Showing posts with label Christian Living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian Living. Show all posts

Monday, February 20, 2023

Philippians: Practical Counsel

 


STOP — Philippians 4:2-9


Summarize

Unity is crucial to a healthy church. Paul asked two women, Euodia and Syntyche, to work out their difference and to continue to work together for the Kingdom. 


Worshipping with joy and living with grace are to characterize the Philippians lives. Rather than worrying they are to pray and through their prayer God will give them confidence and peace so they will be able to stand strong with Jesus.


To live with joy, grace, and confidence they need focus on what is true and good, things that are morally excellency and praiseworthy, because that will shape their thinking. They are to continue to follow Paul’s example and teaching.


Truth

Pay attention to your thoughts because your thoughts shape your attitudes and actions.


Observations

  1. Unity is crucial. Euodia and Syntyche were helpful in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel. Their disagreement was a hinderance, so Paul that it was important to address the issue. It is crucial that we do our part to work through the disagreements we might have, because they can be hindering the mission of the church to make disciples.
  2. Worshipping with joy is an important spiritual discipline for us to have. It reminds us of the good things God is doing and takes our minds off the difficulties. Rejoicing helps us to remember that God is working all things for good for His people.
  3. When we aren’t joyful it is easy to worry. There are plenty of things to worry about, but when we have joy it is easier for us to turn those worries over to God, because we are confident that He will provide for our needs. If we are not praying we are missing out on a huge blessing of what it means to follow Jesus.
  4. The biggest blessing of prayer is the peace, the confidence, that resides is our our hearts, helping us in times of doubt, worry, and discouragement.
  5. Our thought life is extremely important. We need to be intentional about what we allow our minds to dwell on. This is why all forms of media need to be consumed moderately and wisely. We want our thoughts shaped by the things of Heaven and not the things of this world.
  6. In our spiritual formation, having someone who can serve as an example for us is hugely impactful. Paul told the Philippians to follow his example and teaching. Even if we haven’t had a good mentor whom we can follow, we need to be aware that we are examples for our children, friends, and others around us to follow.


Prayer

Heavenly Father, may I be intentional about my worship of You. I want the focus of my life to be on You and not the things of this world so I can continue to grow into the person you created me to be.


Tomorrow: Philippians 4:10-23

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Philippians: Lights in the World


STOP — Philippians 2:12-18


Summarize

Paul wanted the Philippians to obey him in this teaching of humility. It wasn’t enough for them to do what is right when he was there, it was even more important to do it when he wasn’t there. When they lived a life of obedience they continued the work of salvation in their life. God would join them in this work. To live in humility and to work out their salvation meant they needed to quit grumbling and arguing, but live as holy people. Their good lives should make them stand out in the world around them. Paul wanted them and him to find joy in their humble obedience as they grew in their spiritual formation.


Truth

Our lives can be a light in the darkness when we follow the example of Jesus.


Observations

  1. The Philippians obeyed when Paul was around. They wanted to please him. Now Paul wants to emphasis that they need to obey even when he wasn’t there. Our obedience should not be dependent on who is watching us. True faith leads us to do the right thing even when there is no immediate benefit to us.
  2. We miss out on spiritual formation when we neglect living with humility and being obedient. We need to take this seriously, fear and trembling, and not just treat it as a nice optional thing to do.
  3. God is at work with us to transform our lives. So our transformation isn’t just about our effort, it is God working in us. We need to trust that He is at work.
  4. Two things we need to avoid, things that will effect our unity, are grumbling and arguing. It is our unity and working together in one purpose that helps us stand out, to shine like stars, in this world.
  5. Their continued spiritual formation is confirmation that Paul’s efforts are not being wasted. He needed to know that his sacrifice was making a difference.
  6. The Philippians should find joy in their spiritual formation, just as Paul did. We need to be joyful in the positive change that happens to those around us because of their faith.


Prayer

Lord God, help me to be obedient. I want to experience the transformation you have for my life.


Tomorrow: Philippians 2:19-30

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Philippians: Living is Christ

STOP — Philippians 1:21-30


Summarize

Paul mentioned that his hope (verse 20) that whether by his life or death he would have the courage to bring honor to Jesus. He saw that he had two paths before him. If he continued to live he would be able to continue the work Jesus gave to him to do. If he died he would go to be with Jesus. Paul did not know which to desire. To live meant that he could continue to teach and encourage people to follow Jesus, but to die meant he could experience the delight of being in heaven with Jesus. 


As Paul waited to see what would happen he urged the Philippians to live as citizens of heaven (not just as citizens of Rome) so they could live lives that were worthy of the Gospel. To live this type of life required that they live united as they lived and proclaimed the Gospel. They would need unity and courage because they too would face suffering because of Jesus.


Truth

We need the commitment and courage to live by faith because of the hardships that will come our way.


Observations

  1. The dilemma for Paul was real. He loved people and wanted to see them become part of the Kingdom. He also was tired of the suffering he had experienced and was ready to be with Jesus. 
  2.  As long as we are alive in this world we need to remember that we have a job to do: make disciples. No matter what we need to continue to do what we can, that includes giving, praying, and living a faithful life.
  3. Paul urged the Philippians to live as citizens of heaven. As residents of Philippi they were also citizens of Rome. That was an honor, but Paul wanted them to understand their greater citizenship was to Heaven. They were to live the way God wants His people to live: with love, joy, peace, gentleness...and the rest.
  4. The Philippians were granted the privilege of suffering for Jesus. Why is this a privilege? It means that they were living in such a way that the powers of the world wanted to oppose them. When we live as citizens of Heaven, the powers of this world will oppose us. They do not want the light of our lives to shine in the darkness they have created.

Prayer

Lord, grant me the courage and the faith to live a life that is worthy of Jesus.


Tomorrow: Philippians 2:1-4

Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Bible is not an Answer Book


 I love the Bible. 

In fact, I believe that people who follow Jesus should be readers and students of the Bible. In the Bible we discover God, His character, and His will. 

Without the Bible we would not be able to follow Jesus or be the people God created us to be.

Last year I lead Bethlehem Church through The Story to give us a good overview of what the Bible is about. One of the things I constantly talked about through that series is that the Bible is gift from God. In all the 30 sermons I preached, I said, “We need to read, study, meditate on, and pray the Bible to be good stewards of the gift God has given to us.”

Even though I have a high view of Scripture, I also understand that it has limitations.

As modern readers of the Bible, we often approach it as if it has the answer to all of life’s questions. That is a primary reason why we  read and study the Bible: to have all the right answers.

Instead of viewing the Bible as an answer book, we need to see the Bible  as a tool to help create a worldview. It may not provide the answers to all the questions asked in our culture, but it does provide a framework that helps us create a Christian worldview.

I have been pondering how we use the Bible the past few days for a couple of reasons.

1. BibleProject has a podcast series that looks at ancient cosmology. One of the key points in the series is looking at how the Biblical account of creation is in dialogue and debate with the other ancient creation myths. 

Many Western Christians, for the past 120 years or so, have used the Bible to provide facts and answers about the beginning of the universe. The problem is that the Bible was not written to answer modern scientific questions. It was written to give God’s people a particular view of the world and to combat the pagan religious views of their neighbors.

Therefore, we shouldn’t expect the Bible to give us definitive answers about the how and when of creation, but we should expect it to give us an understanding about who God is and why He created the world.

2. Preston Sprinkle wrote:

If someone experiences and congruent between their biological sex and their gender, which one determines who they are—and why? What does the Bible say about this question?

That’s the problem. The Bible doesn’t directly ask and answer this question. There’s no verse in, say, Leviticus 28 that says, “If thy gender identity does not match thy biological sex, then thine body is who you really are.” Or whatever. (There is no Leviticus 28, in case you are flipping pages to check.) But the Bible does say quite a few relevant things about human nature and the importance of our biological sex which will position us to cultivate a theologically informed and biblically rooted answer to our question. (Embodied, p. 63)

After doing lots of research, Sprinkle admits that the Bible doesn’t contain the answers to the questions surrounding the transgender conversation. You can’t compile a list of verses that deal specifically with these issues. 

Not only is this true for the transgender conversation, but it is true for many of the questions we have today. Our culture is significantly different from the cultures that the Bible was originally written for. We shouldn’t expect to to have answers to our modern questions.

Since the Bible is God’s gift to His people, we can expect that it will give us a proper perspective to see the world.

It is important to make this shift away from seeing the Bible as an answer book to one that helps us create a Christian worldview.


God did not give us the Bible so we can have all the right answers. 

Rather, He gave us the Bible so we can become the right type of people. 

If we primarily use the Bible to have the right answers, to win arguments, and to point out other people’s sin then we are using the Bible wrong.

The Bible should help form us into the people God created us to be. One of the ways it does that is to create a proper perspective for us to see the world.

Let the Bible form your worldview.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Trust God to Forgive


It is never easy to admit that we have made a mistake. 

The bigger the mistake the more we want to hide it, deny it, or ignore it. 

It is no wonder that we have a hard time confessing our sin, even in our private prayers to God. The result is that we carry around a complex baggage of guilt, shame, temptation, and habitual sin. This reality makes it difficult to accept God’s promise of forgiveness.

I know that I find it hard to confess my sins to God because I am embarrassed about what my sin reveals about my weakness. 

 After all I should know better! 

 “If I truly had faith,” I reason, “this sin wouldn’t be a problem.”

As a result I keep my distance from God. I don’t want to be weak faithless fool before Him.

Perhaps you struggle with asking for forgiveness because you are afraid of God. 

There is a voice inside of your mind telling you that if you confess your sins to God then He will punish you.  

“After all,” you think,  “isn’t God going to judge lawbreakers?”

In his book Created to Be God’s Friend, Henry Blackaby wrote:



Faith is lived out through trust. 

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Do I trust God to forgive me? 

If we don’t trust God to forgive then we won’t turn to Him and confess our sins. 

Instead we will run away and hide. We will ignore the sin that is ruining our lives. We will do every thing we can think of to avoid God.

For us to trust people we have to believe that they have our best interest at heart.

This means we need to answer this question: Is there any reason why we should trust God to forgive us?
 
The reason we can trust God is Jesus. 

The life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the evidence we need to trust that God will forgive us. This is true, no matter who we are or what we have done.

The writer of the book of Hebrews gave us this gem of truth:



How do we come before the throne of God? 

First, it requires our surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord. If we are not willing to be a follower of Jesus it is impossible for us to experience God’s gift of forgiveness. Jesus is the High Priest who has prepared the way to God. There is no other way to forgiveness except through Jesus.

Second, we need to confess our sins to God through prayer. God knows our sins, and He has declared His willingness to forgive. Yet, forgiveness requires the acknowledgement that we have done something wrong. This is an act of trust, because we need to believe that God has our best interest at heart. So we confess our sin because we trust that God will forgive us.

Third, we need to worship God. From singing praise songs to serving people in need, it is important that we set our hearts towards God. Worship requires the right motivation more than it requires the right actions. We can go through the motions of worship without love and trust. Worship that is grounded in faith is the type of worship that God desires from us.

Living in these bodies of flesh in this world means that sin will be a part of our lives. 

Not only do we need constantly struggle with sin to eliminate it from our lives, we also have to trust God to forgive us when we sin. 

God is gracious and willing to forgive us, but we need to turn to Him and ask for it.

Trust God to forgive you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

A Repentant Heart

As a life long Christian, I know the right things to say.

For instance, when life becomes difficult I know that the right thing to say is, "I am trusting God an His timing." 

I may say that, but the reality is that I am full of worry. Rather than praying and doing the next right thing, I distract myself with scrolling through social media or watching YouTube videos. Then I wonder why God never showed up.

It is possible to say that right words while lacking the faith to believe those words. 



The prophet Isaiah made it clear that God wants to help us. His desire is to show us love and give us life.

Here is the kicker: God is waiting for us.

He is generous and desires to help, but we are not turning to Him for help. We are trying to make it on our own. If we would stop and turn to God the experience of our lives would be different.

What is the answer? 
How do we receive the love God has for us? 

King David in Psalm 51 gives us an insight on how we are to approach God:



David wrote this Psalm after Nathan the prophet confronted him about his sin against Uriah, stealing his wife Bathesheba and murdering him. For a year afterwards David pretended everything was fine, but in reality it wasn't. So when David thought about what he needed to do, in light of Nathan’s words, this is was came to his mind: Repentance.

At the heart of repentance is the denouncement of our actions and declaration of our loyalty to God. 

Repentance requires both.

This isn’t about coming to God through religious piety and tradition. Going through the motions of religion does not move God’s heart. 

What moves the heart of God?

Our heart is what moves God.

We can imitate the motions. 
We can fake the right words. 

What we can't fake is the genuine emotion, motivation, and intention of our heart. There needs to be a genuine sorrow for our evil and a genuine desire to be in a relationship with God for Him to act on our behalf.

God waits for us because He wants us to have a heart that desires Him above everything else in our lives. 

Until we approach the throne of God broken and repentant we will never realize the awesome love God has for us. 

This makes pride the biggest obstacle we have in experiencing the love of God.

When we are prideful we believe we change the circumstance of our lives by ourselves. We pursue happiness the way we think is best. We may say all the right things and go though the motions, but the intentions of our heart is on our plans. 

Our pride keeps us from experiencing God’s love.

I am  tired of mouthing the right things and ignoring God. 

My pride has kept me from admitting my weakness and my need for God’s wisdom and strength. 

I come before God with a humble spirit in search of His love. 

Will you do the same?

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Theology of Rights


I have had these three tweets from Skye Jethani rolling around in my head for a couple of weeks.



I follow Skye on Twitter because I occasionally listen to The Holy Post Podcast, which he cohosts. Even through I don't always agree with him, I do find his thoughts to be interesting.

That is how I feel about these tweets. I don't 100% agree with them, but they sure got me thinking.

The part I absolutely agree with Skye about is the need for a corporate theology. American Christianity has developed a very individualized faith. It is all about my personal relationship with God. 

I have written before how we don’t just have a personal relationship with God, but we have a covenant relationship with God. An understanding of the covenant nature of Christianity would go along way to help us grasp the truth that we are part of God’s Global Family, and that our relationship with God includes our relationships with other people.

With that being said, when it comes to the topic of masks and vaccinations more than a corporate theology we need a theology of rights.

The reason I say this is because Americans, even though our Constitution was created to protect rights, have a poor understanding of what rights are. 

This lack of understanding about rights is true for people inside and outside the church. We have many people who want to stand up and claim something as a right to justify what they want to do.

One of the reasons we need a proper understanding of rights is because it helps us navigate these type of conversations.

Do I have the right to choose to wear a mask or not to wear a mask? 
Do I have the right to choose to be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated?

We need a way to determine if something is really a right or if we are using freedom as a  justification for doing what we want to do.

A second reason why we need a proper understanding of rights is because it helps us understand the sacrifice we need to make so we can follow Jesus. 

In Philippians 2:7 (NLT) we read:
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.

Jesus gave up, in other words he sacrificed, his rights in order to save us. 

Looking at this passage through the lens of rights, Jesus saw his rights as something that he could set aside in order to love his Father and to love people. 

Our rights, like all of God’s blessings, are to be used for the good of His kingdom. That means there will be times when we have to set aside or sacrifice our rights in order to love people.

Remember, sacrifice is one of the primary ways we worship God.

For example, I am a big 2nd Amendment guy. I think we have the right to self-defense and to protect the lives of our family and friends. If we believe that, then we understand the sacrifice we make when we lay down our weapons for the sake of the Kingdom.

Having a proper understanding of rights allows us to have the conversation about how we properly use our rights, when we should work to protect our rights, and the when and why we should lay them down to follow the example Jesus.

Here is the bottom-line: A proper understanding of our rights helps us know when a sacrifice of our rights is needed in order to love people.

When it comes to these questions about masks and vaccinations here are a couple of thoughts I have.

It doesn’t matter what your position on masks are, whether they are effective or not, it is not a violation of your rights to wear a mask to spend time with a person who is more concerned about COVID than you are. In fact, wearing a masking is the loving thing to do because it is taking in to consideration the other person’s thoughts and feelings.

When it comes to vaccinations I think things are a little different. 

God created us to be good stewards, and being good stewards includes taking good care of our bodies. I don’t think it is wise or loving to tell a person unsure of the health benefits of a vaccine that they need to be vaccinated in order to show love to other people. This is especially true since there are other ways for a person to protect others, like practicing good hygiene and staying home when you are sick. 

Therefore, as long as a person is practicing good hygiene and staying home when not feeling well, they are not violating the command to “love your neighbor,” because they are doing other things to keep themselves and other people healthy.

Having a good theology of rights would help us know the proper use of our individual rights and us understand when to sacrifice those rights so we can love our neighbor.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Don’t be Lazy in Your Thinking



Many of us live in an echo chamber.

“What is an echo chamber?” You ask.

According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary an echo chamber is:

a room with sound-reflecting walls used for producing hollow or echoing sound effects —often used figuratively, “Living in a kind of echo chamber of their own opinions, they pay attention to information that fits their conclusions and ignore information that does not.”
To say that we live in echo chambers means that we live in an environment where our worldview is endorsed and confirmed rather than challenged.

I know why we prefer the echo chamber. It is hard word to defend our worldview and think through our beliefs. We would rather be told that we hold the correct beliefs about the world.

Unfortunately, that causes us to miss out on what other people are truly saying. Often, it positions other people as the enemy because they have an opposing view than what we have.

Preston Sprinkle offers some good advice.


I think it is helpful to remember two very important points.
  1. Reading or listening to people outside our tribe doesn’t mean we will switch tribes. When I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and A Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris I was told to be careful. There was a fear that if I read books by atheist authors I would become an atheist. To have this fear means that we are not very confident about our own positions to begin with. We fear that one little thought from the “other side” could cause our worldview to come crashing down. It is important for us to take the time to learn why we believe the things that we believe.
  2. Reading or listening to people outside our tribe opens our eyes to nuances in the different positions. I see this happen all the time. It is easier to create a caricature the other side’s beliefs rather than actually dealing with them. This at the core of what Preston Sprinkle called “lazy thinking.” 
Read books, or listen to, people who don’t think like you.

Not only will you be better equipped to handle their arguments, you might just learn a thing or two along the way. 



Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Loyal Leader


William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible: the letter to the Hebrews wrote: 
The real leader, if need be, dies in loyalty. He shows men how to live and is prepared to show them how to die. Jesus, having loved his own, loved them to the end; and the real leader having loved Jesus, loves him to the end. His loyalty never stops halfway. (p. 195)

Wow! What a thought. 

The best Christian leaders are people whose loyalty to Jesus gives them the courage to live a life worthy of Jesus and his sacrifice. These leaders understand that their lives are an example on how to live. This also includes preparing to die well.

This raises the question: Am I prepared to show other people how to die? 

To be honest, it isn’t something have really considered. My main focus has been on how to live well because death isn’t something I have had to face. It is hard to be an example to someone when you haven’t had to experience it yourself.

Maybe that is the wrong way to think about it.

Rather than thinking about the end of life, perhaps we should think about life. When we do something well to the best of our ability we can walk away confident that we did well. If we apply this to the end of life, we can face death with no regrets when we lived by faith, remaining loyal to Jesus.

The true leader in the Church is the person who is loyal to Jesus. 

Doubts may come, hardships may arrive, and persecution may be present, but that leader remains committed to Jesus. He or she is an example of what it means to live by faith, even if that commitment takes them to their death. 

No matter what, they will not forsake their King.

If I am to be the leader my family and church needs, then I have to be an example of loyalty and faith no matter what happens in my life. Attendance my rise and fall, but my confidence remains in Jesus. Health issues may creep in, but I remain faithful to Jesus. 

Loyalty and faith are not fickle. They are committed through the ups and downs of life.

A good leader realizes that his life is on display and that his actions are a powerful testimony of his faith. As people follow his example, they are constantly preparing for the end of their life, because they can face death with no regrets.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Be Different



It is hard to be different and to stand out from those around you. 

I find it easy to go with the flow and to allow myself to be influenced by the very same things that influence the rest of the world. It takes intention and work to go against the current of the culture.

This is exactly what we need to do.

It is essential for people who follow Jesus to live differently from the world. 

The apostle Paul wrote:
Don’t participate in the things these people do. For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true (Ephesians 5:7-9; NLT).
Christians are a changed people. We no longer participate in the same activities that the world does. These are activities that continue bring corruption and sin into God’s good creation. This is why it is crucial for us to live lives of faith.

 How do we do this? 

How do we prevent ourselves from being influenced by the culture in which we live? 

I believe the writer of Hebrews have provided us with some answers to these questions:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven (Hebrews 12:1-2; NLT).
In these two verses we find four actions we must do if we are going to live differently from the world.

First we must remember the witnesses
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith...

Hebrews 11 is filled with great examples of faith, men and women who trusted God through the ups and downs of life. The writer of Hebrews wanted people be encouraged by these examples. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Esther, Daniel, and the Apostles give us encouragement as we attempt to live faithfully in our culture. Remember, there is a reason God preserved their lives on the pages of Scripture so lets learn from them.

It is also important to remember that through the past two thousand years more and more people have been added to this great cloud of witnesses. On the pages of history and through the years of our lives are more men and women who are examples of what it means to live faithful lives in a culture not aligned with God’s will.

The second action we need to do is remove the hindrances
...let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress.

Change is difficult. 

One reason it is difficult is because it means that we are wrong in the way we live. If we were living right then a change wouldn’t need to happen. 

A second reason why change is hard is because of our habits. It is hard to break a habit, no matter how much we may want to be rid of it. Habits are ingrained in the way we do life.

We all have junk in our our lives that needs to be removed. We have self-image issues that rob us of confidence. We have relationship issues that cause problems with those that we are closest with. We have emotional problems (depression, anxiety, perfectionism, guilt, etc.) that need to be addressed. 

All these things hinder us from being the people God created us to be, and so we need to face these issues and deal with them. That might even mean going to a professional for help.

The universal weight people carry is sin. 
 
Yes, the weight of sin is different for each of us, but it is still there weighing us down. For us to get rid of it requires that we attack it, struggle with it, confess it to God, and continually look for ways to uproot it form our hearts. We cannot go with God and allow sin to remain in our lives unchecked. If we are not struggling to rid our lives of sin then we are not living a life of faith.

The third action we must do is run the race
And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.

God has created us to do good. 

Doing good is more than just being moral people. Doing good requires that we love and serve our neighbors. I like to say that we have been blessed so that we can be a blessing. 

Running the race that God has given to us is about doing the good works that He planned for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). So when we use the blessings God has given us to bring good into this world, we are running the race of faith.

The final action is to reflect on Jesus
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.

Jesus is our ultimate example on how we are to live. He showed us how to love, how to serve, and how to forgive. We must model our lives after his life.

Jesus’s sacrifice is the ultimate encouragement we need to live a life of faith. Knowing that Jesus went through brutal times, to save us from sin, offers us courage when we go through dark times of life and motivates us to remain faithful.

We can only keep our eyes on Jesus by reflecting on his life through reading and studying the Bible. 

I think one of the reasons we fail is because we create an image of Jesus that appeals to us rather than doing the hard work of discovering who Jesus really is. We cannot neglect the study, reading, and discussion that gives us a better understanding of Jesus.

Christians are called to be different from the world. 

It is easy to participate in the activities that help us blend right into our culture. This is why we must fight the hard fight to be different. 

Are you willing to do what it takes to change your life and be different?

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

An Example to Follow


Show me how a person responds to life, and I will show you what he truly believes.

While it is unfair to judge a person based solely on one or two situations, it is certainly true that choices a person makes over the course of his life reveals what he truly believes.

Our lives, for good or bad, are telling the people around us whether or not we truly have faith in what we say we believe. If we claim to be Christians and yet live lives the resemble the world, then we are telling people that we don’t really have faith in Jesus.

Faith is more than what we confess with our lives, but it is also how we act with our hands and where we go with our feet. If faith is just about what we confess then the only value it has for us is a way to escape hell. Instead, faith is to be the path of transformation.

Not only is faith the path of transformation, but it is also an example to follow.

In Scripture we are urged to follow the example of Abraham (Romans 4:16) and Paul urged others to follow his example (Philippians 3:17). We also know that we have been influenced by the lives faithful people. Our faith is connected to the example they gave to us.

What this teaches us is the importance our lives have in influencing others. Just as the example of faithful people influenced our lives, our faithful example can be a powerful influence in the life of another person.

A life that faithfully follows Jesus provides an example for others to follow.

In sense we have to see ourselves as teachers.

To be a good teacher requires us to be knowledgeable about what we are teaching and the ability to demonstrate how that teaching looks in real life. Humans need examples to help us move from theory to reality.

The Pharisees where part of the religious class of Jesus’ day. They interpreted Scripture for the people and taught them how it applied to their lives.

Yet, they missed a key component in their teaching: they didn’t live what they taught. This is one of the points that Jesus confronted them about.

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. (Matthew 23:1-4; NLT)

The underlying theology that the Pharisees taught was okay. In fact, on many key points Jesus agreed with the Pharisees. The mistake Jesus highlighted was the burden the religious leaders placed on people with laws upon laws.

These men were able to teach what a faithful life was supposed to look like, but they could not provide the people with an example of what faithful living looked like.

Jesus did not tell the crowd that the Pharisees had bad theology, but that they had bad faith. Jesus urged the crowd to listen to the Pharisees teaching, but discouraged them from following their example.

As Christians who desire to influence the world for Jesus Christ it is essential that we remember that there are two parts to effective teaching: communicating true ideas and letting putting those ideas to practice in your life.

When our lives do not reflect the truth of the Gospel then people will wonder whether or not the Gospel is really the truth.

The best evidence for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are the faithful lives of his followers.

When we live faithful lives we make the teachings of Jesus come alive.

Without our example Jesus’ teachings remain simply a theory – a nice way to live.

Having the truth doesn’t do us or anybody else any good if we don’t apply that truth to our lives.

The life of faith is the life that is lived based on the truth that we know.

As we live out the truth we believe we become examples for other people to follow. This is how Jesus is able turn ordinary people into lights of the world. Be a light worth following.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Reflecting on a Scandal


I originally posted this to my Facebook page, but thought it was worthy posting here:

This past week the board of directors of RZIM posted this letter concerning the double life of Ravi Zacharias. You can find the letter here Open Letter from the International Board of Directors of RZIM on the Investigation of Ravi Zacharias.

Ravi Zacharias had a ministry that influenced many people. The news that has been confirmed recently of his moral failure is disheartening, especially if he and his arguments helped strengthen your faith. 

In the light of this  I want to remind us of a few truths. First, truth is not dependent on the life of the messenger. When Ravi spoke truth about God, about the condition of the world, and about Jesus all that continues to be true. His grievous sin does not invalidate the truth he taught.

Second, the way that we live totally impacts the message that we have. Unfortunately, the revelation of Ravi’s double life is going to undo all his years of public life. This is why Jesus taught his disciples to be salt and light. Both of those metaphors deal with living in such a way that we are able to influence the world around us. Our lives provide evidence that our message is true. When we don’t live up to the message it will cause people to doubt our message.

Third, we have a choice to make when it comes to sin. It is probably true, as the letter indicates, that more accountably would have prevented some of this from happening, but accountability is overrated when it comes to transforming our lives. Accountability might help us manage the sin, but it falls short of creating holiness in our lives. When we have sin we need to confess it and seek ways to get rid of it. The Holy Spirit is able to transform our lives, but we need to give Him room to work.

The greatest tragedy here is not the moral failure of Ravi but the women he abused and their reputations that were ruined in order protect Ravi’s reputation. This is what should truly break our hearts.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Spirit and God’s Image


The opening chapter of the Bible tells us a very important truth about humanity.
Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

To be created in God’s image means that we are designed to demonstrate His character in this world, to rule with His love, grace, and wisdom (here is the Bible Project video on the Image of God). 

How are we able to do that?

To correctly bear God’s image in this world requires that we are connected to Him. We need God’s wisdom, love, and grace coming into our lives so it can influence the choices we make and the things that we do. 

This is why God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. That was essential for Adam and Eve to live out God’s image in their lives.

The problem is that sin severs that connection we have with God. 

Through our sin we declare that we have the ability to define what is good and bad, what is right and wrong, on our own and in the process we turn our back on God.

This is why we need to be rescued.

God needs to pursue us and make a way for reconciliation, a way for our connection to Him to be restored, to happen. All the different covenants we read about in the Bible remind us that God is making it possible for us to be reconciled to Him.

Jesus opened up the way for us to be reconciled to God. Through him we are able to once again experience the life God created us to live.

John 15:5 (NLT)
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus is not saying we can do nothing useful apart from him. We constantly see people who are not followers of Jesus do things that are useful, loving, and gracious. What Jesus is saying is that we can’t fulfill our work for the Kingdom apart from him. 

In order to bear God’s image we have to be connected to Him, like a branch is connected to the vine, so we can receive His life. 

What is the source of life that we need from God?

His Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Look at the description of the fruit the Spirit produces in our lives. To live guided by the Spirit means that we are empowered to bear God’s image in the world.

This is one of the main themes of Scripture: to restore humanity to our original design. That can only happen by repenting of sin, trusting Jesus, and being guided by the Spirit.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Be the Evidence




Questions are an important part of having a conversation.

They help us find out more about the other person and they provide us with information that we didn’t have before.

If I am going to have a conversation about God, then certain questions are going to come up. 

Truth be told, while I am a pastor, I am not a “Bible Answer Man.” There are many things about Christianity, the Bible, and God I have questions about.

The process of answering questions helps us think through what we believe and provides us the opportunity to look at the world from a new perspective.

This particular question is a common one. It would be reasonable to assume that if God wanted everyone to know Him that He would make it easy for people to find Him. 

I think at the heart of this question is this statement: "God if You would just reveal Yourself to me then I would believe in You." They justify their lack of faith because God, if He even exists, hasn’t made it obvious to them.  

I can understand why this is a difficulty to believing in God. There are times in my life that I wished God would just prove His existence. Yet, I suspect that wouldn't impact my long term faith very much.

Think about two Biblical examples of people who experienced God in a miraculous way: 
  • The nation of Israel in Exodus. These people had experience slavery at the hands of the Egyptians. They witnessed God deliver them from slavery through the use of ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the miraculous provision of guidance and food through the wilderness. They saw how God revealed Himself to the entire nation at Mount Sinai. Moses went up the mountain, and when he doesn't return (forty days and forty nights) the people got antsy. They gather some gold together and made a golden calf to worship. In their worship they proclaimed this is the god who led them out of Egypt (Exodus 19 -32).
  • Jesus' disciples. These men heard Jesus teach, witnessed his miracles, and saw him over a 40 day stretch after his resurrection. As Jesus prepared to ascend into heaven he took these followers to a mountain in Galilee. Matthew 28:17 saws; "When they saw him, they worshiped him--but some of them still doubted!" (NLT)  

It is amazing that Israel doubted God and disciples doubted Jesus after all they experienced. We tend to think if we were in their place and were able to witness miracles and see the risen Lord face to face that we would not doubt. I am not certain that would be the case.

These examples show us that a faith built on the evidence miracles is not a sustainable faith. Time has a way of eroding our experiences. Given enough time even the most awesome miracles would loose their impressiveness.

Aside from what theologians call general revelation (the evidence of God discovered in nature), God doesn't make Himself known to everyone. It might be impressive for God to reveal Himself in all His Holy splendor, but how long would that make an impression on people? At the very least it would be something He had to do every generation.

There is nothing God can do, except what He will do when Jesus returns, that will convince everyone that He is real.

That doesn't mean God keeps Himself hidden from people.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27; NLT)

God created human beings in His image. To be created in God's image means that we are designed to be His representatives in this world, to demonstrate His character. In other words we are to be walking, talking, and breathing revelations of God. The world should know God because of His people.

This is why Jesus told his disciples: 

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35; NLT)

The world will know that God exists through the lives of His people. May we be the evidence people need.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Mutually Opposed

It is not uncommon to find two opposing desires residing in our hearts.

One of the most common experience of this is the desire to live life on our terms and the desire to follow Jesus. It would be nice if the two were the same, but they are not. The one desire is about maintaining control in our lives while the other desire is about surrendering that control to God.

The fact that we carry around these opposing desires doesn’t mean that we want to live some evil lifestyle. It does mean that we don’t trust God to do what is best.

John Eldredge in Walking with God writes about these two desires:
“I want two things that are mutually opposed—I want to live a nice little life, and I want to play an important role in God’s kingdom. And it’s in those times that I am trying to live a nice little life that I make decisions and choices that cause me in small and subtle ways to live outside of Jesus. The Shepherd is headed one direction, and I am headed another. Not to some flagrant sin—that’s too easy to recognize. Instead, I’m simply wandering off looking for the pasture I deem best.” (pp. 89-90)

I don’t want to speak for you, but I know this summarizes my life.

On the one hand I want the life I want to live: a nice life that is safe and comfortable. On the other hand I want to be part of what God is doing in this world: a life of faith that takes me out of my comfort zone.

My flesh always pulls me towards the life I want, which I believe is the life of my dreams.

What is frustrating, and I would bet that you have been there too, is that the life of my dreams never really becomes a reality. It always seems to remain just out of reach. And if by chance we have a few moments when we think we have achieved it, it doesn’t seem to be everything that we had hoped it would be. It feels unsatisfying to us.

As long as we live here on earth we will be pulled in these two directions. We are either going to use our time and energy to create the life we think will make us happy, or we will sacrifice our desires to devote our lives to following Jesus and discovering the life he created for us.

I want you to think about what the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians:
So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. (Colossians 1:9-10; NLT)
We need to God's will and to have spiritual wisdom if we are going to live a life that honors Jesus.

To receive this knowledge we need to pray. Notice that this is part of Paul's regular prayer for the Colossians. We al need to spend time in the Bible. The Bible is God's word to us: it contains the wisdom and truth that He wants us to know.

Remember, it isn’t enough just to know and understand God’s will.

The key is to be obedient to God’s will. The way God’s will makes a difference in our lives is when we adjust our lives to it.

If we aren’t willing to obey God, then knowing His will doesn’t make one bit of difference in our lives. This requires that we make a commitment to do God’s will, no matter what the cost will be or where His will takes us.

Our desires to have a nice little life and to live the life God created us to live are mutually opposed (though I should add that when the first is our goal we will never achieve it, but when the second is our goal we will have a life that is so much better than what we had dreamed), and if we are going to follow Jesus we will have to lay down our dreams and desires in order to pick up His desires for our lives.

The life we really want, true life, isn’t found in what we can create for ourselves. It is found in the life God created us to live.

Seek out God’s will for your life, and then live out His will. That is how we truly live life.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

After Thoughts: What is Truth?

I started a podcast for Bethlehem Church this week.

The podcast is called After Thoughts because it goes beyond what I am able to share in the sermon each week.

This week I am talking about what it is important to anchor our lives on the reality that Jesus is the truth.

 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Be Humble and Respectful

People are different.

I know that isn't breaking news, but it is worth remembering. You and I are different in dozens, if not hundreds of ways. That is a good thing

The world would be a boring place if everyone believed and acted the same way.

The world advances when people of different backgrounds and skills work together. Everything from making a ham sandwich to creating a pencil to assembling a car requires a division of labor that benefits the world.

Diversity is one of God’s great blessings to the world.

Even though we acknowledge the blessing of diversity, the number 1 reason we judge other people is because they are different from us.

They do things different than we would do them, they believe different ideas than what we believe, they value different things than what we value, or they have a different set of morals than what we have.

These differences lead us to call other people weird, stupid, ignorant, immoral, and evil.

Our prideful side whispers in our hearts that our way is the right way and if that person doesn’t do it our way they are wrong. This reality (even though we wouldn’t actually admit to it) causes us to be very harsh with one another.

We see it in our discussion of politics, in our conversations about religion and theology, in our relationships at work, and our interactions with our neighbors.

Be careful about the way you view other people.

If you label people as weird, ignorant, or wrong simply because they do things differently than you do, you doing what Jesus asked you not to do.

Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
In order to live the way of Jesus we need to be humble and patient.
The apostle Paul wrote; “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3, NLT)
Without humility we will cast judgement on others and treat them harshly. A lack of humility will prevent us from embracing the diversity God designed within the world.

This is especially crucial to do with people who are ideologically opposed to us. It is too easy to disregard what they have to say and to treat them as second class citizens. Yet, as followers of Jesus we are called love our neighbors and our enemies. To do that we have to treat them with respect.

Be humble and be respectful of the diversity that is all and us.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Listen to Jesus: Evaluation

This is the third sermon I preached in a series called Listen to Jesus.

God created us to bear His image in this world. We don't naturally bear His image, we have to be taught how. Jesus came to teach us how to demonstrate God's character in this world.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Don't Surrender to Fear

The tasks God calls us to do are often scary and overwhelming.

One reason for feeling this way is because we know that if completing the tasks depended solely upon us then they will remain unfinished. We are well aware of our weaknesses and the ways we have fallen short in the past.

A second reason for feeling this way is because of the unknown. We don’t know what the obstacles will be, but we know that there will be obstacles. Anytime we are moving with God we can expect opposition.

I imagine that Joshua felt this same way when he was called to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 31:7-8 (NLT)

Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched, he said to him, “Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors he would give them. You are the one who will divide it among them as their grants of land. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Moses had been the leader of Israel for 40 years and he understood the difficulties that were involved with the task leadership. Like a wise leader he took the opportunity to encourage Joshua to be strong and courageous. Moses reminded Joshua that he could be confident in the task because God would go with him.

Deuteronomy 31:23 (NLT)

Then the LORD commissioned Joshua son of Nun with these words: “Be strong and courageous, for you must bring the people of Israel into the land I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

For a second time Joshua is encouraged to be “strong and courageous.” This time the encouragement didn’t come from Moses, but from God. Joshua wasn't appointed to be leader by Moses, but by God. God told Joshua that he can boldly lead the people into the Promised Land because God will go with him.


What a great promise to have as you begin to live out your calling.

Joshua 1:6-9 (NLT)

“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

On the eve of venturing into the Promised Land God came to Joshua and affirmed the promise that he had been given. Joshua could be strong and courageous because God went with him.

In this passage we also discover God’s instruction to Joshua on how to be strong and courageous: to know and obey the law.

God established a covenant with Israel, and as Israel's leader Joshua was charged with teaching Israel how to obey the terms of that covenant. It was essential that Joshua knew, obeyed, and ultimately modeled covenant faithfulness to the nation.

As Joshua knew, lived, and taught the terms of the covenant to Israel, he would become more and more confident of God’s faithfulness to His promises.

2 Timothy 1:6-8 (NLT)

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 
So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.
Timothy had a task to complete. It was based on the talents and spiritual gifts that God had given him.

Even though Timothy was called by God and had the necessary skills to complete the task, there was a part of Timothy that was holding him back. If he was to accomplish his God-given mission he would face persecution and opposition. Paul reminded Timothy that God's Spirit gave him the courage and boldness he needed to accomplish what God had called him to do.

Followers of Jesus we are not to surrender to our fears. We are to go forth in courage and do what we have been called to do: to make disciples.

Yes, we will face opposition.

That reality shouldn’t hold us back. We move forward, confident that as we demonstrate our faithfulness we will experience God’s faithfulness.

We can go confidently into the world because we know that God goes with us. He has empowered us, through His Spirit, to be the strong and courageous people He called us to be.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Continue to Struggle

We were never promised an easy life.

Even though we know this is true, we always feel like life is unfair when hardships, trials, and difficulties show up in our lives. 

We expect life to go easily, and when it doesn’t it shakes us to the core.

I believe that Christians, though we wouldn’t admit it, secretly believe following Jesus should make life easier. After all, we reason, we are doing God’s will and that means He should help us in our work. This unspoken belief is why it is easy for people to walk away from Jesus when things get difficult.

Let me throw this thought out at you: Does opposition make things easier or more difficult?

The Bible tells us that there is an enemy, Satan, who is opposed to God and His will. It is logical to conclude that following Jesus would make things more difficult. Satan is not going to sit idly by as we pursue the will of God. He is going to fight us every step of the way. 
The presence of an enemy, the reality of evil, and the corruption caused by sin means we can expect difficult times in our lives.

This implies even when we are doing God’s will things will not always go smoothly for us. The mere fact that we are doing God’s will means we can expect opposition. 

When hardships and trials come our way the best thing we can do is to struggle forward. As James pointed out in James 1:2-4, God uses these situations to mature our faith. In the face of opposition, of hardships, and of trials it is vital that we hold on to God’s promise. 

Hope is essential to enduring the struggles of life.

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death. (Revelation 2:8-11; NLT)

Jesus told this group of Christians not to give up in the face of persecution. “Hang in there,” He says, “this persecution won’t last forever.”

Our struggle may not be persecution, but it is still a form of opposition from the enemy. In the middle of hardships we are often tempted to give up and do something else. We need hope to stay the course, and this is why Jesus reminds us of the great promise he has for us: a crown of life. 

Don’t give up, the reward is more than worth the pain!

How do we hang on and trust in Jesus when life becomes a struggle?
  1. Ask yourself the question: Is my struggle tied to right and faithful living? We need to be honest, sometimes life is a struggle because we have made bad choices. If that is the case, then we need to change the way we live. While God won’t take away the consequences of bad choices, He will empower us to get through them. On the other hand, if our hardships come from doing God’s will, then we need to remain faithful. If our desire is to honor God, encourage people, help others, and mature in our faith then we can expect to be opposed by Satan. We overcome Satan by being faithful to Jesus.
  2. Let go of your expectations. Each one of us carries around in minds what it life should look like and the wild success we will experience in ministry. These expectations can motivate us, but they can also be a huge stumbling block when life turns out to be different. That is why it is essential for us to be flexible, to lay down our agendas, and seek God’s guidance. Keep your focus on the hope of Jesus’s promise and not on your expectations.
  3. Surround yourself with friends. If we believe that we are alone in our struggle it is very easy to give up. It is much easier to endure when we are with friends. My first hiking trip to Colorado I went myself and I didn’t complete one hike. The reason was because I was alone and I got discouraged by the difficulties of the trials. When I have gone with friends I have been able to complete the trials, even when I felt like turning around, because we were on the trial together. The same is true in life and ministry.
Life is tough. 

The fact that life is tough doesn’t mean that we are on the wrong trail. Remember, we can expect opposition to find us as we follow Jesus. That means the struggles of life can be an indication that we are doing what God wants us to do. 

Rather than being on the wrong path, we are being opposed by the enemy. Regardless of the circumstances of life we need to stay faithful. It is only by remaining faithful that we can experience the life God created us to live.

Prophetic Revelation and the Gospel

  1 Peter 1:10-12 (CSB) Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who prophesied about the grace that would come to you, searched and careful...