Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Blessings of Christmas

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
-- Luke 2:10-11 ESV

To kids, sometimes all Christmas means is toys and presents.  They get easily distracted by these gifts and forget everything else.   Don't we sometimes forget as adults too?  We can get so distracted by travelling, by gift purchases, by sending out cards, and by preparing for the feasts that we lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.  Christmas was invented by men long ago to celebrate the birth of Christ.

The Christmas season is one where we do get very busy but we are also reminded of the birth of Christ by what is all around us.  Even though it may not be a religious day for many people, they do acknowledge that it is a day about the birth of Christ.  As Christians, we need to remember the birth of Christ not only during this busy season when our minds are overly occupied, but at all times throughout the year.  For without Christ's birth, we would not have the blessing of his life to model ours after. Without Christ's birth, we would not have the blessing of his life story and the story of his disciples to read.  Without Christ's birth, we would not have the blessing of his death on the cross to purify us before God. Without Christ's birth, we would not have the blessing of his resurrection to show us death is defeated for those who believe.  Without Christ's birth, we would not know the true extent and depth of the grace and love of our Father.

We must remember Christ's life and let it dwell richly in our hearts if we are truly to call ourselves Christians, not just on Christmas day or in the Christmas season, but all of our lives.  Jesus is Christ the Lord. He came to Earth to find lost people and offer them salvation from themselves.  And he did just that, perfectly.  We can help each other remember Christ all year round.   We can help each other live our lives in the love of God and the joy of Christ's life.  We can share Christ's light with one another and all we meet if we always remember that it all started with the birth of the son of God in a lowly manger in Bethlehem one night thousands of years ago.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
-- Luke 2:14

I Need To Test All Things

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
-- Acts 17:11 NIV

We are all on our own spiritual journey through this life and have to work out things for ourselves and live by our choices (Philippians 2:12-13).  We are taught the way that God wants us to live our lives through His words in the Bible but sometimes we feel the need to answer the callings of our heart and learn things for ourselves.   We come to believe that God would want us to be happy in whatever we want to do and so we step out on our own understanding.   Or we can think that God is not there for us because He wouldn't make life so difficult to bear so we tend to forget Him as we live our lives as best we see fit.  But as in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15:11-32, in all these times God is there waiting for us to turn to Him.  God is the source of eternal life and has revealed His nature and ways through His word and His love for us all through His son Jesus (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 3:16-17).

I became a Christian late in my life, just 13 years ago, but I almost always knew that God was there.  I never truly doubted Him, I just ignored Him and did things my own way often times choosing a dark path.  Since becoming a Christian, there have been many times where I wished God was different and wanted different things for me, that He would understand me and my needs better and not make it so hard on me.  But then I remember, wait, this is the creator of the universe who didn't have to create me but did, a loving father who sacrificed His own son that I might be in His joyful presence eternally.  I don't understand why, and many times I know I don't deserve it, but He did that for me and for all of us.  And He continues to be there for me even still.  I don't have all the answers, not even close.  I just know my life is so much better since I decided to follow Jesus as I read about Him in the bible.  It is my constant prayer that I seek God where He is and not just where I want Him to be, and that I remember that His love is always available to those who walk in His light (1 John 1:6-10).   I will keep on praying no matter what is going on in my life, good or bad,  and sincerely try to always look to scripture to find out if the things that people say are true (Acts 17:11).  I want to embrace His Spirit in all that I do (Colossians 3:17) and do that which He asks of me in scripture, always loving Him with all my mind, heart, soul and strength (Matthew 22:36-40).   I hope that as I walk on my journey I can share God’s light within me by showing others the way and offering the hope they need (2 Timothy 2:15, Mark 16:15).  If together we test all things against God’s word and align our hearts with God’s nature, even though we stumble, we can never fail.

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
-- Jude 1:24-25

Listen to Our Hearts

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  
-- Galatians 4:4-7 NLT

I write software for a living and as such have a pretty logical mind.  It helps in my line of work as the computer will do exactly what I tell it to, no more, no less, and it will do it very fast.  It doesn’t care if what I tell it to do is right or wrong; it has no emotion about it at all.  It won't do anything but what I tell it, even if it is wrong and turns the computer into a smoking hole.  So getting things in the right order and having all the steps needed to do something is kind of second nature to me at work.  And I find that sometimes I treat my study of God’s word and what He wants me to do in this life in that way.  All the steps are there in the Bible for me to follow.  If I just do those in that way, then it will all work out.

We tend to think that logic and emotion are two separate things, that they don’t coincide.  People might say “if you could just put aside your emotions for a second we could talk rationally.”  But we can’t seem to do that.  Some emotions are very logical.  Things like loving your child , being attached to your family, and disliking evil are all emotions but are very logical for survival.  They all make sense on both on a personal level and on the grander scale of humanity.  This is all because this is how God designed us.  In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus said “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  God created us with both emotions and reasoning and He intended that we should use both.  We're not meant to be robots reasoning things through without feelings.  We are instead meant to be so much more.

If we read Luke 10:25-37, we see the story of the Good Samaritan.  The priest and the temple assistant (Levite), men of great wisdom and learning of the day, walked on by.  The Samaritan felt compassion for the man who was attacked and so he helped him.  It was his emotion that made the logical action of helping the man seem so natural.  So remember that God wants us to listen to our hearts.  He wants us to know that feeling the Spirit within ourselves and sharing that joy is just as important as knowing what it means to be a Christian and living the life.  Share your joy today and watch as everything else just seems to make sense.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Speak the Truth in Love

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  
-- Ephesians 4:15

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
-- John 8:31-32

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-- Romans 13:8-9

Did you ever say something and then realize oops, that didn't come out right?  You may have been right about everything but either the way you said it or how it was taken just made it all wrong.  It's hard to take that back sometimes, hard to explain that you didn't mean it that way.  And the damage is done; the message is lost not because of the message but because of the delivery.  God knows this about us and gave us the way to get around this.  In order to speak the truth, we must know it.  And as we see in John 8:31-32, the truth is in Jesus teachings as we find in God's word.  Read it, study it, embrace it and learn from it.  Only in that way can you speak of what you find there.

If we then are to speak these truths in love, does that mean we do so with all these warm fuzzy feelings or does it mean something more?  It is not the same love as we have for football or pizza or whatever which makes us feel good when we experience it.  That is too shallow a love.  The love we are to have for our neighbor is based on the love we have for God and what He has done for us. It is a deep soul changing love that guides our daily walk and lasts forever.  We can try to speak the truth to others with gentleness or only pleasing words so as not to offend them but that can lead to a shallow understanding on their part that never takes root.  We can speak the truth no matter how harsh saying it is out of love for them but then they reject that harshness and thus the message.  We need to remember that oftentimes people are not as afraid of God's eternal judgement as they are of our judgement here and now.  What is really needed is to be scripturally sound and humanly compassionate.  On many occasions, Jesus would simply tell people the truth of their sin and then the message of hope and forgiveness and leave it to them to decide.  The need for following Christ has to be the desire of that person's heart and soul and neither we nor our God can give that to them. All we can do is reaffirm to her that we love them and want for them what God has given to us.  If we remember God's hope in us, faith in us, and best of all love for us, and we know the truth from knowing and believeing in His word and embracing His son Jesus, we can speak what we know in love and let them decide.

Dearly Loved Children

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
-- Ephesians 5:1-2

Parents love their children.  Even when their children make it hard to love them, we love them nevertheless. It's part of our design as human version 1.0; we parents just can't help it.  And so it is with God since we are designed in His image.  The message that God loves us, His children, is so often repeated in the New Testament that you would have to go out of your way to ignore it.  And as our children imitate our behaviors and traits, Paul asks us to imitate God in the same way.  We need to imitate Him in our love for one another, in our goodness towards all, in our forgiveness for when others wrong us, and in our patience with those who do not follow in His way.  God does this for us and so we in turn should learn from that example and walk in the same loving way He does as best we can.

As parents, we understand that our children not only look like us to a great degree, but follow our example in what they say and do.  When we do good things, they follow that.  When we do bad things, they follow that too.  When we say good things, our children repeat them.  When we say bad things, our children can repeat them too, much to our embarrassment.  Children have no greater example to follow than their parents.  They learn to interact with the world through watching how we do it and imitating that example.  As children, we look to our parents for how to do things. We don't know anything else for a very long time.  We know that is why they are there and we love them because they love us and help us.  We can learn the hard way that doing or saying the wrong things just because our parents did is not always acceptable.  And so we learn to imitate the good examples and ignore the bad ones.

God gave us all the example we will ever need in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the ultimate example of the most free and generous love that ever was. We can all take great comfort in knowing that He loved us all so much that he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  It is all the proof we will need of His love.  So let us all walk together in love for God, for Christ, and for each other and imitate the example God has placed before us in Jesus as best we can. 

The Rainy Day

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
James 1:2-3

In his poem "The Rainy Day", Longfellow concludes "Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary".  While the poem starts our gloomy, it ends with the realization that everyone has to deal with dark things at times in their lives but at the end of every one of them, there is hope and sunshine.  It seems to me that it is easy to fall into a funk but so difficult to get out of it.  I think we can allow ourselves to dwell on the gloomy and dark things a bit too much and we miss the fact that God is there waiting and wanting to help us.  We can sometimes get lost in our sadness and can no longer see a way out and then fall easy prey to temptations.

God promises to us that there is always a way out as we read in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.".  Notice that it doesn't say He will do this for you sometimes but that there are some things He just won't help you with.  He will not abandon you.  He has a plan for you.  He loves you more that you can really understand. Like the sun behind the clouds in Longfellow's poem, He is there.  If He is there when we fail Him, how much more will He be there when we are hurting?  Some trials are really hard to bear.  Regardless of what we know and how hard we try to maintain our faith, some hard times are just going to hurt.  And then we can get easily confused and angry and ask God what He thinks He is doing.  But as James points out, these trials are designed to build our trust in God.  Rather than go it alone, believe in your faith, trust in it, and seek God all the more.

If we remember Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose", we can make it through anything.  There is some purpose in our dark days, ones we may not understand just yet. But God is love and is always there for each and every one of us. Seek Him out even more so in the dark times and He will show you the way.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Worship and Praise

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!
Psalm 117:1-2

As a kid, when we received a gift we usually shouted with joy.  We could not contain ourselves; we jumped and hollered and sometimes even remembered to say thanks. And if we did remember, it was usually something like,”thankyou!!!thankyou!!!thankyou!!!thankyou!!!!"  The Bible is an amazing and wonderful gift from God.  It contains everything we would ever need to know to live our lives in peace within ourselves and with each other (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  As we see in those words, Jesus was the ultimate gift from God, the gift of eternal salvation for those who believe (John 3:16). God has done so many things to show us that He loves us, doesn't want us to be miserable, and wants us to have eternal life in heaven with Him that we cannot help but be thankful and sing praises to Him.

Many people think that praise and worship is only singing songs at church and being there on Sunday mornings to do the Lord's supper and hear a sermon.  But God tells us how to praise and worship Him in His word. John 4:23 says, "But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him."  God wants us to worship him with sincere hearts, hearts full of love for Christ and for each other.  If we do this, it doesn't matter if we are in a special building at a certain time or we do the various things we see as patterns in the bible in a certain order.  Paul discusses a style of worship in 1 Corinthians 14 that had apparently gotten out of hand due to spiritual gifts they had received.  Rather than let them continue down that path, he states that "all things should be done decently and in order" (v. 40) so that unbelievers might come to know Jesus and believers could be increased in their faith. And so we should strive to ensure that as we come together, we should align hearts and minds to thoughts of Christ and God's great gifts to us. We should exalt God and express our love and awe to Him who gives us more than we deserve. We should make sure that we do our own little parts in harmony with one another to ensure that the message that we love Him is received by God and by all those in attendance.  

So leave your life’s baggage at the door when you come in. God knows of these things and will answer your prayers.  Be on time and prepared if you are on the worship team to make sure everything is in order. And be sure to take the love and peace that you feel as you worship and let that be the everyday you that everyone else sees so that they know that you "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Loving Service

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ                
Colossians 3:23-24

The Fourth of July reminds us that our country was founded on the way things ought to be.  Christian men and women, following their faith and applying it to all aspects of their lives, decided that once and for all there should be a place where people can live in freedom.  They modeled this society on the Christian ideals they were raised with and which was the driving force of their lives.  We rightly remember their achievement with fireworks and family celebrations.  But most of all, we must remember that this great country was founded on the freedom that God created for all of us.  The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”.   Everything that comes after this declaration, all of our government and society, is based on this thought: God created us to live a certain way.
As Christians, we know that way.  In America, we can read about it in our bibles whenever and wherever we want.  Not all have that same luxury.  In some places in the world, it is a crime punishable by death to be a Christian.  Some things we can help change but others we can not.  We need to try to do our very best to make sure everyone knows about Christ.  We must live right, pray always, and share Christ in loving service to the Father who has given us everything.  Thankfully, because of those people a few hundred years ago, we have that opportunity here in this country.  While we give thanks for them, let’s remember that we are serving the living God above all else with everything we do.  Let’s let others see the freedom, joy, and love that God placed in our lives through Christ by the way we live our lives here and now in this great country.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15

Do you ever find yourself saying, “Man, I just can't let what he did to me go...”?  I think we all have that someone who did something to us that we just can’t seem to forgive and forget.  For some of us, it may be many someones.  For others, it may be yourself, not being able to move past something you did or keep doing that you think is unforgivable.  I think it is just part of our nature to carry that resentment no matter how hard we try not to.  I confess that I still have have some things that some people did to me stuck in my brain and they can still make me upset.  And I also have some things that I find it hard to ask God for forgiveness for.  Have I truly forgiven them if that is the case? Have I truly forgiven myself?  I hate to say it but I don't think so if it keeps coming back.

Scripture often discusses forgiveness.  In fact, it is the central message of salvation:  God has forgiven our sins through the sacrifice of His son Jesus so that we might have eternal life.  So what is scriptural forgiveness?    Colossian 3:13 states, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you”.   Forgiveness does not seem to come easy.  Our natural instincts seem to kick into self-preservation mode when we feel we are wronged and it doesn’t seem that we have an overabundance of mercy in these situations.  If we are to truly call ourselves Christians, forgiveness must be a choice we make motivated by our obedience to God and His desire for us to forgive.   Since forgiveness goes against our nature, we must forgive by faith so that we may “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).  It is God that finally determines justice so we must trust God in faith to do the work in us that needs to be done so that the forgiveness will be complete.  God states in scripture that He will respond to our desire to please Him when we choose to forgive (Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 10:17, Psalm 103:12).  While we may not always understand or see it, He completes this work in His time until the work of forgiveness is done in our hearts.

Peter posed a question to Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22; “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”   We need to always be forgiving of ourselves and others no matter what we might feel otherwise.   Give your grievances to God and let Him do His work in you and you can’t go wrong.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Silence is Golden

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Mark 1:35

We live in a very noisy world.  Our households, schools, and workplaces are filled with the whirring, buzzing, and murmuring of all the people and the multiple gadgets that are around us there.  Have you ever noticed how quiet it is when the power is out?  We have a lot of stuff around us that makes noise.  We buy ipods and MP3 players to strap to our bodies so we can always have our music. We buy video games and portable DVD players so we can be entertained whenever we want.  In silence, we close ourselves off from all that noise. In our modern world, total silence is extremely rare. In fact, what we today call quiet is really only a little less noise.  Have you ever tried to go a long time without talking?  It’s hard.  I find I start talking to myself, out loud.  I can’t help myself.

Scripture reveals Jesus often went off by himself or with a few of his disciples to think and pray.  His example is one we need to seek if we want to try to live our lives more like him.  However, for most of us wandering into the desert or up a mountain is not something we can easily do.   Fortunately, we don’t need to do that to practice solitude.  We need to find the time to be still in the context of the lives we’re living.  We need to find quiet interludes during the day to focus our minds on God.  For example, most people spend time alone driving in the car to work, or on the bus going to school, or running errands.  This is a great opportunity for silence and solitude if you just turn off the music and converse with God in prayer.  While you might initially be uncomfortable since it is so different from our usual world, you may find as you practice it more that it will bring the refreshment of God’s peace (Philippians 4:7).  We come into this peace by training with Jesus in silence and solitude.  Even if life is stressing us out, we can learn to be inwardly silent and go to that place where the Lord can calm our souls and fill us with a deep sense of well-being.  It just takes being quiet with God in your heart.

Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, said, “The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear”.  We can more easily hear the Spirit speak to us when our heart is still and silent before the Lord than when we’re rushing about.  It can help us maintain our focus on God continually, to live conscious of God’s presence in each moment as we go about the activities of our day.  How awesome is it that God is always with us?  Let’s try to stop and be quiet and listen to His voice.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

We very often have leftovers from our meals.  We make too much food, or the kids don’t like it, or we end up just not being that hungry after all.  Whatever the case, there is still food left when we are done.  So we save it off to eat later.  Almost always, the food does not taste as good the second (or third) time around.   The texture is usually either tougher or mushier than when it was first served.  The joy of eating a meal is just not the same for me when it is leftovers.  My wife will say that there are some things that can be better as leftovers such as meatloaf sandwiches.  I am happy for her that she has found that but I just don’t like leftovers all that much.  She is welcome to all the leftover meatloaf!

You can find many discussions about this concept with regards to God.  But for some reason, the idea just sticks with me.  Perhaps it is the memory of that sigh I get when it’s leftover night.   It is just something I can completely relate to.   God asks us to give Him our very best all the time.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-38, “...‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.”  Notice that it does not say love God with your heart after you do some other things.  It does not say love God with all your heart a few times and not so much at others.   Love God with ALL your heart and ALL your soul and ALL your mind.  If you really  do that, you’re doing it all the time.  

Do you just say a two minute prayer while you're driving to work and tell yourself you pray daily?  Do you think about God during the sermon on Sunday but not that much other times?   Do you only read scripture during bible class or maybe in a daily devotional email?  These are leftovers and I am not sure this is what God is asking of us.  Loving God with everything you’ve got is obviously easier said than done.  God knows that.  But in His infinite grace, patience, and love, God sent us Jesus to help us through this life.  Jesus set the example and sacrificed Himself so that we might have forgiveness for the times when we serve God our leftovers.  Let’s help one another live more like Christ and serve God a feast with everything we do all the time.  God gives us the strength to do it; we just need the faith to do it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Out of Control

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

Mick Jagger once said, “It's all right letting yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back.”  The problem for most people is that second part.  We all have that urge to explore boundaries, to try those things which we know may not be the best choice for us.  As Paul wrote in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  It is part of who we are because God designed us to think for ourselves and have the freedom to choose to do right or do wrong.  The hardest thing to do it seems is to recover and learn from those choices that lead us astray.  

So how do we keep ourselves from going so far astray that we can’t get back?  First and foremost, remember that God is always there with you.  “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).  With God’s help and guidance, we can develop habits that will help us better decide what our true priorities are and say no to those other things and be content doing so.  These habits will give us a bigger yes burning inside, things like daily prayer, service to others, silence and solitude, and meditation on scripture.  They just need to be looked at from the viewpoint of the athlete.  Only through dedicated and repeated practice can an athlete attain the highest levels of achievement in their sport.  The same goes being a Christian.  If we practice these habits until they are second nature and we don't even need to think about them anymore, it can help us grow into a more complete and intimate relationship with God.

Many newer books on this topic focus on aggressive and bold transformations or whole life changes.  These sound awesome when you read them but in the end are hard to sustain in practice and seem to be a short term answer to a long term question.  While we set our ultimate desires on Heaven, we need to set our hearts and minds today on the path Christ forged for us and stay the course.  Stay positive and try to keep control of yourself but don’t get too hard on yourself when you slip.  We all slip, only Jesus was perfect.  If we help each other practice the habits God wants us to, we can together walk into Heaven one day with a smile on our face and gratitude and love in our hearts.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25


I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:1-3
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1

We have all at one time or another come across someone who tries to teach you something very loudly.  I know I have unfortunately been that person to someone else as well.  It could be about any topic, but politics and religion seem more than others to spark this tendency.  They become very animated as they speak, the volume increases, they interrupt often and use very forceful arguments.  You walk away in time and you may very well believe whatever it was that person was saying but even if you do, it is unlikely to stick because of the harshness of the delivery.   All you remember is the emotion.

As Christians, we need to be able to discuss the wonders and joys of living for God without resorting to this behavior.  We should be able to discuss that living a Christ centered life brings happiness in this life and eternal peace in the next in a gentle and persuasive fashion.  We need to inspire others to follow Christ and convince them of the truth found in God’s word without beating them on the head with the book.  Following Peter’s advice, “ your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15)

It’s easy for us to understand gentleness but easy to understand and easy to do are not the same thing.  We can be harsh in the way we talk to other people without even realizing it or meaning to.  Like everything else worth doing, gentleness is learned by practice.  And if we read about Jesus, we can learn how he did it.  Jesus wanted to help those who were hurting and in the end, His gentle strength was evident to all. And He is still giving mercy to everyone through us as His brothers and sisters.  We gently and patiently bear the burden of others and humbly try to help each other through this life because that is what He did.  If we tell others about that when we help them, not only will we grow by speaking the truth in love, but they may want to know Him more too!

Goodness and Mercy

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Hebrews 13:16

When we do good, good things happen.  This is how God’s plan for us works as we read in Romans 8:28.  But some days it seems it is almost impossible to do this.  Everything may seem to line up against us and we get caught up in our own troubles and temptations.  But as Christians, we try to be more like Christ each day we live and doing good was the way Christ lived.  He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and was friendly to those whom the culture of the time considered unclean and unworthy.  Think of how much better this world could be if we truly and faithfully followed Christ’s example.

I often hear people say that you can go to Heaven if you just are basically a good person and treat other people well.  But then they also will ask why you are going out of your way to do good things for people, that you will get used and are a pushover.  But God asks us to do good to others in so many places and in so many ways in His word that we come to understand that goodness is His nature.  And since we are made in His image, it is in our nature as well.  We are to do good as much as it in us, even to our enemies, regardless of how they treat us in return (Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12:20).  He wants to do good in our community and help create a better world (Matthew 25:35-40).  He wants us to do good to one another so that we can all work together to further His glory (Galatians 6:2).  

There are so many ways to do good for other people.  We all have some talent that we can use to help others and we need to use them to the best of our ability.  God doesn’t ask us to solve all the world’s problems, He just asks us to do what we can and be an example to others.  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  You never know how practicing goodness to others is going to affect peoples lives but we can do our part to be a part of God’s plan.  Start today!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Little More Faith

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

God shows His faith in us every day.  How?  We have a new day!  The sun comes up, we awaken from our sleep, we breathe, walk, eat, talk.  All this is a gift from God every day.  Although we may not look at it that way every day, His faith in us is displayed each morning.  And so, if His faith in us is so great as to offer us this gift daily, can’t we in turn show a little faith in Him and be who He wants us to be?

We spend a lot of time studying the scripture here and that is an awesome thing.  But it is only one step towards living a true Christian life.  Yes, we must know what God desires and expects of us in this life but should not focus just on that knowledge.  We must do it is as well!  We must walk on in faith that God’s plan is more awesome than we could ever imagine and that following in Christ’s example will bring not only joy, peace, and happiness to our lives but to everyone we encounter as well.  We need to take what we learn here and let it inspire us to be more like Christ.  We must through faith believe that God is who He says He is and that He is faithful to deliver on all He has promised.  Here is what God says:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)

Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19).

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

It is God's plan for you to become holy and advance His kingdom in your own little ways with whatever talents He has blessed you with. And, He is faithful to bring this to pass. He is faithful to fulfill His promises. He is faithful to help you in your need. God is trustworthy and is ready and able to deliver all He has promised. Your loving God is faithful!  So dedicate yourself today to put your faith in Him and live your life as God wants you to.

Pay It Forward

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32

Have you seen the movie “Pay it Forward”?  In it, to pay it forward means to do three good deeds for others in repayment of a good deed that one receives.  These good deeds should be things that the other person cannot accomplish on their own so that an understanding that we need to help one another can spread through the community.  The Liberty Mutual insurance company had a series of well received commercials along this line where one person would hold a door open for another and then that person would pick up something that another dropped and so on.   There is something that draws us to these random acts of senseless kindness that makes us stop and think, hey we can be better people, we can rise above everything we see around us.

Many people have said Christianity is silly since it is based on God becoming man and allowing himself to be killed.  To these people, it is pure nonsense that a true God would even consider this.  But it is this very thing that makes Christianity so powerful and ultimately so true.  The supreme act of selfless kindness that Christ displayed on the cross is a mystery.  Why would God do this?  He doesn't need us and could just as easily ignore us.  And yet, the Bible clearly states that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  God in His infinite patience and grace gave us the ultimate kindness of salvation through Christ  (Ephesians 2:7-8).  We don’t need to understand it just as we don’t need to understand why a stranger would hold a door for us.  We just need to say thank you.

God wants us to pay His kindness forward.  “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”  (Luke 6:25-26).  God asks us to be the one who starts the chain of kindnesses, to be the light that others look to.  Let’s help each other to take part in God’s plan and continue spreading His love by doing the little things for others that they might not be expecting.  You never know what your kindness may do to someones heart!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Peace On Earth

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Many today think that peace comes from the stuff we surround ourselves with.  If we have a great meal, we can be content.  But then of course we have to deal with buying and making the food or perhaps the indigestion of overindulgence if we go to our favorite restaurant.  If we have nice clothes, we feel happy wearing them  but then they go out of fashion and need to be replaced with the latest fashions.  If we have a nice house, we can be peaceful there.  Yes, it is a place of refuge from the world but it is also a place of constant upkeep, the kids keep messing things up and breaking things, and it seems it is either too hot or too cold most of the time.   It is great that we have these blessings but they only offer temporary peace and happiness.  We always seem to be looking for the next best thing.

If we look to God’s word, and I hope you often do, we find that peace comes from within.  In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”   The peace of God is internal; it is knowing that our sins are forgiven and all is well with our souls if we are faithful to God.  It comes from having a relationship with God through His grace, Jesus’s sacrifice, and our faithful love.  "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5: 1).  It comes from us continuing to try to live our life like Jesus did, even if we often fail to do so.

Since all we have is glimpses of peace, it is hard to understand what this true peace is like.  And some days it seems like everything is lining up against me and I will never see it!  But if we help each other in our Christian walks, and we spread the good news as best we can, an we try and try again to do what God asks of us, God promises that we will someday know.  "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Joy To The World

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4

At Christmas time each year, the thoughts of many turn to Christ and his birth.  We sing many Christmas carols and give thanks that God in His infinite patience, mercy and grace saw fit to send His only son to be a sacrifice for us. And indeed it is our greatest joy that Christ did come.  Without him, we would still be lost in our trust in this world and there would be no light to lead us into an eternal peace with our Father.  But with Him, we have everything we could ever need.  How great is our God!

When Paul wrote the verse above in his letter to the Philippians, history tells us he was in a jail cell because of his faith.  And yet, his heart was so full of love for the Lord that he wrote to rejoice always.  Even in the darkest of times, we can always count on the fact that God is there with us and that His love will carry us through.  James even encourages us to count it as joy when we are in dark situations and faced with many troubles as it can only serve to strengthen our reliance upon God (James 1).   This is so different from what we learn from those around us, that we should do everything and anything we can to avoid difficulties.  But these things will happen.  It is only our joy in the knowledge that no matter what, the Lord that will not give us something we can’t handle and will always carry us through that allows to be at peace even so  (1 Corinthians 10:13).

I am joyful that God has seen fit to place me here in Manchester with this group of His children.   Coming here has been a blessing in so many ways and I have had the great privilege of meeting so many people whose love for the Lord and joy at being in His kingdom fills me with hope that this is a glimpse of what heaven will be like.  I hope that we can continue to let the joy of being His fill our hearts all year round so that together we might help others know the grace and love of our wonderful Father.

Love In Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Romans 12:9-18

How great would this world be if everyone followed the instructions found in Romans 12?  Would there be all the strife in the world?  Would people be constantly on guard against others taking advantage of them?  Would distrust and skepticism be as prominent as they now are?   This passage reveals how God has designed us to live.  People will doubt and say Christians are dreamers but it is possible to live this way.  Jesus showed us that it is possible.  

It is great being a Christian! We have hope that others do not. We have hope for a better tomorrow in spite of all the distractions and disappointments this life brings.  We have hope for a life eternal that is better than any joy we may find even in the best of blessings in this world.  This is a gift from God through His grace and His love.  When we practice the love that is preached in the gospel, our sincere love for God will show through to others.  They may not understand, they may even look at us as a bit kooky, but they will know we have something they do not.  If they should ask, we need to have the faith, courage, and love to let them know in a gentle and respectful way the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15).  That reason is the love of our awesome God.

So let’s pledge to ourselves and to one another today that we will live our lives so that we show our Christian love in action.  The world may beat us down for it, but it cannot touch our hearts or our minds or our souls if we have love for God in our hearts.   As we all together practice putting our love into action, the fruits of the Spirit will grow within us individually and as a Christian family.  As a brother recently told me, it is Christ and the hope and joy found in Christ that unifies us.  It is God's Spirit that when infused into our time and communication with each other allows us to grow spiritually.   Through God’s grace and love, and our faith in that and our love for God and one another, we can be the lights of this world God wants us to be (Mark 5:14-16).