Month of Sundays: Worth

This is what the LORD says: Don’t let wise people brag about their wisdom. Don’t let strong people brag about their strength. Don’t let rich people brag about their riches. If they want to brag, they should brag that they understand and know me. They should brag that I, the LORD, act out of love, righteousness, and justice on the earth. This kind of bragging pleases me, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

College preparatory schools rise and fall on the strength of where their graduates attend university. That’s especially important for those just starting, or with no endowment to carry them through. In the case of the school I went to, both were the case. So they were very pleased when a good number in my class were admitted to Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Brown, and Cornell.

Somehow I didn’t get the memo on this. For a variety of reasons, I went elsewhere. When this got out, I found myself in trouble with faculty and classmate alike. That trouble went right up to the day we graduated.

Many years later, I went to a class reunion, and shared this with our class valedictorian, a very intelligent mental heath practitioner who is also Jewish. She was appalled at this; she expressed the sentiment that it’s not what school you went to, it’s the kind of person you are.

Today we have a governing establishment that is loaded to the gunwales with graduates from the “right” schools. But they were unable to prevent the crash of 2008. Our country and our world are well endowed with people of “proper” credentials, who have lots of power and money. But the moral level of our society should tell us that what we’re short of is people of integrity. That’s where real worth lies, and that’s where the real poverty is.

True knowledge of God will lead to real integrity and personal worth. Those who know God will want to imitate him in acting “out of love, righteousness, and justice.” If your walk with God isn’t leading you there, you may be going in the wrong direction. But he is ready and willing to set you on the right path.

Month of Sundays: Worship

But a time is coming, indeed it is already here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father spiritually and truly; for such are the worshipers that the Father desires. God is Spirit; and those who worship him must worship spiritually and truly. (John 4:23-24)

In 987 Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided that his people, pagans up to that time, needed a new religion. So he sent delegations to the various religions around him (including Islam) to see for themselves what was going on. The delegation that went to Constantinople (now Istanbul) was unprepared for what they experienced. They returned to Kiev to report that “the Greeks led us to where they worship their God, and we did not know whether we were in heaven or earth…We know only that God dwells there among men…”

It’s commonplace today to say that a certain style of worship is “from the throne room” or “will take you into the throne room” of God. We can claim that for our own form of worship. But what kind of impact do we have on those who come in for the first time? Do they, like Prince Vladimir’s envoys, come back not knowing whether they were in heaven or earth? Will they see that God dwells among you? Or will they just be presented with a loud band?

There’s a lot of dispute over what style of worship is really “from the throne room” these days. But there’s no disputing that, for God to dwell in us corporately, he must first dwell in us personally.

It’s no accident that, in the passage above, Jesus foretells the beginning of true worship to the Samaritan woman, who was anything but spiritual. Before we have spiritual worship we must start with spiritual people whose worship is in truth, and that truth can only be Jesus Christ himself and the life he has commanded us to live. So when you worship, think about the kind of person you are in Christ before you think about the form of worship.

My desire, then, is that it should be the custom everywhere for the men to lead the prayers, with hands reverently uplifted, avoiding heated controversy. (1 Timothy 2:8)

Month of Sundays: Witness

So the Jews again called the man who had been blind, and said to him: “Give God the praise; we know that this (Jesus) is a bad man.” “I know nothing about his being a bad man,” he replied; “one thing I do know, that although I was blind, now I can see.” (John 9:24-25)

The disciples were confused. They had been told all their lives that good things happened to good people, and bad things happened to bad people. Why was this man born blind? “‘Rabbi,’ asked his disciples, ‘who was it that sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither the man nor the parents,’ replied Jesus; ‘but he was born blind that the work of God should be made plain in him.’” (John 9:2-3) And Jesus forthwith healed him.

Then he and eventually his parents were hauled in front of the Pharisees. Who healed you? Was he a good person? A bad person couldn’t have done this! But they were stuck with one enormous fact: the man, once blind, could now see. And the man once blind clung tenaciously to his testimony.

We can and should learn how to share our faith with others. It should be a central part of every man’s discipleship process. In addition to being able to bring others to Jesus, it forces us to learn our faith, and that’s a key goal of discipleship.

But early in any gospel presentation, we give our testimony. What has the Lord done for us? How has he changed us? What were we like before? How much better is it now? These are things which people can connect with: if Jesus Christ can do it in our lives, he can do it in the lives of others. The abstract presentation of the Gospel becomes concrete when others read the Bible that God has made us into.

What’s your testimony? Write it down and commit it to memory so you can share it with others, and they will be drawn to God through it.

Let your light so shine before the eyes of your fellow men, that, seeing your good actions, they may praise your Father who is in Heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

Month of Sundays: Unity

But I appeal to you, Brothers, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree in what you profess, and not to allow divisions to exist among you, but to be united-of one mind and of one opinion. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Like many liberal churches, the Unity congregation found itself far too small for its 700-seat sanctuary. The neighboring elite school had made an offer to purchase the property, which would enable them to relocate to a smaller church. But it fell through when there weren’t enough votes in the congregation to approve the deal.

The Unity church couldn’t get enough unity to make a major decision!

When many people think of “unity,” they think of the “lowest common denominator” type: if we could all just “get along” or “get together” we’d be all right. But like the “Unity” congregation, that doesn’t always work according to plan.

Real Christian unity is a high calling. It involves people being first transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ, to become new people: “Therefore, if any one is in union with Christ, he is a new being! His old life has passed away; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) That unity with God translates into unity with each other, as we both live and work together to live the life and do the work that God has for us.

The key to unity, therefore, is not that we first look at each other, but upward: to Jesus Christ. When we are focused on him and the life he has for us and the mission he has for us to do, it’s a lot easier to be one with each other.

I have given them the honor which thou has given me, that they may be one as we are one– I in union with them and thou with me–that so they may be perfected in their union, and thus the world may know that thou hast sent me as thy Messenger, and that thou has loved them as thou hast loved me. (John 17:22-23)

Month of Sundays: Truth

On coming into the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples this question–“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Some say John the Baptist,” they answered, “Others, however, say that he is Elijah, while others again say Jeremiah, or one of the Prophets.” “But you,” he said, “who do you say that I am?” And to this Simon Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” was a strange question for Jesus to ask his disciples. Time and time again in his ministry, Our Lord showed justified disdain for the opinions of men. But now he was asking his disciples that very question—about his own nature!

People are always either trying to figure out what people around them think or appealing to it to win an argument. Anyone who watches cable news knows that polls are being taken constantly on a wide variety of opinions. We ridicule politicians who “stick their finger in the wind” to see where public opinion blows and then go with it, but we get angry at those who don’t as “unresponsive!” When we try to prove something to someone, we fall back on “they say” or “everybody is doing it.” Such an argument is an appeal to the crowd, logically fallacious as it is unbiblical.

But Jesus asked the question as the setup to the most important one of all: “who do you say that I am?” Peter characteristically blurted out what came to mind first, but in this case he was correct: “…no human being has revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven.” (Matthew 16:17b)

It’s not what man says, but what God says that counts. Jesus’ argument stopper with Satan in the wilderness was simple: “Scripture says…Scripture also says…Scripture says.” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10) Do we live as if we believe that? Are we making our decisions based on what God says, asking him “…with hands reverently uplifted, avoiding heated controversy.” (1 Timothy 2:8b?) Or are we just sticking our fingers in the wind?

Month of Sundays: Time

Take great care, then, how you live–not unwisely but wisely, Making the most of every opportunity; for these are evil days. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Many years ago, my family business established a branch operation in West Palm Beach, Florida. We built a facility and lined up personnel to operate it. We also brought in people from other facilities to help set things up.

Across the street was a company called “U and Me Transfer and Storage,” who was helping to get the equipment into the new place. Unfortunately no one told the out of town people who “U and Me” were. When the plant manager went on and on about “U and Me will bring this in,” and “U and Me will set that up,” one man threw up his hands and said, “When’s you and me going to find time to do all of this?”

That is frequently the way things go in the church. Jesus promised that “For where two or three have come together in my Name, I am present with them.” (Matthew 18:20), and when work is to be done, too often that’s it! We know the time is short to do God’s work, but too often our churches fulfill another one of Jesus’ statements: “The harvest…is abundant, but the laborers are few.” (Luke 10:2a)

That’s why it’s important to disciple and train as many people as possible to do God’s work. We need to ask God first to send those our way, and then we need to disciple and prepare them for the work that needs to be done. We frequently skip that step, putting them to work before they have been discipled, but Jesus invested much of his earthly ministry in the preparation of his disciples. Can we do any less?

Therefore pray to the Owner of the harvest to send laborers to gather in his harvest. (Luke 10:2b)

Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the Faith of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)

Month of Sundays: Temptation

Once more the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms in the world and their glory. The devil said to him, “I will give you all this if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! Scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and angels came to take care of him. (Matthew 4:8-11)

The term “Faustian bargain” means a deal with the devil (literally or figuratively) which has a stiff payback. In English literature the story has its debut in Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, written about the time of Shakespeare and the King James’ Bible. When Mephistopheles (Satan’s agent) first appears, Faustus asks him why he wants so many souls for his kingdom (Hell.) Put simply, Mephistopheles’ response was, “misery loves company.”

Talk of heaven usually turns on it being the place where we will see our loved ones again. Unfortunately there are those of us who have the sinking feeling that some of ours have sunk to the other place. One pastor performed a funeral for a motorcycle gang member whose gang called itself “Hell is Our Home.” They left no doubt where they intended to meet for that last bike ride.

Company or not, misery is still misery. Eternal misery is dreadful; it’s referred to as the “second death. (Revelation 20:14). Just because we think those we like in this life are there doesn’t mean that we should follow them.

Jesus, as God, knew the emptiness of the devil’s promise of being given the world in exchange for the worship of Satan. The evil one knew the Scriptures, and knew this was included: “The earth and everything it contains are the LORD’S. The world and all who live in it are his.” (Psalms 24:1) But that didn’t stop him from trying.

He still is trying, and tempting us to turn our backs on the God of the universe so we might have a little “pleasure” in this life. But the payback is eternal and unbearable, no matter who else is doing it.

Will you yield to his temptation? Or serve the real Master of all?

Month of Sundays: Suffering

What credit can you claim when, after doing wrong, you take your punishment for it patiently? But, on the other hand, if, after doing right, you take your sufferings patiently, that does win the approval of God. For it was to this that you were called! For Christ, too, suffered–on your behalf–and left you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:20-21)

Back in the 1970’s I attended for a brief time a church whose pastor was one of the foremost “prosperity teachers” of his day. One constant refrain in his sermon was his making fun of those who claimed they were “suffering for Jesus.” His idea was that Jesus didn’t make anyone suffer and that, if they would adopt the “God kind of faith,” they wouldn’t be suffering any more.

Evidently he hadn’t thought through a few things.

Reading the scripture above should put an end to the idea that Christians never suffer. Our Lord did so while on this earth and promised that his followers would experience persecution and suffer for being his followers, just as he suffered for being who he was.

But the truth is that, although some in the congregation were really suffering, others weren’t. They lived in a prosperous Texas city; had they driven far enough south, or even in parts of their own metro area, they would have seen real poverty and suffering.

And for those who were suffering, we must ask: were they really “suffering for Jesus?” Or were they doing so because of their own mistakes? Were they experiencing poverty for the Savior, or were they just careless with their money? As the scripture says above, we can’t take credit for suffering for bad things we’ve brought on ourselves.

Too much of what is taught these days tells us that we can live a pain-free life. But Our Lord never made such a promise.

“I have spoken to you in this way, so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will find trouble; yet, take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

Month of Sundays: Strength

This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: The LORD God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the world. And he has ordered me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem (which is in Judah). May God be with all of you who are his people. You may go to Jerusalem (which is in Judah) and build a temple for the LORD God of Israel. He is the God who is in Jerusalem. All who choose to remain behind, wherever they may be living, should provide the people who are leaving with silver, gold, supplies, livestock, and freewill offerings to be used in God’s temple in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:2-4)

King Cyrus was on top of the world. From mountainous Persia he ruled a vast empire; he was secure enough to allow the Jews to return to their homeland. In doing so he was God’s instrument, doing his will.

But Cyrus had other choices to make, too. A man named Artembares had an idea: that the Persians abandon their mountainous homeland and settle in a richer part of their new empire, probably what is now Iraq. Cyrus told them that Artembares and his friends could do what they wanted, but that he wasn’t going anywhere: “’Soft countries,’ he said, ‘breed soft men. It is not the property of any one soil to produce fine fruits and good soldiers too.’ The Persians had to admit that this was true and that Cyrus was wiser than they; so they left him, and chose rather to live in a rugged land and rule than to cultivate rich plains and be subject to others.” (Herodotus, The Histories)

The Jews returned to their land and began to rebuild their temple. Cyrus’ descendants would rule from their rugged land for another two hundred years. And Cyrus’ decision still works: one reason why the U.S. attacked Iraq and not Iran (Persia) was because of the rugged terrain from whence Cyrus came.

We always want the “easy way” out, and our lives to always be smooth sailing. But rugged terrain—physically and in life—can build character and endurance in a way that nothing else can. Jesus Christ won us freedom on an old rugged cross: don’t throw it away for easy street!

Month of Sundays: Storms

So, when a light wind sprang up from the south, thinking that they had found their opportunity, they weighed anchor and kept along the coast of Crete, close in shore. But shortly afterwards a hurricane came down on us off the land–a north-easter, as it is called. The ship was caught by it and was unable to keep her head to the wind, so we had to give way and let her drive before it. Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we only just managed to secure the ship’s boat, And, after hoisting it on board, the men frapped the ship. But, afraid of being driven on to the Syrtis Sands, they lowered the yard, and then drifted. So violently were we tossed about by the storm, that the next day they began throwing the cargo overboard, And, on the following day, threw out the ship’s tackle with their own hands. As neither sun nor stars were visible for several days, and, as the gale still continued severe, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. (Acts 27:13-20)

In the ancient world, ships were built with long cables that extended from one end of the vessel to the other. In times of storm, these would be tightened so that the ship would hold together until the storm passed, when they would be loosened and the ship could sail normally. That is described as “frapping” (the correct term) in the passage above, and on board was their prisoner—the Apostle Paul.

Too many people sail the sea lanes of life with no idea of preparing for the storms that will come, or even avoiding them, as Paul tried to do before they set sail. But come they will. The questions that then come up are this: do you have the rigging in your life to hold together during times of trouble? And who is your captain?

It’s so easy to be either self-sufficient or careless about living when times are good. But bad times will wreck both. And that leads to our captain. We say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life when we get saved. But do we really mean that? Are we dependent upon him? Do we follow his commands for living? Are we his disciples, having internalized his gospel instead of just giving it lip service? The time to do all of this is now, before the storms of life break up your ship and you find yourself with only a plank to hold on to.

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