Sunday, January 13, 2019

How Do You Define Hope?

How do you define Hope? It’s a word that points towards the future, a word that can almost mentally lighten our load just thinking about the good things to come. It’s also a word that is illustrated and spoken about many times throughout the Scriptures.

From instances where God demonstrated His power to rescue and His promises to save, to messages from prophets reminding people of God’s words they had ignored or forgotten, to books of poetry that beautifully depict the blessings of hope. All of these point to God’s promises to make our life better than it is now. Or as 1 Corinthians 2:1-9 says as Paul reminds us of the wonderful mysteries of God that have been revealed through Jesus Christ and his willingness to give up the now because he trusted the later – God’s reward for faithfulness. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

David was a man “after God’s own heart,” and there is probably no better place to see his trust in God’s provisions and blessings than in the Psalms. The Psalms are praises to God, expressions of the raw human feelings about God’s guidance. Therefore, we can benefit a lot from reflecting on the Psalms as fuel for our hope.

Psalms 32:1-2, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Psalms 33:18-19, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.”

Those encouragements from scripture have been a constant source of hope for those who study and meditate on them. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter shared this hope with a crowd that could have easily been labeled hopeless. After all, they had killed the Son of God. But instead, Peter offers hope. He says in Acts 2:25-28 (Psalms 16:8-11), “‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore, my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover, my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of joy in Your presence.’”

It was a prophecy about Christ, but for those who will trust in Christ, we too share in that same hope of resurrection (Philippians 3:10). The Word, which became flesh, brought hope because we now have a way to see past our own sin and guilt and shame and can reflect on the good things to come. “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him.” – John 14:6.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Who Is Your 2019 Personal Trainer?

“A new year for a new you.” We will probably hear all kinds of gimmicky statements for the next couple of weeks. And they are all geared to helping you improve on the things you just haven’t finished doing in life. I would imagine that most of us like the idea of being flawless and complete, but this side of heaven we must come to grip with the reality that – I’m NOT perfect!

Sometimes the reality of our faults and failures can zap all our energy to try to improve. After all, won’t this be just another failure in my list of failures? What’s it take to break free from that kind of thinking? For the most part – success! “Success breeds success” as the cliché goes. But this is where the vicious cycle begins…or does it?

For most of us, having a personal trainer would make all the difference between failure or success. It’s the one-on-one direction that makes the difference. The drawback is that the personal trainer probably doesn’t live in your house, or goes to work with you, or spends every waking hour reminding you of your goals. But what if you could have one that did just that? How would that change your story?

This is what God has in mind for us, and its been His plan from the beginning. For the Israelites, they were failing miserably at trying to turn over a new leaf. Around every corner was pagan idol worship, or even worse pride and greed. They got discouraged just like we can. And discouragement often leads to abandoning the plan because it's filled with hatred (towards our self perhaps), depression, frustration, worry, bitterness, etc.

But if we’ll listen to God’s “personal trainer” that He offers to live not just with us, but He invites him to live IN us, then we’ll begin to see success in a whole new way. God’s plan is designed to bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and even self-control! This is a life being lived under a new director; the Holy Spirit!

We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit the moment we begin to trust Jesus by following what He did, beginning with faith in who He is and obedient to His first action step by being baptized (Acts 2:38). The real challenge is trusting our new “coach,” advocate (John 14:16), helper (John 15:26), your guide (John 16:13). Because as Paul says in Romans 6:4, “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

All the great coaching in the world does no good if we don’t listen to it. Listening = trusting His plan to a new life; a life that He deemed “good” as He did with everything He created. It’s good because it works, therefore we can have confidence in His guidance. 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, “Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as [ministers/ promoters] of a new plan – not [a plan of the words and rules] but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

It takes trusting in God to the point that we don’t abandon our “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16) but get in there and begin listening to His instructions that truly bring satisfaction to our lives. John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas Kindness

Years ago, some people would tie a string around their finger to serve as a reminder to do something. Nowadays, people add reminders on their phone for things they need to do. Reminders are helpful, and we all need them occasionally. In fact, that’s basically what the Epistles served as for the congregations scattered around Asia Minor and Europe – reminders on how to live and conduct themselves.

In my house we have a sign that serves as a reminder; it says: Live fully, Create happiness, Speak kindly, Hug daily, Smile often, Laugh freely, Seek truth, Inspire change, Love deeply. All of these are both helpful and necessary for good relationships to continue to thrive.

Similarly, Santa Clause serves as a kind of mascot for generosity. Although there may be a lot of mystery or myth associated with Saint Nicholas, or Kris Kringle, or any of his other aliases, there is still something that he represents that is a helpful reminder to us. At the root of Godly generosity is kindness. It’s giving something to someone because you genuinely want to help out or express your love and care for them – not out of obligation or bragging about it.

Kindness is a huge theme throughout the Scriptures. From King David, who wanted to show kindness to Saul’s family, so he sought out Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson (2 Samuel 9), or to Tabitha, who was always doing good and helping the poor. (Acts 9:36-39). Kindness also is one of the identifying marks of living by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) that we should strive to model.

In Ephesians 2:6-7 Paul writes, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

God wants to show His kindness towards those who will trust in Him. Therefore, it's healthy for us to show that same kindness towards others, just as He said in John 13:34-35, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

This is a great time of year to reflect on the many reminders of generosity and kindness. And perhaps this can be a goal for all of us to carry the Christmas “spirit” into every day that we have left on his planet.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Prosateurs 2018 Christmas Gift Catalog!

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Friday, December 14, 2018

Overcoming Evil

They say, “knowledge is power.” But sometimes it’s not good to have too much power. The 18th century historian, John Dalberg is best known for his quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…” We read in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve discovered how self-destructive the knowledge of evil can be.

When God created the earth, He built an infrastructure that could support human life. Everything from oxygen, to water, food sources, and even human relationships. But God had given a command that they should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without any knowledge of good or evil.

They had seen God’s good creation, but perhaps they had never participated in doing “good” for one another. Jesus is quoted in Acts 20:35 that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Almost as if to say, there is something wonderful about doing good.

But the other side of that is that there is something awful about doing evil. Why is sin so attractive if it’s so awful? Time will answer that question best of all. In the meantime, most of us experience a lot of regrets and pain associated with poor decisions – things that God would categorize as “evil.”

God’s word helps us know how to deal with those feelings of disappointment within ourselves, as well as the feelings of guilt, depression, and grief that tend to accompany the choices of sin. This time of year, many people deal with all kinds of emotions; some good, but some bad. Although, not every bad, sad, or lonely feeling is the consequence of a sinful decision, they often have a similar solution.

It’s God’s intention that we would discover the beauty of turning to Him and His word for encouragement and support during the lowest times in our lives. Therefore, knowledge of Him actually serves as a powerful tool against the power of sin and death, as Paul states in the following passage:

Romans 6:1-11, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined Him in His death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with Him in His death, we will also be raised to life as He was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ, we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with Him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and He will never die again. Death no longer has any power over Him. When He died, He died once to break the power of sin. But now that He lives, He lives for the glory of God. So, you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.” (NLT)

Just recognizing what hope Jesus brought to earth when he came to live, die, and overcome death. Who he is, and the love and grace he revealed to us is a powerful tool to help us overcome the woes of this world – during anytime of the year!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Who is this King of Glory?

An idiom is a statement that says something but using words that really won’t make sense without explanation. “The best of both worlds,” “Once in a blue moon,” “When pigs fly,” or “That costs an arm and a leg.” Most of us wouldn’t guess the meaning of these without some help. The same is true in most languages; in the German language they say, “You have tomatoes on your eyes.” It basically means you’re not seeing what everyone else can see.”

Or in Sweden, they say, “There’s no cow on the ice.” Which means there’s nothing to worry about. But what about scriptures? They are in there too. Things like: “kept in your word” (John 17:12), or “to walk in the Lord” (Col 2:6 - NASB). Some of these needs explaining; others don’t. But when it comes to the prophecies about Jesus… well, sometimes it’s not as obvious as we’d like them to be.

Jesus as a king, for instance. The people wanted Jesus to be their king (John 6:15), and just a week before his time had come to go to Jerusalem to die, we read in John 12:13, “[The people] took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” (which means save us), “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, “Blessed is the king of Israel!” In spite of their recognizing him as a kind of king they’d want to rule Israel, they weren’t listening to his words. He’d been telling his followers quite often that he had to go to Jerusalem to die (Mark 8:31).

How obvious would it be to us? Consider this Psalm by David in Psalms 24 that talks in detail about this king that was coming to town.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob. Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty — he is the King of glory.”

Once Jesus had died, been buried, was resurrected, and had ascended into heaven, things began to make more sense the kind of kingdom he was ushering in. In Acts 2 we discover that the kingdom David spoke about wasn’t his own but a better kingdom, a kingdom of God. Take time to thank God for having a vision, and a plan of his kingdom regardless if we totally get it yet or not.

Friday, November 23, 2018

David and Jesus the Fugitive

Suffering seems to be an important part of Jesus’ coming to earth. Just as Jesus told his disciples in Luke 9:22, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Oddly enough, His suffering would be part of the proof that He was the Messiah, although people didn’t grasp that as they studied the prophecies prior to Jesus’ resurrection and the establishment of the church. For instance, in Isaiah 53:3-5, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely, He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

This was the very scripture that the Ethiopian Eunuch was studying when Philip came alongside of him to share Christ with him. The man asked Philip, “Is he talking about Himself or someone else?” And we read in Acts 8:35, “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”

David also “suffered” a lot after his anointing but before he took the throne. (He would suffer after he inherited the kingdom, but that was primarily due to consequences he brought upon himself.) Before David reigned, King Saul sought to kill him.

It was during this dark time in his life that we read many of his Psalms written to express his fears and his frustrations. Psalms 28:1-2, “I pray to you, O Lord, my rock. Do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you are silent, I might as well give up and die. Listen to my prayer for mercy as I cry out to you for help, as I lift my hands toward your holy sanctuary.”

Similarly, we read in Hebrews 5:7-9, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him….”

David, too, would express what he learned from the situations that forced him to rely on God. Psalms 27:11-13, “Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me. Do not let me fall into their hands. For they accuse me of things I’ve never done; with every breath they threaten me with violence. Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.”

The nation of Israel was surely thankful for David’s commitment to God during that time, because through his reign would be the new standard of a Godly king. In the same way, that we are glad for the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Understanding Jesus' Connections

Have your eyes ever glazed over when reading the genealogical records in the Bible? For the most part, it’s a list of names you can’t even begin to pronounce, besides being somebody else’s family tree (which usually isn’t all that exciting to look at anyway).

God isn’t wanting to torture us by throwing large chunks of weird names at us for no reason. These names are designed to connect people with a family – Jesus’ family to be specific. But why is that important?

Matthew begins his Good News story with a list of names that show how Jesus connects with some of the biggest names in the Bible. Jesus didn’t appear out of nowhere, nor was His ministry completely new. It seemed new, but to those who realized His connections, He was the promised one of God, the rightful heir to the best king Israel ever had – David, the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).

Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ relationship to David is essential to the story of the Gospel itself. Romans: 2-3, “…the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Some of the obvious connections are: they were both born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2, Luke 2), both shepherds (1 Samuel 17, John 10:14), and both would be the standard for the new kingdom.

1 Chronicles 22:10, “He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’”

Revelations 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

But there are other similarities that all point to the fact that God was helping us get a glimpse of the kind of kingdom (and king) that He had in mind from the beginning. Hebrews 1:8-9, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

There is a constant reminder throughout the New Testament of the kingdom God has ushered in through Jesus. What a wonderful thing to be a citizen of His kingdom, an everlasting kingdom! So, just as the Israelites honored David’s legacy for generations after his reign, the church will honor Jesus' legacy for all eternity.

Acts 2:30-33, “[David] was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that He was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did His body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Power of the Passover

A special meal was inaugurated on the night before the nation of Israel would be freed from Egyptian slavery. It was a meal about a sacrificial lamb that would atone for their sins. It was to be eaten in a certain way and commemorated on a certain day of the year– it was Passover. Even though there were a lot of “rules” about eating this special meal, it served as a perpetual reminder of something to come. Basically, this meal represented HOPE.

The Passover was a high point in a typical Jewish family, and it served as an opportunity to explain how the God of Heaven, the Creator of the universe, saved His people who were in distress.

Exodus 12:24-27, “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as He promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.’”

In time the Jews neglected this celebration, and by doing so, the story of Israel’s deliverance was virtually forgotten. They knew of God, but their lifestyle proved that they didn’t really know God. For instance, in the New Testament we read of a dispute between the religious leaders and Jesus over His identity and therefore His purpose. It's in this scene where the Pharisees reject Jesus' statement: (John 8:12) “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

In John 8:19 they ask, “Where is your father?” To which Jesus replies, “You do not know me or my Father, if you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

All the festivals and ceremonies God that instituted at the beginning were intended to help later generations to recognize God’s power and therefore have hope.

1 Peter 1:10-12 describes how the prophets searched the Scriptures to find the hope of salvation, but it wasn’t going to be revealed until Jesus life, death, burial, and resurrection.

In the Hebrew, the words used for HOPE are Yakhal (to wait for) and Qavah (tension/ a tight cord). Both words are used periodically throughout Scriptures illustrating waiting on God and the tension that comes with waiting.

We need hope to stay faithful. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” So, hope and faith fit well together, and we know from Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because whoever comes to him for salvation must believe that he is indeed God, the one able to save from sins, and that he righteously rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

God has left many nuggets of hope packed away in Scriptures that help us maintain hope, build our faith, or even begin having faith. The more we know the Scriptures, the better the story is seen and our opportunities to share our faith are more obvious.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Jesus & Self Esteem

Some psychologists suggest low self esteem is a contributor to many of the social disorders facing younger generations today. Whether or not that’s completely true could be debated, but there is one thing to acknowledge – our image of self can alter how we perform.

It’s said that to be a good athlete you have to be a little arrogant. I'm not advocating an unhealthy pride in our performance on any level, but there is some truth to that. While self-image impacts a lot of people’s life choices, we can realize that Jesus came to give us a new perspective on our own life.

2 Corinthians 5:16-17, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

One person in particular in the congregation at Corinth was especially glad that his past wasn’t continuing to define his future – the man from 1 Corinthians 5. He had been involved in sexual immorality and had been rebuked and disciplined because of it (after prompting from Paul). But in 2 Corinthians 2:6-8, “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”

The love Paul encouraged the congregation to show to the man after a period of time would be the compelling reason to not go back to that old lifestyle. Therefore, it could probably never be adequately expressed the importance of each of those members of the body of Christ in Corinth. Who were they? We don’t know, but he knew. They each contributed to his new self-image; something that had been buried under a load of sin and guilt, shame, and reproach. But Paul had reminded them, after the instruction for them to reprimand the man, in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

2 Corinthians 1:4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”

Each of us have a special design in God’s kingdom to do. As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14, “acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Yoke

Whether you’re a farm person or not, we’ve probably all heard the verse in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “Take my yoke upon you” has many implications, like learning from Jesus by bringing our passions and desires under control against the immoral and ungodly things of the world.

The yoke that draws us towards godly living can seem oppressive to the spiritually immature, but Jesus says the yoke is easy. The yoke is easy because it brings none of the guilt and suffering that comes with worldly, immoral actions. The yoke also forces us to recognize how often we want to fight against God’s ways. The phrase “stubborn hearts” is often used to describe people who fight against his will, kind of like the folks Jesus addressed in Mark 3. Jesus had called attention to the withered hand of a man in the synagogue, but the people were ready to condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Most of us tend have flare-ups with a stubborn heart that wants to resist the power of God, perhaps because of our traditions (in their case) or our interpretations of Scripture, or maybe just the fact that living for Christ can be a little uncomfortable. After all, when we think of what a yoke is used for it reminds us of a naughty word… work. But, it is more of an instrument of discipline rather than work. Therefore, the yoke that Jesus gives us becomes a powerful guide for our thoughts and actions. And by wearing it, we submit to his reconditioning of our nature to be like his. Hebrews 12:11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Likewise, in time we should be open to see God at work in our lives and in others as well.

The yoke allows us to see things through the eyes of Jesus. That vision makes us concerned for a lost, sinful world, but it also puts a burden on us to care for the needs of other human beings. The yoke of Jesus is all about heart and mind. It helps shape us in the image of Jesus so that we become meek and gentle in all our dealings. It helps us bring every thought and every action under the control of Jesus. It helps us love spiritual things more than we love the world. When we first put on the yoke, it is strangely uncomfortable and disturbing. But as time passes it begins to feel natural until it eventually seems to be a part of us that we could not function without.

The yoke of Jesus is never forced on us; we have to make the decision to put it on. That decision is the first step to surrendering our will, our control to God’s higher power. Way too often, we choose not to accept the yoke Jesus offers because we’re already yoked up to the world. Paul warns us in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and the Devil? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” Consider His yoke as the guiding and supporting arms of a loving father leading you to the place that’s best for you.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Good Old Days

There’s something about the “good old days” that is comforting. Perhaps it's just because those days connect you with your earliest memories of life. Or maybe those days represent your prime and your glory days. Either way, it makes sense that the “good old days” often thought about with favor.

After all, every moment of our past has served as a single brick to build the lives we all live today, so they’re important. Looking back on the past allows us to learn from the successes and failures of others. Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

But it’s important not look too much into the past or keep your mind there for too long. You can easily get trapped there--whether it’s a traumatic experience, a life of sin and selfishness, or simply forgetting to see what’s in front of you now. Paul realized that about himself, as he said in Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

 It’s been said there are four main reasons that are worth diverting some of our present day focus toward our past.
1) To see how far you’ve come. Sometimes seeing any amounts of progress can encourage us to keep fighting the good fight. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 describes how their faithfulness through their trials has helped others stay faithful.
2. Helps us to be more empathetic towards people experiencing their own setbacks. Just as Jesus challenged those willing to stone the woman caught in adultery by asking, “He who is without sin should throw the first stone” (John 8:7). That would’ve been humbling.
3. Our memories are our source of Thanksgiving. Ephesians 1:16, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Or 1 Thessalonians 1:3, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, [and] your labor prompted by love….”
4. To remind yourself of your mission. There are countless distractions on the high road to heaven, and if we’re not careful, we can be lured in the trap of worry instead of trust. Matthew 13:22, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Hopefully we can appreciate our past without getting stuck in it so that we can’t live for the future. The Jews got hung up on their past and it kept many of them from seeing Jesus as the Messiah, the promised one of God. Our love of our past never needs to blind us from seeing God’s future.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Sign of the Tabernacle

Matthew 12:38-42, “Some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.’”

The Pharisees were constantly looking for a sign, even though the signs were right there in front of them: miracles, fulfillment of prophecies, many things that apparently proved Christ’s deity to even those Pharisees who were willing to see it – Nicodemus (John 3).

To know that God has left us many signs of His power and His plan for salvation is astounding. From the life and union of Adam and Eve as a sign of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:30-32), to the Passover lamb as a sign of the Messiah (John 1:29). Seeing these symbols and events helps us realize how “living and active” the word of God really is (Hebrews 4:12).

Paul said in Romans 1:19-20, “What may be known about God is plain to [us], because God has made it plain to [us]. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

When the Messiah, Jesus, finally arrived there were enough signs out there that people knew to some degree what to look for and where to look (Matthew 2:4-6). One of the most prized possessions in the Jewish culture actually served as a model of the plan of salvation—the Tabernacle (later the Temple).

Consider this: Before you could enter the Holy place, you were to offer a sacrifice (the best you had), and you washed in the basin (Laver) outside of the doorway. Before you are part of God’s temple—the body of Christ—you offer yourself (humbly repent), and are baptized. It is only after you do that can you enter the Holy place where the show-bread, the lampstand, and the incense were located.
Then we can see the significance in the “bread of life” (John 6:51), the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16, Revelations 1:20), and the “sweet aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:2, Revelations 8:4). All of these describe the life of a follower of Christ. The only remaining room was the Holy of Holies, which couldn’t be accessed except by the High Priest and only once per year with the right sacrifice. However, Jesus, who is our High Priest, offered the perfect sacrifice which removed the veil that separated us from the most Holy place. Thank God that He cares enough for us that He has left plenty of signs to help us in our faith.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Don't Forget!

Isn’t it easy to use our own “righteousness” as the standard for all people? The sins we get tripped up on are either “not that bad,” or else we praise God for his grace and mercy; however, with other people it can be easy to go on a witch hunt and ready to speak for God the condemnation their actions deserve. But as Paul said about the false teachers in Corinth, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Instead, they needed to consider his words to the Galatians in Galatians 6:4-8, “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load… Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Comparisons can easily become sin, because they lead to the “deeds of the flesh”: “…hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy…” (Galatians 5:20). However, there are healthy comparisons that we teach and preach regularly–living our life to emulate the life of Christ (aka Christian, which means Christ-like). As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

We can even read Hebrews 11 to see an entire list of people who modeled righteousness and faith. Comparing ourselves to those who made it their life’s ambition to love and obey God, isn’t a bad idea. Theoretically, that’s what eldership is designed to do for a congregation: model and teach Godly living by being an example of Godly living and demonstrating wisdom in exercising it.

In a similar way, through the inspired words of God, we see people in the New Testament being compared to people of the Old Testament (often called parallels). For instance, Jesus compared to Adam–both being the first-at-new-life (Romans 5); or comparing Abraham’s faith to the kind we should have (Galatians 3); or comparing Jesus to the priest, Melchizedek (Hebrews 7), or Elijah to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11-15), and many times the rebellious nature of Israel to our own rebellion.

Consider some of the comparisons between Moses and the apostle Paul. Both began their ministries after seeing a bright light (burning bush–Moses, road to Damascus–Paul), both received the best education (Acts 7:22–Moses, Acts 22:3–Paul), both had “thorns in their flesh”, both had the great burden of trying to get people to follow God, both loved God. We can easily see that both of these men had a burden on their heart to help people remember God’s will. Hopefully, we see that as a trait worth modeling our life after–people who want to do, and promote, the will of God. But just like those two men suffered a lot of heartache–trying to get people to love God rather than selfishness–we too must stay with it; we must keep on encouraging, “bearing one another’s burden–thus fulfilling the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Let’s consider the need to remember the great examples of our own past and learn from the examples in Scriptures. After all, they’re there to serve that purpose–“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Our Hearts

How much of our hearts do we put into becoming a follower of Christ? From the very first step until our very last one, God is wanting our “hearts” to be part of it (Psalms 37:4; Romans 5:5; John 14:27).

When someone hears the Gospel and is pricked to the heart and realizes the need to be saved from sinfulness, there begins a process of tuning our hearts to God’s heart. Therefore, the “why” questions and even the “how” questions become important in our change.

Although we would like to think that the “hows” are explained well enough in Scripture that there isn’t confusion, we know that there are numerous groups that emphasize one aspect of obedience to Christ over another. Our faith that Jesus is the son of God is important, our admitting our own sinful human nature is important, our humbling ourselves and turning completely to God for rescuing is important, and our being baptized for the forgiveness of sins is important. It would be nice if everyone recognized these as important to following Christ.

However, equally important is the life we choose to live after we make that decision. God wants our hearts to be changed (Matthew 22:37-39; Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 23:26; Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:7 and many others). To do that, we have to “die to ourselves daily” (Luke 9:23), and be patient during the process. But just because it may be a longer or more difficult process to adhere to Christlikeness for some more than others, it still has to be our “heart’s desire,” just as Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

In Acts 8:9-25, we read of a convert who had a challenging past – a sorcerer named Simon. He heard the words of Philip and believed the good news of the kingdom of God and was baptized. But when Peter and John came down teach and lay hands on people, Simon’s heart was enticed to his old ways of living. He said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

But Peter’s answer helps us see how God wants us to respond to His generous gift of life. Peter said, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that He may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Compare to Matthew 6:21; 1 Timothy 6:10.)

Simon begged for help at that point. He needed to stop thinking according to his old way of life – no matter how recent those “old days” were for him. This sets the urgency for all of us that to choose to follow Christ requires a change in our thinking, which ultimately changes our hearts.

God can use anyone, but we have to be willing to be molded and shaped into a spiritual person who thinks like God. But our hearts make all the difference; it’s what He’s been after from the beginning. Joel 2:13, “Rend (tear/humble) your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

Friday, September 21, 2018

Breath of Eternal Life

It doesn’t take much for us to lose focus on what’s important in life and begin to “major in the minors,” as the old saying goes. To counter that, it takes intentional, purpose-filled thoughts and actions. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” But it’s the things that are “seen” that lure us into behaviors that get us into trouble.

James highlights the fact that there were some folks making bias distinctions between the rich and the poor, and other behaviors that did not (and do not) exemplify Christ. But, as followers of Christ we must be, as Peter says in 1 Peter 1:14-17, “[Like] obedient children, [who] do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.”

Life is filled with things that won’t last: from your favorite pair of shoes, to your ability to run upstairs, to your dog Sparky. But technically life doesn’t last – at least down here. Having that thought in our head can help us stay focused. In Psalms 90, Moses sang a song of praise to the Everlasting God, the One who had seen him through some of the most amazing things witnessed by human eyes. As the much older Moses reflected on God’s presence, he says in 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

To know that physical life has a starting point and an ending point is actually a helpful thing. Not necessarily enjoyable, but a good reminder of how we should live while here. Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And Paul goes on to describe that as “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one…,” which was also one of Jesus’ last prayers (John 17).

Throughout our study of the book of James, this has been a common theme – using wisdom from above to understand the value and importance of unity among brethren – how we should live.

The Holy Spirit, who is “our seal for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30), is God’s gift to us to help us think and act with an eternal focus, a God-like focus on the life beyond breath. All that we have ever known is dependent upon physical breath: from our first breath at birth, to those beautiful or horrifying moments that take our breath away, to the struggle to breathe in those final moments down here. However, the more I am reminded of how I can use that breath to glorify God instead of tearing down those created in His image, the more I can find peace within and among others.

As God breathed life into the first man, Adam, and as Paul compares Christ as the first (eternal) man (Romans 5; 1 Corinthians 15), God breathes a new kind of breath into us via the Holy Spirit at the moment we clothe ourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). That new breath not only changes how we’ll live in heaven, but how we will live down here!

Friday, September 14, 2018

What Word Best Describes You?

What word best describes you? Or perhaps what word would you hope other people would use to describe you? I’ve been to some funerals where the congregation was asked that question to describe the deceased. In that exercise, it's interesting to see how many characteristics are told about someone.

Truth is, we can see the same person from different perspectives. What about God? What word do we attribute to God’s character?

We may have different experiences that have shaped how we view God, but He describes Himself in His word. But how in the world can the creator of the universe, the savior of our souls, the sustainer of life, the eternal judge, be summed up in one word?

In the Hebrew culture (like many ancient cultures) names meant something more than just an identity. In Exodus 33:18-19, Moses had asked God for permission to lay his eyes on Him, which God allowed. But He says, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, the Lord, in your presence…”

Once God was ready, He passed by and described His name. He says in Exodus 34:6-7, “THE LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

All of these words help explain what peace is all about. God’s peace is something that He wants us to have (John 14:27, 16:33; Romans 2:10, 5:1, etc.) In a letter, James addresses several things that these congregations needed to strive to achieve. James 4 begins with explaining why they don’t have peace among themselves, and what they need to do in order to obtain it – James 4:7-10, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

There are a lot of words that help to describe what God is looking for in us: faithfulness, perseverance, compassion, repentance, purity, humility… Imagine how much peace comes to anyone who demonstrates these kinds of qualities towards the people we live around.

Psalms 103:8-12, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor his anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Friday, September 7, 2018

What Are We Teaching?

School’s underway, and people are fitting into their busy schedules once again. Since our time is so precious, it seems we place a high value on efficiency. Efficiency is usually a good thing, and it even has a place in worship. However, saving time isn’t the goal when it comes to honoring our Heavenly Father for providing a way to spend eternity with Him in His home that is not bound by time. But we see these steps for easier worship in how we reduce the number of songs or verses, or encouraging shorter sermons, or even the statement often made during the time of offering, “This is separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper, but as a matter of convenience, we’re taking up an offering now.”

While these may be important, another issue is what to expect out of a Bible class teacher. James addresses the fact that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Knowing that what we teach, or even how we teach may impact how someone else receives (or rejects) the gospel of Christ, should help us to put a heavy emphasis on examining our efforts and motives as teachers.

This was something that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their reckless attitude towards teaching God’s will. He said in Matthew 23:13-15, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to… You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Luke 11:46). “Woe to you lawyers as well, for you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

To fulfill the Great Commission, we must be people that “teach others to observe all that God commands” (Matthew 28:20). Which reveals the importance of teachers in the process of bringing people to Christ. In James’ situation, showing partiality and demonstrating jealousy was teaching a different lesson to people that was not part of God’s will. Instead, James reminds them of the lessons taught by Abraham and Rahab, where they taught others about their faith in God by modeling sacrifice and kindness.

What motivates our teaching? What message do we send to the world who is watching us? Do we model wisdom or selfish ambition? He says in James 3:13-18, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Friday, August 31, 2018

Faith or Works

Five hundred years ago, an event happened that challenged the biggest religious institution in the world… an event known as the Reformation Movement. Although it had been brewing for a couple centuries, Martin Luther is labeled as the father of the movement. What that movement did was expose many false teachings – one of which was the use of indulgences. It had been taught for a long time that your sins could be forgiven if you paid a certain amount of money to the church in restitution for your sins.

Obviously, anyone who has read the Bible would agree that monetary restitution wasn’t what God had in mind for the forgiveness of sins. So, that movement inspired many teachers to teach that you didn’t have to pay God (or a priest) for your sins – Jesus did that on the cross.

Colossians 2:8-12, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So, you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. When you came to Christ, you were 'circumcised,' but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with Him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.”

While that must have been a refreshing bit of news to find out God was after your heart instead of your money, the big question arose, “Do I have to DO anything then?” From that, people began to engage in frequent debates between faith and works: what does God require? When we read the book of James, we discover that the debate between faith and works wasn’t new at all. People have constantly tried to find out what God actually wants from us.

James addresses something that Jesus had shown us throughout His entire ministry. James 2:18, “Someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” This was said in the middle of his point: “Faith without works is dead!”

Perhaps the real issue to be investigated should be, “What’s my motive behind my actions?” It seems that many of Jesus’ teachings hinge upon the motive of the participant. So, what’s your motive in helping people or not helping people? What’s your motive in attending worship or not attending worship? As James says in James 4:3,  we don’t obtain what we’re looking for because of our selfish motives. Therefore, God wants us to be humble and merciful, compassionate and generous.

Faith isn’t faith if there are no actions associated with faith. In part because having faith in God means I’m following him, doing what he says (James 1:22; John 14:15). That’s true for all of us, even the people mentioned all throughout Scripture that had to trust in God to help them through the next step (Hebrews 11). How about us? Has our life helped the world to see that we have faith in God by “our good deeds” (Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12)?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Our Great Expectations!

Every Sunday we meet together to worship God, and part of that worship contains a ceremony designed to connect us emotionally and symbolically to what makes having a genuine relationship with God possible – we call it The Lord’s Supper. Instituted by Christ on the night He was arrested (Matthew 26:26-28), during the Feast of Passover, Jesus took time to make a connection for them about something that had been planned since the beginning of time. He said to them, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me… this cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

But just like the Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t instantly make the connection between what Jesus was doing and what they believed the Messiah would do, we too must try to understand how God wants us to ‘remember him’ as He was, not as how we want Him to be.

In the 5th century, there was an Egyptian desert-monk named Nilus of Sinai who was known for his wisdom and insight. He said, “Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer.”

Ultimately, it takes spending some time with God in prayer and in study to really get a clearer picture of His will and how He tends to work with us. The people of Jesus' day had to come to grips with the fact that the Messiah wasn’t coming as a royal king to overthrow the Romans, that salvation would be made possible to people other than Jews – even Samaritans, and that the gifts of the Spirit weren’t given to divide and give cause for arrogance but given for edification and blessings to the church as a whole.

Our challenge as followers of Christ is to be careful about how we approach those that haven’t understood who God is and what His will really is. In our effort to defend the truth of the Gospel, we can actually do more harm to the way people respond to it. 1 Peter 3:15-16, “But in your hearts revere
Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

There are disturbing beliefs and practices becoming increasingly mainstream in our culture that we, as Christians, have to know how to approach. Most folks recognize these issues as difficult to address, especially when they end up in the church. Things like: homosexuality, transgender, and even more common issues like sacrificial acts of obedience or issues of forgiveness. There have been a lot of twisted justifications and bad instructions given to many that negatively influence people’s perception of the Gospel.

One thing we don’t want to be guilty of is failing to address issues out of fear or failing to demonstrate godliness whenever we do address them. The Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 is God’s primary way of helping a lost and wicked world understand what He is willing to do to redeem mankind. Sin is a serious problem, and all of us have fallen victim to it (Romans 3:23). Therefore, our aim should be to search out ways to draw people to Christ, and to model total surrender to his will so “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

This week, several of us are going on a hike to Colorado, and we’ll be studying Titus while we’re up there. Titus was called to address a challenging group of people – the Cretans. Time after time Paul reminds him that “doing good” will be a powerful tool in influencing unbelievers and people that twist scripture to their own will. (Titus 1:8; 2:3, 7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14).

Let’s follow the same model Titus did – Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Are You Fighting The Good Fight?

Ecclesiastes 7:8, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.”

As a guy who has trouble finishing projects that I start, I completely connect with this statement. Finishing a project, and finishing it well, is a wonderful feeling and can be a huge relief. So, when I think about the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” I can’t help but think about how satisfying life can be at the end of it all – IF you’ve ran well.

But what goes into your life in order to be able to echo those words? It’s hard to compare my life to his life, when he made such an impact on the progression of the church throughout Asia Minor. But it wasn’t in his initial “high points” that we understand where his confidence comes from. Because he started his journey off with the facts of his life as his best qualities.

Philippians 3:5-6, “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless…” These were all very impressive qualities to carry as a good Jew, but he continues, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…”

Over time his perspective of what made his life great changed a little. He said in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, “[I have been] imprisoned frequently, been severely flogged, and been exposed to death repeatedly. Five times I received 39 lashes from the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

Although the first list sounds more prestigious than the second, his trials help define the idea of faithfulness. That is the act of continuing to do the will of God in spite of what we face. What a legacy to leave behind, something truly inspiring to live by. Consider your contribution towards the work of Christianity displayed in your life. Maybe you’re the only person that speaks kindly towards co-workers or neighbors. Maybe you’re more generous than your peers around you. Maybe you pray with people often, offering a living perspective of prayer to God. There could be any number of things that you do to help promote the will of God to the people around you.

So, be sure to focus on what Paul says in Colossians 4:2-3, 5-6, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful… Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone…” A person who tries to live that can confidently make the same claim that Paul made as their life draws to a close – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Friday, June 29, 2018

Are you ready for worship?

How do you prepare for worship? Peter gives us some important insight into this question.

1 Peter 1:13, "Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming."
1 Peter 3:15, "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..."

When arrival times and dress codes can naturally be among the first responses, it's important to look deeper. Before God delivered the law to Moses on mount Sinai, God called for a "day of preparation." Exodus 19 describes it this way, "And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate (set them apart as holy) them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai..."

This was more than taking a bath and putting on their Sunday best; this was taking the right kind of attitude for worship.

Knowing what Jesus said about the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-39), and what He prayed for (John 17), and the central theme to nearly every epistle (love one another); it seems clear our heart is what really must be consecrated as holy to God. David said in Psalms 57:7, "My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music." And Psalms 139:23, "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts." Coming before God takes reflecting on God's will for us. Knowing and doing His will should get us excited about being in His presence.

Rehoboam, on the other hand, was labeled "evil" because he didn't "set his heart on seeking the Lord." (2 Chronicles 12:14). Having the right heart changes everything!

Hebrews 4:16, "Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Our excitement, passion, and confidence comes when our hearts are truly prepared to be in God's presence. Are you ready for worship?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Moses, Jesus, and Freedom

In the Declaration of Independence there is a statement that goes like this, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive… it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government… it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off [the oppressive type of] Government and provide new Guards for their future security.”

How far does your love for freedom go? These were the thoughts and sentiments that went through many of the colonials during the Revolutionary time period. They wanted to have the freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so much they were willing to make personal, and even serious sacrifices.

Independence Day marks a celebration of our brave ancestors who believed in a nation that could be built around Godliness and morality.

Consider the connection between Moses and Jesus, and their desire for a nation (or kingdom) built around the same sorts of things. They both fought for freedom, they both were called to do something challenging, they both were willing to give up so much to accomplish the task God gave them to do.

Hebrews 3:5-6 helps us see the connection more clearly, “Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.”

Moses and Jesus help us realize the level of commitment God requires of us. Taking time to celebrate our freedom by remembering our heritage of bravery is a great reminder for us to be vigilant and determined to listen to God.

Hebrews 3:7-8 continues by saying, “That is why the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today when you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness…’”

I hope the reminders of Mose's commitment to following God has helped to strengthen your resolve to follow Him more confidently.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Father's Discipline

How do you define God? The dictionary defines Him as the Creator and ruler of the universe and source of all power and moral authority; the supreme being. But most folks won’t be compelled to follow God based on a definition in the dictionary. One concept that Jesus often promoted in His teaching about God was Father. He is our heavenly Father.

There are a lot of roles a father plays: teacher, provider, and disciplinarian, just to name a few. It’s the discipline part that can be one of the hardest aspects of God to accept. However, when we consider the words in Hebrews 12:5-7, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son. So, endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? … (9) How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! … “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness.”

God’s goal is that we would emulate His character; but how could we ever match up? Consider this scene in Genesis 22:1-14, Abraham’s call to be like God. Abraham was called to offer up his one and only son as a sin-sacrifice. The amazing thing is that Abraham was willing to do whatever it took to be faithful to God; He trusted the promises of God. How does our faith match up? He was willing to go through the discipline (the action of conforming to God’s character). Or as Hebrews 12:11 continues, “[discipline] produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Abraham’s heavenly father, and ours, wants us to enjoy the peace that makes up His nature, that He is earnestly helping us embrace. As our children grow older, it doesn’t take much effort to see if our “discipline” worked in their life or not. Our children’s actions can become a great source of pride, or a painful regret.

Proverbs 19:18, “Discipline your children while there is hope. If you don't, you will ruin their lives.” (NLT) At first glance this seems like an odd proverb, but this actually speaks of a father’s love. He wants to make you a better person, but to do that may require discipline. Proverbs 13:24, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” And in Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”

Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t value the act of discipline very much. Whether it’s personal self-control or disciplining a child so they can learn from someone who loves them, rather than learning the hard way; we must learn to see how God has disciplined us so that we can be like Him.

Consider the great lengths that God has gone through to show loving discipline to His followers. Jesus came to offer us a better life. An abundant life (John 10:10), a life with a peace-filled purpose (Ephesians 2:10), an eternal life (John 17:3, John 3:16)!

Think about the sacrifices your father made. He wasn’t a perfect man, but did he do what was best for you? Not everyone can say yes to that, but we have a Heavenly Father who is willing and able to offer a wonderful life to those who will accept His discipline to shape us into a people with a character like His.

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Enjoy this new anthology from the Prosateurs! Inside its covers, you'll find short stories, recipes, humor, articles, memoirs, and more!

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