize our need for a savior and turn to him we receive a powerful gift. Acts 2:38-39, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

At our conversion, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a large portion of the New Testament is helping Christians understand how to live by the guidance of the Spirit rather than the guidance of the flesh, or worldly things. Paul says in Galatians 5:22 that among the “Fruits of the Spirit” is joy.

Once the church began on the Day of Pentecost a new and exciting attitude swept over the believers. People eagerly sold property to help others, they met together every day studying scripture, praying together. Acts 2:46-47 says, “They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.” They really enjoyed the fellowship of other Christians.

Joy is a byproduct of living according to the Spirit, but is it something that many Christians experience? It seems so common to meet Christians that look and act like they’re miserable. Is this what the Spirit produces within us?

Many scholars have debated over the centuries about what it means to “quench the Spirit,” which is referenced in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, but also mentioned a little differently in Ephesians 4:30-32, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

It saddens God to see us live contrary to what the Spirit guides us towards. Perhaps this is where Christians should seriously consider what it means when I live a life of constant negativity, or complaining, or any other attribute that diminishes the Spirit of God. At the risk of undermining the grace of God, when does a person unwilling to submit to the guidance of the Spirit fall from God’s grace? When does a person close their heart to such a degree that joy can’t be seen in their life? And, how might that impact the very message Christ gave us to spread to the lost and dying people of the world?

My hope is that we completely accept the gift of God, and in trusting faith, give our worries over to God, and by that process, experience the wonderful joy that comes from doing just that. Let’s encourage one another as long as we can… and do it with joy.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Spiritual Love

On Aug 23, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in hopes that he could inspire people to put an end to racism. But, on April 4, 1968 he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, who was a racist. The battle has not ended, and as anyone with eyes, ears, and a brain knows our nation is just as racist today as it was during the '60s.

The problem wasn’t in the speech; it wasn’t in the approach taken to eradicate racism; the problem was in people. People from all walks of life, every ethnic group, every social group, and every gender group all struggle with the darkness Satan pulls down around us. He so effectively blinds us that he ends up binding us to the pain of living according to the principles of this world. The result–pain and more pain. Pain within ourselves, and pain caused towards others.

In Paul’s recognition of the struggle, he said in Romans 7:21-25, “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”

We are slaves to hate, to selfishness, to pain and depression. However, God did something through Christ that offered freedom. Paul continues by saying, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God's law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”

But how will Christ change the hatred I feel towards people because of my own prejudices? How will Christ alter my thinking so that I think first before I react in some harmful way? There is a gift God has given everyone who submits to Christ’s authority to rule over everything. God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:37-39, “Now when the crowd who had gathered for the Feast of Pentecost heard the apostle’s speech, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

The good news is that God loves us enough to give us a heavenly tool, a part of Himself that will see past the temptations to be selfish, to be unkind, to ultimately be heartless. The challenge then is to identify how this gift works. How do I know when the Spirit is driving my reactions verses my own clouded heart?

Just as Jesus said that “you will know them by their fruits.” Just check out the context in Matthew 7:17-20, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

So what is the fruit of having the Spirit control my thinking? Paul said in Galatians 5:22-24, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

The Spirit helps us understand God’s heart. The law that was given to Moses identified the actions God loves, but was never able to penetrate to the soul. It’s when God’s holy desires penetrate our hearts and we submit to His will, that’s when we see the strength to say NO to me and YES to Him.

The more I know what pleases God, the more I’ll recognize when the Spirit will nudge me in the right direction. This was exactly the result Jesus talked about in His parable of the soils. He says of the final soil, the productive Godly soil in Matthew 13:23, “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”

God’s word reveals God’s heart. The gift God gives believers is what gives us the ability to live the way God lives. He has loved us so much, therefore we must love others that way. A feat only possible by having God’s Spirit directing our actions. Let’s truly “think of others as more important than ourselves” and change the world with God’s love.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Result of the Spirit

What determines life? Throughout the countries on this planet, this is an ever-increasing debate on what is life. Whether it’s the quality of life or when that life begins officially, we hear about these a lot.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian gained a lot of attention as the “death doctor” after his arrest in 1999 for voluntary euthanasia, or assisted suicide. It was believed that he assisted over 130 people end their life. One major reason for doing it was both the patients, and the doctors’, perception that their quality of life wasn’t good, therefore, they didn’t need to go on living.

Interestingly, Kevorkian’s mother, Satenig, was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 during the World War I. In an effort to rid the world of the weak and the Christians, the Ottoman government, modern day Turkey, made up primarily of Muslims, drove out the people that they deemed unworthy to live. From Constantinople towards the Syrian Desert, their trail of cruelty gained attention from those sympathizers of the infirm and Christians, but not before 800,000 plus people died.

Dr. Kevorkian ended up following in the same footsteps as those who nearly annihilated his own mother and her people. The Nazi’s also modeled their efforts after the Ottoman’s philosophy to some degree. In each of these cases deception was a key ingredient in letting people to give up their homes, their citizenship, or their lives to someone set out to destroy them.

Peter reminded his followers that there was a similar foe that is essentially doing the same thing in 1 Peter 5:8-11, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” However, he gives hope to those enduring his efforts to “steal, kill, and destroy” by saying, “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

But how do you resist someone, or something that is so deeply deceptive as Satan or people like Hitler or Kevorkian? Perhaps it’s in the spiritual understanding of what is the real meaning and value of life.

That understanding helps us determine the real gift of life that God offers but it only comes through what Jesus made possible on the cross. John begins his gospel similar to how Moses began the book of Genesis, “In the beginning…” but John says in “In the beginning was the Word…” John 1:4-5, “In Him (the Word) was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

And he continues in his epistle in 1 John 5:19-20, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” The real value of life is found in Christ, not in what a person has the ability to physically do, not in the intelligence a person demonstrates, not in any one ethnic group.

As Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

So as Paul, John, and Jesus remind us, that an understanding of what true life is results in a conviction to live according to the magnificent life that Jesus came and died to bring us. So how does a person know that they are living according to the Spirit of God? According to God’s evaluation of a quality life?

Just like a peach tree produces peaches and an apple tree produces apples; a Spirit filled person, which is the result of God’s gift towards eternal life, will bear fruit that shows they understand the real meaning of life.

Paul highlights the fruit that should be seen in someone who not only has the Spirit, but understands God’s desire for us to have real life. He says in Galatians 5:22-24, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

When we make these qualities the criteria to evaluate real life, it will be impossible to carry out things like genocide on whatever level that may come on. Dr. Kevorkian failed to understand what true life is because he still lived in the darkness, a darkness that many people still live in. My challenge to each of us is to better understand what life is through God’s lens. Or as Proximo said in the movie The Gladiator, “Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives.”

Wouldn’t you like to have real, true, lasting life that is only found in Jesus Christ?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

True Thanksgiving

The other night my wife showed our kids a video of some Syrian refugees landing in Greece in over-crowded rafts. They’d left their country because of war and violence. Ironically, I was reading William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation at that very moment. In William’s journal, he describes the conditions leading up to the famous Mayflower voyage to America. The Puritans also felt the pressure of persecution and realized there was no relief except to leave.

So this was a teachable moment to explain what a refugee is and what that really means in terms of lifestyle changes and choices. To decide to leave what you know out of fear of loss of your property or your life forces you to venture off into unknowns and vulnerabilities. Trying to avoid the political muddle tied to the story of Syrian refugees, I took the opportunity to further explain how the Syrians both compare and contrast to the Pilgrims. But even beyond either of these groups, I wanted my children to understand how as believers we are called to be like refugees, sojourners, aliens, or pilgrims.

1 Peter 2:11-12, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Peter urged early Christians to live with that same “refugee” mentality. Live like you don’t belong here. Then use that understandably awkward and even scary position in life to demonstrate where your confidence really lies.

The real war going on isn’t within the borders of nations, but within ourselves. Wars are fought (to some degree) for freedom. Freedom to own a particular piece of land, freedom to use your money or your talents as you wish, etc. Sin steals our potential and our freedoms, which is one reason it’s so important to flee from those things that steal our potential in God.

Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” That’s our potential, to be a tool for God; which in turn reaps a harvest beyond understanding.

Paul told the Romans in Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

Where will the refugees end up? Is there a place that will bring them peace? The reality is that the victory they’re seeking doesn’t come in the form of a title deed for property, or in a flag, or in anything you can put in the bank. The real victory is something bigger—it’s in God, the creator of all things.

1 Corinthians 15:57-58, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

That was a lesson the Pilgrims would soon learn as well. The freedom they
sought wasn’t in America, but in the freedom to fully surrender to Christ and His guidance. We were created for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify God. Peter explains that through our “good deeds, as they observe them” that is when others see what real freedom is and that’s when God is glorified.

Nelson Mandela said just months before his release from prison, “The only prison that takes away a man’s freedom is the one that does not allow that man to dream.” God has given us something more than a dream; it’s a promise. To have that ability to live for that promise makes us freer than anyone on the planet.

This Thanksgiving, pay special attention to the opportunities around you to share what makes you free.