Wednesday, August 15, 2018

"Maybe it IS About Me"

Galatians 1.24 NASU

“And they were glorifying God because of me.”

That’s a gutsy claim, almost audacious. Paul attributed the worship of God by believers in new churches around Syria and Cilicia to himself! The elevation of self goes against popular teaching in Reformed and Evangelical circles. Paul’s claim does not sit well with “such a worm as I” [1] or “a wretch like me” [2]. Would the Apostle gain acceptance in our modern churches? Or, would he be tossed out on his unbiblical, egotistical, and self-elevating ear?

“And they were glorifying God because of me.”

We may secretly wish for credit and even believe we deserve some, but we would not admit it publicly as did Paul. Would you dare to come clean with the thought that you think you are the reason for something good in the world? Our version of Galatians 1.24 reads this way:

“And they were glorifying God [because of Jesus, or because of God,
or because of the pastor, or because of the beauty of nature, or] because
of [anyone or anything else BUT] me [because as everyone knows...
it’s not about me. And oh, by the way, aren’t I humble?].”

Paul’s words fly in the face of the popular little mantra “It’s not about me.” Apparently Paul thought (on this particular point) that it certainly was about him.

“And they were glorifying God because of me.”

It’s hard to imagine that somebody could actually glorify God… “because of me.” But if I refuse to believe in the possibility, I effectively reduce the power of God to nice sounding platitudes. I limit God who resides in me.

Try saying Galatians 1.24 in a mirror. Make this your memory verse for the day. Say it to a friend without flinching, or offering commentary, explanation, or qualifying remarks. “And they were glorifying God because of me.” Force yourself to repeat and mean it. It’s not easy, is it?

Lest you think this is an obscure passage without direct application and relegate Paul’s statement to ‘true for him but not for me,’ consider these words from the greatest sermon ever preached:

“You are the light of the world… Let your light shine
before men in such a way that they may see your good
works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus, Matthew 5.14a, 16

Apparently, on some level and in some mysterious way, ‘It IS about me.’ Would I act differently if I knew that to be true and truly believed that?
________________

[1] "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed", Isaac Watts, 1674-1748.

[2] "Amazing Grace", John Newton, 1725–1807.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"The Power of Drift"

2nd Corinthians 13.5 “The Message”

“Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need first hand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.

Jesus Christ is the starting point. He is the center of all human history and the cornerstone of all right theology. He is the reason for my existence and my confidence in the hope of eternal life. If this same Jesus is in me then I pass the basic entrance exam… I am “solid in the faith.” That’s good, but not good enough. I need “regular checkups.” Am I focused today on my walk with Christ? Or, do I occasionally “drift along taking everything for granted?”

“Drift” is a real phenomenon. It quietly drags us downstream before we know we are moving. We tend toward the path of less resistance, allowing random circumstances to direct the course of our lives. This is the power of “drift” in action. We think we’re ‘going with the flow’ (e.g.; a good thing) when in fact we’ve become aimless, falsely trusting our past experiences with Jesus to carry us through our present ordeals of faith (e.g.; not a good thing).

We need a fresh dose of Jesus every day. We must engage Him in regular conversation and consciously live in recognition of the on-going activity of His Spirit. Like Brother Lawrence [1], we are invited to “practice the presence of God” or, according to the Apostle Paul, be “led by the spirit of God” (Romans 8.14). Otherwise, we fall victim to the power of “drift,” which most likely moves us away from God, not closer to Him.

“Test it out.” Are you drifting from Christ like a cork on a slow-moving but powerful stream? If so, “do something about it.”
__________________

[1] Brother Lawrence, alias Nicholas Herman c.1605-1691, was a French contemplative who joined the religious order of the Carmelites in Paris at the age of 44. He is known for his “practice of the presence of God” in the simple acts of service. According to Brother Lawrence: "There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it" (The Practice of the Presence of God, D. Attwater, Orchard Books, 1926).

Monday, August 13, 2018

"I Love You, Daddy"

2nd Corinthians 12.14b-15 NASU

“…for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?”

Paul wanted what most parents want… the love of their children. My children can offer me no greater gift than their heart of love. 

I want nothing material or monetary from my kids. “…I do not seek what is yours, but you.” That I could not sell my daughter’s preschool art on E-Bay for a good price is irrelevant. I wouldn’t sell it if I could. Her artwork is priceless to me and clearly says in her own way, “I love you, Daddy.” My child’s colorful scribbled offerings on crumpled scraps of paper represent all I need from my little girl. If I had to (and I don’t because it’s freely given), I would gladly spend my last penny of income and expend my last drop of energy for the love and affection of the children God has given me.

Paul too would “most gladly spend and be expended” for the souls of his Corinthian children. He loved his disciples and wanted nothing more than their love in return. I am more than a child of God. I am also a man of God, having “put childish things behind me” (1st Corinthians 13.11). I am more than a child or man of God. I am a father (or at least a big brother) to others in Christ’s kingdom. As a father in the faith “I will most gladly spend and be expended for [the] souls” of His children.
_________________

The beautiful black and white image above is an untitled photograph by Mildred Grossman (1916-1988) taken at the Pilgrim Prayer March, Washington, D.C., 1957. Her work was on display February 9 - April 10, 1999 at the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (aok.lib.umbc.edu/gallery/eye.php).

Friday, August 10, 2018

"The Price of Leadership"

2nd Corinthians 11.28-29 NIV
Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

Paul’s “everything else” list of apostolic credentials and sacrificial achievements (verses 22-27) was lengthy and impressive:
  • Hebrew
  • Israelite
  • Descendent of Abraham
  • Servant of Christ
  • Hard labor
  • Frequent imprisonment
  • Beaten times without number
  • Often in danger of death
  • Received the 39 lashes 5 times
  • Beaten with rods 3 times
  • Stoned once
  • Shipwrecked 3 times
  • Spent a night and a day in the open sea
  • Constant travel
  • In danger from rivers
  • In danger from bandits
  • In danger from his own countrymen
  • In danger from Gentiles
  • In danger in the city
  • In danger in the wilderness
  • In danger at sea
  • In danger from false brothers
  • Labored and toiled without sleep
  • Known hunger and thirst
  • Often gone without food
  • Suffered cold and exposure
“Besides” all this, what else is there? What more could a man endure to demonstrate his loyalty to the brethren and love for Christ? There remained one final test of Apostolic commitment surpassing all others in its level of difficulty. It cost Paul dearly, kept him awake at nights, and made him take unnatural risks with his life. It proved the Apostle was supremely qualified to lead disciples at every local church throughout Asia Minor and Palestine.

“Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

The task of shepherding involves more than feeding the flock. A true man of God takes responsibility for the on-going spiritual welfare of his disciples. If a leader does not “face daily [and feel deeply] the pressure of [his] concern” and "inwardly burn" for the people he leads, then he is not the leader Jesus called him to be.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

"An Inch Wide and a Mile Deep"

2nd Corinthians 10.15b – 16a NIV

Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.”

Paul’s strategy for advancing the Kingdom of God was simple… go deep! His relationship with the Corinthian church involved multiple visitations and ample correspondence. He expected measurable spiritual growth to accompany dramatic conversions to Christ. Shallow professions of faith were not part of the Apostle’s evangelistic strategy. Paul’s advise to younger pastors like Timothy or Titus may be paraphrased, “Go deep young man.” Timothy and Titus followed up Paul’s ministry by nurturing the churches he planted in Ephesus and Crete. Converts developed spiritually before he moved to the next place of ministry. Their stability in the faith was required before Paul could “preach the gospel in the regions beyond”...

“Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow,
our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that
we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.”
2nd Corinthians 10.15b – 16a NIV

People matter to God. He will not entrust a pastoral ministry with more people until it’s leadership proves faithful on behalf of the ones He already sent.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.”
Luke 16.10a NIV

True leaders scoff at ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’ Instead, they head in the opposite direction. Men and women of God go ‘an inch wide and a mile deep’ by loving and nurturing the people God has given them. 

Pray that your leadership influence “will greatly increase.” Go deep with those under your charge to ensure their faith “continues to grow” so that you may soon go wide and “preach the gospel in regions beyond.”
_____________________

The painting of the man swimming deep perfectly and graphically describes my thoughts in this post. Artist Ramone Romero graciously gave me permission to post his work here. You may view his art at http://art-for-jesus.blogspot.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/ramone.romero.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

"En Theos"

2nd Corinthians 9.2 NIV

“For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and...

“...your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.”


It all starts with a little... 

ENTHUSIASM!


Definition:
enthusiasm (en-thoo'-ze-az'-em) [1] 1. Great excitement for or interest in a subject or cause. 2. A source or cause of great excitement or interest. 3. Archaic a. Ecstasy arising from supposed possession by a god. b. Religious fanaticism.
Etymology:
Late Latin enthusiasmus, from Greek enthousiasmos, from enthousiazein, to be inspired by a god, from entheos, possessed: en- (in) + theos (god), lit. “in God.”
Quotations:
“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882), Philosopher, essayist, and poet
“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”
Vince Lombardi (1913 – 1970, football coach of the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins)
“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”
Colette (1873 – 1954, Sidonie Gabrielle Collette, French novelist)
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965, British politician)
“Think enthusiastically about everything; but especially about your job. If you do, you’ll put a touch of glory in your life. If you love your job with enthusiasm, you’ll shake it to pieces. You'll love it into greatness.”
Norman Vincent Peale (1898 – 1993, clergyman and author)
“The ability to understand a question from all sides meant one was totally unfit for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of the real man.”
Thucydides (471 - 400 BC, Greek historian on the Athenian mood at the eve of Athen's decline)
“A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.”
Mary Kay Ash (1915 – 2001, cosmetics network marketing tycoon from Texas)
“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”
Samuel Ullman (1840-1924, poet, humanitarian, businessman from Alabama)
“If you can give your son or daughter only one gift, let it be enthusiasm.”
Bruce Barton (1886-1967, advertising executive, religious writer, US Congressman)
“For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.”
Paul of Tarsus (5-67, apostle and founder of the church in Corinth)
Conclusion:
Lord, I’m taking the plunge. Jumping head first in the river of God. I’m in! In God… en-theos… and by definition fully and whole-heartedly enthusiastic for the cause of Christ and the things you have called me to do. May my enthusiasm stir someone to action!
_____________________

[1] The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000.

Smiling baby image: photographer unknown. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

"Me, My Four, and No More!"

2nd Corinthians 8.3-4 NASU

“…according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints”

I am here to give. I must give. I receive that I may give. Nothing I have is my own. I am blessed to be a blessing.

How do people “give beyond their ability”? I understand how the generous give “according to their ability,” but how do they give more than they have? Brian Buffini credits his mother with this saying: “Give it out in slices and it’ll come back in loaves.” One must give to get to give to get to give.... If this repeating cycle of generosity works, then I cannot afford not to give. If I want more, I must first give more. It’s not a formula to apply. It’s a principle to live by. 

I do want more. I want larger faith to overcome limited-capacity thinking. I want to stop living with a scarcity mentality and restricting my vision to “me, my four, and no more!” I want the courage to open the door of my ark to drowning people, even when the flood waters of fear rise menacingly before me. I want learn how to be more concerned for others than myself.

I want to stretch my heart to see more, embrace more, share more, and be more. I want to depend on Jesus and live and give “to my ability, and beyond my ability.”

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you
will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will
dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.”
Isaiah 54.1-3 NIV

Monday, August 06, 2018

"Exponential Faith"

2nd Corinthians 7.13 “The Message”

“And the, when we saw how Titus felt – his exuberance over your response – our joy was doubled. It was wonderful to see how revived and refreshed he was by everything you did.”

We affect one another. Your attitude impacts mine. My emotional state can alter yours. As human beings, we are involved with other humans who influence the way we think and feel. We cannot escape this interplay. Nor should we try. I am who I am today because of the input of others from my past.

I am a collection of influences… some heard, some seen, most felt. The shaping of my essence may have begun before I left my mother’s body and became mysteriously aware of the emotional forces surrounding her young life.

There is an incredible potential for good here. Like the Corinthians, I can literally raise the level of joy in another person by my indirect, 3rd party behavior… Paul’s joy doubled when he witnessed the exuberance of Titus caused by the actions of the Corinthian church!

This is better than the ‘Domino Effect’ which impacts one individual after another in a sequential or linear way. Christianity could be described as ‘Exponential Faith’ because it has the potential of affecting the entire planet at an ever-increasing rate of conversion. The escalating and positive impact of Jesus Christ begins with just one contagious Christian uplifting the heart of another who in turn may double, triple, or quadruple yet another person’s joy. It’s a repeatable phenomenon. Who knows where that could take us?



__________________________

The photograph above was taken in the summer around 2008 or 2009 at Wildhorse Canyon Young Life Camp when my son Robert was 9 or 10 years old.  I love Robert's expression in the center of this human pyramid.  It appears to be one of pure joy.  The bald head in the lower right is mine, and the girl with the pink mini-mouse tee-shirt peering down at us is my youngest child, Rachel. 

Friday, August 03, 2018

"The Miracle of Human Connection"

2nd Corinthians 6.11-13 NIV

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you.

We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange — I speak as to my children — open wide your hearts also.”


I live for human connection. So do you. Paul also longed for depth in his relationships with those he loved. His life was an open book. He gave the gift of himself. “Withholding... affection” was not a part of Paul’s missionary game plan. He “opened wide” his heart to the people Jesus called him to serve.

“We... opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding
our affection from you... open wide your hearts also.”

The most precious gift you can offer another human being is the gift of yourself. Telling the truth about who you are, where you’ve been, how you’ve failed, and what you believe is risky business. When you “open wide” your heart and share your “affection,” you may not receive the same in return. Reciprocity is not guaranteed. But when it happens, it’s a miracle; the miracle of human connection....
  • An audience laughs spontaneously at a comedian’s joke
  • The pastor’s sermon penetrates to the heart of someone in his congregation
  • A child receives and responds to a parent’s affection
  • A man and woman meet and fall in love
  • A teacher witnesses his students want to learn
  • A married couple have the unspeakable joy of sexual intimacy
  • Friends meet for coffee and share confidences
  • Enemies find common ground and learn to forgive
  • Someone meets Jesus for the first time
These miracles happen when hearts are “opened wide” and signs of “affection” are freely shown. What can I do this day to help foster the miracle of human connection?

_______________

The image above called "day 20 may 14 open heart" is used by permission of photographer Genevieve Casey whose excellent work can be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/42037390@N00/.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

"Ambitious!"

2nd Corinthians 5.9; 18b-19a NASU

“Therefore we also have as our ambition,… to be pleasing to Him.”

God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,…”

Believers are ambitious, ambitious to please God. Our life’s aim, our sole purpose, our eternal calling, the goal of all that we do is to seek to discover what pleases God that we may possibly fulfill our holy ambition.

We trust Jesus in every ambitious endeavor because trusting God’s Son is the only way we can please God. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

“And without trusting, it is impossible to be well pleasing to God.
Hebrews 11.6 CJB

Paul clarifies the task in 2nd Corinthians 5 calling it “the ministry of reconciliation.” Our role is to serve as agents of reconciliation and thereby please our Father in heaven. We stand in the gap (Ezekiel 22.30), the middle ground between God and people. We speak of the love of God. We introduce others to Him Who is the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1st Timothy 2.5). We openly preach Christ Who alone can pave the way for reconciliation with the Father. We ‘show and tell’ in deed and word the joy of friendship with the one who gave us “the ministry of reconciliation.” We fully trust and proclaim “him who had no sin” and whom “God made... to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God,” (1st Corinthians 5.21).

“We’re speaking for Christ himself now:
Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”
2nd Corinthians 5.20 “The Message”

I trust Jesus who has filled me with holy ambition “to be pleasing to Him” and fulfill my ministry of reconciliation.
____________________

The painting at the top left of this post was originally used in promoting a panel discussion called "Offering Reconciliation" at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

"There are Days"

2nd Corinthians 4.7-9 NASU

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves...

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;…”

There are days…

…when my energy is spent and I can’t shake a low level sense of dread attached to the weight of my responsibilities. I retire at night with a vague and oppressive thought that I have not accomplished all that I should.

My anxiety is not without reason… too many yellow sticky notes, unanswered phone calls, never-ending flow of emails, client expectations, ministry demands, business obligations, family needs, medical issues, lengthy to-do lists… the lawn mower quit working, the dog is sick, my kid’s in trouble at school, I’m past a deadline, I lost my wallet, the bills are mounting, my child is throwing up, and my shirt is missing a button…

When does it end? I want to give up! But I can’t. I have a family and customers to think of. People need me. They’re depending on me. I must keep going... but I don’t want to.

There are days…

…when life is drudgery. I don’t think I can go on but I do, barely. It’s not fun. I’m living in my own power, and it’s obvious that is isn’t enough power to get the job done. I exist, but I am not alive. Existing, but not living. 

Then there are days… 

…(like this one) when I read a passage in the Bible (like this one) and my spirit is reinvigorated with a moment of hope (like this one).

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
David, Psalm 34.18-19 NASU

These are days… 

...when I know deep inside of my “earthen vessel,” that I carry a “treasure, which is “the surpassing greatness of the power… of God.” This is the fuel that powers the engine of my being. It’s not from me, about me, or because of me. It’s Jesus in me who transforms my day into one worth living. He inspires enough hope in my heart to put a smile on my face, a lightness in my step, and a bit of optimism in my outlook for the day. I am...

“afflicted... but not crushed;
perplexed, but not despairing;
struck down, but not destroyed”.

There are days… 

…when the forecast is bright and sunny. This is one of those days!
_______________________

Graphic at top of post from http://goodnews.ws/2010/02/19/the-power-of-optimism-and-positive-thinking/ .

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"W I I F M ?"

2nd Corinthians 3.5b-6 NIV

“…our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Laws are mostly good. They impose standards and exert force to insure a safe and secure environment free from the chaos of anarchy. But laws alone, even good laws, cannot produce a community that functions well. The real glue that holds society together is God Himself. He created us and placed in our souls a desire for healthy relationships with Himself and others. We all want, at our core, to live in harmony with the Creator and His creation.

But there’s a problem... ‘self’ creeps in and the needs of ‘self’ become more important than the needs of others. We can easily disguise self-centeredness by establishing highly defined personal boundaries and misapplying concepts like:
  • self-actualization
  • self-confidence
  • self-awareness
  • self-esteem
  • self-love
‘Self’ remains at the center of all these pursuits and the common good plays second fiddle to ‘W I I F M ?’ (What’s In It For Me?).

Our culture doesn’t help. The preoccupation with what is falsely promoted as ‘spirituality’ contains elements of self-centeredness that virtually guarantees culture’s eventual demise. The American ideal of ‘doing my own thing’ or ‘following my heart’ is a culture-wide reaction to the legalism imposed by earlier generations. Yet, even our best efforts and altruistic endeavors only serve to mask a rebellious spirit. Without God we can never create the enlightened society we seek no matter how noble and humanitarian we consider our motives and actions to be.

The whole idea of self-interests is encapsulated in the overused phrase: ‘You can't love anyone else until you first learn to love yourself.’ I can’t find that in the Bible. In fact, scripture suggests that loving self comes easily and naturally: No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it...(Ephesians 5.29 TLB).

We must want to do what is in the best interest of those around us, even if it means our own personal discomfort and sacrifice. Humanly speaking, this is impossible. The decision to put others first... ahead of ‘self’ requires the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Selfishness comes easy, but we cannot demonstrate true selflessness on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to behave like Jesus.

“...the Spirit gives life.”

We need Jesus. He is the life the Spirit imparts. Absolute adherence to any legal standard is a hope-killing illusion. But the Spirit of God can fill us with Jesus who alone makes it possible to live outside of ourselves and for the benefit of others.

Monday, July 30, 2018

"You Can't Say It Too Often"

2nd Corinthians 2.6-8 NIV

“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”

“Reaffirm your love.” There are countless occasions to practice this rule for happy human interaction. The reaffirmation of love is always appropriate and almost always needed.

About this time each day (around 7:00 a.m.) my wonderful wife and two youngest children would rise from bed and descend the steps to the kitchen. They would prepare breakfast and start their day. There we engaged in our daily ‘ritual of reaffirmation.’ I never missed an opportunity to rise from my favorite place on the sofa and stand to greet my wife and cuddle each of my children. Looking deeply into their eyes, I whispered, “I really love you.” As we embraced, each one replied, “I love you too honey” or “I love you too daddy.” These are the words I lived for. In fact, they were words I could not live without.

Today, my precious wife is gone. She died of cancer nearly three years ago. I would give anything to see her descend the stairs in her pajamas and messy hair. If she did, I would do what I always did... rise to meet her, hold her tight, and tell her, “I love you.”

If I did not give and receive my daily reaffirmation of love, I would shrivel and die emotionally. Adonica is gone, but I still have my children. They are older now, but they still need me and, of course, I need them. Our relationships may include rare moments of “punishment inflicted.” Truth, discipline, and honesty are essential for good relationships. Confrontation and correction may be necessary but should be...
  • used sparingly
  • in small doses
  • with great kindness
  • for a brief moment in time
  • for only very good reasons
The majority of time our friendships, associations, and especially our family relations should be characterized by forgiveness, comfort, and small acts and words of love. Make it your practice to… “forgive and comfort” each other. “Reaffirm your love” often.

Friday, July 27, 2018

"Well, Yes... Per Say"

2nd Corinthians 1.17-20 NASU

“Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I? Or what I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, so that with me there will be yes, yes and no, no at the same time?

“But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no. For the Son of God, Christ Jesus,… was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes;...”

Jesus is not always the easy, neutral, accepting sort of personality I wish to envision. He is not nice, warm, and fuzzy. The man is strong and decisive. Jesus has opinions and is unafraid to express them. Christ offers no support for those who wish to play it safe in the gray zone between right and wrong, black and white, yes and no. An ambivalent attitude or undeclared position on matters of life and death, makes Jesus sick to His stomach, forcing an involuntary, visceral reaction...

“I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking.
You’re not cold, you’re not hot — far better to be either cold or hot!
You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit.”
Revelation 3.15 The Message

I once knew a man who had a job to perform and he knew it. I asked him if he had completed the task after the deadline. He replied, “Well, yes,... per say,” which was code for “I thought about it; I have good intentions; I think I will; but in fact... no I haven’t.” He just couldn’t bring himself to say the "N" word. How unlike Jesus.

“Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No';
anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Jesus, Matthew 5.37 NIV (see also James 5.12)

There is a clear mandate toward singleness of purpose in the Scripture. This purpose must remain uncluttered by the uncertainties of vacillating opinions. Leaders in the body of Christ are required by virtue of their calling to hear from God and then produce a straight-forward and clarion call…

“For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound,
who will prepare himself for battle?”
1st Corinthians 14.8 NASU

Lord, I repent of any remnants of indecision rooted in my soul. Deliver me from the evil practice of exchanging my “yes” or “no” with complex qualifying explanations which betray my unwillingness to self-declare. There can be no middle ground on the crucial issues of life. I must say “yes” or “no” to Jesus. “Well, yes... per say” is no answer at all.

_______________________

"Yes No Maybe" is by photographer Johnny Grim whose creative work you can view at http://www.flickr.com/photos/grimages/.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Open Door"

1st Corinthians 16.8-9 NIV

“But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.”

Paul accepted the reality of adversarial pressure. He did not pray or wish it away. He acknowledged persecution like a fact of life in service to the Lord. For Paul, “a great door for effective work” was worth the opposition. Not every promise of God is pleasant or comfortable. 

You will be misunderstood. Your motives will be called into question. You will suffer rejection and persuasive people will say bad things about you. You may grasp the call and purpose of God with uncommon clarity, but you will be robbed of the opportunity to perform your calling. Someone will pretend to be your friend and betray your confidence to those who care nothing for you.

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
2nd Timothy 3.12 NIV

Do the work of Jesus with a sincere heart, and you will have enemies. Someone will oppose you. It may the one you least suspect. Your life has a purpose greater than you. Your destiny is secure and predetermined by God. You were created to do a great work in service to Jesus and you are on the path leading to its glorious fulfillment.

Opportunities abound and significance awaits. Souls will be saved. The kingdom of heaven will advance. The good news will spread and you will join the divine movement. You play a critical role in the unfolding plan of God on earth! You have not been forgotten. God’s hand is upon you. Your adversaries will surely scatter like dry leaves before the mighty wind of His Spirit.

You can make a difference...

“…because a great door for effective work has opened up to you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"I Am What I Am"

1st Corinthians 15:10 NIV

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

“I am what I am” is a personal statement of fact pointing to the gracious intent of God for my life. Yes, “I am what I am,” but I am not therefore free to remain as “I am.” There is no virtue in stubbornness nor may I spiritualize my resistance to change. Paul’s five-word declaration is not an excuse for bad behavior. “What I am” must evolve with my grasp of God’s grace as the apostle explained...

“But by the grace of God I am what I am.”

“I am what I am” is not a rationalization for poor performance. Rather, when coupled with the grace of God, “I am what I am” is the power to become what I ought to be. These words acknowledge the reason for my excellence, if there is any, and the need for change, as there will always be. 

“I am what I am” is a sacred song offered in gratitude for a job well done and the job waiting to be well done. The declaration points to Jesus, who alone is the Source and the Power for the good behavior He expects of me.

Far from the weak defense of a sloppy and undisciplined Christian life, “I am what I am” brings out the best of “what I am” by the astonishingly effective “grace of God” at work in me. 
_____________________

I found this wonderful illustration by "RJ" at the website for Bethel Church Association, Mission House in North Bihar, India but I was unable to locate any credits to the artist. It speaks to me of my two-fold calling to go into the world and run to Jesus. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"The Benefit of Speaking in Tongues"

1st Corinthians 14.4-5 NIV
  He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.

Here are some words we almost never use in modern American speech...
  • edify
  • tongues
  • prophesy
Applying the Biblical meaning in keeping with Paul’s intent...
  • edify = nurture and strengthen
  • tongues = nurture and strengthen myself
  • prophesy = nurture and strengthen others
...the expanded text could read:

“I would like everyone of you to [nurture and strengthen yourselves],
but I would rather have you [nurture and strengthen others].
He who [nurtures and strengthens others]
is greater than one who [nurtures and strengthens himself].”

This is similar in meaning to the words of Jesus:

“The greatest among you shall be your servant.”
Matthew 29.11

I must take care of myself so I can take care of others even more effectively. If speaking in tongues will help me to strengthen and encourage myself so that I can better strengthen and encourage others, then I should do it often. I will gladly receive and employ this or any gift the Spirit graciously bestows and deems appropriate for me. If so honored, I will use my gifts to nurture and strengthen others “so that the church may be edified.”

__________________________

The "EDIFY" logo came from New Life Community Church in Fair Oaks, California (http://www.aboutnewlife.com/).