The Rigidity of Bitterness

Forced, under threat of physical harm, we freshmen boys were made to serve our senior masters by waiting on them and their tables.  We considered how our first week of high school misery might play out for the remainder of our tenure.  During one of our brood sessions, one of my fellow sufferers offered “hope” to us in his statement he couldn’t wait to be a senior, so he could impose his oppressive authority on some unsuspecting freshmen boy.  This kind of hope for justice didn’t seem right to me, nor did getting “even” with my senior tormentors seem righteous.
 
The rigid cycle of bitterness and the foolishness it brings rages on in our lives no matter our age or circumstance.  (Pause for Thought:  A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him. – Proverbs 17:25; Read the story of Amaziah – II Chronicles 25; How did Amaziah’s foolish quest to get “even” cost him his authority and integrity?  How should have Amaziah dealt with his bitterness over his father’s life and death and the circumstances in his own rule over Judah?)
 
Bitterness’s vicious cycle is founded in the pride that leads to a fall.  Unfortunately, after we fall, the bitterness can be, and often is, picked up by our children for them to repeat the same mistakes and display the same foolishness.  Jesus’ ways of getting even and providing hope through bitter times is much different from the world’s ways.  (Pause for Thought:  But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44; Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  – Romans 12:14. What enemy is causing your bitterness today?  In what ways has the bitterness impacted you, your family, your children?  How will you choose to deal with the bitterness if front of your family this week?)
 
We freshmen boys decided we did not want to perpetuate the bitter tradition we were suffering through and leave a legacy of foolishness.  I’ll never forget the disbelieving, but joyful, faces on the freshmen boys as we served them and their tables at lunch for the first week of their high school lives.  (Pause for Thought:  How can you get “even” by abolishing a rigidly bitter tradition/cycle by your service to your family or children this week?  Why does service result in our ability to be flexible and less rigid?  Can you name examples of how Jesus’ service to another lessened bitter rigidity and brought flexibility?  If you can think of some examples, share them with your children this week.)
 

Read more...

The Simplicity of Greatness

G.O.A.T—Greatest of all Time.  It took me a while to figure out the meaning of the acronym GOAT.  I was shocked to find it means “greatest of all time”.  To be “the goat” meant something totally different when I was growing up.  Today, arguments rage on sports news and talk shows as to who is the greatest and what makes one great.  Is it LeBron or Jordan, Ruth or Cobb, Ford or Edison?  What weighs heaviest in the “great” debate?  Is it the number of titles, accumulation of stats, total awards?  If we can make greatness complex, we will do it.
 
Fortunately, Jesus made greatness very simple for his disciples and those who would follow in his great footsteps and sit at his wonderful feet.  He said, “You want to be great, then you must serve.” (Pause for Thought:  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  John 13:12-17)
 

The Institute in Basic Life Principles explains greatness this way, “Greatness is not a goal to be sought after but a by-product of learning how to serve.”  As people created by God in His image, we do desire greatness in our visions for ourselves, our children, our church, etc.  It stands to reason, since we were created with a purpose by our great Father God.  However, knowing greatness is a by-product of serving changes my expectations and measurements as a Christian and a parent.  As a parent, the skills I want to see my son develop and the opportunities I want to seize upon for his practice and maturity are a lot different when I adhere to Jesus’ definition of greatness and not the world’s.  (Pause for Thought:  Does knowing “greatness” is from our serving and not from being served force you to rethink the parenting skills and emphasis you are practicing?  If so, how?) I’ve had to concentrate upon the attitude, motive, desire, and passion in my service to my son and rethink what I see as greatness in my son.  If you desire a change of heart in regards to visualizing and securing greatness in your children, join us at 9:45 Sunday mornings for small group discussions on “Parenting Greatness”.  (Pause for Thought: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms–I Peter 4:10;  The greatest among you will be your servant–Matthew 23:11)


Read more...

Live It

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Jame 2:22-25
 
Knowledge is so deceptive.  We can watch, listen and even read about a topic to be knowledgeable.  Yet, when we leave the knowledge acquired on the page without putting it into practice, we have gained little, but we become bloated.  How will you listen and read the Word of God to gain the freedom it can give by living it?  What are small practices that will assist you to remember the truth implanted to put it into practice? 
praying
memorizing it
reflecting on it 
gathering & reading it with others (accountability)
 
You’re blessed living it. 

Read more...

Quick to Listen

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” James 1:19-21
 
James points out that scattered and under persecution may have had the right (in their eyes) to respond with anger, but it did not and would not reflect God’s deposit within them. By reflecting on the words ‘quick to listen’ and ‘slow speak’, what can you do to honor God in your interactions as followers of Jesus today?
 

Read more...

No Mere Mortals

In the beginning the earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep. In these dark and ancient times there were no selfies. Yes, once upon a long ago, camera technology had not advanced enough to be able to turn a phone around to take of picture of oneself. Thankfully, we live now in an enlightened age.

 

What are we really doing when we take a selfie? What are we trying to capture? A moment in time? Our essence as an individual? An image we’d like to represent us? For better or worse, our selfies do capture some part of us.

 

Once upon a time when there truly was nothing, the immortal, invisible, and incalculable God of the universe chose to create mankind in His own image; to capture a sliver of His nature in frail, fallible, flesh. In the midst of creating hedgehogs and eagles and platypi (or is it platypuses?) God set about to create a creature that represented some essential elements of His character. In doing so, He made something different, something unique from all the other forms of life.

 

The Hebrew word used to describe humankind being created in the image of God is tselem and is used elsewhere to talk about stone and wooden idols made to represent false gods. While Jesus represents the nature of God fully, in some mysterious and completely undeserved way, we also represent the character of the Lord. Understanding this, author C.S. Lewis wrote: “There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.” 

 

This unique status has a litany of implications but perhaps the primary is that we are not mere accidents of biology or simply the most intelligent of animals but rather purposefully designed creations mysteriously molded after the fashion of our Creator. This fact alone should give weight and purpose to our being and a great deal of responsibility as well. In the same passage in which God describes His intention to create humans in His image, He also decrees that they would have dominion over the earth.

 

While we most often think of the word ‘dominion’ in the context of abuse (think domineering) or as an excuse to mishandle the resources given to us, a fuller understanding is one of authority AND responsibility. A king presides over a kingdom but he is also responsible for what goes on within. The Lord has dominion over every aspect of the universe. Similarly, we are to have dominion over the earth. 

 

Our dominion is not limited only to earth’s physical resources (for which we are both entrusted and accountable) but also in creation, innovation, and progress. All humans are the product of an infinitely creative God. We express this imbued creativity when we create are (which author J.R.R. Tolkien called ‘imaginative sub-creation’), express skills, and develop technology which seeks the betterment of the human race.

 

Our status as image-bearers gives our life a divinely defined purpose and authority. We exist not by chance but by design and are entrusted to rule with wisdom over the resources, both physical and spiritual, not for ourselves with selfish intent but for the betterment of all. In doing so, we reflect the creative nature of our most excellent and boundless Creator.


Read more...

And Such As We Are

The funny thing about children is that Jesus says that we’re supposed to be like them. When some of his disciples tried to stop some kids from coming to Jesus, He rebukes them saying, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter in at all.” All the disciples were probably trying to do was to keep a little order (anyone who’s been around children can appreciate the effort) and all of a sudden Jesus is threatening them.

 

He tells them that they must receive the kingdom of God like a child. Why?

 

Children are not what they will be. By very definition, children are not adults. They’re works in process. We have an intrinsic understanding of this. We don’t treat children the same way we treat adults (for better or worse). We don’t hold them to the same standards.

 

Children recognize and accept their weaknesses.

 

Children acknowledge and accept their need for help.

 

John, writing from exile, tells his readers, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” We are God’s children. If we are children, we need a parent to rely upon. We need to live in a perpetual state of humility, honesty, and dependence. To embrace this identity is to run to Jesus with arms wide without fear or pretension.


Read more...

People of Purpose

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)

 

While the first portion of this verse from Philippians focuses on state of our identity, the second instead speaks to implications of that identity, namely, that we are created for good works. The God who shapes us and knits us together in our mother’s womb has preveniently assembled deeds for us to participate in.

 

Throughout the early Church as chronicled in the book of Acts, there is one actor who features prominently— the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is consistently described as the motivator for action, evangelism, and conversion. The text assumes the Spirit’s role so strongly in fact that there are times in which it almost de-emphasizes the actual actions of people, such as when it states that, “the Lord added to their number daily those that were being saved.” The Spirit was seen as the impetus for action.

 

One encounter illustrates this trend particularly well. Philip, chosen by the apostles to continue the ministry, was making his way from Jerusalem to Gaza at the instruction of an angel. As he walked along the road through a desert area, unbeknownst to him, an Ethiopian official was also passing through reading the scroll of Isaiah.

 

Philip is again prompted by the Spirit to run and join the official. He complies and finds that this official just happened to be reading a passage specifically about the Christ and proceeds to tell the man about Jesus, salvation, and the man responds by getting baptized before the Spirit speaks again and Philip is led away to preach the gospel elsewhere.

 

What we see vividly in this story is the Holy Spirit orchestrating events and leading Philip into positions to exercise his obedience; a divine conspiracy into which Philip is invited to participate.

 

The inescapable conclusion drawn from the history of the early Church is that the Holy Spirit leads believers into ministry. The book of Acts assumes this involvement. If we are truly God’s workmanship and our identity rests in being created in the image of God, then we must also come to fully accept the second half of Ephesians 2:10. We believe that the God who draws us to salvation also prepares good works for us to complete. We must learn to believe this and live in constant expectation of the Spirit’s leading. I think this is part of why the early Christians experienced so vividly the movement of the Spirit: they were expecting it. We can never realize the potential that God has prepared for us if we don’t understand that we have been given a directive. While our specific directives will vary circumstantially, our overarching purpose is the same one given by Christ to His disciples before His ascension: to be His witnesses. Intentionality is key however for without it the Christian life becomes mere passive assent. That is not the example lived out in the lives of the early Christians who lived and often died by the prompting of the Spirit. 

 

If we are to realize and accomplish the good works the Lord assures He has for us we must train ourselves to live in expectation. Have you ever bought a new car, driven it off the lot, and only then realized how many other people are driving the same model? This is what our lives can become once we make ourselves alert for the Spirit’s prompting. If we watch and listen for it, we will hear it. When we take the additional step and act on it, we will truly be living out our identity as God’s workmanship.


Read more...

Crisis & Confidence

Crisis can come in many ways. It can come swiftly and terribly as in a sudden death or a financial catastrophe. It can come slowly, a gradual creeping sorrow, depression, or hot tears in the heat of the night. Crisis, too, can be born of our own hands. Past misdeeds and current sins can arise to plague our souls and bring frightful consequences.

 

All of this crisis brings doubt; doubt that causes us to question perhaps even our deepest held beliefs or to doubt how a sinner as wretched as we could ever be saved.

 

Each of us has known or will experience the bitter dregs of doubt. It is one of the tempter’s greatest tools to stifle the Christian’s good works and rob her of her joy.

 

The Lord does not want us, however, to live in a constant state of doubt or consternation about our standing with Him but rather to live confident in our position and identity in Christ.

 

Though we see now only in part the reality of our salvation, we may yet have assurance both in the present and in the age to come. We can stand upon our identity as forgiven children of the Lord.

 

If we have put our faith in Christ and repent of our sins, Scripture tells us that we have peace with God here and now. We have been justified by faith and that none may now condemn us.

 

While we experience some of the effects of our salvation today, we will not fully understand it until we meet Christ in the next age. That does not mean that we cannot live confident in the assurance of our future glory however. “My sheep hear My voice,” Jesus told His disciples, “and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

 

When our thoughts are assailed by shadow and we cannot see the light of day, God’s word for us gives us the confidence to reject our fleeting thoughts and emotions and to instead rest on the truths received from the mouth of God. It may seem forced at times, this rejection, but so does the athlete’s training. On the day of the race though, the discipline proves its worth. When the history of our life is told, our tale will rest upon these moments of tempting and our response. Let it be that we persevere under the crisis and chaos just as the love of God toward us perseveres so that we would hear at our final hour, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


Read more...

People of Peace

I hate ticks. I mean nobody really loves those creepy arachnids (maybe there’s some overenthusiastic entomologist out there who gets a kick out of such things). The second I see one clinging to my pants or I even enter an area I think might be home to them, my heart begins to race and my breathing quickens. On a recent backpacking trip to Tahquamenon Falls, I was just settling into my tent for the evening when I discovered one crawling on my leg. This revelation started me down a full blown panic attack that lasted nearly three hours and only ended when I eventually fell asleep out of exhaustion around 2 am.

 

Considering the state of the world and the infinitesimally limited arena of things we have control over, there are endless things to be anxious about. When we rightly reckon our size in the scope of the cosmos we might very well be filled with anxiety.

 

But this is not the way the Lord desires us to live.

 

Paul writes in his letter to the Philippian church that believers should, “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

Paul presents here the method for combating anxiety. First, he sets the terms of his antidote: “do not be anxious about anything”. Not just small things. Not just big things. Nothing.

 

Secondly, Paul’s prescription for anxiety is to go to the Lord in prayer and plainly lay out our request. We should also do so thanking the Lord for who He is and what He has done already for us.

 

The next step is … well, there isn’t a next step, at least not one we accomplish. The next step isn’t something that we do but rather something that happens to us. The peace of God enters us and will guard our hearts (the seat of emotions) and our minds (the seat of cognitive will).

 

What I find most interesting is what is lacking from Paul’s formula. Nowhere does he state that the circumstances causing our anxiety will change. This distinction is remarkable since elsewhere in Scripture we hear about the efficacy of prayer. Here, however, Paul is dealing with our reaction to trials, not the trials themselves. Our attitude, Paul seems to maintain, should be one of peace regardless of what trouble circumstances bring. I imagine this is why Paul could claim that, “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

 

Trouble will come. Jesus affirms this. Even the most stalwart of us knows the tug of fear on our heart. Though trials (both big and small) are guaranteed, we need not give in to our anxiety. With the comfort from our promised helper — the Holy Spirit, we can have victory over even the greatest worry and claim our true identities as people of peace.


Read more...

Dead To Sin

Each May, Haydock Park in St Helens, England plays host to the Swinton Handicap Hurdle. During the annual running in 1994, veteran jockey Declan Murphy fell and was trampled by a horse behind him, shattering his skull in 12 places. The injury was so severe that the Racing Post published the headline: “Declan Murphy dies in horror fall.” In reality, Murphy remained in a coma for four days, awaking only hours before his life support would have been terminated. As he recovered, he was surprised to read his own premature obituary, especially because he had retained no memories of his past life of racing. Reading of his own death though, inspired the jockey to mount an improbable return to the track a few years later.

 

Death is an ending.

 

Paul tells us in Romans chapter 6 that believers are dead to sin but alive to God. Our old self, he explains, has died along with its slavery to sin, and that we now live new lives. Most pointedly, he encourages that: “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

 

As believers we have heard these words many times yet we rob them of their power when we rationalize them away. We fail to appropriate the change that has taken place when we confess and repent of our sin. We undermine the power we have been given through our ignorance. We don’t do so necessarily out of a desire to sin but usually because we are simply used to our old lives of slavery. We aren’t expecting the power and freedom brought through Christ. It is not natural in this world. It is, by very definition, supernatural. There is no longer any power that can bind us to sin and death. That former person died, legally and practically.

 

By acknowledging our new identities, we may truly realize the freedom and victory we have been given through Christ. Our struggles, addictions, and sinful tendencies, though disheartening, are all subject to the power of Christ. They are the trappings of a dead man. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

 

We will still be tempted. Our thoughts betray us still. That struggle will continue bring us pain, but freedom is now ours in Christ. We are no longer bound to the shackles of sin. Like Declan Murphy, by reading our ‘obituaries’— the truth of our death to sin— we can have confidence to go forward boldly into our new lives. It is no longer we who live enslaved to sin; we are new beings, men and women joined now with Christ: new creations with a new identity.


Read more...