Christianity 201

May 14, 2019

Evangelism is More Showing Than Telling

Today we’re featuring an author who is new to us, Heather Goodman who writes at All Things Are Yours. This the beginning section of a much longer article, so you are encouraged to click the header below.

Evangelism and Genuinely Liking People

Forget apologetics.   Forget signs and wonders.  If you really want to excel at evangelism, there is one golden key worth more than all the others – LIKE the people you are reaching out to with Jesus.  Since we often get really messed up with doublespeak when we talk about what it means to “love”, I’d like to submit that the real issue is whether or not we LIKE “them.”  In general, we can’t bring people to Jesus that we don’t like.

What is evangelism, first of all?

A student of Greek will quickly explain that evangelism involves sharing good news, being an ambassador, etc etc.  And that’s all good and true.  Evangelism is part of our kingdom role of being priests and kings.  Malachi talks about one of the jobs of a priest:

“True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7“For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”  (Malachi 2:6-7)

Sharing the knowledge of God both with believers and nonbelievers is incredibly important and is our honored role in the Kingdom.  I’ve heard people often quote, St. Francis in saying, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” But the reality is that words will always be necessary.   We are to help people UNDERSTAND things about God, and share knowledge.

BUT –  if our view of evangelism is just about TELLING people something, shoving a sign or a tract or a well-rehearsed message at someone, I don’t think we’re going to get very far with real humans with that approach.  At least, I never saw much come of my own efforts at evangelism when I approached people with that mindset.  Evangelicalism for a long time has I think based much of its lifeless attempts at sharing the good news with people on a misapplication of one verse:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”Isaiah 55:11

This verse is often used to justify completely violating or at completely impersonal attempts at sharing Christ with people.  Under this mindset, all that matters is making people hear words.   It doesn’t matter if the message comes to them in any real understandable form, or if it has any personal connection to them… simply shouting at them is good enough, for God will make any words we shove at them “not return void.”  Though an explanation of why that’s a bad way to read that verse is well beyond the scope of this blog post, that’s not what this verse meant when it was written, and I don’t think its what it means for us today.

LEARNING A DIFFERENT WAY

My relationship with being an emissary of the gospel really started to change a few decades back when I stopped trying to be a “good witness”  (which is evangelicalism-speak for “hiding all your sins and faults from nonbelievers in order to supposedly attract them with the perfection of your life now that you are a believer in Jesus”) and instead let a non-Christian friend see me “for real,” as I shared with him the depths of the depression I was in, as well as my intense struggles with God at that time.  When he suddenly up and decided that Christ was real and he wanted in on the Kingdom when I was contemplating how best to hurt myself, I started realizing that my first “convert” was teaching me something about how Christ makes Himself known to people – and it wasn’t by me being fake and seemingly having it all together in front of non-believers.

I also started learning that it wasn’t about shoving impersonal sentences at people that supposedly were “the Word of God that won’t return void” to them.  Some wise person shared with me that every person in existence is already in a relationship with God, and that He has been dancing with them their entire lives, carefully cultivating a conversation with them.  I started to understand that my job as an evangelist was not to plod on into that conversation like a bull in a China shop, but to respect it – and to learn to peer into how God has already been engaging with that person, and that person with God – and to enter appropriately into THAT conversation.

Just as the Holy Spirit is one who “comes alongside and helps” I started to see my job as a colaborer with Christ by the Holy Spirit, agreeing with the Holy Spirit in coming alongside a person being drawn to Christ, rather than coming at them.  Good evangelism is midwifery, and while some babies are born on their own, much of the time someone helps the baby along…

…continue reading at this link

 

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

February 6, 2019

Why We’re Not Hearing Each Other

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today we’re back once again sharing the thoughts of Pastor Kevin Rogers who is, one of the longest running and perhaps the most frequently cited devotional writer/blogger here at C201.

Why Can’t We Hear Each Other?

When I have talked to couples or family members that are struggling with understanding each other, there is often a failure to have communication at that deeper level. It is possible to have lots of words or nearly none and be at an impasse with each other.

I have relationships like that. There are those that I would like to have more understanding and meaningful conversation with, but somehow lack the right words or the right connection. If you are on a cell phone and the signal is breaking up, you eventually give up and try again. You disconnect and dial again. That is assuming that you want to have the conversation.

In face-to-face encounters, we may have some people that we do not want to talk with. Why is that? We can choose to avoid them, but that is not always satisfactory. Sometimes we know that there are good reasons to be connected to them and there is a communication breakdown repeatedly.

Sometimes you cannot hear the voice of the other because the voice inside you is hurt, angry and insecure. The voice competing with real communication is telling you it’s time for fight, flight or freeze. This not only happens in human relationships, but also with the Divine. We cannot communicate with God when something else is interfering.

Would you like to have better communications? I know that I would. Let’s pull back the curtain and see what is going on behind the scenes.

James 1.19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 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.

James identifies a core problem that affects all of our relationships. He says to get rid of everything that is sinful. Get rid of the evil that is all around us. Human anger does not produce the holy (healthy and fulfilled) life that God wants for us.

There are lying, hurtful, selfish things that lie at the heart of our failure to communicate. (Either in myself or in you—likely in both of us). I cannot start to connect with another until I first see what barrier is preventing that closeness.

I would like to blame you for the ways you are not meeting my needs or how you are insensitive toward me; but, that world of resentment and hurt inside me has a way of convincing me that it’s all you or that I am incapable of real meaningful connection. And so, my sin becomes unworthiness, self-pity and angry frustration.

Guess what? I will not breakthrough until I am willing to see the barriers that exist in me. By acknowledging my distorted perception, I can find God’s help to deal with my stuff. Maybe that will include me making amends, confessing my faults and relieving you of the awkward tension that comes from my fuzzy thinking. If it does nothing for you, I still need to get right in my understanding and live in God’s grace.

Let’s look at ways that we can move toward healthy communication and connectedness.


Kevin continued in these same verses in James in three consecutive posts:


For today’s text in The Passion Translation, click this link.

January 5, 2019

Relationship Imperfections Remind Us of What Only God Can Fill

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today we’re back with Gary Henry at WordPoints. After a long internal debate as to which of these I should run, I decided to use both of them — Gary presented them both the same day — as I felt that the subjects were integrated. Click the title to read either at source and then navigate from there to check out the other great topics on the site.

Our Need for Relationship

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

A NEED FOR RICH PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP IS DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN OUR CREATED NATURE

We owe our existence not to impersonal forces, but to a personal Creator, and it was the Creator Himself who said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are personal beings, and we were designed for full, vibrant relationship.

But sin destroys relationship. It severs us from God and from others, cutting us off from this thing that is so necessary to our na­ture. So there is perhaps no sy­mptom of sin any more obvious than the deep, gnawing pain of isolation. And in sin, there is no groaning more desperate than to be freed from our loneliness.

But however much we need relationship in general, our most vital need, the only one we can’t survive without, is our need for relationship with God.

“In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter.”
(George MacDonald)

Our craving for God is a dependency we were meant to have. It is a profound need for perfect relationship, and to try to fill this need with our flawed connection to other human beings is not only wrong; it is hopeless.

If we fail to let God fill our need for love — if it is not in Him that our loneliness is taken away — then we will force an impossible mandate on the imperfect people around us. We will demand from others a satisfaction they aren’t capable of providing for us in this broken world. Only the infinite God is able to relate to us perfectly. And even with God, what we can have in this life is only a foretaste of the perfect union that heaven will provide.

When we find that even our most intimate earthly companions can’t provide the depth of relationship for which we were created, bitterness may be the tempting reaction. Yet there is a healthier response. We can see the imperfections in our own relationships as a salutary reminder. God alone is the One to whom we must look for life and unfailing love. To forget that is to lose the path that leads back home.

“Didst thou give me this inescapable loneliness so that it would be easier for me to give thee all?”
(Dag Hammarskjöld)

Refuge

“It was a dark and stormy night.”
(Edward Bulwer-Lytton)

TWO DIFFERENT TIMES COME AROUND SOONER OR LATER: (1) TIMES WHEN WE NEED A REFUGE, AND (2) TIMES WHEN SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS A REFUGE WE CAN PROVIDE

“Dark and stormy nights” are a fact of life, and when we find ourselves in the middle of one, our hearts need a safe place in which to shelter. It’s important to appreciate the shelter that others have given us in the past, and even more important to make our hearts a place where they’ll find a welcome when they’re the ones who are scared of the storm.

Having a heart that provides refuge for others takes some learning. Not many of us have such a heart naturally. Caring perhaps comes naturally, but showing compassion in ways that actually do some good is a skill that has to be learned. It’s not rocket science, maybe, but it does take a little education in the school of caregiving. We have to watch and listen. We have to apply good judgment. We have to learn from well-intentioned mistakes that we’ve made. In short, we have to grow in the quality of the mercy that we extend.

Men, especially, have to learn how to be a refuge to others. Since the simple gift of “nurturance” is not normally our strong suit, we have to exert extra effort to learn it. The strong masculine tendency to “fix” whatever’s wrong has to be reined in. To have hearts in which others find refuge, we must learn to see when a safe harbor is all that’s needed — and not a dry-dock facility for ship repair.

Who are those that need from you the gift of refuge? The answer would probably surprise you. If you knew the hurts that those around you carry with them every day, you would be astonished. You may never know those hurts. Your friends may never choose to confide in you about them. But you would do well to assume that most of the people you deal with are hurting. Be ready. Be prepared for the time when they might consider seeking some safety in their relationship with you. If that time ever comes, you will have bestowed on you one of life’s greatest privileges: the privilege of showing compassion.

“Discouraged people don’t need critics. They hurt enough already. They don’t need more guilt or piled-on distress. They need encouragement. They need a refuge. A willing, caring, available someone.”
(Charles R. Swindoll)


Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
  Colossians 3:12 NIV

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love.
 2 Corinthians 6:6 NLT

August 2, 2018

Stuck in a Moment

by Clarke Dixon

Feeling stuck? Like things will never change? Could be your health, family dynamics, marriage, or work. You have given up on expecting a miracle. You have settled into a new normal and it is not a good normal. You are “stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it” to borrow a line from U2. It feels like the likelihood of things changing is zero.

The apostle Paul’s letter to Philemon speaks of a situation where change hardly seemed possible. Slavery was a societal norm which was not going away anytime soon. It was just the way things were. This could work out okay for some who had good masters. It could be miserable for those who didn’t. Society itself was stuck in a moment and couldn’t get out of it. Paul’s letter to Philemon does not give any hope of change happening soon. Slavery will continue in the empire. In fact Paul didn’t just send a letter to Philemon about slavery, he sent back a slave, Onesimus, who had run away from Philemon. We might think “poor slave”, sent back to the same old, back to being stuck in a moment that he can’t get out of.

What do we think Paul would write in the letter which accompanies Onesimus? Might he say something like “be sure to make an example of your runaway so that no others will sin against you like he did?” Or, “be sure that justice is served”? Let’s read what Paul has to say to Philemon about his runaway slave:

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. Philemon 1:8-21 (NIV emphasis added)

Fact is, while slavery continued, there were great changes happening behind the scenes. There was great hope for Onesimus, not because the institution of slavery was changing within the Roman empire, but because people and relationships were being changed within the God’s Kingdom.

Among Christians relationships were changing due to a wiping away of class distinctions:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)

While Roman society kept plugging along as it was, the Christian Church was a different kind of community. Slaves were children of God in Christ as much as anyone else. No matter one’s identity and status within the empire, all were brothers and sisters in God’s Kingdom.

Relationships were changing in another way.  There was a wiping away of personal offense. Philemon was not explicitly asked to forgive Onesimus, but it is implied. The Christian community was a forgiven people who were learning to forgive. Onesimus may have been stuck as a slave thanks to Roman societal norms, but his future never looked brighter thanks to the big changes the Gospel of Jesus was bringing to his world.

So what has this to do with the moment we might be stuck in? When we are stuck in a sticky spot and are not counting on a change anytime soon, we can focus on the things that are changing. Our health may not change, but our relationship with God, and others, can deepen. You might feel stuck, and that no one around will ever change, but you can.

It would seem that Paul prayed the Serenity Prayer long before it was written. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that cannot change. . . ” Society was stuck with slavery. ” . . . the courage to change the things I can . . .”. The Church was a community made of up changed and changing people thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit. “. . . and the wisdom to know the difference”. Paul had the wisdom to leave the sins of the empire alone. But he did what he could to see great changes for both Philemon and Onesimus.

When we seem to be stuck in a moment we cannot get out of, God grant us the serenity to accept the things that are not going to change, and the courage to join with God in the change He is brings, especially in us through His Holy Spirit.


Listen or download the 34 minute sermon on which this is based: Click here.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

December 19, 2016

Will Broken Relationships With Other Believers Be Reconciled in Heaven?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

Once again we’re paying a return visit to the website Blogos which features a variety of writers. Today’s author is Christopher Schwinger. Click the title below to read at source, and then click the banner at the top to see other recent articles.

Relationships in Heaven

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
 -Revelation 21:4 NLT

I recently got a question asking whether heaven will be painless and have perfect reconciliation of relationships with others who belong to Christ. The simple answer has to be yes, but there are complexities which are troubling. I have heard it said that all of God’s wrath was poured out on Christ, so Christians who are unkind still are good in their ultimate standing with God. Does that really mean there is no such thing as God “disliking” a Christian who is unkind? That sounds like our painful experiences with other Christians are invalidated. An equal source of concern is whether everyone will get to have equal rewards in heaven even if they were ungracious to other people, as long as they believed in Jesus. I’ve often thought about whether we are supposed to expect the past to be nonexistent in our relationships when we get to heaven, because even though it’s unhealthy to want other people to suffer like we have, it just doesn’t seem fair that everyone would be on the same degree of perfection in heaven, from those who got only a little progress made (the thief on the cross by Jesus), to those who went backward or became stagnant, to someone who suffered because of other Christians’ lack of mercy.

Some people think it undermines the fullness of what Christ accomplished if we desire to have all our pain understood by the people who caused the pain, and I think that depends on whether they are trying to reconcile or trying to use pain in a vengeful way. The only way for that to feel right is if the Christians who are more obedient get more privileges in eternity than those who are more selfish. But as Jesus said to Peter in John 21:21-22, don’t worry about how God wants to bless someone else, or who is more or less deserving.

A further source of anxiety about heaven is whether our sins will be publicly exposed if we don’t confess them between our conversion to Christ and our death. Being ashamed for our previous spiritual immaturity can only be a factor in heaven if we didn’t heed the warnings God gave to us in our lives. For those who struggle with “feeling” clean after confessing their sins to God throughout their lives, that shame will be gone.

As a lot of our hope about the afterlife is just hope, not something we can know in a carefully defined way, it’s almost like we have to make heaven a philosophy more than a precise theology. Even the term is philosophical, because characteristics of God are evident in the cosmos and it’s the opposite direction of where people get buried. I used to try to visually imagine heaven and how it could be better than my current life, and I always wound up unsatisfied with the courtroom and music concert imagery, and that was probably because I missed that the emphasis in the Book of Revelation is that every group of people finds unity under God.

It’s not the luxurious description of heaven which should inspire us, but the relational healing. tweet

I have 3 sources of comfort about heaven:

1. What has convinced me that heaven even exists, besides Jesus’ fulfillment of specific Old Testament prophecies, is the poetic and wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The Old Testament passages in Job and the psalms which express hope about eternal life after death, with no more pain, happen after the writers have experienced sufferings and reflected on the meaning of it all, and God gives them hope as they continue to do the right thing. I have learned from this to not expect faith about a better hereafter to be something I can force on myself. Faith can’t be just forced, but is partially the natural outcome of making good choices. Another way of putting it: God gives hope/faith as a gift to those who pursue virtue.

2. The story of Jesus and Lazarus in John 11, from the most personal of the four Gospels, is important to me because Jesus actually identifies with the sorrow as they’re going through it, even though He knows it’s not going to continue after He raises Lazarus from the dead — until Lazarus eventually dies again, that is. Jesus felt their pain and cried even though He knew it would be short-lived pain. Until the amazing restoration actually happens, there is going to be pain, but somehow even the pain feels meaningful when we know God is feeling the pain with us. Gaining the confidence that He feels the pain is a difficult thing, though. Sorrow is not something to hide from, even if we hate it, because it actually is meaningful in its own way when we know God feels the pain.

3. The Apostle Paul’s expectation about the 2nd Coming, based on Jewish apocalyptic literature about Judgment Day, was that everyone who belongs to Christ, even from before the time of Christ in the first century, would be reunited and forever be together. It’s hard to know how much of the imagery we have of the End Times is symbolic and how much will really come true in the exact way described, but the Biblical writers are convinced that heaven is not just an idea we hope for, but a reality which Jesus already made possible.

Reconciliation of hurts in heaven does not mean the past never happened, but the fundamental relationship problems we have with other Christians will be gone in heaven because the atonement of Christ will be complete then. The atonement of Christ helps us become free from sin during our lives, but it’s still a struggle because we have our “sin nature” which we’re born with, what Paul calls “the flesh.” But when we make it to the next life, which you can call heaven, God’s transformation of us will be complete and we’ll have new bodies. The reason I can believe this is because the Holy Spirit’s work in my life right now is proof that there is more to come, what Paul called a pledge, like a deposit which proves there’s more where that came from. The Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, when we sense it going on in ourselves, proves to us that we’re not being defrauded by God, but are given a trustworthy deposit, with the promise that the deposit will be completed later. The Holy Spirit didn’t just give me hope in my struggles only for it to all end in nothingness. Thus I can view even death as a gateway to a brighter future if I belong to Christ.

October 19, 2016

Companionship

Today we’re at Pure Devotion, the blog of Lori Thomason which came recommended. Click here to read her story, and then click the title below to read today’s thoughts at their source.

Friendly

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT) Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Companionship is important. Relationship is key in life. With the popularity of social media, there is the perception of these two vital accomplishments when in reality there is really no connection between people anymore. Facebook is one of the many social sites that allow us to “friend” one another, “unfriend” those who are no longer wanted in our life and to conveniently “unfollow” those who post things that are not interesting or inappropriate. Relationship in a box if you will how wonderful. So clean and safe, people can manage “friendships” without the messiness of companionship. It satisfies our need to connect with the imposition or discomfort of true involvement. However, is it enough? Is it the kind of relationship that Jesus Christ called us to when He said to “love one another”? Probably not.

Love is a commitment. It is the call of every Christian, believer, and true follower of Jesus Christ. In a world that has made “relationships” computerized, how does the church reconnect according to the Word of God and develop the friendships that the Lord ordained for us to have with one another. The Body of Christ cannot become the Bride of Christ without companionship and relationships that extend from lip service to life commitment. Ecclesiastes touches on this in Chapter 4 when companionship is addressed in detail with its benefits. Two people are much better than one. You may think you do not need or want other people but we all do. We were created to be relational but hurt and betrayal builds tall walls that must be overcome by love and grace to produce trust once again. We need one another to succeed in life. People will always need someone to offer hands to help up and shoulders to cry on. We need to remain close. A person standing alone is more likely to be overcome in an attack physically and spiritually. There is a reason why God created more than one person. God is all about relationships. To be like the Lord, we must build relationships, become companions and learn to be friends all over again.

John 16:31-33 (NLT) Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus is awesome! He tried diligently to send of clues and messages into the future of what to expect as His Return grew eminent. One of those things is the assault on friendship and relationships that is happening today. First, the family began to fall apart as one generation gave way to another with a staggering divorce rate. Suddenly, relationships became soluble and what God has joined together can be legally torn apart. The time is coming. Well, I believe it is here now. You will be scattered. Each one going his own way. Jesus told us all of this so that we could have peace in us. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. There is no question that there will be hurts and heartaches on this earth trials and sorrows just as the Jesus said. Take heart. I have overcome the world. Jesus overcame the world. I believe that while the latter of these verses are heeded with caution that there is missed significance in the beginning…you will be scattered. A kingdom is a gathering not a scattering. We must come together as the Body of Christ and Kingdom of God again. The Kingdom is built on relationship. Our relationship with the Father through the Son as adopted Children of God. This should not and cannot stop here or the Kingdom is only a partnership. The Spirit of God is the connection that ordinary people have as Christ lives in us. This connection must be distributed among other people to form the allegiance that we are to have with the family of God as His Children.

Hebrews 13:14-16 (NLT) For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

This world is not our permanent home. Everything should be building for the future. The future given to us through Jesus Christ. Why? It lasts forever. We are to look forever to this home yet to come. Preparations for family reunions and even high school reunions often include self-preparation as it is important to us to show others the significance and success of our past years spent apart. Many opt not to attend based on situations and circumstances they were unable to overcome. Reunions are about relationships and reconnecting but in our minds it can be made it to something else completely. We must prepare for our reunion with Jesus Christ. Repentance is the first step. Relationship is the next. It is fun to attend a reunion when the relationships have remained active. It becomes uncomfortable if it is the first contact in a long time. Each day celebrating Jesus Christ and actively engaged in a relationship with Jesus creates confidence in His Acceptance when we are finally reunited. However, the Kingdom is not just one person and a triune God. It is a Body of Believers. It is time to reconnect.

Allegiance to Christ is a commitment to His Kingdom that is demonstrated in our willingness to do “good” and share our lives with those in need. Recently, our ladies ministry had a meeting at church. Newly reorganized, it was the first time in a long time. Forming a large circle, everyone began to express their needs as women. Every response and comment went back to relationship. Women feel isolated and alone in rooms full of people and homes full of family. Why? There is no connection or companionship so therefore there is no confidence in others. We must sacrifice to please God. Sacrifice our pride. Sacrifice our self. Sacrifice our insecurity and yes, even our pride sometimes. Allegiance to God’s Kingdom is demonstrated by loving and living relationships among all of God’s People.

Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT) “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

We are to love our enemies. How is the possible if I am unable to love my friends? Loving my friends is not commenting on their posts, putting little heart “likes” on their pictures, or following them on social media. Love is a relationship. Love is a connection. It is to reach out and pull together. It is conversation. Communication is important. Listening is loving. Being present is not enough, it is presence that creates strong unity and bonds. Our allegiance to Jesus Christ is exemplified by our commitment and willingness to bond with others in relationship. This empowers the Kingdom and our relationships draw those who were scattered back together again. I challenge each of you today as I am myself to look at my “friends” list on social media and choose some people to call and talk to. Have lunch with or make an effort to connect with. Rather than texting learn to call and talk more. When the Holy Spirit moves on my heart to contact someone, to be sensitive enough to do it right then. Relationships are not maintained passively and must to be promoted passionately. They are one of the things that the enemy wants to “steal, kill and destroy” every single relationship and bond in the Body of Christ as it is an attack against His Kingdom. When we connect with others, it creates unity and harmony in the Body and that is the desire of our Father’s Heart!

Romans 12:16 (NLT) Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Psalm 133:1-3 (NLT) How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.

June 1, 2016

Ending Well With Difficult People

•••by Clarke Dixon

How do your encounters with difficult people end up? Is there a fitting conclusion to such encounters? By difficult people we mean the kind of people that stress you out, or have wounded you in some way. And by an encounter we don’t even need to think of actually meeting the person, it may be an online encounter, or even just an encounter in our imagination. In fact if the truth be told, don’t the difficult people in our lives end up taking up too much space in our heads? We give them so much time and mental resources and they may not even know it! So is there a fitting way to conclude every such encounter?

If there is a group of Christians that could earn the title “difficult people” for the apostle Paul, it would have to be the Corinthians. From reading Paul’s two letters to Corinth we learn of the divisions he must address, the false notions he must put right, the crooked practices he must straighten out, and the fact that some of them evidently thought Paul himself was not worth listening to. And so with that in mind, listen to his last words to the Corinthians:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

First, notice what’s at the last; “be with all of you.” Not just “the people I like”, not just “the people who like me”, not just “the people who are good to me”, not just “the people who are mature”, but “all of you.” Even the difficult people. Here is a fitting conclusion for every encounter with all the people of our lives, even the difficult people. Whether we say it or pray it, we can desire it. Let’s dig a little deeper into Paul’s desire.

Paul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace is undeserved favor and the greatest symbol of grace is the cross where the Greatest ever died on behalf of the least. Notice Paul does not just say the grace of Jesus. Jesus is Lord, that is, the One who has the power and authority to condemn. Yet He is the One who stood on trial, innocent, but condemned. That is grace. Jesus is also the Christ, or in another language, the Messiah. He is the focus of God’s plan of salvation revealed through the events and pages of the Old Testament. That is grace. Paul knows first hand that he does not deserve that grace. So when he thinks of those difficult people in Corinth who do not deserve that grace, he is reminded of himself. When we think of the difficult people in our lives who do not deserve favor, do we remember that we are difficult people who have not deserved God’s favor? Having experienced the amazing grace of Jesus, how could we not desire it for everyone and anyone?

Dealing with Difficult PeoplePaul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “love of God.” God is love. And Paul has a good understanding of that love. It is not the warm-and-fuzzy-feeling kind of love that we may think of. Neither is it just being nice. The Hebrew term for God’s love includes the notion of loyalty and faithfulness. God’s love is more a “faithful in marriage” than “smitten in dating” kind of love. The Greek word for God’s love is marked with overtones of commitment and choice. It is not “how could I dance with another, when I saw her standing there” kind of love, which can end up being a selfish kind of love. It is more “I will ask her to dance because I care for her and a dance would be good for her.” When we say that God loves you, it is not because you are amazing, it is because He is amazing in His capacity to love. Paul knows that he himself is not amazing. Paul knows that he is in exactly the same boat as the difficult people in Corinth who are not amazing. Do you know God’s love as the difficult person you can be? Can you desire that the difficult people in your life know it also?

Paul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “communion of the Holy Spirit.” This can be interpreted either that they will enjoy good relationships with one another as the Holy Spirit makes possible, or that they will each experience the Holy Spirit personally. Perhaps we should take it as meaning both since an experience of the fruit of the Spirit in your life will come along with better relationships. This desire for the Holy Spirit can help us get over two speed bumps we might come across as we desire something really good for those people we may consider to be really unworthy.

  • Speed Bump #1 — Thinking: “This person has always been difficult and always will be difficult.” But not if the Holy Spirit takes control of their lives! Think of the most shady characters throughout history. Now think of the benefit for many, many, many people had the Holy Spirit taken control of their lives. How would history have been different if they had the communion of the Holy Spirit so that their lives would show the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV) To pray for difficult people to experience communion with the Holy Spirit is to pray “Thy Kingdom come.” It is to pray for good things, not just for the person experiencing communion with the Holy Spirit, but for everyone who experiences the person experiencing the Holy Spirit!
  • Speed Bump #2 Saying: “I just can’t do it – I just can’t desire good things for a certain person in my life.” You can’t or you won’t? Remember the communion of the Holy Spirit is available to you also, God is working a transformation in you also. In fact it is the difficult people in our lives that God uses to change us into the likeness of His Son who bore the cross for difficult people. God does not stretch your forgiveness and grace muscles through perfect people. Difficult people can be the heavy weights of a good muscle developing workout.

So how do your encounters with difficult people end up? With awkwardness, bitterness, or grudges? Paul’s conclusion in his second letter to the Corinthians provides us with a great conclusion to every encounter with the difficult people of our lives.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

Even if we do not say it, we can pray it, we can desire it. It won’t just change their lives. It will change ours.

 

July 27, 2015

Forgive Us Our Debts

A year ago at this time, we introduced you to a website with the catchy title, The King’s English. The author is Glen Scrivener. The article we’ve chosen today will get you thinking, and you just might find yourself forwarding the link to it (copy and paste from the title below) to someone who might find it equally insightful.

Forgive Us Our DebtsForgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 6:5-15

Spot the common theme in all these sayings:

–  I owe you an apology.

–  How can I ever repay you?

–  Give credit where it’s due.

–  I’m forever in your debt.

–  You robbed me of my dignity.

–  You cost me my reputation.

–  It’s pay-back time.

All of these statements use money language to talk about our relationships.   When we speak of the ups and downs of our relationships we talk about “owing” and “repayment” and “credit” and “debt” and “robbing” and “costing” and “pay-back”.

And it rings true doesn’t it?  When we are wronged, we feel robbed.  It feels like we are owed, and if we don’t go after pay-back, it’s costly.

Think of a hurt that someone has caused you.  One way you can think of it is that this person has stolen from you.  Maybe they stole money, but maybe they stole your good name, or your trust, or your dignity, or the best years of your life.  But when we’re wronged we feel robbed.  And we feel like we want pay-back.  If we don’t go after pay-back it’s costly.

And right at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus confirms all of this.  He teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

According to Jesus, we owe God.  And at some point in our praying, that needs acknowledging.

Interestingly Jesus doesn’t put it first on the agenda.  No, first of all we approach our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus.  And in Jesus we know His love and acceptance.  We are His children.  But we are His sinful children.  And at some point in our prayers we acknowledge that.  We acknowledge our debts.  Just as we pray for daily provision, so we pray for daily pardon.

Through our sins we owe God and we could never pay it off.  We are in over our heads.  But Christ Himself has paid off our debts.  That’s the meaning of redemption – the paying of a debt.  And through the cross, Christ has paid what we owe.  It was costly for Him, but He offers forgiveness for free.  Therefore we should write off the debts of others.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Jesus’ words here remind us of the parable He tells in Matthew 18.  A servant owes a king billions of pounds.  The king takes pity on the servant, forgives the debt and lets him go.  It’s wonderful news.  But this servant goes out and sees a colleague who owes him £5000.

Now £5000 is not nothing.  If someone owed me £5000 I would feel the cost of it very deeply.  But when compared to the billions, £5000 is nothing.

Yet this isn’t how the servant feels.  He throttles his colleague and says “Pay back the £5000.”  We read of his reaction and think to ourselves, How ridiculous! Well yes, How ridiculous!  But that’s every one of us if we don’t forgive our brothers and sisters.

We have been forgiven billions.  Christ has taken pity on us, absorbed the debt, paid it off in full and let us go.  Therefore we can forgive others the £5000, can’t we?  Shouldn’t we?  We must.

If we don’t forgive others their debts, have we really received the billion pound forgiveness?  But if we have received God’s forgiveness we can do no other than pass it on.

It’s always costly to forgive.  It was costly for Christ, it will be costly for us.  But perhaps more than anything, these verses inspire us to pray for a sense of proportion.  Do we realize the magnitude of the debt which Christ has paid off?  Have we appreciated how spiritually bankrupt we are without Jesus?  And can we put the hurts of others into their proper perspective?

Perhaps today, someone will cause me thousands of pounds worth of heart-ache.  Perhaps this month, someone will cost me tens of thousands worth of emotional trauma.  Perhaps this year, someone will cost me a million pounds worth of hurt.  If I just look at that debt it will overwhelm me, I will throttle them and demand pay-back.  But Jesus teaches me to return daily to the cross and see there my debts paid off in full.  And, as He’ll say later in Matthew, “freely ye have received, freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

This life of overflowing grace does not come easy to us grudge-keepers.  But that’s why Jesus tells us to pray it in to our hearts every single day: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”


Image: Church of the Cross, Bluffton SC

July 24, 2015

Let Your Gentleness, Reasonableness Be Known to All

When Paul tells the Philippians in a verse we know by heart to “Rejoice in the Lord always…” the message is quite clear. But in the words that follows there is a lot more going on.

First the full context:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

–Philippians 4:4-7 ESV

At the website Verse by Verse Commentary, Dr. Grant Richison writes:

Philippians 4:5

“Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.”

Gentleness in our society means weakness or prissiness. This is not what Paul is asking here. This command relates to the running feud between Euodia and Syntyche. We must see “gentleness” here in the context of division in the local church. It deals with how we treat other people.

“Let your gentleness”

The Greek word is broader than our English word “gentleness.” There is no single English word which can translate this word adequately. The word conveys ideas such as graciousness and clemency. Probably the closest English word is “forbearance.” It is sweet reasonableness toward others. After all is said, the word involves the willingness to yield our personal rights. This word connotes the willingness to show consideration to others. This person is reasonable when they look at the facts of a case. It is the opposite of self-seeking and contention.

Euodia and Syntyche tried to remold each other. They were two different people. Each person wanted the other to be like them. They tried to put the round peg in a square hole. The issue was personal preference or personal taste, not principle. These two women were trying to remold each other into their own image. Each lady had a mold into which they were trying to pour other person. If the mold does not fit they try to force her into it. Euodia may have had a square mold. She was particular and punctilious. Syntyche had a round mold. She tried to make Euodia fit the round mold.

The word “gentleness” submits the need for flexibility, pliability. We are not married long before flexibility becomes an important mode of operation. We cannot always have our own way. When that little baby comes along, we develop yet more flexibility. It does not take long till we become very relaxed. That baby interrupts our program; we have to change our schedule frequently. Our time is not our own. We have to yield to the desires of someone else.

Are you sensitive? Touchy? Do you take things the wrong way? Are you always spoiling for a fight? People at your work are like that. They are quick to take offense. Soon you do not dare open your mouth to them because they take everything personally. They misinterpret everything. They cannot take a joke. You avoid them and they wonder why. We have to carry their feelings around on a pillow.

Principle: A forbearing person does not treat people on the basis of what they deserve.

Application: Some husbands try to remake their wives. Some wives try to remake their husbands. They have tried it for thirty years and they still have not succeeded yet. We cannot make everyone comply with our pattern of life. We set up the pattern. If everyone does not fit into that pattern we conflict with them. Everyone has preferences. We have rights about which car to buy, style of dress. That is a matter of personal taste. Some women wear ghastly hats. That is their choice. We have to learn to keep a poker face in these things! Keep neutral. Make allowances.

May 28, 2015

Gifts in Kind

In North America, we usually use the phrase “gifts in kind” to refer to donations people make to charities and non-profits of things other than cash. Someone will donate a valuable sterling silver cutlery set, or an oil painting by a renown artist.

We usually think of such gifts as originating with people who are wealthy — after all, they owned these beautiful pieces in the first place — but it can also be done by people who are too poor to make a monetary gift, but find themselves in possession of something that can be assigned a value and then sold by the organization they wish to support.

Today, I want to consider a situation where the gift was somewhat “in kind” — and I’m borrowing the term here for a different purpose — is being made because it has become impossible to give to the original intended recipient. In other words, person “A” is no longer around to bless, but in their honor, I am giving to person “B.”

2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan…”

As the chapter continues, David pours out his generosity to Mephibosheth. The book Men of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Robert Wogelmuth tells us:

…David lavished Mephibosheth with more than he ever could have dreamed: land, servants, and access to the king’s table. Mephibosheth had not deserved the misfortune that had marked his life. But neither did he earn the good fortune that suddenly befell him. Mephibosheth must have been overwhelmed by it all.

There is more to the story to be sure, but I want to return again to verse one:

1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I’m wondering if there’s anyone reading this who can think of someone who has passed from this life, and there perhaps a wish that you could have done something, or done more to bless that person?

Before we continue, it’s important to note that David and Jonathan had a covenant relationship. Matthew Henry notes:

It is good sometimes to bethink ourselves whether there be any promises or engagements that we have neglected to make good; better do it late than never. The compendium which Paul gives us of the life of David is this (Acts 13:36), that he served his generation according to the will of God, that is, he was a man that made it his business to do good; witness this instance, where we may observe,

1. That he sought an opportunity to do good.
2. Those he inquired after were the remains of the house of Saul…
3. The kindness he promised to show them he calls the kindness of God

At this point, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook and say, “I did not have a covenant relationship with anyone like that.

But is there someone to whom you could say,

  • Your father was a major influence in my life
  • Your mother helped me through a difficult time
  • Your brother was like a brother to me
  • Your aunt and uncle were very generous to me at a critical time
  • Your sister’s encouragement was always both needed and appreciated

and then, in recognition of that

  • invite them over for dinner or out to a restaurant?
  • give them a gift, perhaps even a Bible or Christian book?
  • make a charitable donation in their name or in memory of their loved one?
  • write out the story of how their relative blessed you and print it out for them as a keepsake?
  • failing all else, just simply tell them how much their family means to you?

Verse seven is our model. In light of the deep relationship between David and Jonathan:

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Is there a Mephibosheth in your life?

 

January 2, 2015

Let the Light Out

Today, an author who was recommended to us, Annie Birkelo. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and take a minute to look around her blog, there are some very in-depth articles to see.

The Light Speaks for Itself ~ Just Don’t Bury It

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Today friends, I wish to share something that has been rolling around inside of my heart, my mind a LOT lately. I wish to hear back from you ~ your thoughts, your heart, your learning from the Lord about this very subject. I am intrigued and smitten by this whole thing and I crave to hear how others who follow after Christ have grappled with this very same thing.

Because I do not yet have the answer ~ (I almost never have the FULL answer)!

But I have been given some of what I think the answer is…in my own life and learning and following after Jesus. I wish to share some of that with you today.

So here is the question:

How do we ensure that when others see things in us that they think are good, that JESUS is who they see, versus OURSELVES?

Things that make you go “hmmmm.”

Sometimes I find myself dumbing down (or dimming down, I should say), the light of Jesus inside of me. I don’t want to freak people out, so I start to dim it down a little ~ bury it.

It’s not because I’m ashamed of Jesus. It’s that I find myself starting to wonder ~ are they just thinking that they see “me” here? Do they think that Annie is “all that?”

Which leads me right back to the question I wrote up above.

It’s easy to study the Word and find much about humility, servant leadership, turning over self to the Lord daily and nailing it to the cross, and real love ~ real love in the midst of ugly ~ sacrifice in order to put God first and others right next in line ~ the struggle to kill self daily and fill ourselves with more of Him, less of us. It’s easy to find guidance about this in His love letter to us.

Easy to study. But in all fairness, I must say ~ Hard to do.

But what about how others respond to us and our following after Jesus? Can we “control” what their reactions and responses are? Is it possible to make sure that they don’t walk away from interactions with us seeing the awesomeness of who they think that WE are, and instead see that we have a relationship with Jesus Christ ~ one that they can have too if they seek Him?

Can we make certain every single time that they recognize Jesus is the only good that is within us?

That is the question, friends. That is the big and burning question! Here’s what I have found as I have prayed over this so very much lately:

  • It is not always possible to make sure that people know (from our words) that all they see in us that they think is good is not about us ~ some of that is to be left to the Lord.
  • It IS our calling to make sure that the rest of our life – the stuff they see when they are not able to interact with us face-to-face – IS giving all credit/glory/honor to Jesus Christ and IS bringing glory to Him, versus ourselves.

People watch. People study us if they see something in us that intrigues them. Sometimes they walk away and think “that person is so great”, or “I want to be like him some day”, or “that person is so special, wonderful, good.”

Sometimes they walk away and then they make their own judgement about what they experienced when they interacted with us.

Do they know? Do they know by what we do and say (the rest of the time) that is is not due to us, but due to what Christ is doing in us that there is a light that they see there?

Do they know? Can we make sure that they know?

We have the privilege of not trying to pretend that we are perfect, but simultaneously giving Him all the glory and honor and praise for ALL that happens to us ~ the good, the bad, and the beauty He creates out of the ugly.

Eventually they will see Him, and not us.  But only if it is Him that they seek.

They may not know it yet ~ they may not realize that what they see is Christ living inside of this person, and not an extra-dose-of-awesome that the individual possesses.

But if they hang around long enough, and if we are honest in how He has delivered us out of darkness and continues to work in our sinful flesh, they might see.

  • They will see HIM if their hearts are open.
  • They will see if they are seeking HIM.
  • They will see someone they do not fully recognize, but they want to get to know.
  • They will see ~ they will eventually see that it is not possible for one person to be so “good” without divine intervention.

But what if they never do endeavor to seek Him? Are we then wrong to be this person ~this light~ in their lives that they might look up to, admire, think is great and/or want to be like?

Are we leading them into temptation or a false path if we are examples of how God can work within a person when they don’t want to (or even know how to) attribute any of it to Christ at all?

I think….NO.

As Jesus walked among us, He presented the good news and allowed others to choose whether to believe or not. He then moved on, but not without continuing to shine His light everywhere that He went.

A young man once tried to point out the goodness of the man He saw that Jesus was…and Jesus replied;

“Why do you call me good?”  Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.”  Luke 18:19

Jesus is not saying here that He was not good. He is trying to help the man to recognize that He (Jesus) IS GOD!

He was trying to help the man to see that he should not recognize the man in Him as good, rather recognize that He IS God, and the good that He sees is because He is God!

Only God is good.

Unlike Jesus, I am not God. No Christian walking this planet is God either. But we are His children and He lives in us if we are following after Him with all our hearts and have accepted His gift of salvation.

The “good” in us (the real good) is of God, not of us.

  • Let’s remember that we are sometimes nothing but the planters of the seeds.
  • Let’s remember that God is the only One who can bring about growth.
  • Let’s never forget that just because we don’t see the full blooms that result from the seeds He allowed us to plant, that He continues to work in the garden of each and every individual.
  • Let’s remember that it may be a blessing beyond comprehension that we don’t always get to see the seeds bloom.

If we did, we might be tempted to take credit in some way for that, wouldn’t we?

What if we saw them die, or start to bloom and then get infected or filled with weeds? We might become discouraged, because we thought WE actually had something to do with the success (or failure) of how their garden grows.

And when others comment on our own beautiful gardens, what then?

If others attribute the beauty of our garden to us somehow, what about that, friends?

Tell them!

Tell them who is responsible for the beauty that they see.

Tell them!

Tell them through all the rest of what you do and say that the garden hasn’t always been pretty.

Tell them!

Tell them how you tried to be the best caretaker in the world ~ how you studied how to make things take bloom and grow ~ how you methodically tried to fully invest yourself into being the best de-weeder on the planet, but the weeds still came anyway.

Tell them!

Tell them how the beauty that they see is only because of the divine intervention and complete Lordship of the only One who can make beauty out of the ugly.

Tell the story of Jesus, friends! Tell them how His story is far more important than your story.

Tell them how His story is the One you are a part of ~ not the other way around!

And remember ~ our primary role is to love others and simply let the blooms tell His story.

The Blooms…

The Light…

And the weeds…

And the darkness…

The Joy…

And the Suffering…

And the GOOD that He has brought out in the midst of it all.

His Good.

Yes, I have the fullness of the answer that He wishes for me to have today….

We are responsible to let the light shine ~

What others “see” is up to Him.

Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:15-16

July 1, 2014

Lay Your Burdens Down

With a few exceptions, we try not to “borrow” devotions from the same source more than every six months, but Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at DailyEncouragement.net are an exception. This is my personal “go to” devotional blog, and I try to make it the first click when my computer boots up in the morning, but sometimes email interrupts!  When I read this, I thought of the video I wanted to include with it, Chuck Girard’s Lay Your Burdens Down, and then realized a few days later that they had the same idea. There’s also a great illustration in the middle of this that I hope to remember. To read today’s devotion at source, including pictures and other suggested videos, click this link.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19). “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

In our final session at the chaplaincy training conference this week we heard Doug Clay share a message on coming to Jesus for our needs. He based his message on the story of the blind man in Mark 8 who came to Jesus to be healed and then came back a second time because he saw men as “trees walking”. Doug shared that this illustrated a persistence in coming to Jesus concerning our needs. One of the lines I really liked from his message was, “Starve your doubts and feed your hope”.

Following his message he asked the various leaders on our chaplain team to come to the front and then extended an altar call for any who may have come to the conference with a special need for which they wanted prayer. I think he was only expecting a few but long lines formed. As I observed the lines I thought of the burdens these people were bearing. For some it was a physical need, for others perhaps a matter in their marriage and family. For others it might have been a financial burden. Perhaps it was a special challenge or hard time for some in their ministry. Brooksyne and I sure recall going to meetings with a heavy heart due to ministry matters in past years.

As I observed the line I considered the burdens those we minister to are enduring. Encounters we have in the course of our chaplaincy, notes and prayer requests we receive from Daily Encouragement readers and those in our church and churches we have served. It was a long line in my mind as I considered specific situations people have and are experiencing.

One of our favorite writers is Robert J. Morgan, a pastor in Tennessee who shared an interesting illustration: he had been on a long trip and was travel weary as he walked through the airport. He was physically relieved when he spotted a long moving sidewalk and headed in that direction. It was here that the Lord spoke to his heart.

He had a bag in each hand but in his fatigue he didn’t even think to set them down. “I was still carrying my load while the moving sidewalk was carrying me. Not until halfway down the hall did I have the presence of mind to release my bags and let the moving sidewalk carry them for me.”

Can you can identify with Morgan’s illustration? In regard to my burdens I tend to set them down (trust) and then pick them back up again (doubt).

As we write this message today I consider several I know who face heavy burdens, part of the long line of people who need God’s tender touch.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” In Scripture God often emphasizes the unit of time we call the day.  In fact it’s the very first unit of time that is referred to in the Bible and the most frequently mentioned starting with Genesis 1:14.

Certainly each of us knows about burdens and we can readily identify with the Lord’s statement that “each day has enough trouble [burdens] of its own” (Matthew 6:34b). A commentary considers the meaning of the daily text in this way: “God daily carries us as a manifestation of His protective and sustaining care.” Such an interpretation brings to mind “Footprints in the Sand” written by Mary Stevenson during her teen years in 1936 as she endured major obstacles in her young life.*

What assurance His Word brings. Believing friend, God is bearing your burdens today, and wants to lighten your load. He loves you, and the trial you are presently enduring does matter to Him. He is faithful and He will see you through to the other side! Don’t try to shoulder your burdens for the heavy load will surely break you.  Instead lay your burdens down at the foot of the cross. Jesus will meet you there.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

*I didn’t want to edit the devotional, but I’ve always heard “Footprints” credited to Margaret Fishback Powers. Either way, the illustration applies. (At least a half-dozen people have claimed the poem was ‘theirs,’ Powers is widely considered to be the author of record.)

October 27, 2013

Forgiving Each Other…As God Has Forgiven You

forgiven forgive

Some thoughts on forgiveness, from Neil Anderson at yesterday’s and today’s devotional at Crosswalk.com:

It was for freedom that Christ set us free ~Galatians 5:1

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you ~Ephesians 4:32

How does God intend for you to resolve hurtful, controlling past experiences? In two ways ….

First, you have the privilege of evaluating your past experience in the light of who you are now, as opposed to who you were then. The intensity of the primary emotion was established by how you perceived the event at the time it happened. Remember: Your emotions are a product of how you perceived the event, not the event itself. As a Christian, you are not primarily a product of your past; you are primarily the product of the work of Christ on the cross. The flesh, which represents how you processed those events according to the world and without Christ, remains. But you are able to render it inoperative.

When a present event activates that primary emotion, many people believe what they feel instead of believing what is true. For example, people who have been verbally abused by their parents have a hard time believing they are unconditionally loved by Father God. Their primary emotions argue that they are unlovable to a parent figure. They believe what they feel and their walk is off course. Believing the truth and walking by faith is what sets us free.

Now that you are in Christ, you can look at those events from the perspective of who you are today. Christ is in your life right now desiring to set you free from your past. That is the gospel, the good news that Christ has come to set the captives free. Perceiving those events from the perspective of your new identity in Christ is what starts the process of healing those damaged emotions.

God’s good news about our identity is revealed in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” This is what you must believe first in order to be set free from your past.

The second step in resolving past conflicts is to forgive those who have offended you. After encouraging Cindy, a rape victim, to deal with the emotional trauma of her rape, I said, “Cindy, you also need to forgive the man who raped you.” Cindy’s response was typical of many believers who have suffered physical, sexual or emotional pain at the hands of others: “Why should I forgive him? You don’t know how badly he hurt me!”

“He’s still hurting you, Cindy,” I responded. “Forgiveness is how you stop the pain. You don’t forgive him for his sake; you do it for your sake.”

Why should you forgive those who have hurt you in the past?

First, forgiveness is required by God. As soon as Jesus spoke the amen to His model prayer–which included a petition for God’s forgiveness–He commented: “If you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14, 15). We must base our relationships with others on the same criteria on which God bases His relationship with us: love, acceptance and forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).

Second, forgiveness is necessary to avoid entrapment by Satan. I have discovered from my counseling that unforgiveness is the number one avenue Satan uses to gain entrance to believers’ lives. Paul encouraged mutual forgiveness “in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Unforgiveness is an open invitation to Satan’s bondage in our lives.

Third, we are to forgive like Christ forgave in order to keep our hearts from bitterness. Paul wrote: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31, 32).

Your act of forgiveness will set the captive free, then you will realize that the captive was you!

Prayer: Loving Lord, thank You for making me a new creation in Christ. Help me walk away from anything in my past that is restricting my freedom.

Continue reading archive editions of Neil Anderson’s writing at Daily in Christ; you can also subscribe to receive his messages daily by email.

Today’s two-for-one special: After preparing this, I found this quotation on Tim Keller’s Twitter feed:

When you forgive, that means you absorb the loss and the debt. You bear it yourself. All forgiveness, then, is costly.

January 18, 2013

Avoiding a Spiritual Heart Attack

Today’s post is from Kelsey Wilson, a contributor to Jeff Jones’ blog, where this appeared in December. As always, you’re encouraged to read this at source, and check out the rest of the blog.

“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 NKJV


What happens to you when you hear that a close friend has had a heart attack? More than likely, you are concerned and hope that your friend has been spared of any major heart damage. Because, we all know the physical struggles that a person must go through when their heart’s been damaged.

The best way for us to avoid a heart attack, and subsequent heart damage, is by doing our best to keep our hearts healthy through a healthy lifestyle and healthy choices. Today’s text is not speaking of our natural hearts– but of our spiritual hearts. It speaks of the importance of being intentional to “keep,” or really “guard,” our spiritual hearts the same way that we do our natural ones.

Why is that so important? Well, it tells us right here in the text– “…for out of it (our hearts) springs the issues of life.” The New Living Translation says it this way, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

I want to share with your three ways to keep your spiritual heart healthy:

(1) Eat Right

Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “…Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (NKJV) In the same way that we can’t eat junk food all the time and expect to stay healthy, we need to always be feeding on the pure and healthy Word of God.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t read other things, but just think of those other things as snacks, or a dessert, but our main course should always be the Bible.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.”  Jeremiah 15:16, NKJV

A daily diet of God’s word brings us spiritual strength and helps us to maintain a spiritually healthy heart.

(2) Be Forgiving

Nothing brings on a heart attack and ultimately heart damage faster than unforgiveness. People can mess with us, so we really need to diligently guard our hearts from unforgiveness. While we can’t stop people from saying things or doing things that hurt us, we can protect our hearts from it.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:25,  “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive them, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (NKJV)

So make it a point to be forgiving– forgive quickly, and forgive often. If someone hurts you or offends you, loose them and let them go. Your heart will be thankful that you did.

(3) Exercise Through Worship

We all know the importance of exercise. Some of us are great at it, others— and you know who you are– are not so great at it. But again, just like we need physical exercise, we need to spiritually exercise on a regular basis. One of the best ways to engage our hearts with the Lord is through times of daily worship.

“So I will sing praise to Your name forever, That I may daily perform my vows.” Psalm 61:8, NKJV

This is just another reminder that every day is a good day to worship God through song. It’s a great way to keep your heart healthy.

Jesus said in Matthew 22:37, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” (NKJV)

So let’s make today a heart healthy day, by reading God’s Word, being quick to forgive, and experiencing a bit of worship throughout the day.

Say It: “God I thank You for a strong and healthy heart. Today I will do what it takes to keep my heart in good shape, I will read Your Word, I will be quick forgive when others wrong me, and I will worship You with my whole heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen!”

Next Page »