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Counting

I told him his fish didn’t count.  Though it was one of the few fish our boat consisting of my grandfather and me had caught, and the only one he had wrestled to the net, I told my uncle his large rock bass didn’t count as part of our bag limit, and he needed to throw it back.  This greatly displeased him, and he let us know it in no uncertain terms as he released his fish back into the water.  He continued to complain about it through the day and around the campfire that night.  (Pause for Thought: “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn!  Turn from your evil ways.  Why will you die people of Israel?’  “Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that persons former righteousness will COUNT for NOTHING.  And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation.  The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous’.”—Ezekiel 33:11-12  What measure of goodness or worthiness do you use to evaluate yourself?  What measure of goodness or worthiness do you use to evaluate others?  What thoughts and emotions course through you as you read God’s proclamation to Ezekiel?)
 
My prejudice against rock bass kept my uncle’s fish from becoming part of dinner that night.  While rock bass are fun to catch, they just don’t count as table-fare for me.  God’s prejudice against sin was determined before he created the world.  He knew the chances for sin, its allure, and its consequence of death, was possible before creating Adam and Eve.  He knew what it would cost Him to deal with it.  It would take nothing less than the life, death, and unprecedented resurrection of His perfect Son for us to be counted as His.  This is true love in decision and action form.  It illustrates how much we count to Him who created us.  (Pause for Thought:  “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will NEVER COUNT against them.  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.  The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  In the same way COUNT yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”—Romans 4:8; 6:9-11;   “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, NOT COUNTING people’s sin against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”—2 Corinthians 5:18-19   How does Paul’s determination in these Roman/Corinthian passages measure with God’s words to Ezekiel?  Where do you “count” in all of this?  Do you think it is possible to live in mind, body, and spirit like Paul describes?  Why or why not?)
 
My uncle passed from this life two weeks ago.  Though he struggled through many physical and relational traumas, he knew he counted for and in what mattered most.  His life reflected the journey described by Ezekiel and Paul.  My uncle knew he was counted as righteous and his sins counted no more.  Thank you, Lord, for your Son and my uncle.  (Pause for Thought:  “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been COUNTED worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah”.—Acts 5:41-42; “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be COUNTED worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.”—2 Thessalonians 1:5  How can life’s circumstances be an affirmation of our righteousness in Christ?”  How can measuring our life through circumstances result in following a lie?  Are you living a “counted” life today or are you living a lie?  What are you willing to do about it?)
 

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Tents & Tabernacle

It was a strange sight that greeted my eyes as I peered through the coffee shop window that summer morning.  Coming from the distant trees, a lone figure of a man dragging some fabric and metal tubing across the expansive parking lot caused me to do a double-take.  The man, in his early twenties, kept approaching the coffee shop front door.  The only thing stopping his entrance into the shop was the fact the door was too narrow to fit, what I could now clearly see, what was a tent frame.  Much to the manager’s relief, I convinced the man he could leave his prized, and only, possession on the grass adjacent to the store entrance.  He complied reluctantly with the suggestion, and he told me he needed to keep watch on his tent because of the bad people looking to take it from him.    (Pause for Thought:  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Romans 8:38-39  Have you ever lost someone or something that you loved?  What emotions developed your thoughts and actions during that time?  Have you ever lost the love of God?  If so, why and how?)
 
The young man obviously needed something to eat and drink, so I offered to buy him a coffee and sandwich.  Concerned he would have to leave sight of his tent, I assured him I would purchase the breakfast and deliver it to him, so he could keep watch.  After he had eaten some of the sandwich, I talked about his tent, and his passion for it.  I told him his tent reminded me of a tent, a tabernacle, of Bible times, and explained the tabernacle was a tent God used when he stayed among His people.  I then explained how Jesus, God’s only son, “camped out” with us that first Christmas, and His dwelling in our hearts and lives could never be stolen by “bad people”.  (Pause for Thought:  “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”—Matthew1:23; “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”—John 1:14  Why did Jesus, fully God and fully human, have to come for you that first Christmas?  How has He been living or trying to live with you ever since?)
 
The man was intrigued enough I felt I could pray for him and the restoration of his soul.  He wouldn’t allow me to pray for his salvation, but he did want me to pray that he could “get his life together”.  I prayed for his physical tent, and I prayed for his soulful tent.  I prayed the baby of that first Christmas would someday become the Lord and King of this man’s heart, and an abundant life, an eternal life, would someday be his through Christ Jesus.  (Pause for Thought:  Jesus said, “I am the vine you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you.”—John 15:5 & 7  What have you wished for this Christmas?  How have you been remaining in Jesus?  How has he been remaining in you this Christmas?  Has there been a distraction in your life keeping you from remaining in Him?  What will you do about it?)
 

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Gaining Perspective

I like to ask my son about his thoughts and feelings regarding serious world matters we encounter together.  It becomes a little puzzle game when he and I have an opportunity to really get at the heart of matters.  His perspective and mine often differ, and it makes for some good conversation.  For instance, last weekend, we were watching our favorite show, and the host ended the show with a spirited monologue detailing his feelings regarding injustices his town was experiencing.  I thought this a good opportunity to ask my son, “Whaddya Think?”     (Pause for Thought: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” – Proverbs 1:7  How often do you factor in God’s thoughts on a subject for your decision making?  How often does the Lord ask you, “What Do You Think”?)
 
I wanted my son to express his solution to the matter and see how he would accomplish the solution (i.e. laws, persuasive speeches, writing, etc.).  He determined to solve the matter by making everyone be Christians.  I asked him why, and he replied they would then know peace.  He explained people would go to church, and read the Bible, and therefore, demonstrate a peaceful, righteous, relationship with each other.  I asked him if reading the Bible and going to church had resulted in peace within his own house, and he determined it didn’t always.  We each confessed the way to peace isn’t in being a “Christian-Doing”, but by being in a continual conversation with God to gain His perspective on matters of living.  (Pause for Thought:  “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.  For who is able to govern this great people of yours?  So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have you asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked.  I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be’.”—I Kings 3:9-12  Can you name three things the Lord gives, without hesitation, to His people?  Why, do you suppose, people choose not to ask God for wisdom and insight.  Have you ever asked God for wisdom concerning a matter in your life?  What were the short and long term results?)
 
A young man named Solomon was in a difficult situation.  The governance and justice of an entire kingdom rested on his shoulders.  God asked him, “Whaddya Think?”  Solomon said he thought wisdom, God’s perspective on matters, would bring the “shalom” (highest-good, peace) he and his kingdom required.  In essence, a prayerful conversation ensued, and when Solomon continued to ask God, “Whaddya Think”, the path towards the highest-good was found by Solomon and the nation of Israel.  It’s amazing when my son and I ask each other for our thoughts on a matter; it’s God’s truths from his word that we truly hear in our souls; like the verse that came to use while discussing our thoughts on justice and what people needed in the situation we heard about:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the PEACE that PASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   (Pause for Thought:  “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”—Isaiah 11:2-3a  How often do people seek your advice or perspective on a matter?  What is the basis/authority of your responses?  What will you ask God for this week?)
 

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Means & Ends

Philosophy 101 taught us to think rationally and logically regarding the world around us.  For instance, if A=B and B=C, then A=C.  These little formulas became the grounds for our understanding of things perceived in nature, regarded in character, and encountered in literature.  Political Science courses taught us to use things understood rationally and logically in world history and governments to determine outcomes and create change.  We studied and argued concepts like, “Is it better to be feared than loved?” and “Does the end justify the means or do the means justify the end?” (Pause for Thought:  “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.—Romans 8:30.  Notice the “where” and “when” in this verse.  Our justification and glorification is here and now.  What kind of freedom does this give you?  How will you use your freedom for others?)
 
Please allow me to refer back to last week’s article where it was proposed that Jesus made certain all of the big uncertainties in living a human life—“What happens when I die?” and “Who am I?”  Because Jesus was who he was—both God and human—and because he experienced every known “unknown” mankind could ever experience, he determined our place (justification) and our being (glorification).  He made the ending certain.  We can speak and live with certainty as to where we are going and who’s we are.  Therefore, in the case of Christ’s HIStory and government, the end justifies the means.  (Pause for Thought:  “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or danger or sword?—Romans 8:33-35.  How is Jesus Christ’s government different from worldly governments?  Why, do you suppose, we place such conviction and personal attention to maintaining shifting governments instead of following a King and Kingdom of such certainty?  What would the world look like if earthly governments pledged their allegiance to Jesus?  What would your family look like if they pledged their allegiance to Jesus?)
 

If Jesus’ end justifies our place and being, what does that mean for us?  What then should be our response to all of this?  If you are like most Christians I encounter, they are on a path of trying to earn this justification and glorification.  But if something has already been given to you, how can you earn it?  You can’t.  You are supposed to use it.  I figure, scripturally speaking, we use it in three ways—APPRECIATION=WORSHIP (Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.—Psalm 95:6-7); DEVOTION=OBEDIENCE (Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!”—Acts 5:29); and IMITATION=SACRIFICE (Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.—Romans 12:1).  (Pause for Thought:  How does knowing the end make it easier to live out your appreciation, devotion, and imitation of Jesus?  In what practical ways will you live up to your justification and glorification in front of others this week?)

 

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Living Up

I’m always fascinated when I meet someone who reads the last chapter of a book first.  I’ve been told knowing the outcome allows for a more fulfilling reading experience.  I suppose once the uncertainty of the ending is known, the means to the end is better understood and more appreciated.  Maybe that is why Jesus took care of humanity’s most uncertain aspects to living—“What happens when I die, and who am I?”—when He arrived, lived, died, rose, and ascended.  The last chapter is a foregone conclusion.  (Pause for Thought:  “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again, so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”—I Thessalonians 4:13-14.  What uncertainties are you and your family facing this year?  How does knowing death is nothing but a short sleep with Jesus help you face these uncertainties?  Remember, when you fall asleep at night, you don’t cease to be who you were when you awake.  Since this is so, what do you suppose we carry with us into Heaven?  What do you suppose is left behind?)
 
My wife, son, and I always pray before we part for work and school in the mornings.  The first school day of this year, I asked my son what he wanted to work on and perfect this semester.  I was thinking he would request prayer for an academic or intellectual pursuit, but instead, he said he wanted to know more about what a Christian does and who a Christian is.  His request exuded uncertainty.  He is currently living in an “earn it or lose it” state of being.  (Pause for Thought:  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”—I Peter 2:9-10.  How does a royal priesthood look and act?  Are you basing your response on Jesus’s example or the world’s?  What, if any, difference is there between Jesus’s example of royalty and priesthood and the world’s?  What “certainties” does Jesus’s example bring with it?)
 

I want my son to understand a Christian (Jesus Christ Follower) doesn’t try to earn the places, rights, and privileges given to him, but focuses on living up to these gifts given freely by his heavenly Father.  My son’s eventual physical death is just falling asleep and waking up with Jesus—again.  Nothing can stop that from happening.  My son is a king in the order of Jesus—no one can take that away.  I want these grace-filled certainties to be the basis for his living and wisdom.  His place, my place, is guaranteed always—now and forever—at our Father’s table.  Our earthly failures will not be a reason for our removal from our place at His table, but an opportunity for us to live up to the gracious gift and accompanying responsibilities from our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Pause for Thought:  “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.  And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”—Luke 22:28-30.  What is the basis for being a Christ follower?  How do you view trials when they appear?  Do you try to earn your way closer to the King?  Do you believe the trial has come as a punishment for something you did or didn’t do?  How do you view Jesus’ authority and yours when these trials arrive?  If you will allow me, I would like to speak more to the subject of “living up” in next week’s article.)


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