Friday, April 20, 2018

Do You Believe the Story?

Storytelling is an art that is truly captivating when it’s done well. It’s also one of the best ways to share facts about an event. People constantly tell stories to share feelings, in part instructions, even to warn of dangers. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that our Heavenly Father, the one in whom we are created in His image, chose to share the story of salvation primarily through a narrative story.

A narrative or story is a report of connected events, real or imaginary, presented in some kind of sequence in written or spoken words, or even in pictures. In the Bible, the connected events all point to the Messiah, the promise of God for salvation. Therefore, Genesis 3 – “the fall of man” becomes the narrative hook, that event that reveals the point of the story. Every other story up to the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is the rising action. All of this points to the “Why” in the story being told. Once the Messiah showed up, the Bible was nearing the climax. His life helped tell the story of God’s power, His compassion, basically, His heart. But good storytelling often utilizes the plot twist, which is a literary technique introducing a radical change in the expected outcome of the plot.

In the case of the Bible, the Messiah wasn’t going to become an earthly king in Jerusalem the way the Apostles and His other followers thought he would. Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus wants them to see and hear what the Messiah would do to redeem God’s children. Repeatedly, He tells them that He was going to have to die to deliver salvation. But every group didn’t get it. The followers were perhaps too close emotionally to see it, the Pharisees and religious leaders were too focused politically to see it, but it was those who were desperate, sick, blind, and weak who seemed to see and hear it more clearly.

From Mark 6 to Mark 10, we see a pattern being formed that helps us to see who recognized Jesus as God’s promised one. Consider how Jesus’ hometown friends and family rejected Him (Mark 6), or how King Herod didn’t want to hear God’s message from John (Mark 6). Or how the Pharisees were unwilling to see Jesus’ miracles as proof of His deity (Mark 8). Instead, the ones who could see, understand, and believe were people like the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7), the deaf man in Decapolis (Mark 7), and the blind man in Bethsaida (Mark 8). It was people like blind Bartimaeus that had faith enough to proclaim, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). They could see and hear the good news message that was woven into the actions of Jesus and believe.

Each of these miracles: feeding 5,000 and 4,000, walking on water, calming the storm, healings, and the Transfiguration, were all to help them, and us, to have faith in God’s ability to redeem us. It took them longer to see and to hear God’s purpose, but they too eventually believed. Peter exclaimed what each of us must also exclaim, “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Promised One of God!” (Mark 8:29). Do you believe He came to live, die, and rise again, so that we could be redeemed when we trust in Him? That is the question you must answer.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rejection

One of the greatest tests of our character is dealing with rejection and suffering. No one likes it! But rejection is inevitable. Sooner or later, all of us will experience it. And when it happens, we can’t help but ask ourselves some questions: Why me? What did I do wrong? Then come the thoughts we rehearse over and over, replaying that moment of rejection…wishing we’d seen it coming so we could avoid it.

But the Scriptures reveal to us that when it comes to living like Jesus Christ, there will be rejection. 2 Timothy 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 10:24-25, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!”

And in John 15:18-21, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the one who sent me.”

How did Jesus handle it? He spent a lot of time with God in prayer. A lot of time meditating on God’s will and promises to us. It’s through that reflection, and the support and comfort from brethren, that we start to see that rejection is a normal reaction of those still opposed to the truth.

Peter said in 1 Peter 4:12-19, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you… So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

Time after time, we’re told and reminded of God’s comfort during even the toughest obstacles in life. Persecution for doing right comes in many different forms – even from within the church. But take comfort in these verses as you experience it in your life:
Luke 6:22-23, Acts 5:41, Phil 1:29-30, James 5:10-11

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Proving Who You Are!

How would you prove who you really are? We have to do it all the time at stores, or on applications, even amongst our friends at times. Whether it’s proving our name and address, or our ability to do what we claim, it’s a regular part of life.

What if you claimed to be the son of God? How would you prove that? Obviously, that might get us checked into some kind of hospital if we went around claiming that, but think about what Jesus had to go through to get people to believe that He really was the son of God who came to earth to redeem all of mankind from their sins that separates them from the creator of the universe. It may sound like a daunting task—unless it's true.

John came as a “forerunner” for Christ to testify that what He said and did was from God (John 1:34, John 3:31-36). Jesus said of Himself in John 5:31-47, “If I testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies in My favor, and I know that His testimony about Me is true. You have sent to John and He has testified to the truth.… I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent Me. (47) If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

Nearly every prophecy given in the Old Testament pointed to the Promised One—Jesus. Ultimately, that’s how the Apostles could prove that what Jesus spoke was from God, because God had already given us enough evidence even from the Old Testament to trust in His son.

The Apostle John says of Jesus’ miracles in John 20:30-31, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

Every word and every action pointed to His authority. But the pinnacle of the evidence was revealed on what He did on the cross. It was not just His death, but more powerfully, His resurrection that set Him apart from any person before or after Him. Paul spent 58 verses in 1 Corinthians 15 illustrating how much our entire faith would be pointless if Jesus hadn’t been able to conquer the grave. His dominance over death gave us the hope that everything else He said and did was indeed from God.

As you study the bible, Bake time to be amazed at how Jesus took advantage of difficulties, fears, and obstacles to prove God’s supreme power—then praise God for caring enough about us to prove His love for us. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Friday, March 23, 2018

Hearing the Good News!

How would life be different if you couldn’t hear? For some people, that is a reality. Think about how many opportunities you’d never hear about, or how many warnings you’d miss, or how many other beautiful and wonderful sounds you wouldn’t get to experience.

Just consider that Jesus came to earth so that we could hear, “Well done good and faithful servant, welcome to the joys of heaven!” (Matthew 25:21, 23). This is the good news that every living person would love to hear. But before you hear “Well done,” you have to hear about how He made that possible and what that requires of you.

The good news message of redemption and salvation Jesus shared was what the Apostles were called to witness, and that’s what they shared with the world. 1 John 1:1-4, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

They spread the gospel like seed on soil—all kinds of soil eventually. In fact, Jesus told a parable in Mark 4:1-20 that compared seed to the Word of God. Just like wheat seed, or grass seed, not all of it sprouts just because it’s been spread. But the job of the sower is to sow seed, not make it grow. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.”

What makes one soil closed to “hearing” the good news in the message, while others respond and grow? It has a lot to do with seeking God’s will over our own will (Matthew 7:21, Mark 3:35, even Philippians 2:3-4). But until we understand God’s will, it may not make a lot of sense to us. However, Jesus said that it is understandable, which is why He told us to “seek, knock, and ask” (Matthew 7:7-12). Just think about the story He told of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27); and what Paul says in Ephesians 5:17, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

When we talk about the “plan of salvation,” it always begins with hear, because without the desire to know God and His will, there isn’t any chance we’ll trust the message enough to go deeper.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Are You Experiencing Chaos or Blessings?

If you’ve ever been in sales for longer than a week, then you’ve probably realize it takes a lot of falls before you gain any height in the wild world of business. Failure is part of success. That’s true in business, and really, that’s true in our walk with God.

The gospels are filled with people that experienced all kinds of failures, set-backs, disappointments, and fears. That’s where Jesus comes in; He begins His ministry by healing people of their diseases (aka problems). From evil spirits (Mark 1:21-28), to sickness (1:29-31) and leprosy (1:40) and paralysis (2:1-5) Jesus began making a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of people.

The goal was not necessarily to eradicate sickness from earth, but rather highlight how the Son of God has the power to confront any problem—even death. Hebrews 2:14-15, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Turning chaos into something good is what God specializes in. Just think about the opening lines of Genesis, “...the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” Formless and void refers to a state of chaos, disorder. Therefore, God brings order to what has been chaos. 1 Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not a God of disorder (chaos) but of peace…”

His blessings of life bring a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) Or as Psalms 104:27-28, “All creatures look to You to give them their food at the proper time. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.” Jesus is the author of life, the bread of life, the living water. In Him, there is life; outside of Him, there is only death, chaos, and hopelessness.

The Gospel only brings life and peace to those who will surrender their own will and submit to the will of God. His perfect and pleasing will offers the blessings we’re looking for. Our problems and failures come in different shapes and sizes, but in the end they all lead to our own demise without Christ. The good news is that everyone with a heartbeat can experience God’s blessings if they’ll trust in the Son of God. Trusting in Him is more than acknowledging His existence, but submitting to His way of doing things, realizing you need to repent of those “diseases” of life, then confess to yourself and to others that He is the only “way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him." Baptism marks the birth of a new person with new motivations and behaviors.

Do you trust in God enough to obey the Gospel?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Are You Following Christ?

What defines the church? Perhaps we’d turn to passages like Colossians 1:18, “He [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” Or verses like: Matthew 16:16-18, or Ephesians 1:22-23 and 5:23-24, or Hebrews 12:23.

There are many references that help us realize the church isn’t a building, but people who are faithfully committed to following God’s word, which was lived out in Jesus, the Word of God (John 1:1-3).

But when we share the good news with people about the accessibility of God’s kingdom via Christ, and that His ways lead to life and godliness, and a “peace that passes all understanding,” how do they interpret what the church is?

Ultimately, it must be in how we model Christ in our lifestyles. As Jesus told John’s disciples in Luke 7:22-23, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor…”

James echoes the same sentiment in James 1:22-25, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says! (25) “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

This is the most difficult, and often most confusing part about responding to the Gospel; because this is more than ritualistic responses to God, and it’s more than lip service, but instead it's genuine and sincere submission to God’s ways of living (Romans 12:1-2). This is what should serve as a way to define the church to the world (1 Peter 2:12 and Titus 2:7-8).

We must follow Jesus in word and deed. This requires us to do as Paul encouraged Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 2:14-15, “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth"

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Good News!

We live in turbulent times. There are many things that are constantly being challenged and changed, which is usually a symptom of fear. Regardless if that’s an accurate assessment or not, one thing is clear: people are living with fewer godly influences in their lives.

With all the shootings and riots and other crazy things that seem to happen all too regularly, it seems important to address our value. Each one of us are valuable to God, and God has arranged it so that  our job is to help other people realize God’s value for them as well. That’s the good news: God loves you more than you can imagine.

The Gospel of Mark is believed to be the first gospel account written (approx. 70 A.D.). It was written during a time when there was a lot of volatility in society. The good news helps us recognize what makes life valuable–being part of God’s family.

At the heart of nearly all violent acts committed by mankind, is a person who hurts, a person who doesn’t understand the value of life–theirs or other people's.

At a 25-year class reunion at Yale University, a study was conducted to help determine if an elite education contributes to a person’s perceived value of themselves. The study showed that 80% didn’t regard themselves as valuable, even though all of them made higher than average salaries, and all of them had been able to go to an ivy league college. What was the problem? The answer could be better stated by the other 20% that claimed to have a higher value of themselves. What was their secret? They valued helping other people and regarded that as their success.

This is what Jesus showed the world–how to value life. His attitude is something we should mimic, just as Paul said in Philippians 2:5. When Jesus was asked by John’s followers if He really was the Messiah, he responded in Luke 7:22-23 by basically saying, “Watch what I do for people; that’s your proof of who I am.”

Jesus saw each one of us as worth dying for. Each one of us is like a walking treasure box, filled with things that God loves and things He can use to help others experience His love. The Gospel of Mark is Mark’s good news message of God’s love for us. That love makes us valuable, and it’s what this crazy world needs to see in us so that they’ll turn to Jesus and find eternal hope.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Do You Value Forgiveness?

We live in a time in history when interest in Christianity is lower than it's been in a long time. Perhaps there are many reasons for that: more broken homes, more social peer pressure, an increase and endorsement of immoral lifestyles and actions, etc. How do we as the body of Christ address this problem?

This is an age-old problem. The Israelites struggled with social pressure when they succumbed to Baal worship; the Pharisees rejected Jesus as the Messiah, even though they recognized the evidence for His authenticity. Countering culture isn’t easy because it's like stopping a truck rolling downhill. Once the momentum is going, it takes someone really “brave” to step in front of it. In fact, it will take many “brave” people stepping up to the challenge, and it won’t be quick or easy.

On the other hand, there are things that churches can learn to practice within the walls of worship which have less to do with worship elements and more to do with attitude. Whether it’s coaching (or being coached) through a season of doubt or dealing with a conflict within the brotherhood, dealing with these things in a godly way can help create an atmosphere that aligns with many of the things people are searching for within a church. But an equally important practice is to sincerely recognize the power of forgiveness.

Paul mentions this in Colossians 1:9-14, “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

The congregations that develop the right attitude in life will have a bigger impact on a culture that may indeed be searching for something that impacts their life--faith in Christ!

In the above passage, we could easily focus on the need to be continuous in prayer, or on knowing His will, which helps us “live a life worthy of the Lord.” That life may consist of helping people grow in maturity (bearing fruit), helping ourselves and others realize God’s goal for our lives (knowledge of God). All that together helps to strengthen people that are trying to live for God, which helps give more meaning behind our worship to God. But two elements that lend so much to everything we do as a collective body, is a recognition of the value (and importance) of Forgiveness and Hope. These two things fuel much of what makes the body of Christ truly attractive to the world.

Paul’s statement to the Colossians gives us much to help a lost and dying world recognize God’s power to “rescue us from the dominion of darkness and bring us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We must help everyone realize that they can be forgiven! As Jesus said in Matthew 6:15, “...if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Thank God for the model of forgiveness in Christ!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Whose Directions Are You Following?

The Bible is God’s gift to us to help us know how to live a more satisfying, peaceful life that is pleasing to God. It’s for that reason that it’s so important that we make a daily habit of practicing what God tells us through His word.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Ignoring the warnings here will become a recipe for all kinds of disaster. One place these negative feelings seem to reign-free is in the workplace or school. We probably see it in many forms and has become known as workplace drama. Offices and schools are filled with a bunch of trash-talking friends, free-flowing gossip, popularity contests, and exclusive cliques. It’s everywhere, and it’s a poison that too many followers of Christ have found themselves drinking-in.

James 1:26 gives us a somber warning about what this kind of negativity does to our influence for the kingdom of God: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” We shouldn’t want to have any part of a worthless religion; so here are a few tips that might help us rise above the peer-pressure to join in the mess.

Hold your tongue! James said in James 1:19, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (Also, read James 3).

Be patient with people. Sometimes our response to someone’s “bad day” actually can create the drama we should be avoiding. 1 Thessalonians 5:13-15, “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. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” Don’t feed conflict. Remember the time and place for responding. Jesus didn’t refute every false accusation against him. Sometimes we miss the point of Ephesians 5:11, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” You don’t have to respond to every email, snide remark, passing judgment – your heavenly father knows the truth about you.

Find mature people to confide in – in and out of school or the office. Just as Paul encouraged Titus to teach the older men to be “worthy of respect,” the older women are to be a positive influence on the younger women – practicing self-control. Expressing frustrations is okay, just find Godly people to lean on.

All of these things describe living different than the rest of the world. Just think of these words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:20 and then how awful it would be to be known for this kind of behavior: “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be… I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.” Thankfully, God gives us plenty of direction on how to stop workplace drama, or any other kind of conflict that we see every day. Remember – we are “the called out” – Ekklesia!

Friday, January 26, 2018

How do you deal with doubt?

Jesus shared an introductory message about God’s will for mankind, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6). In the chapters that follow, we get a glimpse of people struggling to connect His words to His ability.

There are those that believe, that with Jesus, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23); and there are those who doubt. In many ways, this is symbolic of our own journey – times of great faith followed by times of doubt. Elijah experienced something similar in 1 Kings 19 where he runs from Jezebel’s murderous threats. But this was her response to God’s mighty display of power on Mt. Carmel by Elijah! What he experienced, and what some of the people we read in the New Testament experienced, is quite common for us, too.

Matthew records that a man with leprosy confidently asked for healing, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” After him, a Roman Centurion confidently asked for his servant to be healed. Jesus responded in Matthew 8:10, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith…” Those are stories that many of us wish defined our normal behavior concerning God’s ability to answer our prayers, but many of us don’t demonstrate as much confidence as those men did.

In Luke 7:19, some of John the Baptizer’s followers were sent by John to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” It would seem that even John had doubts about this man’s identity. When we consider John's background, it would seem nearly impossible for him to doubt. After all, his mother and Jesus’ mother both conceived miraculously, both were related, and it would seem that they would have talked about this at family reunions or at the annual sacrifices they traveled to Jerusalem for. It was even John who announced, “Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Regardless of those details, John had his followers ask Jesus if He really was the Messiah. But remember where John was asking from – prison.

Our moments of doubt often come when it appears God’s plan didn’t work. Or when God must not be listening. Or that it seems He doesn’t care about our problems. John remained in prison until his execution.

What’s the lesson? Perhaps, during these trials of disease, prison, oppression, even death that plagued Jesus’ followers, they struggled with God’s timing in dealing with their problems. We do, too! Later we hear “the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again… Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” (Revelations 2:8, 10)

Doubt doesn’t mean we’re evil; it means we’re human. The real question is what do we do in response to our doubts? Reject Him? Or simply let Him lead us wherever that might lead us? Trusting in God is what this is all about. We have to feed our faith as much as possible, and when the seasons of doubt arise, we lean on people who remind us to stay faithful even through our doubts.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Are You Conforming to Christ?

In our modern culture, conformity is often used as a kind of bad word. Within the walls of congregations, conformity is our goal. But how much thought do we put into the idea of conformity? Is too much conformity bad? Is not enough conformity a sin? When we consider the self-sacrifice Jesus talked about in Luke 9:22 or Paul talked about in Romans 12:1-2, we quickly see that “conforming to His image” (Romans 8:29) is how God plans for us to become like Him, not like the world.

People conform by peer pressure, persuasion, the law, or even more subtle ways. But God designed us to look for groups to mimic; remember, Adam couldn’t find a group to “fit in” prior to Eve. Psychologists agree that human touch and affection are high on our needs list, which means we’ll do whatever we need to to get it.

That’s where conformity to the image of Jesus will help everyone experience “the touch of God,” by receiving encouragement, love, compassion, forgiveness, respect, etc. (Philippians 2:1-5). There may be times of rebuke, but always in love, and only when emptily needed.

The danger is it we rarely conform to Christ’s level of service—instead we conform to laziness, selfishness, and division. Very few give up everything for someone else who may or may not appreciate it. Very few will beg God to forgive someone who has hurt  them. Very few will go out of their way to do something wonderful for someone else without ever getting recognition for it. But Christ did!

Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way….” Sheep wander off for different reasons, but logically, they must think there’s something better over the next hill. Spiritually speaking, that is happening a lot. Many people leave the church for greener pastures. When asked, “Why did you leave?” a large number of them admit there wasn’t room for their way of “doing things” where they were. While this sounds like potential attitude for false teaching, what if it isn’t? James said in James 1:19, “but everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger….”

Consider how the words of Paul in Romans 12:3-5 describe something that allows each of us to bring a little bit of ourselves to the body of believers. Here he reminds us to not to “think more highly of [our]self then [we] ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, or one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

When it comes to the way we serve within the walls of a congregation, we need to be careful not to simply impose “my way or the highway” on people who may be sincerely looking to be part of the body. We know that God has a will He wants us to follow, but we have to be cautious of labeling my will is God’s will, then condemning others who won’t conform to my will. After all, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for the imposition of their will disguised as God’s will on people (Matthew 23). Instead, let’s be mature as we “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Are You Living by God's Word?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is an agency formed by the United Nations in 1948 focused on international public health; both in awareness and even more hands-on preventative measures. Their stated goal is the “attainment by all people of the highest possible level of health.” In other words, they want people to experience a better, healthier life. Although they have worked at developing programs that educate people on ways to avoid diseases or infections, at some point the people have to be willing to listen or practice it.

I can’t help but see this same concept being played out in the role of the apostles after the establishment of the church. Jesus had said of them, in John 14:16-21, “[God] will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you…”

Jesus had assured them in Matthew 10 that they too would be effective to those who want to hear their message. He said in Matthew 10:14, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” Ultimately, they were given the words of God to share with people that would tell them how to be saved, but they had to want to listen to those words in order for that information to do any good.

Nothing has really changed, at least in people’s response to the good news. We’ve been given a job to share those words with people—good and bad, nice or mean, sick or healthy. Because the words of God are powerful, or as Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Mankind makes evaluations about us based on our actions, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus helped reveal the hearts of those who were “leading” a nation, but really they rejected the very words they claimed to be the master of; (John 7:48-49 & John 9:34). The danger is in the fact that any of us can have the ability to reject the very life-saving words of Christ, just as eagerly as the Pharisees and priests did.

The proper response for us should be what James says in James 1:21, “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” And as Christ set the example, so those who trusted in him for salvation also followed his example and taught us to do the same. Paul said in Philippians 4:9, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

The truth is we will be saved by God’s word, we will be judged by God’s word, and therefore we must live by God’s word. Because as Isaiah prophesied about in Isaiah 55:11, “my word that goes out from my mouth, will not return

Friday, January 5, 2018

What Are You Reading?

Every year I try to make an effort to read the Bible through from cover to cover. I know many other people make the same goal, and I’m happy that there are people out there that see the benefit and significance of reading the Bible. It’s a journey that can be frustrating, difficult, even boring at times, but it can also be enlightening, refreshing, and humbling to see how much understanding is still to be gained.

God never intended us to read through pieces of Scripture occasionally, but rather He wanted us to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV) Because, the more we read God’s word, the more we get a clearer picture of what God is looking for in us, or as Ephesians 5:17 says, “...do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (See also Joshua 1:8, 2 Timothy 4:2.)

Paul had encouraged Timothy, in 1Timothy 4:13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” But why is this so important? As followers of a God, whom we cannot see, it’s vital that we understand His ways, which is what the Bible reveals to us. Therefore, the less we know of God’s ways, the less we’ll be able to interpret His words accurately. Unfortunately, there is an epidemic of Biblical ignorance within congregations.

Recently, in an Apologetics Press article, the author interviewed Melvyn Bragg, who is an English broadcaster and an atheist. One of the topics brought up was about the impact of Bible reading on a culture. Braggs recognized the extreme decline of people who regularly read the Bible. He said, “I think it is a great deprivation. What have we thrown away? One of the greatest pieces of art work [has been neglected]. It’s awful. Is the excuse really that it’s too difficult, really? We should be too good for that….”

Although as Christians, our view of the Bible is much greater than just a “work of art.” It is the living word of God, as Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

This year I will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. I hope you’ll read along. I'd love to have you join me!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Are You Running the Race?

Acts 20:24, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”

Running has been a favorite pastime of mine for several decades now. Not so much the aching bones, the cramped muscles, or trying to get motivated to run in frigid conditions, but instead the satisfaction of completing a run.

Life, like running, is filled with not-so-fun conditions that can deter many people from wanting to engage in it very deeply. However, it’s the satisfaction of knowing you’ve completed something that really is good for you -- physically and mentally -- that has such value.

Paul often compared his time on earth to that of a runner running a race. He said in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 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.”

Our training is more than early morning runs come humidity or high winds, sunny or snowy; no, it is about consistency, focus, and desire to be more of what God has called us to be.

Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us what it means to live to the level of faith mentioned in the people in the previous chapter, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”

As we wrap up another year what can we reflect on that helps us see our progress? Are we stronger spiritually? Are we more compassionate? Do we give more? Do we pray more? Do we love more? What has changed in our life to aid in our long distance run of faith?

This leads to the next question, how will 2018 be better than 2017? What are we willing to invest in to make our “temple” more pleasing in God’s sight? Let’s rally together to help each other reach greater potential and purpose than ever before.

Friday, December 8, 2017

God's Infinite Power

El Shaddai, the Hebrew name that means “God--the Powerful One, God--the Almighty.” It’s a commonly used name in the Bible for God, but descriptions of that name are illustrated all throughout the Bible: the Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 14:19), Builder of everything (Hebrews 3:4, Ecclesiastes 11:5, Genesis 21:33), the King of Heaven (Daniel 4:37), the only God (Jude 1:25). Paul says it this way in Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

A God who can speak things into existence, and with just a word can do the impossible, is a God that we should find comfort in when we have troubles arise in our life. He wants to save us; He wants everyone to repent and turn to Him for that help (2 Peter 3:9). It’s our pride that keeps us from simply turning to Him, and that was the story of the Israelites from Egypt on--their pride. Yet at the height of the Israelite nation, David finally brought back the Ark to reside in the temple, and that box represented God’s mighty power. It had been with them during the years of conquest in Canaan, it had been there at the presence of God on the mountain or in the camp, and it was a powerful symbol of what God could do.

David says at the return of the Ark ceremony in 1 Chronicles 16:28-35, “O nations of the world, recognize the Lord, recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong. Give to the Lord the glory He deserves! Bring your offering and come into His presence. Worship the Lord in all His holy splendor. Let all the earth tremble before Him. The world stands firm and cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Tell all the nations, 'The Lord reigns!' Let the sea and everything in it shout His praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever. Cry out, 'Save us, O God of our salvation! Gather and rescue us from among the nations, so we can thank Your holy name and rejoice and praise You.'”

Those words were true. God is powerful, and we can rejoice because of that. So, when the angels made the announcement that Jesus was arriving to the earth (Luke 2:10-11), those same words of David’s could have been said about Jesus. Jesus modeled for us what faithful love really is. Therefore, we like the angels, should praise Him for coming in the name of El Shaddai, the almighty God, to save us from sin.

Isaiah 9:6-7 were God’s word to share with a people that had been walking in darkness. Jesus, the promised one, would bring light to the world (John 1:1-5) so they could see God’s power in an entirely new way: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on His shoulders. And He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of His ancestor David for all eternity.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Breath of Fresh Air!

Imagine a country where corruption was a regular headline in the papers, where every day you heard of another crime against humanity and against the authorities. Imagine how hopeless you may feel when you look out over your fellow citizens and realize that the corruption in the leadership has trickled down to your neighbors. If you’ve read a newspaper in the past 20 years, you probably don’t have to stretch your imagination too much.

This time of year the world generally focuses on a stronger sense of generosity, of family, and warm greetings to friends. But soon after the festivities of the holidays are over we begin to focus on taxes and the drudgery that comes with paying tithes to the government. As you wrap your mind around the cycles we face on an annual basis--and the increased exposure to corruption--try to imagine what it may have been like for a Jew living in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor, as well as the influence of Herod, the Jewish “client” king of Judea.

Oppression and corruption was a normal way of life. The Jews, who had been beaten down by regret, guilt, and hopelessness, didn’t have a positive outlook on their future. Yet, something was about to happen that would kindle hope within those who were able to see how Immanuel, God with us, would fulfill God’s promises.

As we spend the next couple weeks focusing on the hope that came when Jesus came, I hope we’ll see that it wasn’t His birth that was going to change the world, but rather His life and death. His life directed us towards the kind of attitude and behavior that pleases God; His death made our hopes a reality.

Many folks may end up putting the emphasis on the wrong part of Jesus’ life this time of year, but we can still recognize how much His arrival refreshed those who believed in God’s age-old promise. Today, we must remember that the same characteristics and behaviors Christ modeled for us can have the same impact that they did in Jesus’ time.

Hebrews 4:12-13, “For 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.”

That “word” is still powerful! Let’s trust in it, and encourage others to do the same. John 15:20, “Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted Me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to Me, they would listen to you.”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Calling on His Name

What was the Great Awakening? It’s not Monday morning; it was a revival movement 200 years after the Reformation Movement. The first and second Great awakening was primarily focused in America and England - (The Restoration Movement came out of this movement.) In 1801 the Cane Ridge Revival was labeled “the most important religious gathering in all of American history.”

It was said that 20,000 people attended the tent meeting; and that meeting helped to usher in a new way of looking at a biblical concept of salvation. With a lot of heightened emotional experiences and the sheer popularity of the event, it seemed there need to be a better way to handle all of the responses to the gospel message. The answer: the “anxious seat,” which was another form of the “Mourner’s bench.” This was a place up front (or off to the side) where you could go to get more
information about how to respond to the message. Some have suggested it was designed to make this process more efficient, but it was through this event that gave birth to the idea of the “sinner’s prayer.”

Today, many people have asked where that is found in Scripture. The main problem is… it’s not in there! But how could such a major religious concept that many practice in order to be saved, not even be in the Bible?

Throughout the teachings of the Second Great Awakening, the sinner’s prayer was gaining popularity; and Romans 10 was the passage often used for support – “They [those who trust in Christ] have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

The previous verses are used to explain what that means: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

But is that really describing a “sinner’s prayer”? Is this what Paul had in mind when he wrote Romans? Did Paul imagine that two millennia after he wrote this letter that people all over the globe would be told that if they sincerely asked Jesus in their hearts, they can be assured of being saved because of the promise in Romans 10:13?

The word “call” is Epikaleomai in koine Greek, and it means to "appeal to." The Israelites appealed to God in Egypt, but that pleading didn’t save them, but God heard it. God heard the prayers of Cornelius, but those prayers didn’t save him, Peter was sent to show him what he needed to do.  As believers we should do what Paul instructed the Ephesians to do in Ephesians 5:17, “Don’t be foolish but understand the will of the Lord.”

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thankgiving

What should be different about a Christian than other people without a hope in Christ’s promises? I’m sure we could list many attributes that set us apart from the world, but at least during this time of year one characteristic should come to our minds–Gratitude. At the heart of what many celebrate this week is gratitude for family, friends, material blessings, freedom, and of course spiritual blessings. All of these things we realize have shaped our life and made us what we know we need to be and hopefully want to be.

I’m reminded of a passage that may not seem like a Thanksgiving Day sort of passage, but it addresses the great insight into a grateful-hearted person. In Hebrews 12:12-13, “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”

People have been placed in our lives that have given us the opportunity to praise God, but Satan tries to convince us not to see the blessings in our circumstances–good or bad. But it’s easy to ask, “Where’s a blessing in what I’m going through?” Perhaps like Job, or Daniel, or Joseph, or Jesus. We see them and many others who endured awful things and yet there was something about their situation that still brought God glory.

What about your story? Have people been more compelled to express their gratitude in their life by watching yours? How was Paul able to say in Romans 8:37-39, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘for Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Perhaps his appreciation for God was best seen through the trials of his life. The difficulties that led him to a point in his life where he could reflect on the presence of God all along. How about us? Can we recognize how God has worked through the situations, good or bad, in our life that should lend themselves to our attitude of thanks?

Every challenge, every discipline, every loss may define some of the moments where we modeled the strongest faith. Consider why God disciplines us. It was through those events that brought Israel to their knees and made them grateful that their God was always there. Because it’s in the difficult times that we feel we need God more. We feel more helpless, weaker, and simply scared, yet God enjoys demonstrating His love and power towards us.

Discipline prepares us to wait for Him. Without it, we tend to take the “easy way” out that actually leads to more pain, suffering, or disappointment. This Thanksgiving, thank God for the challenging things that have contributed to your faith.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Are You Wise Enough?

Who were the prophets of the Old Testament speaking to? Our knee-jerk reaction may be that they were speaking to the Israelites, which is true. But much like Jesus’ parables there were usually deeper levels to what was spoken.

1 Peter 1:10-12, “This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when He told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and His great glory afterward. They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you…”

Paul reminded us of the same thing in Romans 15:4, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”

In other words, we need to be able to learn from the past to help guide our future. This has been a common theme throughout Scriptures, and really throughout our own lives. Therefore, there is a constant need for us to be able to gain the wisdom revealed in how God dealt with those He was leading to the Promised Land, or those He reprimanded for their unfaithfulness, or many other issues.

In the New Testament, Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote a letter to some churches to encourage, or maybe warn, them to do just that. He had planned to write about the joy and hope of salvation, but realized they had become sidetracked. In his letter, he addresses the immorality that they were welcoming into their lives, but it’s how he does it that I want to highlight.

He compares the false teaching they were entertaining to that same kind of teaching that led the Israel into rebellion (Numbers 14), and he describes the outcome. Then he continues with the angels who violated God’s will. Although this is a controversial issue to some, many scholars believe this is what was being described in Genesis 6 prior to the flood of judgment. He moves on to Sodom, and the perversions that they were engaging in (Genesis 19). The point is that he’s bringing up stories that most Hebrew people would have been familiar with--stories that we can now see their purpose when looked at through the lens of Christian living. He also brings up other (non-canonized) books like 1 Enoch 1:9 that describes a prophecy from Enoch, who lived prior to the flood. Followed by a reminder about Cain (Genesis 4), Balaam (Numbers 22-25), Korah (Numbers 16), Selfish Shepherds (leaders) in Ezekiel 34:2, Chaotic waves (unstable people) in Isaiah 57:20.

The past is constantly pointing us towards the right path that leads away from sin and death. We have to be wise enough to accept it and listen to it. What Jude does in his letter Peter did in his 2 Peter 2:1-3, John did in 1 John 4:1-3, Paul did in 2 Timothy 3:1-9, and Jesus did in Matthew 7:15-19. Pray that we will be wise enough and obedient enough to learn from the mistakes from the past instead of being doomed to repeat their same judgment for our stubbornness.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Are You Sharing with the Lost?

Do you really want the church to grow? Church growth is not about money, buildings, our plans, or our dreams. It is about sinners coming to Christ. The growth of any church is determined by the mindset of the people within the body of Christ about the lost. Congregations burdened with pride, apathy, laziness, negativity or critical attitude will never grow. These were some of the attitudes that the churches John addressed in Asia (Revelations 2-3) were dealing with.

Probably all of us could quote Matthew 28:19-20, “Go into all the world and preach…” But how determined are we to get them to Jesus? We read of some amazing followers of Christ that understood the urgency of the message and the power of Christ in Luke 5.

These were the men who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus. They serve as an example of the right attitude leading to the right action, resulting in great changes in lives – in their case a sinner is forgiven.

They knew that Jesus had the power to save, heal, repair, or forgive. That knowledge led them to some pretty decisive action that didn’t seem to be hampered by obstacles. Unfortunately, the smallest of obstacles cause many believers to sin by failing “to do the good they know they ought to do” (James 4:17). Luke 5:19 says that they couldn’t get their friend through the door because of the crowd. Think about the “crowds” who will keep many people from getting to Jesus. Sadly, a large percentage of the crowds will be those within the walls of a church.

Brennan Manning, a priest, made this statement, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Within the walls of that house where Jesus shared the words of life, Pharisees and scribes stood soaking in the words but hardening their heart. However, the friends of the paralyzed man were on the outside and they recognized just how important it was to be in the presence of Jesus. They overcame obstacles and got to work, making a hole in the roof to lower their friend through.

How do you suppose those inside felt about the noisy mess the men on the roof were making? The friends knew that getting them in was more important than finding excuses. Luke 5:20, “Seeing the faith of his friends, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘Young man, your sins are forgiven.’” Will there be people that get to hear the invitation into heaven because of the efforts of Christ’s followers? Absolutely – think about Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12. In fact, most of the people reading this were heavily influenced by someone who “brought them to Jesus”. It’s still a choice they must make, but what can we do to bring them in?

The church is God’s pride and joy. It’s time we see the church the way God sees it. The way God knows it can be when people truly trust Him, follow the Spirit, and genuinely care for those that haven’t been to Christ yet. Seeking and saving the lost was the reason Jesus came to earth; what’s our purpose on earth?

Consider who you can bring to Jesus.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Revelations 101

Sometimes what looks good turns out to be bad, and what looks bad turns out to be good. That’s no mystery to anyone who has lived very long on earth. God can use bad things to do good (Romans 8:28), or Satan can use good things to make our lives bad (1 Chronicles 21). What’s bad is when we try to “sell” the bad as good, or vice versa. Isaiah 5:20-21, “What sorrow for those who say, ‘evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.’ What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever.”

But life can be filled with choices that aren’t what they seem; so, it would be helpful to have some insight, a birds-eye view of our problems. Thankfully, God has given us the Spirit as a guide to our decisions – big or small. That’s what defines the biggest difference in the New Testament verses the Old, the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). A promise to help us make better decisions. The real challenge then is how well do I know, or trust, the Spirit’s guidance?

In the book of Revelation, John uses situations going on in seven churches as the backdrop to how we can model trusting in the Spirit to help us make the decisions that lead to an eternal home with God, our father. Five out of seven of the churches were making bad decisions and calling them good. However, regardless of the challenges each church faced, all of them had an ever-growing problem approaching – persecution.

The problems they faced at the end of the first century were their own, but every generation afterwards has had their own set of struggles that they have to face. The question is will we make the decisions that please God by showing our allegiance to him rather than our stuff or even our own life? Will we compromise our faith for security or fear? Or will we remain faithful to the end?
This letter offered insight into God’s desires for them, by pointing them back to Old Testament prophesies, but why? When you see the times of hardships that others faced, we can get that birds-eye perspective better and see where they should have repented, or they should have trusted God more (Romans 15:4). What did the Israelites fail to understand about God when Canaan Land was laid before them (Numbers 13)? What did the Israelites fail to do when Assyria or Babylon threatened them (Deuteronomy 28:49, Jeremiah 25:8-14, Isaiah 39:5-8)? To the Israelite, those events defined some of the darkest periods of their nation, but they could have been better if they had trusted the guidance God was offering them through godly people.

As the slaughtered lamb, Jesus was the only one who could reveal what the sealed scroll told about the bad things coming. As the seals were being broken, He reveals the mystery that was similar to what Pharaoh could have learned, or what the Israelites could have learned. Seven trumpets that resembled the ten plagues sent to Pharaoh to help him see the power of God. Then the seven bowls continue to show the same thing. Finally, the King of Kings shows up to fight the final battle putting an end to all that is bad. This story should give us hope that no matter what we face, God has the ability to help us through to the end

Friday, October 13, 2017

Uniquely Unified

One comedian said about single-life, “It’s just like magic. When you live by yourself, all of your annoying habits are gone.” If the church were made of only one person, there wouldn’t be division, but that’s not how it is. We can get frustrated with the hardships that come from a melting pot of different personalities, different fears and strengths, different levels of maturity, or different abilities all found within the body of Christ, OR we can stand in awe of God’s amazing design for it.

If Christians are to be the salt and the light to a lost world, it makes sense that we need as many capable people serving as examples as possible. Here’s where the humanistic way of thinking comes into play – “selfishness becomes the driving force in doctrine” – was a way I heard it described recently. We have the capability to be unique, yet unified with the same focus of living according to the Spirit. We have the capability of being unified, yet we’re not forced to think just like each other. This can be refreshing or frustrating.

The unity of the body of Christ has always been a struggle; that’s why there are thousands of denominations – inability to be unified. However, this seemed to be an important point in Christ’s final prayer before His arrest that we read about in John 17, “that they be one as we are one.” After the church began, efforts were made by the apostles to convince brethren to think like Christ, and thus, reach a level of unity unobtainable without Christ.

Therefore, most of the epistles were written to churches, bodies of believers, who were “biting and devouring each other” (Galatians 5:15). One group was too selfish to recognize, or appreciate, the uniqueness of each believer. Instead he mentions in Galatians 2:4-5 that “some so called believers there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in…[to] take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow the old ways.” But we know that wasn’t Godly, yet we too often struggle with falling into their same footsteps.

In Ephesians 4 Paul “begs them to live a life worthy of the Gospel,” then he describes what that entails. Ephesians 4:2-6, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul describes his freedom that he has in Christ; a concept that scares many believers. To realize that the “good news” is good because of the level of freedom Christ has made possible. It’s in this passage where Paul says he “became all things to all people so that I may bring many to Christ.” Regardless of which group he was around he understood how he could demonstrate unity among deeply diverse cultures and still live within the realms of the gospel. What if our motto was truly: I will do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings?

What if?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Living a Better Life

Who do you turn to for help? In the TV game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a contestant had a choice to phone a friend if they got in a pinch. Statistically, that’s accurate for a lot of folks when they need answers – get on the phone. In fact, 92% of American adults own a cell phone now, and 65% of those own smartphones. It’s no surprise that the internet is a common place to go for answers; from Google to YouTube, there is something out there that can probably get you some answers.

However, the drawback of having instant “answers” at our fingertips is that we tend to rely on those answers exclusively, at least that’s what one survey revealed about searching habits.

Let's explore the beauty of the better way in Christ. What makes it better? Well, promised eternal life is one great perk, but perhaps it’s in exercising the wisdom to make better choices down here. God designed the church to be a warehouse full of spiritually minded people that can point you in the right direction, correct you when you wander off, and support you as you plug along. Even on a personal level we realize that God’s word is packed with wisdom and guidance.

Psalms 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (114- 117), “You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope. Get out of my life, you evil-minded people, for I intend to obey the commands of my God. Lord, sustain me as you promised, that I may live! Do not let my hope be crushed. Sustain me, and I will be rescued; then I will meditate continually on your decrees.”

God’s word points us towards a better way; better choices that don’t lead to regret, but rather peace and satisfaction. God’s words are filled with such rich wisdom, and the more we’re in them, the more we’ll feel confident about using them in our daily decisions. Regular study and meditation will also help you in these areas:

1. Setting Goals for Your Life. You’ll understand how to set them based on God’s desire for your life, not what’s easiest for you. Philippians 3:12-14, “I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

2. Know Who to Ask for Advice When Needed. Too many people fail to utilize this precious gift of other people in their life. Proverbs 15:22, “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.”

3. Trusting Yourself. I know that doesn’t necessarily sound very spiritual, but God gave us some important tools that help us determine right from wrong. Romans 1:19 describes how God made awareness of His existence part of our DNA. Also, in Hebrews 5:14 it says, “Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”
 
But the important thing about living a better life… is practice, practice, practice. The only way you're going to get better, is by practicing making better decisions every single day. So slow down (if possible), surround yourself with wise counselors, Be constant in prayer, turn to God’s word, and have faith.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Does Your Account Balance?

At least once a month, my wife goes through our bank statement to make sure that what the bank says we have left in our account, is in fact what she shows we have in our accounts. That process is called “reconciling,” and it’s a way to verify that our accounts are in agreement. When there is something that doesn’t match up, we have to check with the bank to see how they came up with their balance. In most cases, the bank doesn’t make the mistake; therefore, it’s our fault somewhere. If that’s the case, then changes or exchanges must take place for the reconciliation to be complete.

When it comes to reconciling our spiritual account with God, the "bank" is never wrong! The idea of reconciliation is brought up many ways in several places in scriptures. Christ made right the imbalance in our accounts; by changing and exchanging something to that was wrong. That was sin, in our case.

Jesus told a parable of a Shrewd Money Manager in Luke 16 that outlines a man who misused what he had been entrusted to manage. The manager misused his “authority” to win some friends before he lost his job. That is an example of reconciliation, and an example of an unauthorized change and exchange.

But Jesus did more than just making an exchange on the cross, but He also revealed how we should function on earth better than the law ever could. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” He has the authority to change what needs to be changed and to command what needs to be commanded.

Colossians 1:20 explains that concept and even how He has the authority to do that. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is His body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So He is first in everything. For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”

Jesus has the authority as the creator of mankind and designer of heaven to determine who is in and who isn’t. But He wants everyone to recognize their imbalance and come to Him in repentance.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Perfect Pattern for Love

“Looking for love in all the wrong places…” This song made popular in 1980 by Johnny Lee is iconic to the plight of our culture. People in desperate search of meaning through relationships, and if that can’t happen, then through some other type of fulfillment. The song describes a man that was going to singles’ bars and any place that most people would go to find quick, meaningless relationships. However, it seems that he didn’t really want that, instead he wanted a friend and someone who would really love him.

I won’t pretend the song had much of a spiritual undertone to it, but perhaps it’s representative of how people are constantly looking for something, or someone, to bring meaning to their life. What they search for in those places will always be elusive. Regardless of how close they get to what appears to be the “real deal” it slips out of their fingers or leaves them at a dead end.

Sadly, the search isn’t only made by lonely bar-hoppers, but by people in the church as well. Some religious analysts have suggested that the age of contemporary worship is coming to a close. That may be up for debate; however, the dropout rate in those arenas aren’t much less than the dropout rate among more conservative churches. Where are they going? What are they looking for? Why can’t they find it?

We need a pattern, just like an engineer, an architect, or even a surgeon, knowing what everything should look like in the end is crucial to success. It’s just as important for a person who is searching for meaning, because without a pattern to follow anything or everything can be a possibility. The result is a person looks for meaning in all the wrong places. The human mind and heart is typically only going to take so much before it gives up in the search. Satan has offered plenty of detours that lead us to nowhere we want to be.

Jeremiah 17:9, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” And Solomon recognized that a search in the wrong place was equal to “meaningless.” But we, and Johnny Lee, should know the appropriate places to find someone that genuinely loves us and cares about us; the better question is “Am I willing to go there?”

Our goal can’t be in a job, a sport, a school, a hobby, or even a spouse. Those things are fine in their proper place, but the only way to experience true and genuine love is in Christ. That’s where all the hope is found, and he’s also our pattern to follow.

Paul wrote an encouraging letter to a church in Philippi who had set out on a mission to help spread the gospel. Like a lot of us, they started out strong but problems cropped up occasionally. Comparatively, their problems were far less than many other churches, but they were problems that may have caused some to consider going somewhere else. But Paul reminds them in Philippians 1:6, “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Stay faithful to the plan.

He also appealed to them not to forget what they had seen and, more likely, heard in the example Jesus left for us. Philippians 2:3-5, “Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” Understand the designer. Love is understood best when we give it, rather than always looking to receive it. Love will come when love is given. Be the light the rest of the world is desperately searching for.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hope

On December 11, 2010, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium hospital rescued a little 58-lbs 3-month old dolphin that they named Hope. They found her undernourished and dying, but within several months of rehabilitation, she was growing and healthy. Her story, along with the injured dolphin Winter, that the aquarium had found several years earlier, was part of a movie series called Dolphin Tale. It happens to be a favorite movie for my kids. In fact, it inspired my family to take a trip to Clearwater last fall to see Hope and Winter.

It's the tiny dolphin’s name that I want to focus on in this article – Hope. I'm not sure if there were any interviews as to why Hope was the name chosen, but logic tells us they were hopeful to revive her. Even though she was now being nourished, she still wasn't “out of the woods” yet. They had HOPE that they could make her healthy again, but that would be somewhat dependent upon the will of that dolphin.

That's true in our life as well. We have to want to rid ourselves of the disease of self and pride; Or as Paul told the folks in Lystra in Acts 14:15 that they should turn from their worthless and vain things and listen to the gospel. James describes this worthless living as selfishness and arrogance and that it is not from God but from the Devil (James 3:14-18). But just as Jesus warned His disciples in Matthew 26:41-42 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Our flesh is drawn to shiny, exciting things of the world; that's part of being human. But the dangerous side is that we allow those things to take our eyes off of the life God has offered us through Christ. Our involvement in the process is having the will to live. He is our hope, and He will be where we find true and lasting life. There will be a day that we will be glad we didn't give in to the temptations of the world, but for right now, we have to keep watching and praying.

We have hope of eternal life because of the salvation that Christ made possible. And while it is offered to anyone and ultimately everyone, not everyone will have the will to live. They will lose hope throughout all their trials of life and take the easier road of worldly living, of selfishness, of greed, of hate, of things contrary to the will of God. As Paul said in Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on things above, not things that are of the earth....”

To stay hopeful will require us to surrender our will to His care. He has the power to nourish us and heal us, not the things of the world. Don't lose hope in the promises of God.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Best Gift Ever

What is the best gift you’ve ever received? Would the value of that gift change if the giver of that gift had been someone different? For instance, if your grandfather gave you one million dollars, you’d probably appreciate it greatly. What if a terrorist gave you one million dollars, would that change how excited you were about it? The same could be said about nearly anything…including salvation.

The more we get to know who God is, and what He longs for, and what He loves, and what breaks His heart, the more we see the value of salvation. We need deliverance from our foolish choices to ignore His boundaries that were put in place for our protection. So, the fact that “salvation” is even necessary highlights the trustworthiness of God’s promise. He went to great lengths to give us the best gift ever given.

Paul said in Titus 2:11-15, “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. You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them.”

As you read about Christ’s arrival to this world, and all the attempts to destroy Him in some way, it’s easier to recognize God’s love for us. More than anything God wanted this precious gift to be given so that all those who will trust Him will be able to enjoy it. When you read the history of Israel’s origins and their journey to the Promised Land, you quickly realize how long this story was actually unfolding.

So, no wonder that when Jesus began to teach, He helped connect the dots for us. He said to the Apostles in Luke 24:44-45, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then, the Bible tells us that He “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

Everything about Him helped people see God through Him (if they had eyes to see, or ears to hear). He even told His closest followers during a bout with doubt in John 14:9-11, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don't know who I am? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father! So why are you asking Me to show Him to you? Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in Me does His work through Me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen Me do.”

Those same words ring true for us today: believe in the message of salvation because all the proof wrapped up in the message that has spanned over thousands of years. We, too, must embrace what Jesus did, taught, and asked of us—and recognize him as the door to salvation. What a wonderful gift! 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Help!

“Help!” is a word that brings panic to any situation. But within that same word is a plea filled with hope. God’s word consists of descriptions of God’s actions, His thoughts, and ultimately His will. Therefore, when we read God’s word, when we meditate on it, when we do what it says, we are following the healing, redemptive, powerful guidance of God Himself.

Psalms 119:147, “I cry out for help and put my hope in Your words.”
Psalms 18:6, “But in my distress, I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to Him reached His ears.”
Psalms 56:9, “My enemies will retreat when I call to You for help. This I know: God is on my side!”

All throughout the book of Psalms we read of people’s plea for help to the one who can heal, deliver, protect. God is our physician, our redeemer, and our comforter. The medicine He prescribes is found in His Holy Word (Psalms 107:20, John 1:14).

In Proverbs 4:20-22 Solomon says, “My son, attend to my words; incline your ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.”

God's Word is the medicine given to us by our Creator to aid in our infirmities, our fears, our struggles. We are expected to follow the directions for the medication given by doctors; how about the medicine God prescribes? We honor God as the great physician by taking the powerful medicine He gives us, the Word of God.

Hebrews 4:12, “For 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.”

“God so loved the world that He sent His only son…”, or as John said of “His only son” in 1 John 1:1-2, “He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen Him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that He is the one who is eternal life.”

If you haven’t read, meditated on, or studied the words of God recently, then realize you’re missing out on an invaluable resource sent from the creator of the universe, a gift that helps, protects, redeems, heals, and guides your life.

Psalms 119:34-35, “Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.”

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Going Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Invitation to Trust God

In college, a coworker and I started a travel club. It was called the S.E.T.T. club, which stood for Students for Education Through Travel. Our motto was “Get SETT to see the world.” We had all we needed—except people willing to join. That’s where our campaigning, recruiting, and selling the idea came in. I bring this example up because I’ve heard it said that God is like someone wanting to start a club, a club called church, sponsored by Jesus. Just like the club I started years ago, in this scenario, God would have to go around recruiting and selling the idea to people in order to get a following. After all, Jesus asked many people to “Follow Me” during His ministry.

There are obviously a lot of problems with thinking God is doing whatever it takes to get people to join His club. One of the biggest problems is the age-old question, “How can a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?” to which there are a host of answers. Within this dilemma, many people claim they couldn’t, or wouldn’t join God’s club—the church—as if to say, if He expects to entice new followers, He needs to have better incentives. And since He’s the all-powerful God of all creation, He should be able to deliver on this pledge.

But God revealed His plan through Christ, not to win a popularity contest or to have the most “likes” on Facebook. Instead, His was a plan of salvation, or simply put, an escape strategy out of a world corrupted with sin. However, it takes wisdom to recognize it as such. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, “…the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—His plan that was previously hidden, even though He made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord.”

This wisdom doesn’t make sense to most people, so they reject the invitation. But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-21, “We who are being saved know [this wisdom] is the very power of God… (20) God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe….”

In our own Bible, God has inspired writings about this kind of wisdom. In fact, these books are often categorized as “the wisdom books” or “books of poetry.” They were labeled as poetry because these godly attitudes and teachings were put to music and recited in a chant and were easy nuggets of wisdom to help in everyday situations.

The book of Job focuses on what God desires for us even when we face unfathomable difficulties. The God we serve hasn’t changed; He still wants us to trust Him. People who trust Him are the ones He wants in “His club,” and all of us are given the opportunity to join.