Christianity 201

November 30, 2022

His Will for My Life is My Food

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11 NIV

Today our search for new sources of devotional writing took us to Portugal and the blog of Tashmness. She writes about food, and travel and (mostly) the “Love of God” or L.O.G. for short. After scanning about 20 articles, we chose this one. She uses a number of guest writers, but we wanted to feature one which is her own. (She mentions struggling with faithfulness in writing, in the piece below.) Click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared, and then take some time, as we did, to look at some other items.

Committing To The Commitments

I spoke about making a new or another commitment in a blogpost I posted January of this year. About posting weekly and even several times a week. But lately I noted that when I feel worn out or my soul feels weary, I start to postpone. I wait for the energy to come back. I look for “food” to refuel me, so I get the energy to continue. But what if, when I feel weak, hungry, empty and it’s hard to even get up and out of bed or off the couch.. What if, that when that feeling comes, I just take one little step. How about I start by writing one word, which hopefully stubbornly makes me want to write at least a sentence. Which then attaches to a couple more.. A start. A step. What if, when I make that step I push myself to continue. To continue to walk and to do the work of God. To continue to do as He has asked and commanded me to do. To obey and to do His will.

Now I know. Not just because I have recently experienced it, but most importantly, because the Bible tells me so. I Know now, that I will be strengthened, fed, refueled and energized to continue When I do His will. His will for my life is my food.

John‬ ‭4:34‬ ‭[HCSB‬‬] – ““My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them.”

I’m doing another Fasting & Prayer. An end of the year one, where I fast and pray for three months to finish the year strong with God and to leave my old ways behind. You know we have so many “ways”. So many versions of ourselves we have been through. Several times before, I have looked at my ways and found out that my ways should not continue on like that. That my ways were not the ways God willed for me. And so, gratefully, when I found out about these ways to be left behind, faithfully I left them or worked on them to leave behind and did my best to follow a new way.

“I did my best”. Saying I will do my best, is not really Doing my best. It’s leaving that “extra mile” free, which actually is just the last mile to reach “the best”. The best version of yourself and the best that you can give. What is it about full commitment that scares us? For me the answer is: knowing that when I make that full commitment, I come through and stay committed. I know I can be very disciplined and I never break a promise. Sooner or later, but I WILL do what I promise to do. Otherwise, I just don’t make that promise. “I’ll try to.. I’ll do my best.. Let’s see..”. These are my ways of not making a promise. Or better yet, my ways of not committing.

This week God has been cancelling and rearranging my plans and appointments. Making me homebound and putting me on a stricter fast. I’m being disciplined. When two days in a row my swimming plans got scratched, I obeyed and walked up the stairs of my building on my way back to my front door dancing and praising (Psalm 34:1).

Gary McIntosh – “Sometimes the promise isn’t just given, sometimes it is fought for.”

The last time I wrote this same quote, it was me working to see the promise of God. This time, God is working on making me make a promise. And so I did. I entered my house dancing and praising, continuing to my room. I worshiped God on some Maverick City Music & Kirk Franklin and then I made my promise.

Today on 19th of October of the year 2022, I PROMISE God, to never ever slack again on this blog. It is Your gift, to me. Your commandment, to me. Your calling, to me.

It’s time for action, the promise is made. No excuses. Now don’t just stay committed, but BE committed and be consistent. Another lap of this race has started and it’s time to show my endurance and perseverance again. And by your endurance gain your lives (Luke 21:19). It is time for my self-discipline to be built.

Charles Metcalf – “Only disciplined ones are free. If you are undisciplined you are a slave to your Mood.

Hebrews 12:11 [HCSB] – “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

One last note to self: Go get it.

 

November 2, 2022

Letting God Do the Driving

One year ago we introduced you to the blog called Basic Bible Thoughts where the writer is simply credited as S. Joiner. This time around we’re back with an older post, written nearly two years ago, but one which we selected after reading several other worthy articles. (There’s a really good series from Spring ’21 on the subject of faith, for example.) Click the title below to read this one when and where it first appeared.

I Am A Passenger

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have recently had knee replacement surgery. With that process comes the fact that I cannot drive during my recovery, I have become a passenger. Being the passenger has removed an aspect of the journey that I enjoyed more than I knew. The control that comes with being behind the wheel of my journey; hands on the steering wheel, foot on the gas and ready to stop when I decide. But being the passenger forces me to live under the control of the driver.

Galatians 1: 14                                  ESV

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

The Apostle Paul reflecting back on the time when he drove his own life as Saul of Tarsus. This passage is just one example of how that man was in control, we would call him driven. Judaism was his way of life but also it was his career and he excelled at it. He was a rising star inside the ranks of Judaism.

I also, relying on my own strength, worked my way up my career, personal, and spiritual ladder. I pushed hard and showed my worth and abilities to all who could assist me in the climb. I quickly learned that the ability to increase the value of those above me drove my ascent even faster.

Philippians 3: 4b-6                            ESV

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 

I have mentioned in past Blogs that I grew up in church. If there was a job to fill, I was the one to fill it. I taught classes from children to adults and often on the same Sunday. I filled seats on leadership boards, I started ministries from the ground up, and my last name brought extra attention inside the church we served in, it was a family achievement.

What did all that hard work and respect get me? Church became more of a job than it was a place of worship. I walked the halls with my head up high. One day it all became increasingly clear – I was all about what I was doing to assist God and not what He was accomplishing through me. It broke me and I cried for days just thinking about how I had twisted the very purpose that God had designed me for.

Acts 9: 3-5                            ESV

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 

Riding on his horse and directing his team on their journey to destroy those troublesome Jesus followers. A light bulb moment happens, and it completely knocked Paul off his horse. Laying on the ground and unable to see, he hears a voice. He hears what others are unable to see, the voice of Jesus.

Acts 9: 13-15                       ESV

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel

Ananias was a follower of Jesus; Paul was coming to make him renounce his faith in Jesus or die. Instead of driving his own journey, Ananias became an instrument of God’s mercy toward Paul. Yes, Ananias did raise a concern but once God said go, the instrument sounded clearly as Ananias went. Before Paul’s encounter with God’s life changing light, his name was Saul (meaning ask or question). God changed his name to Paul (meaning small or humble).

I have never known an instrument to make a noise by itself. Someone must properly work and create the noise with the instrument. I learned quickly that I was not making God look better by the work I was doing; He was using me to play music that leads others to Him.

This blog came into being this week not because I am creative but, because I wrote something that resounded through my soul. A friend posted at Thanksgiving with an eye over this past year, realizing that her biggest blessing in 2020 was being forced to slow down and focused on Jesus. Then God placed this note in my heart, “The best place to be is understanding that God is directing your life and you find yourself in the passenger seat.”

October 29, 2022

Encouragement for Veteran Believers

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I chose the word veteran not in a military sense, but with the idea of those who have served the Lord for a long time and have been faithful in church involvement and Christian witness to the wider world.

Today we’re just slightly stretching the six-month rule — it was May 11th if you’re keeping score — to share another message from Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement. The day after this appeared, they celebrated 26 years of writing original devotional material every weekday. Clicking the title below takes you to their site, where this first appeared just over a week ago.

The Wisdom of the Aged

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12).

“I have been young, and now am old” (Psalm 37:25).

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2).

Many years ago when I was much younger I taught a senior Sunday School class. At that time older age still seemed quite a ways off and I felt like a relatively young man teaching these seniors, although I was actually middle-aged.

An elderly class member shared this perspective, “One of the blessings of being older is having a broadened perspective on the events of life”. Indeed many (but certainly not all) of the elderly have a deep reservoir of “broadened perspective”, which demonstrates an ancient observation made by Job. The question Job asked some 4,000 years ago surely demands an affirmative answer! “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12).

Well, now we are in a class with those similar in age to us and to the class I taught many years ago! We are experiencing David’s observation, “I have been young, and now am old” (Psalm 37:25). That’s a good thing since growing old is a healthy consequence of staying alive!

Of course not all the aged are wise and many have lived their lives foolishly. Aging is not a guarantee that we will attain wisdom and maturity. It comes over time as we make wise choices, learn from our unwise decisions, and “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

My life is enriched as I consider those who have endured the rough knocks of life and steadily matured in their Christian walk as year by year they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. They offer timeless wisdom – similar to that which is seen in the lives of the Bible characters thousands of years ago and every bit as applicable to our lives today. Now it’s increasingly going to be my turn and I sure hope I have the same wise outlook to offer those who follow me, either by example or counsel.*

What about you today? Are you building on the Rock, progressively attaining the true wisdom to pass along to those that who follow behind? Older readers, today I want you to know that Brooksyne and I, along with many others, greatly value the contributions of your generation to the cause of Christ and the perspective you now offer to those who follow.

It’s natural for all of us to seek out those who are similar in age since we find ourselves going through many of the same experiences and interests related to our season of life. But if we fail to regularly interface with believers from all ages we miss the greatly needed perspective they bring to our lives.

Spending time with the aged who have experienced so much of the stuff of life that we will eventually face is such an important aspect to the maturing believer. Let us just add that we appreciate those of you much younger than we are who regularly read the Daily Encouragement and interface with us. The fact is, we all need each other!

Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)

Daily prayer: Father, we read of those in the Bible from generations long ago who lived upright and godly lives. They were discerning and wise, devoted in their duties such as Anna and Simeon who served in the temple. So many serve as examples of those who walked in Your ways from their youth and remained faithful through their golden years. Some of their choices brought about multiple blessings and other choices brought forth great sacrifice, persecution, or even death. We also read of those who were proud and foolish, thinking only of themselves, such as Samson, Ananias and Sapphira or Demetrius the Silversmith. They also serve as warnings to us. Since we will soon follow in the steps of our elderly friends help us to store up the wisdom, discipline, and overcoming spirit they convey as they deal with the inevitable physical pain, loss of loved ones, and lack of independence as a result of growing old. It’s in the name of Jesus that we pray. Amen.

September 6, 2022

The Day Approaching

The worldwide pandemic has certainly taken a toll on church attendance. And regular weekly attendance was already suffering, as some people took a more casual approach to the discipline of weekend gathering, while others found themselves compromised because of commitments to their job or their childrens’ sports programs.

A popular verse lately has been

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24,25 (NIV)

I tend to remember this verse in terms of three parts:

  1. urging each other toward love and good deeds
  2. not forgetting to meet together
  3. encouraging each other

But there is a fourth element I realized I was overlooking

4. even more so now as we see “the day approaching.”

The Amplified Bible renders this as “the day [of Christ’s return] approaching;” while Phillips has “the final day drawing ever nearer.” Most others simply have “the day” or “the Day” (capitalized) leaving both new and veteran Bible students wondering what is in the writer’s mind.

Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer. – Hebrews 10:25 (CEV)

Personally, I think of this as, ‘Don’t stop meeting together… especially right now, of all times.’ Or, “‘… especially these days.’ I hear it as, ‘If ever there was a time we need each other and need to gather corporately, it’s now.’

Don’t you agree?

The idea here isn’t just that we (ourselves, personally) remember to keep meeting together, but that we spur (NIV) each other toward this, as the phrase is bookended by phrases about encouraging each other.

In November, 2013 we heard this from Jim Thornber who appears here frequently:

…Look at that word “spur.” It means to provoke, incite, irritate. When you gather with other Christians then you should be spurring them, provoking and inciting and even irritating them on towards good works. It also means when you gather you are willing to be spurred. But we cannot be spurred if we are not gathering, and we cannot be spurred or provoked towards good works if we only show up every once in a while to a church and leave as soon as possible. Still, this happens week after week in churches all over the world. But according to the Great Commission, to be a disciple and to make disciples means you are personally investing in the lives of others.

And this is terribly inconvenient. It means you will have to invest the one thing that means more to many of us than money – our time. We would rather pay someone to take our neighbor to the grocery store than actually drive them ourselves. We’d rather pay someone to work on the church than show up ourselves. We’d rather buy someone a book on finances than commit to going to their house for 12 weeks and taking them through the book and teaching them through our own example. I’m very glad that Jesus didn’t send someone else to earth to do His work. He came personally. He took time away from His throne in Heaven to invest His life, and then His death, so He could make disciples. That is what it cost Jesus. What are we willing to invest to make disciples? It will cost us our time, our talents, our personal touch and yes, even some of our treasure. But that is what it means to be a disciple. So ask yourself: “Am I a disciple, or am I just content with being saved?” I don’t know how anyone can think of the price Jesus paid to bring us to Heaven and be content with merely being saved…

In November, 2014, Ben Savage quoted this verse in an outline of six evidences of discipleship.  He simply called it “being present.”

  1. Connection through prayer
  2. Engagement with scripture
  3. Being present
  4. Acts of service
  5. Investment in others
  6. Worship through generosity

In July, 2015 we noted seven benefits of meeting together.

  1. Fellowship
  2. Corporate Prayer
  3. Receiving prayer ministry
  4. Corporate worship
  5. Corporate giving
  6. Confession
  7. Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion

By April 2016, we noted that data collection organizations were classifying being in church only once or twice a month as “regular” church attendance. But writer Phillip Pratt refocused our attention that “the context here is not about clinging to a particular local church or congregation but about clinging to Christ.” Using the KJV wording of the verse, “Forsaking the assembling ourselves…” he wrote:

The book of Hebrews has a theme and it is not about religious attendance but about clinging to Christ, specifically the hope of Jesus Christ (verse 23)…

…“Forsake” in Greek is egkataleipō = quit, leave entirely, abandon completely, desert, to give up or renounce

The same word is found in Matt 27:46 My God, My God, why have You forsaken (egkataleipō) me? & also in 2 Tim 4:10 for Demas has forsaken (egkataleipō) me

Now, is someone who attends a church service once a month or once every 3-4 months completely abandoning or renouncing anything?

Hebrews was addressed to persecuted Jewish Christians who were completely (or considering) abandoning “faith in Christ”.

“Assembling together” is a one word phrase from the Greek word episunsgoge or episynagoge = to be gathered together but to who or to whom?

It can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together (episynagoge) unto Him…

This verse is telling us to cling to & “gather ourselves unto Christ” & don’t be shaken. It has nothing to do w/ church attendance & everything to do w/ persistence to stay focused on Christ & His return…

We have to say here that yes; of course our motivation for gathering must be that we are gathering unto Christ. It also begs a question similar to the one I asked earlier, ‘How can we then simply be skipping church from week to week?’ We’re not reflecting a casual relationship to our local congregation, but a casual attitude toward God Himself.

So now… especially now… with all that’s going on in our world, and “as we see the day approaching,” let’s not be lax or casual in our commitment to the Body of Christ, His Church, and Jesus Himself. (capital letters intentional!)

As Danniebell Hall sang in 1974, “This is not the time for giving up, it’s time for holding on.”


Related: What did a commitment to church look like for First Century Christians? Check out a book called The Didache, introduced in this article here from October, 2021.
 

August 24, 2022

Self-Control: The Elusive Character Trait

Today we have another new writer to introduce.  Drew Koch was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and created the blog-site Truth & Discernment to share enlightenment and encouragement while engaging with people about God’s Word. Remember, clicking article titles like the one below not only lets you read things here where we located them, but you bless the authors with some internet traffic!

A Rare, But Essential Quality

How rare it is today to see self-control on display. It is a discipline that very few ever capture, and more and more it seems as though it’s not even a trait that people aspire to pursue.

However, for those of us who truly yearn to live a life of holiness, self-control is essential. In 1 Peter 1:14, the apostle tells us that we must live as God’s obedient children. We’re commanded not to “slip back into our old ways of living just to satisfy our own desires.” Peter then says, “You didn’t know any better then.”

But Peter then tells us in the next two verses what we must do now that we’re in Christ. “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

To further drive home the importance of the characteristic of self-control, Paul gives us contrasting ways to live in the letter to the Galatians. One way leads to a life of righteousness and the other ends in spiritual darkness.

Several qualities (idolatry, jealousy, drunkenness, envy, lustful pleasures, etc.) are attributed to following the desires of our sinful nature. Other traits (love, joy, patience, kindness, and self-control) are called the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Paul then closes Chapter 5 of Galatians with these beautiful words, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25)

What phenomenal counsel from Paul. Rather than permitting your sinful nature to take hold of you, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you toward a life of self-control.


Big decision need big prayers. Here’s a bonus devotional for you from Andrew. Click the title below to read this at Truth & Discernment.

What is God Moving You to Do?

My wife and I recently moved. Not just to a new neighborhood or even a new town, but an entirely different state. While my wife has moved more times than she’d care to count, I’m now over 400 miles removed from everything I’ve ever known.

Now, this wasn’t some haphazard, thoughtless decision. I’ve never been that adventurous. No, this was a calculated, well-thought out plan that both my wife and I put in place some time ago.

But one thing that we did prior to making this change was pray together. I’m not talking about a simple, one-time occasion. This was an intentional act that both she and I participated in on a nightly basis.

We both decided that such a big decision required God’s leading. Were it not for us leaning hard into our faith, I’m not sure I’d be sitting in a small-town coffee shop right now, reminiscing on what brought us here.

There are countless examples throughout Scripture of Jesus rewarding the faith of those He met or admonishing his disciples to have faith. One example that comes to mind is in Matthew’s gospel. After his disciples were unable to heal a demon-possessed boy, his father begged Jesus to cast out the evil spirit.

Jesus scolded the crowd for their unbelief and then counseled the apostles who privately asked Jesus why they were unable to cast out the demon saying, “…Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  (Matthew 17:20-21 NIV)

How often we want to do everything on our own, am I right? We are so proud and we want so badly to take the credit. But what I’ve found is that when we are able to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God, having faith that He knows what we need, we are then able to experience the fullness of His love.

I know I haven’t yet reached the point when I’ve given up all control to Him. No matter how much I may want to, that old nature continues to creep back in. But when I am prayerful and able to put my faith in Him, only then am I able to experience the true joy of everything God offers.

July 18, 2022

The Imperfect People God Chooses

Today we return to Meanderings of a Minister by Pastor Jack Jacob. This is a difficult passage in scripture, especially given the title which Jack gave the devotional, but hear him out; many of us have been chosen despite our weaknesses. Clicking that title which appears next will not only take you to where this first appeared, but allow you an opportunity to listen to today’s devotional on audio.

God Never Gives Up on His People

I was reading in Exodus about Nadab and Abihu. Now, I realize that most people will have to look up those names, but they are particularly prominent figures in the Old Testament. Let me tell you about them and why they are so important.

First, they were important because they were the sons of Aaron whom God personally chose to become priests to serve before Him in the Tabernacle. Imagine being the first priest called by God to serve. But go further than that and imagine being called by God’s own voice! (Exodus 28:1)

Next, they were important because they were part of the seventy that had worshipped God on the mountain and had come down and had prophesied before the people and helped Moses’ shoulder the load of speaking to the people on God’s behalf. (Exodus 24:1)

Lastly, they were important because they decided, despite the instructions God had given, to offer strange fire on the altar and God killed them on the spot. (Number 3:4)

Okay, so you are thinking…” Thanks! Now I am depressed. If God could do that to them, then what about me?”  I want us to learn from Nadab and Abihu, but I want us to learn from their lives, not their deaths. God personally called them. Since I believe in the omniscience of God (omni=all, science=knowledge…God knows everything), then I must believe that He knew they would fail, but HE CALLED THEM ANYWAY! What does that mean? What does that mean to me?

What this means to me is that, despite my worst failures, God will continue to give me chances. Despite my worst stumbling, He never gives up on reaching out to me. No matter how little I have, God, the author of faith, is always there and always offering His Hands. If I will spend more time looking up for His help and reaching out for His forgiveness, I can spend less time carrying a heavy guilt load and a bunch of shame I was not meant to carry.

Here is the best part. If you are a new creature in Christ, you can do the same. If you have surrendered your life to Christ, He will never turn away. (Romans 5:9-10) He will never put you to shame, and He will in no wise cast you out. (John 6:37) I do not know about you, but that is great news to me. I feel more like Paul all the time in Romans 7,

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”  (NASB)

Isn’t it good to know God will not give up on you? Why not take the time today and thank Him for just that reason? Having thanked Him, let us hang on and get it right so that we do not end up like Nadab and Abihu.

 

July 14, 2022

Hidden in the Religious Rubble

Five times, in the years 2015 to 2017, we featured the writing of John Myer at the blog Barenuckle Bible. I have no idea why that didn’t continue, but today we’re returning. Clicking the title which follows will take you there where you, along with us, can catch up on what we’ve missed.

The Mower Cometh

Find and address the things that lie within, before something else does. 

Like a lot of pre-teen boys back in the seventies, my brother and I got into lawn mowing to earn our summer candy and comics.  It wasn’t long before our gigs felt onerous under a blazing Louisiana sun.  We began trying to get done too fast, only giving the yard a cursory scan before starting the mower.  That led to running over items hidden in the tall grass while the blades were turning—a stump, a hose head, a brick, a clump of paper that exploded out from under the mower all over the rest of the yard.  Each of these yielded spectacularly unpleasant results.

And it all began with a rushed assumption that nothing needed to be picked up.

This is the mistake we Christians make on an almost daily basis.  Nothing resistant, it seems, lies concealed within the thick religious ground cover that fills our hearts.  And so skimping on internal development, we devalue the needs of our hidden regions while paying premium attention to behavioral, external issues others can see.  The apostle Paul warned that this type of avoidance ends up in Christian shipwreck (c.f. 1 Tim. 1:19) and useless ministry (“vain discussion”—v. 6).

Concern for our inward condition needs to remain central to our walk.

“Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Tim. 1:6-7).

According to Paul, some people swerve from the things of verse 5, which mentions a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (see my last post).  In doing so, these folks not only neglect their inner life, but deliberately avoid it.

Dealing with internal issues tends to be more abstract than simpler, workbook style self-improvement.  We prefer the pragmatic strategies to Christian living rather than the rich, truth-based, faith-based relational approach.   Jesus warned of this habit, indicting the religious folks of the day:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Mt. 23:26).

The teaching of behavioral legalism is, to some of us, tempting.  It offers short term results, bypassing the slow and steady work of grace.  That is why some people choose to try harder rather than to cry out, “wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Even natural efforts that seem successful are never marked by the divine hand.  Truly, a person can attain praiseworthy standing in the religious community by the sweat of his brow.  But meanwhile, his heart can remain mixed with many motives, his conscience only as good as his sinful self-justification, and his faith little more than an object for public show.  Yet he has kept the “rules,” sometimes above and beyond his peers.

Although there are important practical uses for the principle of law giving and law keeping (we will see them in next week’s post), in the end, law does not grant the boon its practitioners think it will.   It might restrain people from doing certain things through shame and threat of punishment, but it does little to change the human heart.  The things that lie hidden, lie hidden still.

Avoidance of inner life issues frequently proves destructive.  Then why do we do it?  For one thing, it is easier to allow mixture in the heart than to face it.  It is easier to bribe our conscience than to exercise ourselves unto having a good one.  It is easier to follow rules than to interact with God in authentic ways.

Regardless though, in principle a situation allowed by God always ends up exposing these concealed things.  As King James might say, “Behold, the mower cometh.”

And it can get ugly.  Once while mowing a back pasture, we hit a nest of baby rabbits.  The bloody mess that resulted traumatized my young mind.

Okay, maybe some of these experiences will happen no matter what.  How often are we aware of everything lurking in the tall grass of our heart?  I’ve certainly been caught by surprise many times, shocked at what a momentary crisis seemed to flush out of me.  These things were humiliating because I had worked so hard to do and be the opposite.  In undetected ways, my moral energy had become my god.

Now if those things can happen by “accident,” how about the objects we intentionally swerve around?  And what blessings might occur if we decided to face them in a non-compromising way, probing hidden regions more carefully?  What if we made our heart, conscience, and faith more germane to our consideration of the Christian life?

Now there’s a thought.

But these things take time to cultivate.  Maybe years.  Maybe all your life.  However, the changes that are made will prove genuine.  Grace, the redemptive work of God, builds spiritual experiences and truth into a human being, turning a person into what God requires.

June 27, 2022

Being Perfect? You Can Do It!

One year ago we introduced you to the writing of Dr. Ron Braley, who is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at Equipping Believers and is Pastor and Director of the organization Finding Discipleship. To read today’s devotional where it first appeared, click the headline which follows.

There’s also a bonus item today about cross references in Bibles.

Perfectly Complete!

We are to be perfect as God is perfect! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “Ron! There’s no way I can be perfect—right?” almost as a badge of honor . . . or excuse. But what does the word mean? What should it mean, especially in our context as broken humans trying to figure out what God desires so we can follow suit?

Like many other words or concepts in the Bible, such as predestination, foreknowledge, love, or sin, perfection is often misunderstood or misapplied. Our minimal English modern dictionary tends to represent perfection as flawlessness (thank you, Merriam-Webster!). However, the original language and context teach us that biblical perfection is completeness. Remember the Jerry McGuire movie? In it, Tom Cruise utters the infamous phrase, “You complete me!” The concept is the perfection God desires and is what the ancient language teaches us.

We see this use in the Old Testament texts such as 1Chronicals 29:19: “and give to my son Solomon a “perfect” heart to keep Your commandments . . .” Alright: let’s start you on your journey to be Koine (biblical) Greek scholars. The original New Testament word is teleios, which means to be complete, full, whole. In 1Corinthians 13:10, we see that perfection completes the incomplete: “but when the perfect comes, the incomplete will be done away.” The unfinished things of today, even in our worship or knowledge, will be completed when God moves creation to the perfection (completion in Him) it once enjoyed.

An example of the unifying property of perfection can be seen in Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Anyway, my point is that perfection is meant to be completion in a relationship with God through Christ, not flawlessness. Trying to be flawless is futile, especially today with so much immorality ruling the day (and night). Here are a few biblical references by Jesus, Paul, and Jesus’ half-brother James that support the point that God seeks partners who ‘complete Him’ and whom He completes in a relationship:

Jesus (Matthew 5:48): “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Paul (Colossians 4:12): “Epaphras . . . sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”

James (1:4): “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

So, be perfect because God desires it! “But, Ron! How on earth can we be perfect—I mean, complete—with God??” Excellent question! The following article will explore character traits that can keep our fellowship with God perfect in “Perfect Characteristics.”


Bonus Item from Paul:

I wrote this in connection with some other work I do, but I thought we’d run this for people who want to know more about cross references in Bibles.

A word about Reference Bibles

You’ve looked at an older double-column Bible and seen that third column running down the centre and asked yourself, ‘Why are all these verses listed here?’

They may have been chosen because the lead you to a parallel account of the narrative you are reading. They might provide background information on a key individual or place mentioned in the verse. They might relate to a practice or the doctrinal foundation for a statement or Biblical principle in the verse. Of there may be a key word in the verse and the reference is taking you to another place where that word is used (which may take you to yet another.)

Traditionally, these notations were included in a third (centre) column. But as demand increased for large print and giant print Bibles, it was found to save more space if an end-of-verse system was used, with the cross references usually set in smaller type. Some Bibles incorporate a bottom-of-page system but this can sometimes get confusing because of footnotes.

Footnotes are usually included to show that there was another English language direction the translators could have taken (or that different manuscripts for that verse offer what is called a textual variant.) These footnotes are part of that translation’s core text, and must appear in all editions of that translations, regardless of publisher, and regardless if it’s a plain-text, reference Bible, devotional Bible or study Bible.Some translations use them more than others. But they can easily be confused if cross references are also placed at the bottom of the page.

Not every cross reference look-up is productive. We’ve had times where we turned to the second verse, double-checked the reference, and asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing here?’ That’s okay. The reference was included for a reason, and sometimes it only dawns on us later what it was!

 

 

 

June 24, 2022

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I often wonder, when the New Testament uses the word mirror how sophisticated the manufacturing process was in Bible times. Did those mirrors create a high resolution picture or were their pigments, irregular surfaces, or curvatures which forced a distorted image? We might be surprised at how clear the image was.

What verse comes to mind for you? Perhaps it’s from James:

NIV.Jas.1.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 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.

Could a person look into a mirror and honestly forget what they look like? It’s hard to imagine in a selfie-infatuated world, but remember that in Bible times people didn’t have photo albums. Even a few centuries ago, if you were wealthy, you might have an artist do your portrait, but the degree to which it looked like you would depend on the skill of the painter.

James compares looking in a mirror to looking into the law and forgetting what you’ve heard. It’s part of his overall theme in this section which begins earlier in verse 22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 

But a more creative preacher might argue that the law itself is a mirror. We hold ourselves up to the law to see how we compare. 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (ESV) Romans 5:13 explains that, “Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. (NLT) The law sets the standard, we see ourselves as we look into it.

Another type of mirror in scripture is found in 1 Corinthians 3:12

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. (CSB)

This is the passage which, in the KJV talks about ‘seeing through a glass darkly.’ When teaching this years ago, I compared it to waking up in the morning and discovering someone has rubbed something greasy all over your glasses. But again, we have to think about the quality of mirrors they might have had when Paul wrote this verse. The CEV speaks of a “cloudy reflection in a mirror,” which suggests a mirror of inferior quality.  (The ISB uses “indistinct image.”) But other renderings of this verse leave me thinking the contrast is between “reflection” and ‘reality.’ That even the best mirror is not the real thing. (If you’ve studied it, Plato’s “Analogy of the Cave” might come to mind.)

Our best representation is really a shadow of what awaits us in the future. 2 Corinthians 2:9 reminds us that

9 But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (NKJV)

Before we move on, let me reiterate the verse from the NLT:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

A third use of mirror is also from Corinthians, this time from 2 Corinthians 3:18

But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (NASB)

There’s a lot going on in this verse, so let’s get Eugene Peterson to flesh it out for us a bit more:

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

Just as Moses reflected (a mirror-word if ever there was one) God’s glory, we all, looking at God indirectly, cannot help but be changed, and cannot help but copy or duplicate (or mirror!) his glory.

Think about these three mirrors next time you look at one. Allow it to serve as a reminder.


What about that last phrase, “changed from glory to glory?” We looked at that here in this September devotional.

June 22, 2022

Caretakers of God’s Gifts | Doing God’s Will

A year ago we first shared the writing of Pastor Dick Woodward’s from the blog The Four Spiritual Secrets. His “about” page tells us that,

In 1980 Dick was diagnosed with a degenerative disease of the spinal cord that left him a quadriplegic. In spite of this disease he preached from his wheelchair until 1997, then remained active in his later years as a bedfast quadriplegic in small groups, mentoring, and writing Bible study materials and books through voice activated software until his death at the age of 83 in March of 2014. He often said, “The less I can do, the more the Lord does.”

Material is posted to his page regularly. Because these are shorter we have two devotional articles for you today, and the header for each is also a link to the blog.

God’s Business vs. Our Business

“Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful… And what do you have that you did not receive? (1 Corinthians 4:2,7)

The biblical word “steward” is not fully understood or appreciated. It is actually one of the most important words in the New Testament. A synonym for this word is “manager.” Many people believe this word primarily relates to a person’s money, but that application falls far short of the essential meaning of this word.

When Paul asks the probing question, “And what do you have that you did not receive?” he is telling us that our stewardship applies to everything we have received from God. This means our time, energy, gifts and talents, our health and all the things that make up the essence of our very lives, including all of our money and possessions.

At the age of 65 one of my best friends had what he refers to as a “halftime” experience when he came to fully appreciate this word “steward.” His regular custom was to draw a line down the middle of a legal pad page. On the left side of that line he wrote “My business” while on the right side of the line he wrote “God’s business.”

When he fully appreciated this word “steward” he erased that line because, as a wealthy businessman, he realized it was all God’s business.

Remember, the important thing about a steward is that we be found faithful. Do you realize there is nothing in your life you did not receive from God? Do you know that you are to faithfully manage everything you have received from God?

Are you willing to erase the line between what is yours and what is God’s?

Walking with Jesus: Doing & Knowing!

This is how we know we are in Him: whoever claims to live in Him must walk even as Jesus walked.” (1 John 2:5-6)

In the first sixteen verses of his short letter, the Apostle John gives us a prescription for fullness in seven parts: facts, faith, forgiveness, fellowship, follow-ship, fruitfulness, and fullness.

John’s facts are the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we have faith to believe the first fact we have forgiveness. When we believe the second the result is fellowship with the risen Christ. By changing one letter in the word “fellowship” to “follow-ship,” I have come up with the key to John’s prescription for fullness: you will know that you know when you walk as Jesus walked.

This word follow-ship is also a key to the fullness emphasized by Jesus. His covenant with the apostles was Follow Me and I will make you. (Matthew 4:19) The most important part of the Great Commission occurred when Jesus commissioned the disciples to make disciples. (Matthew 28:18-20) A synonym for discipleship is apprenticeship. Jesus apprenticed the apostles and He commissioned them to apprentice disciples.

The Gospel of John Chapter 7 records a great claim of Jesus when He declared that His teaching is the teaching of God. Jesus also proclaimed we prove that when we do what He teaches. (John 7:17) According to Jesus the doing leads to the knowing. Intellectuals have claimed for millenniums that the knowing will lead to the doing, but Jesus said “When you do you will know.”

Are you willing to do that you might know the Word of God?

June 20, 2022

May 18, 2022

They Trusted in the Lord With All Their Hearts

Today we’re back for a second time with a writer we introduced to you in September. Beth Madison writes at Soul Scientist, and is also the author of the book Good Ground, Volume 1 from National Baptist Press. Clicking the header below will take you to today’s article where it first appeared.

Making Lists

■ This devotional is also available as a podcast. Click this link to listen.

Proverbs 3:5-8 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do; and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom, instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.

Since I devoured books when I was growing up, Mother always made sure I had a good supply of good reading materials. She described my love for reading as “she’ll read anything that isn’t tied down” (similar to how my boys used to eat when they were teenagers!). I loved them all – be they periodicals like National Geographic or my father’s scientific academic journals or those Christian comic books popular in the late 1970’s to a plethora of books from Little House on the Prairie to Jane Austen to Nancy Drew and oh so many other friends who I dreamed with there on the page.

But Mother’s favorite choice for my reading material (other than Scripture, of course) was missionary biographies. I fell in love with them all – be they Lottie Moon to Elisabeth Elliot to Annie Armstrong or Hudson Taylor to Adoniram Judson to David Brainerd and oh so many other friends with whom I learned to trust God with there on the page. I can still remember dreaming about when I grew up and was living and working in Africa or China or whatever country I’d just read about.

Similarly, these verses from Proverbs 3:5-8 were some of the first verses I learned as a child. Mother and Daddy didn’t just let me sit in the corner and read after my chores were done. They were also very careful to teach me Bible verses at all times and in all ways just like we are commanded to do with our children in Deuteronomy 4:9-10.

Only be on your guard and diligently watch yourselves, so that you don’t forget the things your eyes have seen and so that they don’t slip from your mind as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your grandchildren. The day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people before me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth and may instruct their children.’ (CSB)

And now, these stories and verses are still shaping my life in the dust of today.

Yet even now, my faith needs a lot more growing up to reflect the truth found in the stories and especially in the verses…

For example, a few weeks ago, when an unimagined opportunity popped into my email, my first thought was “no way, I can’t do this, because I don’t have ________”. Then my next thought was “just how can I make this work anyway?”. (note the emphasis on the “I” in that sentence) And there I went – straight into the quicksand of searching, calculating, and all the things (without any praying) until I ended up frustrated, disappointed, and exhausted without any progress towards my goal (note the emphasis on the “my” in that sentence).

Oh yes, I ran that gopher wheel to nowhere a few more times until two days ago when I told God, “I’m done!” and “if You want this to happen, here’s what I need for this opportunity”. I wrote out the full list with all the details and put the list away in my office. And then I started praying those verses from Proverbs and meaning it.

Well, here am I in tears watching as my triumphal God is checking off every piece of that list in ways that show me He not only heard my cry, He put the pieces into motion before the words came out of my mouth and heart. And just like God, He’s using other people to bring the resources for that list and increasing their faith along with mine in the details and directions of how He’s providing for them.

As I’m marveling in His working today, I am reminded of those missionary biographies from my childhood. Those missionaries modeled faith in their prayers and their lists. Their pages-long lists of known needs that exceeded available resources were checked off one by one in ways that only God could and did engineer for His plans to be completed. And He did it so that these plans would be completed in ways that not only increased the faith of those missionaries but the faith of those in their world who didn’t know or want to know God. No one who knew the stories or saw the results could deny God’s unmistakable, unshakable, unstoppable power at work.

That power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at God’s right hand is the same power available to us as Christians today (see Ephesians 1:19-20). Nothing has changed with God. His power is still unstoppable like it was with waters, lions, giants, and fire in the Old Testament; with famine, persecution, deserts, and orphans in missionary stories; and with us in the details, dust, disease, and doubts of today.

So if you’re tired of your gopher wheel of trying to figure out all the things or you’re up to your neck in a quicksand of exhaustion, stress, denial, or disappointment, now is the time to stop fighting and simply tell our powerful God all about it (dear friend, please don’t be afraid. God already knows the ins and outs, of all of it, even better than you do). Then, make that list with all the things and all their details. Next, put the list away, start praying Proverbs 3:5-8, and pull up a chair to watch things happen. Trust me, the story’s gonna be far bigger and more beautiful than you can imagine!

The fulfillment of your story may take far longer than two days and might not happen in ways that you’d choose, but trust me, that story will be good. Because good is what our Good God promises to those who love Him and are called according to His promise (see Romans 8:38). And He always keeps all of His promises, all of the time.

Ephesians 1:19-20 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms

May 15, 2022

Approaching God: Awe, Obedience, Reverence, Fear, Caution

One of the most frequently appearing writers here is Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. For this year, she is following readings in a book called Daily Treasures from the Word of God by Leona and Nicolas Venditti, published in 2012. She says, “I will read what they have to say listening to what the Lord is saying to me, write my thoughts here, and pray for His enabling to apply them to my life.”

To read this where it first appeared, click the header which follows.

Power of Reverence

READ Hebrews 5–8

Experience and the Word of God tells me that answered prayer is not a simple matter. It rarely happens unless I keep my communion with Him clear through confessing known sins. It never happens when I pray selfishly or plainly outside of His will. Today’s reading offers another thought; God hears the prayers of those who deeply reverence Him . . .

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7)

Bible dictionaries say that the words translated reverence mean “a feeling of profound respect” yet also a “certain element of awe, which may be interpreted in some instances as implying even fear.” The implication of such reverent fear or awe is, of course, obedience. Some scholars prefer to interpret these terms as ‘to obey.’ One dictionary says this word is properly understood as “caution” with religiously reverence or piety yet implying dread or fear. An English dictionary says reverence is profound respect and love and a reverent attitude toward God means honoring Him, expressing gratitude to Him, and obeying His commandments.

Another says common synonyms of reverence are adore, revere, venerate, and worship. While all these words mean “to honor and admire profoundly and respectfully,” reverence presupposes an intrinsic merit and sacredness in the one honored with a similar depth of feeling in the one honoring.

In other words, reverence is about my response but it is more about God. The idea of fear comes with the realization that I do not pull God’s strings. He IS in charge and every breath that I take is by His grace. Knowing His power and other qualities should produce in me total cessation of ‘doing my own thing’ and a deep desire to fit in with His plans. Jesus did that. He knew the Father could save Him from death and knew He heard His cries, yet said, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Prayer is not about getting my own way but yielding to God’s way, sometimes in holy fear. This is being like Jesus.

The New Testament also talks about patience being the mark of maturity or being like Jesus. He was always emotionally calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation. It comes to us through trials and is also a huge part of reverence. Respecting God and not taking matters into my own hands requires patience and total faith. Hebrews 6:12 & 15 says it is “through faith and patience” that God’s people inherit God’s promises.

Maturity also involves discernment. This reading speaks of having my senses trained to rightly understand the visible realm of reality and the equally real realm of the unseen. God gives Scripture and the Holy Spirit so I can sense the unseen and not be swayed by the constant pull of the world and evil forces to pull me away from following Jesus and instead resorting to sinful self-effort.

Discernment also combats false doctrine and gives an accurate perception of what is really from God and what is not. Scripture warns believers about the devil appearing to be an angel of light. I need to discern fully the powers of darkness and realize how patience and discernment are both tied to spiritual maturity. Both have a strong relationship to effective prayer and to “holding fast to the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:18)

The marvel is that even if I pray incorrectly or fail to pray at all, Jesus still “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus prays for me, protecting me from the evil one and from destruction. He is my Savior; I am not.

Another beautiful thought from this reading is the power of the gospel that begins a life of knowing God and growing in that patience that marks maturity and that ensures God’s ear to our prayers:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10–12)

The bottom line for all this is three-fold. Discernment is a gift that enables me to know the Christ of Scripture and not be distracted from Him as my source of all that is godly. Being like Him means reverence, not mere ‘joyful worship’ but the awe that is mixed with fear and obedience that considers His power and ownership of all that concerns me. If my prayers are to be heard and answered, then I must discern all that distracts me from Christ and know all He desires from me so I can yield all of my life to this amazing God of glory.

April 6, 2022

We Practice Christian Living in Community, or Several Communities

We have a new writer for you today, Gary Moore, who blogs at Rock Excavation Service. The blog’s theme verse is “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:4. Gary has served in missions in Eastern Europe, and has some history writing devotionals himself. He is the author of a book on Christ in the Old Testament, with another book on the way. Clicking the header which follows will take you the place where we found it.

Love In Communities

I was reminded today about the three loves each believer has by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. These loves are the love of God, love of us, and love of people. Today, I would like us to focus on our love within communities.

Of course, love of us includes love of self; this is Biblically correct. However, love of self extends beyond us as individuals. We find in the New Testament God’s guidance to make us “individuals” into us as a community. We all need others, even introverts like me. For everyone, Jesus expects us to bond together. We should know and be known by our Christian brothers and sisters. We should find solace in them during times of tragedy, strength during hardships, and shared joy in our blessings.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

1 Peter 4:8-11

Essential Attribute

The essential attribute we find in a community of believers is the consistent, holy lives of adults that love and invest in the children of their community. Kids need safety, and they desperately need to see and experience the broad spectrum of personalities, ethnic diversities, and professions of our communities of God-fearing brothers and sisters.

Kids need to see how we settle disagreements (Colossians 3:13) and build Christ-centered communities. We need to live what the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We should learn from what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth,

That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27

Our kids need to see and experience how to contribute to the community. Kids need to learn how to give without the expectation of receiving, strengthen the brokenhearted, and weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We all need this, no matter how long we have served Jesus.

Communities of Believers

The phrase “It takes a village” has become common vernacular. I’m not sure about the village metaphor. Still, I do know that to raise children to be contributors to the kingdom of God, a Christ-centered community is needed, a community abounding in good works and steadfast dedication to living our new lives in Jesus. The local church should be the center and facilitator of a Christian community, but that’s not always the case.

A community of believers can spring up from a common cause, such as a mission to the homeless, a food pantry, prayer meetings, and any overt expressions of “God’s will” can cause a community to be birthed. There are countless communities of international believers that still avoid the “bigness” of their community; they remain personal. After all, it’s not a community if we can’t speak, pray, teach, worship, and work together.

Live in Several Communities

We are not limited to a single community of believers. God has not called us to be gadflies, but there is no command that I’m aware of that constrains us to a single Christian community. The local church should always be and remain our first community. Still, there are others to which God may guide us. Two that come to mind are Faith Driven Entrepreneurs. If you are a Christian small business owner, this is a great community to join and Prison Fellowship (i.e., angel tree).

Good News

So, the good news is that God does not expect you or me to be disconnected from fellow believers. We must pray and seek communities where God has created a place for us. And we should never forget that our local church is our preeminent community in which God desires us to fellowship and grow. And we must commit to what God’s Word says in Romans 12:16, Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

That’s it. Someday, I hope to join you in a believers’ community!

April 5, 2022

Next Steps: Me? A Leader?

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me …Then the God of peace will be with you.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

Jesus said: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

(Philippians 4:9 NLT, James 1:22 NLT, Matthew 7:24 NIV)

When I think each day of posting something to Christianity 201, I focus mostly on the “201” part.  The blog’s tag line is “digging a little deeper.”  However, I try not to post things that would only be of interest to pastors and church leaders, simply because there are sooooooo very many pastor blogs and Christian leadership blogs out there.

However, the time has come to reconcile the two.

As much as many of you want to go deep each day, God is looking for people who are willing to step up.

Put otherwise, much has been given to you, but now much is going to be required of you; or, if you prefer, it’s time to find some application for all the good stuff you’re learning.  It’s time to give back something.

Where to begin?

I think first of all, you have to see yourself as a Christian leader.  If it’s your desire to continue to walk in Christian maturity, you have to redefine yourself as someone who is striving toward being the “go to” person for others not so far along in their faith. The Biblical model of “Paul/Timothy” relationships necessitates forming mentoring relationships, but first, some of you may need to cultivate the desire to be a mentor to others. This may not place you in a visible position — what we called “the front of the room” a few days ago — but may just mean having friends over for coffee more frequently, or having that one person over for coffee; but doing it as intentional ministry.

Second, you need to make an assessment of what the needs are around you.  This is going to begin with developing critical faculties; though you need to remember that this is not the same as having a critical spirit.  You want the former, you don’t want the latter. If this seems like a big deal, don’t worry, some pastors have faced this before and decided to just ask around. They went door-to-door and asked people what the greatest needs were in their community. You can also approach existing leadership and ask what the greatest needs are within the church community. Or you can do a gift assessment and see where your particular gift-set intersects the needs in your church.

Thirdly, you need to vocalize your desire to make a difference to both your faith community and your surrounding (larger) community. As you see yourself differently and begin to look at what’s happening where you live and serve, God will give you a vision, an idea, an expression of a need; and you need to share what God is showing you or giving. “This is what I believe God is showing me,” can be the first nine words of a longer sentence where you make a declaration of your willingness to lead.

The fear is always that people will say, “Who do you think you are?” but I believe that more times than not, you will find God has already prepared people to hear what you are saying.

However, having said all of the above, the leadership role which God wants to see you taking may not be visible in your local congregation at all. Rather, it might involve not leading as we usually think of it, but being able to lead and share both the scriptures and God’s love with an authority in the life of someone else. In other words, it may not involve being a leader to the many, but being a leader to one person at a time.

This is in fact the theme of Kyle Ildeman’s new book One at a Time. While we think of Jesus teaching and then feeding the 5,000+ people, his ministry often involved on person at a time.

And the leadership that God is calling you to might equally not involve crowds, but happen in quiet places.

 

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