Friday, September 25, 2020

"Fully Disclosed"

1st Timothy 5.25 NAS

“Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.”

When my daughter Rachel was four years old (fourteen years ago), she loved to play hide-n-seek. However, she was not very good at it. She had the mistaken notion that if she could not see me, then it followed that I could not see her. It was comical to watch Rachel with hands clasped over her face and eyes closed really tight… and the back half of her little body sticking out past the back side of the reclining chair in plain view.

Try as hard as we might, we cannot hide, ignore, or cover our good deeds or mis-deeds. They will one day soon become fully exposed. In truth, even now we are more transparent to those around us than we think we are.

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be
made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what
you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”
Jesus, Luke 12.2-3 NIV

We should take the words of Jesus seriously. We are wise to behave behind closed doors in a manner that would not mortify or shame us if our private actions were published on the front page of tomorrow’s Oregonian. 

Jesus said, “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5.16 NLT). How does this square with His other message: “Take care that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6.1 NKJV)? Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered this explanation:

“How is this paradox to be resolved?”, wrote Bonhoeffer.
“The first question to ask is: From whom are we to hide the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves. Our task is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of ourselves or of what we are doing. We must be unaware of our own righteousness, and see it only in so far as we look unto Jesus.” [1]

According to Bonhoeffer, when I perform a good deed, I should not let my left hand know what my right hand is doing so that my deed may be kept a secret… from me!

Jesus promised, “You shall by My witnesses…” (Acts 1.8 NASU). Apparently, I have no real choice in the matter of being a witness. I am one. My life witnesses for the truth of who I am and what I believe. Jesus calls me to become an active witness of who He is. That cannot happen unless I am a Jesus follower. Every single living soul witnesses to the truth of who they really are. It cannot be helped.

Ultimately, who I am is defined by my words and actions. The real ‘me’ cannot be concealed. I may as well participate early in the journey of truth. Secrets cannot be kept for long. I have nothing to lose that I won’t eventually lose anyway. There’s no reason not to take the risk to try to become the fully disclosed person God designed me to be.

_________________

[1] The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Simon & Schuster, 1949, p. 158.

The cartoon at the top of the post was drawn by talented cartoonist Chris Madden and used here with his gracious permission. I changed the message. The original thought balloon said "Burying my head in the sand over climate change is much easier now that half the world's turned to desert!" Check out his website at http://www.chrismadden.co.uk/.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

"Living Water"

1st Timothy 4.16 NASU 

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

Jesus asked, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7.3). I have enough eye debris to cause a log jam. Paul’s advice to the young pastor Timothy applies to me:

“Pay close attention to yourself”!
Paul, 1st Timothy 4.16

Because I have self-serving tendencies, it would be wise for me to monitor them. The second wisest of all men (Jesus was the wisest) warned:

“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”
Solomon, Proverbs 4.23

Three amazing men conveyed exactly the same truth…
  • Jesus reminds me that I have at least a log’s worth of self-improvement to deal with.
  • Paul commands me to “pay close attention” to the logs in my life.
  • Solomon expects me to work diligently to divert the log jams and keep the “springs of life” flowing freely.
The Bible’s relevant observation about me evokes a personal response in me... Flush the eye logs of character flaws and performance defects down the rivers of living waters through honest introspection and fearless self-disclosure. Keep these “springs of life” flowing at all costs. Teach from this place of vigilant self-truth. Perhaps my cleansing river may flow with enough strength to inspire others standing along the banks to toss their own particles of debris into the fast-moving current.

“…for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
Paul, 1st Timothy 4.16

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said,
‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
Jesus, John 7.37

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

"Stop Depriving Yourself"

1st Timothy 3.14-15 NASU

“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”

Paul wrote with an audience in mind. Timothy was a recipient of Paul’s written words which came in the form of a personal letter. Paul’s words had a purpose. They served as a bridge over the space and time of the Apostle’s absence until his next visit to the church of Ephesus. Paul was divinely inspired and his words still act as a bridge over the space of time in which you and I live; that is, between Christ’s first appearance and His second coming. We are now the intended audience of God’s word. We are the audience God has in mind.

Paul’s letter to Timothy and the other 65 books of the Bible are more than just a collection of works from antiquity. The Bible is not simply a resource book on the history of the Jews, the life of Jesus, or the expansion of the early church. The Bible is God’s loves letters to God’s people. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the words of Scripture operate like Jesus. They rise from the dead! It was the “Spirit… who raised Christ from the dead” (Romans 8.11) and it is the Spirit who breathes life into the written word.

“All Scripture is God-breathed...”
2nd Timothy 3.16 NIV

“For the word of God is full of living power.”
Hebrews 4.12 NLT

Someday Jesus will come again and we will meet Him “face to face.” Until His glorious return, we have the partial revelation of truth found in God's written Word. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now [we] know in part, but then [we] will know fully" (1st Corinthians 13.12). When Christ comes back, we won’t need the Bible any more. When I have coffee with a friend I don’t pass him notes. I talk to him face to face. Upon my arrival home after a trip, my wife (when she was alive) and kids do not run upstairs, pull out some of my old letters to read. No! They greet me in person with hugs and kisses. I am better than my letters. I am better than my long distance correspondence. But, until my return home, my letters, phone calls, emails, and FaceTime are as good as it gets.

Paul wrote to Timothy “in case [he was] delayed” to hold and support the young pastor until they would meet again “face to face” sometime in the future. The written words, notes, letters, books, poems, genealogies, prophesies, chronologies, visions, commandments, epistles, and journals of the Bible are excellent portrayals of absolute truth, “but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” (1st Corinthians 13.10). Until Christ returns, Scripture empowered by the Holy Spirit is as good as it gets. The Bible is the source of our connection to its Author, God Himself. It holds the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” Christ promised to impart (Matthew 16.19).

Our 28th President, had similar sentiments, and left these thoughts behind:

“A man had deprived himself of the best in the world who has deprived himself of this, a knowledge of the Bible. When you have read the Bible, you will know it is the Word of God, because you will have found it the key of your own heart, your own happiness and your own duty. I am sorry for the men who do not read the Bible every day. I wonder why they deprive themselves of the strength and the pleasure.”
 _________________

The "Love Letters" image above comes from a Lancaster Historical Society exhibition in Pennsylvania featuring actual love letters, some date back as far as the 18th century. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

"Have a Cow"

1st Timothy 2.5-6a NIV

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.


















Jesus is God. He is also the Son of God. His role as the 2nd member of the Trinity is mediator. Jesus bridges the gap, that boundless uncross-able span “between God and mankind [all people]”. He did something no other person could do. He is not the chief among many. Jesus Christ is totally unique and eternally distinguished from every other living soul. All humankind needs to be saved and He is the Savior. We need a Savior, He does not.

Jesus is also fully human. He is a man. No other man captures my imagination and replenishes my soul like this man does. He inspires me. He fills my heart with the desire to be the man God destined me to be… a bigger, better, stronger version of me. He has filled me with the power to go with Him and lead others into the “paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23.3b KJV). Jesus in me is my “hope of glory” (Colossians 1.27 NIV).

Jesus “gave Himself.” He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50.10 NLT). He could have given me a cow! Or a car, a bunch of money, special influence, power, fame, or wealth. Instead, Jesus gave me something far better and more costly. He gave me Himself! What a guy! What a man! What a God!

This is what Jesus didn’t say in my hour of need: “Here. Have a cow. I own all of them on a thousand hills. I have plenty and if I run out, I can make some more. Now shove off. I’m too busy for you right now.” 

This sounds familiar. I have actually said to others in need. “Let me give you some [cheap] advise. Here's a donation of money. I have plenty and if I run out, I can make some more,” when what I really meant was: “Shove off. I’m too busy for you right now.”

Jesus, make me a little more like You today. Help me give myself to others in the name of the One who “gave Himself” to me.

_____________________

The photograph above is entitled “Dairy Cows” and used with permission by photographer Dennis Flood (http://www.dennisflood.com/). 

Monday, September 21, 2020

"Get Ready to Rumble... the Good Rumble"

1st Timothy 1.18c-19a NIV

“…fight the good fight, holding on the faith and a good conscience.”

We have an enemy. We must be prepared to fight and do battle against him. Christianity is not for softies. Wimps need not apply. We are commanded to “put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6.11) and... GET READY TO RUMBLE! Our battle is not “against flesh and blood, but against… the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6.12). The best way to keep a “good conscience” is to remember people aren’t the enemy. “The spiritual forces of evil” is our ultimate enemy.

When we “promote controversies rather than God’s work,” we lose sight of the goal which, of course, is love (1st Timothy 1.4-5). Jesus said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5.44). Paul, quoting Solomon, said, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12.20; Proverbs 25.21-22). This response takes the focus of the attack (and counter-attack) off people engaged in conflict and places it on the devil, where it belongs.

We have an enemy, but we can’t see him. He remains largely invisible and influences God’s children to squabble with each other. That’s a waste of time. We must take (our rightful) spiritual authority over the source of the conflict and simply love those who act out the devil’s aggression. In so doing, we both engage in the “good fight” (as we must) and maintain a “good conscience”  (as we should). A fight with another human being is usually a ‘bad fight.’ “Fight the good fight” against the demonic realm of darkness and “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16.20).

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but... against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of
evil in heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6.12
__________________

"Let's get ready to rumble!" is a trademarked catchphrase notably used by Michael Buffer, American Boxing and Professional Wrestling announcer.

Friday, September 18, 2020

"The Wimpy Way Out"

2nd Thessalonians 
3.8-10 NKJV

“…nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. 

For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.

Money is a powerful tool to accomplish your dreams, fulfill your desires, and fix whatever ails you. There is no particular virtue in poverty. Money can be a great blessing but “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1st Timothy 6.10 KJV). Money represents the things you can buy. Those things and your motivation to own them reveal the condition of your heart. Your level of devotion to material possessions indicates the depth of the evil resident within you.

“If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.

Paul’s work ethic could be restated for our spend-happy culture:

‘If anyone has no money, neither shall he buy.’

Wimpy, in the original Popyeye cartoon series, was a ‘hamburger-aholic.’ He was fond of promising, “I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today.” Apparently Wimpy did not have enough cash on hand to satisfy his burger hankering. St. Paul would have clarified things for Wimpy: ‘Wait until tomorrow to eat the hamburger when you have the money to buy it. Today, go to work. Earn some money, let your hunger spur you on to productive labor, then come back and buy your burger.” It’s the principle of delayed gratification. 

The difference between a man and a boy is this… a boy won’t wait. A man can delay gratification. Wimpy looked like a man, but he was apparently still a boy. Wimpy lived up to his name; Wimpy was a wimpy man.

There are many things I want, feel I deserve, and could easily justify owning like a vacation, for example. The truth is... I could take a vacation right now if I wanted to. I have a credit card! Saying “no” to self is painful. The little boy within me threatens a tantrum. He’s screams to spend money I don’t have. The man in me believes I can wait and delay my own gratification. The man in me realizes the best vacation I’ll ever take is the one that’s paid for before I take it.

Will I delay gratification like a man or take the “Wimpy” way out?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

"Finding Comfort"

2nd Thessalonians 2.16-17 NASU

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace,... ...comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.”

Ministries of excellence are accompanied by periods of discouragement. If you are a giver, prepare to suffer. In the midst of your suffering, be strong and keep giving. Jesus promised to “comfort and strengthen your hearts.”

As true servants of “every good work and word,” you cannot not share what you have. You are compelled to do so. You are unable to keep this gift to yourselves. It’s not for you alone. You have been honored with an unusual abundance and unlimited access to the Word of God. Pass it on. Like every disciple of Christ, you are called to be His hands and mouthpiece.

“And as you go, preach saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.
Freely you have received, freely give.”
Jesus, Matthew 10.7-8 NKJV


Your offering of “every good work and word” may be met with resistance, suspicion, criticism, or (worst of all) apathy. You may wish to stop giving, but you can’t. You’re stuck between the ‘rock’ of God’s calling and the ‘hard spot’ of closed doors. The pressure is profound, sometimes nearly unbearable. You are reduced to tears and pushed to your knees. Will you continue to give away what you have? Will you cast yourself upon the Lord and rely solely upon Him alone for the comfort and strength to remain in the impossible situation?

You are not alone. Paul described his dilemma (and yours) 2,000 years ago...

“…this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at
every turn — conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God,
who comforts the downcast, comforted us…”
2nd Corinthians 5.6-7 NIV

Be strong. Find comfort. You serve a living Savior who promises to “comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.”



______________________

The dandelion image called "Wisp Away" is by Amandaw whose photo albums you may view at Photobucket.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"Highway to Hell"

2nd Thessalonians 1.7b, 10 NIV

“This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels…. on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.

This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.”

Have you ever known a thing to be true but your attempt to convey the truth was met with suspicion and skepticism? You made eye contact. They listened politely but were not moved. You rallied your powers of persuasion but the audience remained unconvinced. You stated the facts, told the truth, and expressed conviction. You believed what you said. Why didn’t they?

You did not fail. Not everyone will believe your testimony. Some believe the truth about Jesus. Most will not.

“You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate.
The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide
for the many who choose the easy way.
But the gateway to life is small,
and the road is narrow,
and only a few
ever find
it.”
Jesus, Matthew 7.13-14 NLT

Your role is to be a witness of truth and nothing more. You simply provide testimony. Those who hear it will form their own opinions which may surprise, delight, or dismay you. Continue to witness to the truth. Persevere in sharing your testimony whenever possible. That’s all that is expected of you.

Join God’s highway construction crew. Post detour signs and flag down motorists. Warn them of the travel hazards ahead. Offer directions for a better route on a smaller road with less traffic. Inspire them to consider a superior destination. Do all you can do to get them off “the highway to hell.” 

When you die and go to heaven, you may be surprised to discover that some people are there for only one reason... they “believed [your] testimony.” 

__________________

The "Route 666" graphic comes from a sermon series at Jubilee Fellowship Church located in Lone Tree, Colorado. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

"Reach for the Bleach"

1st Thessalonians 5.23-24 NIV

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

We made a mistake when we built our home. My wife and I ordered white tile and white grout for our kitchen countertops. The tile stayed white but the grout collected dirt like a magnet. We bleached it back to its original white again and again but it always turned very dark, very quickly. After speaking to a host of homeowners and tile professionals and attempting every known remedy, I eventually concluded it was time to tear it out. No amount of sealing, scrubbing, cleaning, or bleaching would provide a lasting solution. We decided to replace our tile with Formica, Corian® , or a slab of granite.

Clorox® did the trick... temporarily. The bleach solution seeped into the filthy grout, killed the bacteria, and whitened the space between the tiles. Interestingly, the tile grime became most noticeable just before the arrival of guests, a condition which always inspired us to reach for the bleach.

I’m glad God never stops working to whiten the dirty grout in my soul. He apparently thinks I’m worth saving and has no intention of replacing me with someone of superior granite-like character. He never compares me to the Formica Christians who clean up better than me. The flaws of my past are deep and evident to all. They don’t easily polish out in like the superficial marks on a Corian® surface. I’m a regular tile and grout kind of believer. A real maintenance nightmare. I work to keep clean, yet while I attract sin like a magnet, the blood of Christ seeps into every crack and crevice of my dark being and restores me to like-new standards.

One future day, according to the Bible, I will be fully sanctified. “He will do it.”

“…for it is God who is at work in you.”
Paul, Philippians 2.13 NIV

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”
Jesus, John 17.17 NASU

“May God himself… sanctify you through and through.”
Paul, 1st Thessalonians 5.23 NIV

“The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
Paul, 1st Thessalonians 5.24 NIV

None of my faculties remain immune or hidden from the bleaching action of His cleansing work... my spirit, soul, heart, mind, will, emotions, conscience, intuition, and body. God is sanctifying all of me “through and through.”

One day, by God’s grace, I will be “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What a day that will be!

Monday, September 14, 2020

"Excel Still More"

1st Thessalonians 4.1 NASU

“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.”

“Excel still more.” God expects me to be who I ought to be and walk as I ought to walk. This is good but not good enough. I must...

“Excel still more.”

Having achieved a particular level of maturity in Christ, I am apt to discover new levels that stretch and test my faith. There are new advances I must make and countless rungs on the ladder of spiritual growth.

“Excel still more.”

I have not ‘arrived.’ I am on a journey. The destination is heaven and the path is long and crooked. The way is difficult but Christ is with me. I must follow Him and remain determined to...

“Excel still more.”

“The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Jesus, Matthew 7.13-14). There is no other option than to...

“Excel still more.”

Jesus is my Teacher but He’s so much more. He is also my Savior having redeemed me by His blood. Now I am saved but still there’s more. Complacency is an ever-present enemy. It is too easy to stall in the comfort of my theological position or the recollection of past exploits. That would be a mistake. Instead, I must choose to...

“Excel still more.”

Driven by forces I do not fully understand, I am growing in my love for Christ and the body of Christ. Jesus in me may be challenged, misunderstood, or even rejected. Regardless of the outcome, I must remain steadfast in my resolve to love others and in that endeavor...

“Excel still more.”

Six plus decades of learning is not enough. There’s more. Christ is just now composing the preface of the book of my eternal life. There are untold numbers of chapters to come and new insights to glean from “the Author and Perfecter of [my] faith” (Hebrews 12.2). He is transforming my story... and my soul! Jesus expects me to…


“Excel still more.”
_____________

The photograph "Mace Climbing Ladder" is by visual designer and musician Robert Andersen. You can view his interesting photographic talent at http://www.flickr.com/photos/thetwilitekid/.

Friday, September 11, 2020

"This"

1st Thessalonians 3.3c-4 NASU

“…these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. ...when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.”

The Bible tells me what I am destined for. My destiny is “this.”

“…we have been destined for this.”

The “this” of which Paul spoke was the “affliction” he suffered. Paul experienced the trials he predicted. He later acknowledged these persecutions after the fact as evidence of the destiny he somehow knew was his. He warned everyone “this” would happen and it did.

“…we kept telling you in advance… and so it came to pass.”

Paul’s destiny was fulfilled before his eyes. What he saw was the destiny he got. It was his “this.”

“…we have been destined for this.”

Destiny sounds big. I thought mine would be bigger than it is. My “this” is not all I imagined. Apparently, what I see is what I get. Waiting and hoping for something bigger, grander, or more significant is a waste of time. “This” is my life and I “have been destined for this.”

My acceptance of what and where I am in life is the first step in making the most of what’s left. Time is running out. I am “just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4.14b). Tomorrow, I could be gone; I could be with Jesus and my dearly departed Adonica. I better get on with the acceptance of my lot in life. I spent the first half of my existence dreaming of how big I would be. I suspect the second half will be devoted to learning to accept how small I really am. 

I well remember the dreams I had five, ten, twenty, and forty years ago. Some of my dreams may yet to be achieved. Some are simply unachievable, no matter how hard I try, how much faith I muster, or how badly I want them. I can have an impact and effect some change, but I cannot force-fulfill a destiny. Mine is what it is. What I thought would be matters little. What matters much is right in front of me. I was “destined for this.” My “this” is the destiny I have. I must accept, settle into, make the most of, and learn to love “this.”

“…we have been destined for this.”

God had and continues to have a special plan for my life and “this” is a part of that. I “have been destined for this” and my “this” is good!
___________________

"This is My Life" image above is a T-shirt logo design by Katie Campbell. T-shirt purchases may be made at http://www.threadless.com/product/3733/This_is_My_Life.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

"God Still Speaks"

Sometimes God actually speaks to me through His living and written Word, as in 1st Thessalonians chapter 2, verses 4, 7, 9, and 11-13 below:


“...we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.”

“Seek to please Me, and Me alone. Do not look for the approval of others. Their approval is not necessary to fulfill My purpose in your life. Only My approval matters. Say everything I have placed on your heart. Proclaim it without fear. Be bold. I will do what I have told you I will do.”

“But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother 
tenderly cares for her own children.”

“Be kind, compassionate and understanding with all people. Warmly embrace my children. Love them exactly as they are.”

“…working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you,
we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”

“Dedicate yourself fully to the work I have called you to do and perform it with energy, enthusiasm, imagination, and love. Always be honest, hard-working, and ethical in your business. Earn the trust and confidence of clients, co-workers, and vendors.”

“…we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you...”

“Treat everyone you meet as a prospect for My kingdom, encouraging all to follow Jesus. Seek the lost, strengthen the weak, offer hope to the faint-hearted. Love everyone. Lead them by word and example. Be strong and never quit your calling to reach the world with My gospel.”

“…the word of God, which... performs its work in you who believe.”

“Trust Me and know that I am God. My word shall never fail. Believe the good work I began in You will continue to accomplish the purpose to which you have been called.”

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

"Dare to Shut Up"

1st Thessalonians 1.8 “The Message”

“The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore – you’re the message!

A good preacher knows how to stand up, speak up, and shut up! Abe Lincoln reportedly said, “It is better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!” Solomon observed, “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise” (Proverbs 17.27). There is most certainly “a time to be silent” (Ecclesiastes 3.7b).

I know how to stand up and speak up. My acute, well-defined, finely-tuned (and usually self-motivated) sense of justice sees to that. However, I could use a little help learning to shut up. Paul invested himself so completely into the lives of his Thessalonian converts that they began to imitate Paul and the Lord. This, of course, was Paul’s goal.

“You became imitators of us and the Lord.”
1st Thessalonians 1.6 NIV

Eventually the Thessalonians graduated from just being imitators of Paul. They became models of the faith.

“And so you became a model to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”
1st Thessalonians 1.7 NIV

This evolution of understanding in the church at Thessalonica became the apostle’s cue to stop talking. As a disciple-maker, Paul was so successful he made himself obsolete. He worked himself out of the preacher’s job. He no longer had to say anything. The people of God in the church at Thessalonica became Paul’s message.

The gospel is not an opportunity to hear ourselves speak. Anyone armed with even a little Bible knowledge can easily over-sermonize. Oatory ad naseum is not hard to do. The goal is to re-create ourselves by inspiring imitators of Christ who model our faith. These people become our message and eliminate the need for us to talk at all. Their lives say it so we don’t have to. 

We can… dare to shut up.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

"Which Door?"

Colossians 4.3-4

“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” NIV

“…open up to us a door for the word.” NASU

A door is a two-way mechanism. It both grants an entrance and ushers an exit. Doors provide a way to new, next experiences and offer an escape when those experiences become unpleasant.

Locked doors offer security but may also imprison the soul. Sometimes doors are tightly bolted for way too long and opportunities on both sides of the entrance-exit portal are forever lost.

Paul asked his friends to pray that God would “open up… a door for the word.” He was speaking of political doors and spiritual doors and all doors in between. He had every intention of speaking the word of the gospel at all opportune moments. Paul was ready, willing, and able. All he needed was the open door. When the Lord asked, “Whom shall I send?,” like the prophet, Paul was eager to perform:

“Here am I. Send me.”
Isaiah 6.8

For Paul there was only one door… the door of opportunity. For me, there are two… my door and opportunity’s door. Paul’s words remind me that I can never enter the door of opportunity until I first exit my own front door.

“Open up… a door for the word.”

May God open for me many doors to share Jesus today in meaningful ways as I step through the one door that holds me back… my own.

Monday, September 07, 2020

"Take a Seat"

Colossians 3.1-2 NIV

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Where Jesus Christ? The popular evangelical Sunday School answer claims “Jesus lives in my heart.” However, the Bible teaches Jesus is somewhere else. He is “above” and “seated at the right hand of God.” According to Colossians 3.1, it may be more biblically correct to get my heart to where Jesus is than to try to get Him in my heart!

“...set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Have I set my heart “on the things above where Christ is” as the Bible commands? Or, do I flounder in the rubble of circumstance whining at my Maker with complaints that always reduce to one useless question: “Why me?” Will I continue to scratch and peck in the dust of less-than-optimal conditions like a flightless barnyard bird? Or, will I set my heart “on the things above” and soar like an eagle beyond the chaos…

“…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings
like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40.31

Can you imagine an incredulous Jesus standing at heaven’s edge horrified at the continuous string of stupid human tricks occurring every eternal moment? Does He rant at the world He created, shaking His fist in disbelief at the crazy humans who messed it up? No. He is not standing. Jesus is “seated” next to God, existing “above” every petty, earthly circumstance. He has everything under control.

I should learn to relax and take a seat next to Jesus.

___________________

The beautiful oil painting of the rocking chair is called "Throne of God" is by artist Gwen Meharg and used here with permission. You can find her art at http://www.drawneartogod.com/default.asp#top/.

Friday, September 04, 2020

"The Communion of Saints"

Colossians 2.5 NASU

“For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.”

I am a member of the body of Christ, the Church Universal. “I believe in...

...the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,[1]the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”

There exists in the realm of the Spirit a relationship between every believer in Jesus…
  • of every race, color, and national origin
  • of every gender, age, and vocation
  • of every generation past, present, and future

With or without our recognition, acceptance, or approval, the Universal Church of Jesus Christ exists. It is. This “communion of saints” transcends our comprehension by virtue of its sheer breadth. Its expanse and reach boggle the mind. I am, by God’s design, connected “in spirit” to every other Christian. We are family. Every single devoted follower of Jesus is the brother or sister of all other Christ followers.

I have a friend. His name is Larry. I’ve never met Larry and I know very little about him. He lives in Texas, teaches a Bible class, and is my brother. We have corresponded by only by email. Larry and I have never met, but “even though I am absent [from Larry] in body, nevertheless I am with [him] in spirit.” This reality is as true today as it was when Paul first penned the statement in his letter from a prison in Rome to the believers at Colossae nearly three hundred an fifty miles away.

I lost my best friend and wife of twenty years on August 30th, 2015, just over five years ago. Next Tuesday would have been her 56th birthday. Leukemia took her life and she is now in the loving arms of Jesus. The kids and I still feel the pain. We miss her and, although I can still cry when I consider the depth of our loss, I am aware that she is member of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ. Robert, Rachel, and I are also members. We are followers of Jesus and still connected with our wife and mother, Adonica. We will be reunited, and that will be a day of unspeakable joy. 

It’s good to know we’re not alone, isn’t it? We who profess Christ by faith belong to a family, the family of God. I am “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12.1). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all the angelic hosts, departed saints including St. Paul himself, my dear wife, as well as every living believer… this entire “great cloud of witnesses,” while “absent in body” is nevertheless together “in spirit.” Amazing! 

“I believe in the communion of saints.” I am never alone.

___________

[1] The term “catholic” in this last section of the “Apostles’ Creed” does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church, but to the larger, universal church of Jesus Christ.

The incredible artwork pictured above are 2 of 25 tapestries depicting 135 over life-sized female and male saints of all ages, races, and vocations from the 1st to 20th century the world over. This collection of tapestries is called "Communion of Saints" and displayed in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, in downtown Los Angeles (http://www.olacathedral.org/, see the Art/Tapestries tabs). The theme, according to the artist John Nava. is one of hope. He wishes those who view the tapestries "to see the humanity of these figures and feel a sense of connection to themselves."