Firm in the Faith

Last night I heard a PSA (public service announcement) that was very hateful. It got me thinking about how we, as Christians, should live in our nation(s) with their subjective truths and ungodly morals. Then, this morning, I read this verse:

13 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. 14 And do everything with love.” 

1 Corinthians 16:13

These are marching orders, marching orders for all who claim Jesus as their Lord. How different they are from those we hear in the media. 

Love is Our Command

The last word in our marching orders is “love.” How weird is that! Usually, aggressive marching or a chant ends with words like “hate” or “hell.” Even non-violent protesters usually pit themselves against their enemies, but not those who imitate Christ. We offer to help our enemies, pray for our enemies, to be slaves to our enemies. We commit ourselves to love with true love those people that hate us because those people are made in the image of God.

If you’ve ever loved a newborn baby or a grandchild, you know you could never wish them harm. It’s that kind of love that Jesus expects from us for people that want to be our enemies. So, if they steal from us, offer to give more; if they seek to put demands on us that the unrighteous don’t carry, offer to carry more. When we are oppressed, we pray out of love for our oppressors, and we seek out ways to tangibly demonstrate our love. (Matthew 5:38-45)

Love the Lost

Oh, you may say, “We must stand against the wicked.” I say, “We must stand against the wicked in our churches, against anyone that claims to belong to Jesus but openly rebels against His Holy Bible. But it’s different for the lost. 

12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 

1 Corinthians 5:12-13

The lost will never receive the Good News of Jesus unless they see that His people are uniquely different from their friends and families. Hate always hardens people, but sacrificial love resonates with those who know their hearts need filling.

Our Marching Orders

So, especially during Christmas time let’s embrace our marching orders. Let’s be the people that Jesus desires. Let’s love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and love inexplicably people that desire us harm. Remember, Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

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People Children Child Happy Kids Playing Cute

My Two Friends

I have two of my friends that approach life in Christ quite differently. My one friend has an insatiable thirst for Christ in his life. He spends a lot of time listening to sermons and diligently reading and memorizing the Scriptures. He loves the book of Romans and always finds a way to talk to people about Jesus. He is a church elder and often preaches. I sincerely enjoy and respect him. I am blessed to have him as a friend.

My other friend has focused on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). He deeply understands the Scriptures, but he rarely quotes a verse exactly when we chat. Still, for the past forty-five years, he has hosted individuals and families in his home for extended lengths of time and consistently seeks out people to share the Gospel and demonstrate genuine love, no matter what it cost him. I sincerely enjoy and respect him. I am blessed to have him as a friend.

My Contemplation

I began contemplating how does Jesus want me to live? For the first 1,500 years of Christianity, most Christians never possessed a Bible; many churches didn’t have one. So, Christians certainly didn’t read through the Bible each year, and they never had the opportunity to use a cross-reference, concordance, or commentary. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit was active in them, so lives were changed, and Christians thrived; massive numbers of people around the world turned their lives over to Jesus. That same Holy Spirit is still actively working today.

So, should I be like the saints of old and not possess a Bible? No! God has given us His Word for our spiritual health and our ministry to others. Why did God not allow Mr. Guttenberg to be born 1,500 years earlier? I have no idea. What I do know is that throughout history, God has continually broadened people’s opportunities to hear the Good News and repent.

Head and Feet

Relief from condemnation and true inner peace is what everyone longs for, but only those who receive God’s salvation acquire them. From the Bible, we learn how we can live with childlike inquisitiveness and how to discipline our bodies like athletes. Is one of my friends more right than the other? No!

19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

1 Corinthians 12:19-21

Good News

The keys to life in Jesus are faith and obedience. We are not faced with a contradiction between striving to live as an athlete for Jesus or living inquisitively as citizens in God’s kingdom. Whatever we do, we must do it in faith and without selfishness. The athlete must not judge the inquisitive citizen, and the inquisitive citizen must not judge the athlete. If we do as Jesus desires, then all of us will receive the “light burden” He promised, and we will know how we are to live our lives for Him.

Image by Hai Nguyen Tien from Pixabay

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Stupid The Word Stupid Scrabble Tiles

Are You Stupid?

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.” Proverbs 12:1

The New Living Translation states this verse as: “To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction.” Proverbs 12:1

Imagine if you never learned from the corrections your parents and teachers tried to teach you when you were in K–12 schools. You would be of little value to yourself or society. As my dad would threaten me when I was obstinate, “You’ll grow up to be a ditch digger!” [Ditch digging is now a profitable profession, but back then, it was the bottom rung of work.]

This same truth needs to be embraced by every Christian. Besides local church congregations, there are just many Christians in leadership positions who have rejected discipline. As a result, their understanding of Christianity is like Swiss cheese; it’s full of holes.

Consider these statements from Proverbs, chapter twelve:

12 … but the root of the righteous bears fruit.
13 … but the righteous escapes from trouble.
15 … but a wise man listens to advice.
16 …but the prudent ignores an insult.
18 … but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
20 …but those who plan peace have joy.
22… but those who act faithfully are his [God’s] delight.

God has given us marvelous promises, but they all depend on His conditions. We must be righteous. We must be wise. We must be sensible. We must act faithfully. We must have the foresight to make plans that we accomplish. All of these promises are predicated (dependent) on a history of faithful service to God from the person.

It amazes me how many Christians don’t know their own local church’s statements of faith. Or they don’t know that Christianity grew from a handful of believers in Jerusalem to millions of Christian believers when, for the first 1,500 years of the Church’s history, the average Christian didn’t have a Bible and may never have owned even a single copy of one of Apostle Paul’s letters. And they don’t know that there were times when the Protestants and Anabaptists killed people for their Christian beliefs, just as the Catholic inquisitions did. There is so much we, as Christians, need to learn!

For us to learn and grow, God’s conditions require us to receive correction from Christ and His leaders He has placed in His Church – pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, and others that God has anointed to mentor His children. If we try to go it alone, if we try to be our own council, if we reject the people that God puts in our lives to correct us and disciple us through sermons, teaching, and cleaning toilets, then we are stupid.

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Man Dancing Hip Hop Dance Dancer B-Boy Fun Guys

Saying ‘No’ to Jesus

You may be familiar with Luke’s account in the book of Acts when Jesus (i.e., the Lord) showed the apostle Peter a vision of a sheet filled with every kind of animal, and the Lord told Peter to kill and eat them. Peter’s response was immediate:

“No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”

Acts 10:14

Peter’s response was based on Jewish law. My response would have been from being grossed out. That’s one of the thousand reasons why Peter is an apostle, and I’m just an old Gentile.

Still, notice that Peter thought he was taking the moral high ground when he told the Lord “no.” Let that sink in. Have you ever thought you were taking the moral high ground when God wanted to lead you into something you called “unclean?”

I can think of many things that my preconceptions would call unclean. Christian hip-hop music – yes, it’s real, and it ministers to a large number of young people. Charismatic churches. I wouldn’t be living for Jesus had it not been for a “full gospel” church. Missionaries to foreign countries. It is shameful how American churches have failed to fund missionaries who labor in humanity’s most impoverished, godless pockets.

Those are just three examples of the “sheet” that our Lord has let down for us to see. He has called these clean, but we somehow believe that our preconception is a higher moral ground than what Christ has plainly shown us. I pray that we will be like Peter and obedient to where He calls us. It would be a sad thing to come before Jesus and say, “But I thought my decision was more holy than what you told me.”

Image by Chris U. from Pixabay

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Different Lanes Revisited

I’ve updated this post. It was first was published on November 18th, 2018.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Stay in your lane

We that have Jesus in us are all running in the same race. And, just like every athletic racetrack, the track has lanes, one lane for each runner. Each runner is to stay in their lane throughout the race.

You have a gift or perhaps many gifts from God. Do you know which lane is yours? God may use someone whose gift is prophecy to teach. But if you watch their life, you will see that prophecy will consistently be the primary action of that person. A prophet that teaches, if God so directs, is not cutting in on a different lane but, rather, is filling in where someone else should be running. That runner is “standing in the gap. (Ezekiel 22:30)” That person may be stuck at the starting gate!

Sober Judgment

We see this “filling in” all the time in local churches. However, we must be ready to give opportunities to younger people in Christ. We must not take what God has not given. It’s been said of missionaries that they need to be prepared to teach, preach, pray, sing, or die, at a moment’s notice. That’s their lane. If you don’t know where your lane is, ask Jesus, then look for entry-level opportunities to use your gifting. Let Christ promote you as He sees fit. This is what Paul said:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Romans 12:3-8

Good News

Trust God. Be obedient to Jesus, your Lord. Seek to be full of the Holy Spirit. Love everyone. Receive what our Savior places in your hand and do the work as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). All else will take care of itself.

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crown of thorns on open Bible

Unfinished Business

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. Genesis 2:1

Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished…. Exodus 39:32

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. Nehemiah 6:15

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

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

And He told me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give freely from the spring of the water of life. Revelation 21:6

God Finishes What He Starts

So, God’s Word gives us a panoramic view of this history of how God dealings with people. In God, we see that He finishes what He starts. If we are to imitate God Ephesians 5:1, then we must be seen as people that finish what they start. We are to be wise and led by the Spirit so that we finish what we set our hands to do, lest we become a fool Luke 14:28 before humanity.

Are We Imitators of God?

A famous phrase of missionaries is this: “Where God guides, He provides.” I’ve personally experienced this. God taught a phrase to my family and I: “Every delay is a good delay.” So, here’s the point of this post. Do we have things that God anointed us to do but we’ve left undone? Has the God of all Creation laid things on our hearts that without a doubt are from God, but we never can find the time to do? Now here’s the big one: Which people has God placed in our lives to love, to help, to adopt, to mentor, but we have been too busy doing God’s work to complete the job that Jesus gave us to do?

Unfinished Business

If anyone can answer “no” to all these questions, then I join you in celebrating your obedience to Christ. In good conscience, I cannot include myself in this honor roll. I have unfinished business that I must attend to.

With a shameful face, and sadness, I confess that I’ve not finished things that Jesus, my Savior, has placed in my hands to do. I repent. I make a pledge today, with you as witnesses, that I will adjust my priorities, and I will finish the things that can be salvaged which Jesus gave me to do. I pray the same for you if you have unfinished business with God. Amen.

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401K – Corban

What’s Corban

To the Pharisees Jesus said,

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) — then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.

Mark 7:8-13

A Financial Sleight-of Hand

This exchange that Jesus has with the Pharisees is fascinating! Here’s what isn’t obvious: Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees which were the primary offenders of this within Jewish society. Think of it. It was the Pharisees that received the things given to God. They were the ones that received most of the wealth that came in from the sacrifices.

So, being the wise guys that they were, they claimed Corban. This meant that the wealth that poured in became theirs, for they received the sacrifices. And they had no obligation to use their wealth to care for their parents because by declaring Corban, they got to keep all the stuff.

“Now, this the scribes and Pharisees did for their own covetous ends. For most of them were priests, who received offerings made to God as his ministers, and then converted them to their own uses.”

The Pulpit Commentary

This may seem like an interesting backstory, but not relevant to our modern world. Well… Here’s the rub. God never removed our obligation to provide for our parents when they become elderly or infirmed. This tends to put a dent in middle-aged children’s’ retirement plans; old mom and dad’s needs are not a line item.

It’s easy for us to justify not helping Mom and Dad. We have the traditions of modern men. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps and so forth relieve us of any fiscal responsibilities.

It’s M&D’s own fault if they can barely stay afloat. We call “401K-Corban.” Anything we would normally have provided to M&D we will now pay a tithe on to our local church. Our church will praise God for their windfall, so all is good.

However, we must deal with this difficult statement from Jesus, in verse eight: You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” If calling 401K-Corban helps us sleep at night, then there’s no chance that Christians will change.

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fire insurance - house fire

More Than Fire Insurance

The house fire

When my wife and I first started dating, we shared family stories. We found these stories fascinating. Early on, my wife-to-be told me about a fire that burned their home to the ground. We even drove by the empty lot where their house had stood.

My wife and her sisters were young kids at the time of their fire, my wife being 7 or 8. It was a terrifying experience and one that left the family homeless. However, they had a tight-knit extended family, so they had shelter while my father-in-law searched for a place to raise his brood of kids. He found one, and more than half a century later, my in-laws still live there.

The kitchen fire

Shockingly, that was not their only fire. A few years after my wife and I married, and while some of her sisters still lived at home, they had a kitchen fire that gutted the kitchen. Fire insurance paid for the rebuilding of their home – exterior and interior.

Sadly, shortly after the fire, my wife’s grandmother passed away, leaving my mother-in-law an inheritance that paid for new cabinets, countertops, and other pleasant things for her kitchen. Thankfully, my in-laws haven’t experienced a fire for nearly forty years!

Fire changes beautiful things into carbon

Fires do happen, and when they do, it’s shocking how they can completely change beautiful things into carbon, useful for nothing.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that the things we build and the things we treasure will eventually be burned, buried, or broken. My sister and I have had the unpleasant task of dispensing our mom’s stuff after she died and my dad’s things after he passed. Once a person passes, it’s astonishing how much “unwanted” things remains after family and friends get what they want.

What I’ve learned

Here’s the wisdom I’ve gained from family stories and family funerals: Jesus is more than fire insurance.

In imperceptible ways and ginormous events, God takes care of His children. I’ve learned that we are not born God’s children. We are born as rebels against God, and we have His wrath upon us. I’ve learned over the years that very few people understand that God is furious with them.

Have you ever loved someone, but that person did something that made you so angry that you couldn’t stand to be in the same room with them? Well, multiple that by a gazillion, and that’s how God feels.

Why? Because God desires to lavish His love upon humanity, but every single person chooses worldliness over God – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of GodRomans 3:23 And, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” – John 3:36

Jesus is more than fire insurance

Notice the switch up in this passage. To believe implies obedience. And notice that God’s wrath is already upon people; upon us unless we believe and are reborn. Great, you may think, but what does this have to do with today’s topic? Well, Jesus is more than fire insurance.

When we believe and receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are born anew, born as citizens in God’s kingdom, and that’s just the beginning. God has work for us to do in this life and work in our lives to come. In heaven, we don’t float on clouds and play harps throughout eternity. Consider this passage of scripture:

11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15

We have work to do

First, notice that Jesus is the only salvation available to humanity. Next, see that once we are “born anew,” we have work to do. God planned your work and my work before He began creating the heavens and the earth (Ephesians 2:10). We can only do our chores by using faith in God.

If we are lazy or sloppy, we build God’s kingdom with things that won’t last. When tested by fire, they burn up, leaving you or me with nothing to show Jesus. We literally will come before God empty-handed and suffer a great loss! However, if you and I do the work that God planned for each of us and do it diligently, faithfully, and for the Lord, then we build God’s kingdom with gold, silver, and jewels – things that survive fire! We will receive a reward from God for our obedience!

We can show God that our work has eternal value

So, you see, Jesus is more than fire insurance. Living for Jesus saves us from hell, but God also allows us to show Him that our work has eternal value.

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camp site with a log fire

Where God Guides, He Provides

Now you may know this, but an obedient teacher brings out old and new treasures (Matthew 13:52), so hang with me on this post.

God’s provision

A nugget of truth that I’ve heard and experienced countless times is this: Where God guides, He provides. The history of the Church bears this out. Undoubtedly, the best example of this truth is found in the life of baby Jesus.

Before Jesus was two years old, God sent magi (wise men) from the east to worship Jesus and to shower Him in material blessings.

And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. – Matthew 2:11-12

Why did Christ’s family need all this stuff? Later, during Christ’s ministry, He told a “would-be” disciple, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) Did Jesus squander His wealth? No, of course not. So, what happened to the gold and frankincense and myrrh?

As you remember, king Herod was determined to kill Jesus. So, an angel of the Lord told Joseph to flee to Egypt.And he [Joseph] rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.” (Matthew 2:14)

So, God guided Jesus and His family to flee to Egypt and stay there until Herod died. How did they pay their travel expenses and extended stay in Egypt? Well, God had provided all they needed. They had gold and valuable perfumes. So, God provided for all their needs.

The apostles’ provision

This account in the book of Matthew is a fascinating example of “Where God guides, He provides,” but this certainly isn’t the only example. 

When Jesus sent His apostles on their inaugural mission trip, “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts.” (Mark 6:8) The apostles were sent, in part, to learn that when you are doing God’s work, God provides for you.

From God, through faith

Certainly, there are times when God’s path leads us into hardships, into harsh conditions, and for some, into martyrdom, but these conditions are laid upon His children to share in Christ’s suffering: But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)

For God’s children, as we live for Him in this world, we are learning to walk by faith, eat by faith, be sheltered by faith, and be in community with others by faith. Faith is what Jesus taught His apostles, and it was by faith in Christ Jesus that we were saved.

Be encouraged by this: God promised that He would never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). So, have faith that where He guides, He provides!

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folding ruler

An Improver

When I look at this image, I quickly picture Dad’s hands pulling it from a pocket and measuring whatever it was that he was going to improve. Dad was an improver. That was his calling.

Improving soldiers in WWII

While a young man, Dad learned to be an electrician at Coyne Electrical School in Chicago – it’s still in business. Later, he became an instructor there, improving the lives of his students; teaching them a trade that was in high demand.  While in the army, during WWII, Dad taught soldiers how to use the newest technology, the teletype. He improved the military’s ability to communicate critical information and imparted to his students’ skills that they carried into the post-war economic boom.

Still later he became a professor, earned his doctorate, eventually becoming the chairperson of the School of Technology, at Indiana State University. His mission was to improve how to teach technology; and he always taught. Professors and students alike gained technical skills and life skills through his work. Eventually, a scholarship was created in his and my mother’s names.

Improving houses

Being an educator was never enough. Dad always improved whatever he touched. Growing up, as a family, we moved at least fifteen times, and Dad never stopped. Before he passed, he had remodeled more than twenty homes. At age eighty-four, improving the last house he would own, he built an entire bathroom which successfully passed the city’s building inspection.

Anyone that knew Dad, knew Dad. He was the same person, whether participating in the faculty senate, teaching in a classroom, or handing me this folding ruler. I remember who Dad was when I was young. Now that I’m old, I realize that few people are the same, always and in all settings. And in all his roles he found ways to improve the lives of those around him. My wife also has this rare gift.

Improving the people around him

Now Dad loved Jesus with all his heart. So, everyone knew that Dad was completely dedicated to serving Jesus, his Lord and Savior. There were no dirty jokes or crude words used around Dad, not because he forbade them, but people just felt guilty, sullied when they tried these worldly actions in Dad’s presence – I witnessed this first-hand, many times. Dad’s walk with Christ improved those around him

It’s true, this rickety old tool holds no value to anyone but me, and someday it will get tossed in a trash can. But, for now, when I want to see Dad’s hands, I reach for this folding ruler out and let my memories get the best of me.

Jesus the Creator

Though Dad was an improver, our Savior, Jesus, doesn’t improve things, He creates things. There’s an adage that says, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make the dead alive!” This adage is true. None of us needed Jesus to help us be better. We all needed to be born again, born as a child of God, born with the Holy Spirit within us. (Romans 3:23) Better just isn’t good enough for God’s children.

This old, folding ruler helps me to see the hands of my dad, and someday, I’ll again see his hands because both he and I are true believers in Jesus. But before I seek to see Dad’s hands, I will seek to see Christ’s hands. I long to see His nail-scarred hands, to see the One who decided that better wasn’t good enough. Jesus “bought me” from death to life. He is the One I want to first see, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I pray that each of us are improvers in whatever role God calls us to. But more than that, I pray that you have given your life to Jesus. Amen.

Photo by me 😀

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