‘UNITY AND PEACE’ AT HOME

What is it worth to us to maintain peace, not just the peace among nations but the peace in our own worlds? Our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our churches, and, most of all, our marriages? Some would argue “tolerance” for what divides us while others question whether that dimension holds; suggesting, instead, that we congregate among our own kind. Either way, we’re confronted with an uncomfortable choice, caused in no small measure because we’re individually different and we see the world differently. What does the Bible say about this predicament?

  • GALATIANS 5:15 (NKJV): “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”
  • EPHESIANS 4:3 (NIV): “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
  • ROMANS 12:18 (ESV): “If possible, so far as it depends on  you, live peaceably with all.”

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Keeping the Peace

LET’S ZOOM IN on our lovable neighbors, Darryl and Marcia.Typical of their neighborhood, they’re in their late 30s to mid 40s, with three children in middle school and high school.

AFTER DINNER DISHES

Our lovebirds have finished dinner. The children are dispersed to their rooms to finish homework before settling into some TV time, and Darryl and Marcia are cleaning up. 

What seems like a routine conversation, basic husband-and-wife question-and-answer stuff, turns into a heated contention, with each partner flinging words they hope our Lord doesn’t hear. (Fat chance of that!) 

How does that happen, they ask themselves afterwards, sulking and hurt. Why do we do that?

The Bible tells us it’s in our hearts: 

“Who can understand the human heart? There is nothing else so deceitful; it is too sick to be healed.” – Jere. 17:9-11 (GNT)

ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?

At this point, it doesn’t matter what our neighbors were discussing, nor which one of them (if either) was right. What matters is that two people who love one another, who sought each other out and committed to one another, can still argue over what is, in the larger scheme of things, essentially trivial.

WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?

WE’RE ALL IN *MIXED* MARRIAGES. 

Typically, we think of mixed marriages as two people from different races or religions, or maybe different social classes, even if we don’t state it outright.

But, even within our “tribe,” our marriages are mixed because we pair a female with a male. Whether we’re familiar with the various books  comparing men and women as Mars and Venus1 or Waffles and Spaghetti2, we know from personal experience and our own interactions that we are markedly different, that oil and water have nothing on estrogen and testosterone. 

So, how do we “keep the peace” in a marriage between two different energies, no matter how much we love and desire one another? 

HAPPY WIFE = HAPPY LIFE? HMMM

Solomon, the writer of Proverbs, has much to say about “contentious wives.” Consider Proverbs 19:13 and then 21:9 and then 21:19 and then 25:24 and then 27:15 and then again at 27:16. 

Solomon, considered the wisest man ever, gives us some six verses where he likens a difficult wife to the continual dripping on a rainy day, life in a desert, or living in the corner of a housetop. He complains that trying to restrain an emotional rant is like grasping the wind or oil that seeps through the fingers. (He doesn’t say “emotional rant,” but you know that’s what he meant.)

Solomon does not tell us whether the woman is contentIous because she’s a shriveled up, bitter malcontent or because she’s chaffing under the arrogance and selfishness of her monster husband. (We  can assume she’s responding to her husband’s failure to love her and protect her. If she were a malcontent when he met her, he probably would not have married her.) Of course, those verses apply as well to a woman living with an irritable husband!

Still, we get the point that, in today’s terms, “Happy Wife = Happy Life.”

SURVIVING MARITAL BATTLES

DOES MARITAL CONFLICT, once resolved, lead to a more fulfilling, satisfying union than one built mostly on lust and shared interests? We know the answer is “yes.” Any couple in their early 20s could build a marriage on physical attraction alone. 

But how do they manage to stay together, buy a house, raise a family, pay off the mortgage, send the children to college, finance their  retirement, and buy a burial plot together? What about all that arguing?

Do they argue? Do you argue? Doesn’t everyone argue?

Several years ago, our local church offered a series of Sunday morning adult classes on how to improve our marriages.

We hesitated to sign up for fear it would brand us as marital misfits, the couple everyone should avoid. To our surprise, when we walked into the classroom — late, of course, because of our hesitation — we saw most of our church friends there! 

In our book, those couples were the winners, the church’s poster people for happy marriages, and yet there they were, eager to learn how to make their marriages better.

SLOW TO ANGER

THE BIBLE’S WISDOM always gives us the best answer. Interestingly enough, we read admonitions to hold our tongues, especially when we’re angry. James (the Lord’s half-brother) tells us in James 1:19 to be “slow to anger,” while Proverbs 16:32 reminds us that he who is slow to anger is “better than a warrior.”

In his book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks if God designed marriage more to “make us holy than to make us happy.” As much as we might like to believe the fairy tale endings of how the prince and the beauty “lived happily ever after,” the whole notion of marriage as preparation for Heaven makes more sense.3

Recalling two of Solomon’s bromides against angry wives, Proverbs 27, verses 15 and 16, let’s not overlook they set up verse 17, that as “iron sharpens iron,” so does one man (or one woman) sharpen another.

That could well mean that all of those marital tiffs, no matter how uncomfortable they may be at the moment, serve a greater purpose as  character building for our eternal lives with the Lord.

THE WAY WE IMAGINE MARRIAGE

Even so, God makes it very clear that our “character building” exercises should not take us to sin. Consider both Ephesians 4:29 (“In your anger, do not sin”) and Psalm 4:4 (“Be angry, and do not sin.”)

POSTSCRIPT

PLEASE DON’T MISTAKE this meditation as a call to arms! We’re not promoting quarrels, tiffs, and hissy fits, but we are saying that marital discord may serve a greater purpose: smoothing out our rough spots to make us more like the Savior we worship.

We know that marital discord is part of the curse (see Gen. 3:16), where God tells Eve there will be conflict in her marriage. So, we know that every married couple has disagreements. 

But God continues to take care of His creation so that, even in the curse, He finds a way to make our discord pay off for us. 

Maybe this is just another example of Romans 8:28? There God tells us through Paul that God works “all things” to the good of those who love him and are called to His purpose.

PRAYER

PRAISE GOD!

HOLY FATHER GOD, how blessed we are to rest in Your loving care, to be redeemed by Your Son’s blood, to be kept for salvation by the Holy Spirit. You love us and nurture us, shaping us to be more Christ-like and preparing us for eternity with You. Thank You for your constant attention and for using even our sin to prepare us as a bride “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”4 In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN


1 John Gray, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, HarperCollins, 1994

2 Bill Farrel and Pam Farrel, Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, Harvest House Publishers, 2017

3Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich., 2000

4Ephesians 5:27 (NIV)

SHARING JESUS WITHOUT FEAR

God gives us the opportunity to share the Gospel at unexpected times, so we have to be ready. It helps greatly to pray about an opportunity and then look to see where God is working. The stakes are high as the Bible clearly states that most people will not go to Heaven, so we who are believers have no business withholding the Good News from someone who could be facing an eternity without God. The key is to find a way to begin the discussion.

  • 2 Cor. 5:20 (NKJV): “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
  • Matt. 10:33 (NASB20): “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”
  • James 4:17 (ESV): “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

WE’RE ALL EVANGELISTS

 “SAY, ISN’T THAT Rodney over there?”

“Hmm, yeah, I think so, why? 

Rodney at the Coffee Shop

The two voices cut into my alone time. I looked up from my computer as I perched on my stool at a small coffee shop round table, sipping coffee and trying to write.

Following their gaze, I spotted another young man sitting at a corner table, hunched over with his back toward us.

“I dunno,” the first man said. “It’s just, like, I don’t think he goes to church, or nothin’, you know? I mean, I don’t know, I just think we should go over and talk to ’im. Whaddya say?”

“Okay.”

Getting back to my work, I paid little attention as the two young men near my table slowly walked to Rodney’s table.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

FORTUNATELY FOR ME, Rodney’s table was far enough away that I was not drawn into their conversation. 

Sharing Coffee and God’s Word

I resumed writing, which, ironically enough, was a report on one of several books I had read recently about the importance of evangelizing the lost along with some pointers on how to do it. 

Somewhere in the haze, as I pounded word after word, I also wondered how those two young men — both apparently in their mid-twenties — would go about encouraging their friend to “try” church.

Would they take a direct route and hit him with a “Hey, how come you don’t go to church,” or would they “ease their way into it,” talk about sports first, maybe ask about his love life, and then bring up worship?

Whatever approach they tried, I gave them credit for making the effort, knowing that most people, even committed Christians, would have left Rodney alone and skipped the whole thing.

Why We Don’t Evangelize

THE EXPERTS TELL US there are numerous reasons people give for not evangelizing, most of which I understand, even if the Lord might not consider them valid.

A partial list might include:

  • Feeling inadequate for the task
  • Fearing rejection and humiliation
  • Not knowing enough “Bible stuff” to hold a discussion
  • Feeling stressed at the thought of approaching someone
  • Wrong time, not enough time, wrong venue, too many people around
  • Not my job — this is for the pastor or an elder 
  • Fear of persecution if the person complains
  • Considering one’s faith decision a personal matter
  • Questioning how to start the conversation
  • Fear of offending the person.

How about you? Do any of those items look like your list? 

My item made the list: Questioning how to start the conversation. 

I’m okay with the topic of faith once I’m started, but steering the conversation over to spiritual matters when we’re talking about secular things seems counter-intuitive. Other words might be “awkward,” “contrived,” “uncomfortable,” or even “impertinent” and “intrusive.”

ASKING POINTED QUESTIONS

EVENTUALLY, MY CURIOSITY forced me to step away from my writing to see how the young men were doing.

It was difficult to follow their conversation since all three faced away from me, but they looked engrossed in  whatever topic they were on. 

The Bible Answers Our Big Questions

William Fay, a former super-salesman turned evangelist, says he focuses on asking questions, encouraging the other person to talk1

He says to let the conversation take its course, not to interrupt or argue with them, and don’t debate them, just let them talk until it’s time to ask another question. Plus, he says, listen to their answers.

Here are his suggested questions:

  1. Do you have any kind of spiritual beliefs?
  2. To you, who is Jesus Christ?
  3. Do you believe Heaven and Hell are real places?
  4. If you died right now, where would you go? Why?
  5. If what you believe were not true, would you want to know it? 

That last question, he says, is to get their permission to take them to God’s Word, which he always carries with him.

Usually, he says, even if it’s just shear curiosity, most people will play along, then he produces a copy of God’s Word, which he has marked up to guide him and his companion through a set script of selected verses.

Just Planting Seeds

FAY SAYS THE KEY is to show the other person the marked-up Bible and let them read the keyed verses out loud. Then ask them to explain what each verse means to them.

He uses these verses: 

  • Romans 3:23 – “All have sinned.”
  • Romans 6:23 – “The wages of sin is death.”
  • John 3:3 – “Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Instead of asking them to interpret the verse, he suggests asking them why they think God sent Jesus to die. (I like to add Galatians 2:21 here – “If righteousness comes through the law (good works), then Christ died in vain.”)
  • John 14:6 – “I am the way.”
  • Romans 10:9-11 – “If you confess your sins, you will be saved.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:15 – “Those who live should no longer live for themselves.”
  • Revelation 3:20 – “I stand at the door and knock.”

CLOSE WITH KEY QUESTIONS

WHEN YOU SENSE it’s time to close the conversation, you need to find a way to leave a lasting imprint, especially  considering most people will not “come to faith” with the first conversation. 

Sharing God’s Word With a Friend

Bill Fay suggests closing with … you guessed it … more questions! Why? Because that approach encourages your friend to think about the material, not just listen to you wind on … and on … and on.

His suggested questions are simple but profound, as well: Are you a sinner, Do you want forgiveness for your sins, Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for you and rose from the dead, Are you willing to surrender your life to Jesus Christ, and, finally, Are you ready to invite Jesus into your life and into your heart? 

Those are his suggested questions. I would change the final question to: Are you ready to receive God’s offer of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, and inexpresable joy? Are you ready to spend eternity with your Creator?

The reason I make that change is that the Bible says no one comes to the Father unless the Father draws him (John 6:44), so, technically, we do not invite Him into our hearts, we receive or accept His offer. 

Either way, through the appropriate questions, you are placing the onus on your companion to decide for himself (or herself) how he wants to live and where he wants to spend eternity.

EPILOGUE

A SCUFFLING OF CHAIRS alerted me to my erstwhile companions, who were standing now, about to leave their table.  

Sharing = Fellowship, Encouragement, and Prayer

Rodney was embracing both men, so however they had conducted their business, they were parting on good terms.

As much as I yearned to learn how their conversation went, I realized at that moment that God’s plan for me was to see where God is working around me and join Him. 

In my heart, I said a quiet “goodby” to the three men and prayed, “Lord, show me who You want me to share the Good News with.”

PRAYER

O FATHER GOD, as I meditate on Your goodness and Your faithfulness, I’m drawn to Aaron’s blessing for Israel (Num. 6:24-26 NRSV), “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” O Lord God, may I be Your faithful servant. In our precious Savior’s name, AMEN

____________

1 William Fay, Share Jesus Without Fear, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tenn., 1999

THE DANCE … TWO EQUAL COMPLEMENTARY PARTS

The most beautiful part of God’s creation is mankind, whom God Himself declared was made “in our image.” God made them male and female, equal in His eyes in spiritual worth but designed differently to excel in different functions. While complementary in nature, Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God has led to frequent bickering and disputing between marriage partners.

  • Genesis 2:18 (ESV): “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’”
  • Genesis 2:22 (NKJV): “Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.”
  • Ephesians 5:33 (CSB): “To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.”

IS YOUR LIFE A DANCE?

WHEN A COUPLE DANCES, the male leads and the female follows, but when skilled dancers perform, all eyes are on the female. She makes the graceful, beautiful moves, the spins, the jumps, the poses — the fancy maneuvers. 

Adam and Eve in perfect symmetry

Every now and then, the male will shine, but his role is different. He’s given a support function: lifting the woman, guiding the woman, holding the woman … presenting the woman.

 Here’s how the dance breaks down …

>If the man is not smooth, fluid, and gently firm in his leading, it doesn’t matter how graceful the woman is, the dance will fall apart. 

>If the woman can’t be led or resists following so she can take the lead, the dance will be awkward and, potentially, even dangerous.1

With this as backdrop, I want to take you now to Genesis, Chapter 2. 

IN THE BEGINNING

IT STARTED WELL.

God created man (Adam) from a clump of dirt. He created woman (Eve) from living tissue.  

Man was alone in the Garden, surrounded by inferior life forms and having communion only with God, a much superior life form. 

The beauty of God’s creation

Woman was greeted by an equal life form, someone who was “comparable,” a man who loved her immediately. She was received, honored, and treasured.

Yet, despite their equality — and God told them they were equal — it must have been obvious to both of them that they were different. After all, they were naked. 

Since God made it clear they were equal and clear they were different, there was an obvious conclusion:

They were complementary, not interchangeable, they were made to fit together as one flesh … metaphorically like hand and glove, physically to reproduce, or complementarily as Headship and Submission.

Our relationship as man and woman mirrors the relationship of the Father with the Son and Holy Spirit, as well as Christ and the church, as well as the relationship of God and Man.  

Paul called it “a great mystery” (Eph. 5:32).

GOD LOVES TO DANCE

MOVING WITH GOD is very much like this dance. When we are led by the Holy Spirit, it opens the possibility for beautiful, wonderful, and powerful things to happen.

God loves to dance.

We’re designed to be God’s dance partner.

Feeling the melody, the rhythm, the music

When we struggle over leading and submission, the  movements are never what they could have been.

We are out of synch, and the dance breaks down.

In our walk with Christ, we are learning how to dance and move with Him, so we may reveal Him to the world. This can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, teaching us how to dance with God. 

HEADSHIP AND SUBMISSION

HEADSHIP AND SUBMISSION. Leading and following. Loving and respecting.

As we watch the dance, we hear the music. Sometimes, we focus on just one instrument — maybe a trumpet or clarinet, a violin or guitar, some percussion, possibly a saxophone or flute, a cello, certainly a piano. Other times, we enjoy the blended mix and resonate to the numerous harmonies. 

Of course, there’s always a conductor leading the musicians to keep everyone in synch.

Just as we hear the music when we watch the dance, so, too, we watch the dance as we hear the music, so that the dance becomes the visual image of the music.

DANCE AND MARRIAGE

FOR MARRIAGE TO WORK as God designed us — male and female — the partners need to dance, to flow together, the male leading and the female following, even though all eyes are on the female. 

We miss something very important if we focus on male headship as the prominent role, and female submission as merely secondary or dependent. 

Both are equally important, and just as the male was designed by God to lead, so, too, the female was designed by God to respond, to shine, to flourish — not to be subservient or a doormat or a servant — but to radiate. To be the center of attention. To reflect God’s glory, His beauty, His grace. 

But the woman can shine properly only if she is led properly … and only if she submits properly.

MARRIAGE AND BUGS

A bug captures the essence of marriage — a hard exterior shell (male) protecting the vulnerable interior lifeblood (female)

THE MARITAL RELATIONSHIP, when understood  properly, is like a bug — a hard protective covering on the outside, with a soft life pulse on the inside. 

The male is the head, the protective shield — while the female is the heart, the vulnerable protected interior.

So as we unpack this “headship” and “submission” stuff, let’s let the Bible tells us how to proceed. 

COMPETING VIEWS

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?

The Bible tells us not to conform to the world but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds — in Christ — and that to love the world interferes with our love for the Lord. 

Looking for God’s answer

WHAT DOES THE WORLD SAY? 

The world tells us its norms and values, and we see they conflict with what the Bible says … so,  naturally, we conclude that one of them must be wrong; the world concludes it’s the Bible. 

Why? Well, the most recent writing dates 2,000 years ago but stretches back another 1,500 years, whereas today’s thinking is current, modern, up-to-date. Plus, everyone is on board with the world’s values.

CONFLICTING VALUES

WHEN BELIEVERS COMPARE the world’s values with the Bible, they also see a conflict, yet believers conclude the Bible is correct and the world is wrong.

What are believers to do?

Jesus tells us we cannot serve two masters, for we will love the one and hate the other. His half-brother James tells us not to be double-minded, we can’t believe and disbelieve at the same time. 

So, it’s clear that for believers, we will follow the Bible. 

LOVE AND RESPECT

NOW, LET’S GO to Ephesians, Chapter 5. In this heavily quoted text as a guide to marriage, we’re told that man is the head of the woman, that man leads and woman follows, that man must love his wife, and woman must respect her husband and submit to him. 2

What women and men most desire (2)

That is tough language and difficult for us to unpack without some consideration.

So, why Ephesians, Chapter 5? What happened between  Genesis, Chapter 2, when Adam and Eve, in their innocence and purity, enjoyed the dance, and Ephesians, Chapter 5, when God, through Paul, spoke sternly about our marital duties. Why was this lecture necessary?

The answer is found in Genesis, Chapter 3. Chapter 3 tells us how the dance broke down, how Eve bucked  Adam’s authority, how Adam failed to protect Eve, and how both Adam and Eve blamed God for their failure.

God immediately announced His remedy. We find it mentioned first in Genesis, Chapter 3, but it’s repeated in various forms throughout the Bible, but the part that concerns us most today is found in Ephesians, Chapter 5. 

GOD’S REMEDY EXPLAINED 

HERE WE LEARN that man is mandated by God to love His wife. We know from psychology and just our own experiences, that women want/desire/need to feel loved to feel secure.

We’re also told that woman is mandated to respect her husband. The same sources tell us that men need to feel admired/respected/congratulated to feel their worth, to feel qualified, to feel complete.

Paul makes the same point more succinctly in Ephesians 5:33 (NLT): “Each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

INTRICATE PARTS

NOW, LET’S SUM UP, looking at the parts that fit together to form the mosaic, the intricacy of small puzzle pieces that, when properly placed, produce a completed image.

Complementarity is God’s design for Adam and Eve — two equal partners designed for different roles.

As we look at the parts that make up headship and submission, we see the dance, the integral pieces, the oneness of two distinct but equal beings, their mutuality, their subservience and respect, honor and love … and their closeness, a closeness that is possible only with two equal but different parts, where one’s strength mirrors another’s weakness, and vice versa.

The summation of this essay is this: “headship and submission” do not mean, as the world tells us, that the male is dominant and authoritative while the female is secondary and pliant.  

Instead, we need to see headship and submission the way God designed us, the way the Bible tells us. 

To see that, we need to go back to the Garden, to those precious initial moments when God, basking in the glory of His fresh creation, presented Eve to Adam, the crowing moment of the Creation Story.

Eve is the glorious one in creation, the cherry atop the sundae, the beautiful one, the gracious one, the emotionally vulnerable one …

… and Adam? Adam is the worker, the one God will hold responsible for success and failure, the protective one, the provider, the hard shell, the leader. The sacrificial leader.

POSTSCRIPT

THINK OF JESUS whipping off his outer cloak, filling a wash basin, and cleaning His disciples’ dirty, dusty, smelly, sore feet, lovingly massaging their aches and pains.

That’s what Headship looks like.

Now think of Jesus, stripped, beaten, and nailed to a Cross, obeying the Father’s command for our sakes.

That’s what Submission looks like.

In both cases, Jesus was glorified. 

We, men and women, are called to do the same. As we play our parts as designed by God, we bring glory to Him.

We’re called to dance … with our marriage partner, with fellow believers, and with our God.

For those who are led by the

Spirit of God

are the children of God.

–Romans 8:14 (NIV)

PRAYER

Headship and Submission build Partnership

ALMIGHTY GOD, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we love Your creation, how You’ve fashioned  us, male and female, in Your image, to be Your image bearers on earth. You made us as man and woman to enjoy headship and submission, both in obedience to You. Heal our hearts, O Lord, from the sin that distorts that beautiful image of Adam and Eve, of our first parents, enjoying The Dance, feeling the music, moving their limbs, entering into embrace with each other and with You. Restore us, O Lord, to where we once were as You promise us future Eternity in Paradise. In Jesus name we pray, AMEN

__________

1Dance story adapted from “God’s Dance, The Beauty of His Romance,” from Phill Urena’s book, REDEFINING GRACE, Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., ©2020, Kindle edit., pp 147-149.

2Image from Emerson Eggerichs’ book, LOVE AND RESPECT, Thomas Nelson Publishers, ©2004.

TALE OF THREE MEN: JUDAS, BARABBAS, AND THE THIEF

The tale of three men presents an interesting paradigm as each one relates to Jesus, the Christ of God. JUDAS spent three years in ministry with Jesus, yet never believed; BARABBAS was condemned to death by crucifixion, yet was released as Jesus took his place on the cross; yet THE THIEF, a life-long scoundrel suffering in agony while stapled to a torture chamber — the cross — came to see that the Man in the middle was the Jewish Messiah and believed.

JOHN 10:10 (NKJV): “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

JOHN 8:24b (BSB): “Unless you believe I am He, you will die in your sins.”

THREE RESPONSES TO JESUS

WHAT A SPECTACLE. Here is Jesus brought before the Jewish leaders, then before the Roman authorities. He is mocked, spit upon, beaten, then turned over for crucifixion.

Jesus Carries His Cross

We read of three men who were impacted deeply and eternally by His suffering.

  • One man — Judas — had spent three years with Jesus, hearing Him teach, watching Him heal, and even being empowered himself to heal broken bodies and cast out demons, tratorously betrayed Him. In remorse, he returned the blood money the Jewish leaders had paid him, then hanged himself.
  • Another man — Barabbas — was freed from the dungeon and the penalty of crucifixion he deserved, and left the scene, amazed at his good fortune, but no record of his gratitude or repentance. Perhaps he resumed his life of rebellion and was killed in a later skirmish.
  • A third man — the thief — who presumably had led his short life stealing property from other people and was sentenced to die on the cross, an agonizing punishment of slow death from asphyxiation. Yet, while hanging from the tree in tremendous physical pain, he recognized Jesus as the Messiah, as the Son of God, and believed.

Of the three men impacted deeply that day by Jesus last moments, the thief alone was assured of eternal life through God’s grace. “Today,” Jesus said to him, “you will be with me in Paradise.

WHERE IS GOD WORKING?

WHAT DO WE SEE when we look around us? At this holiday time especially, many of us have our best opportunities to gather with family and close friends to share meals, desserts, conversation, and general “catching up.”

Yet, as Christians committed to obeying the Great Commission to tell others of our faith, what do we find as those familiar faces sit in our parlors and living rooms, gather around the great tables in our dining rooms, or mingle before the giant television set in our family rooms.

Do we see fellow believers? Some of us do, but many of us don’t.

Instead, do we see those who, like Judas, lead “good lives” according to worldly standards yet lack a personal knowledge of the Lord?

JESUS OR BARABBAS?

Do we see the scoundrels, like Barabbas, who seem to defy accountability and reckoning for their behavior?

Or do we see those, like the repentant thief, who realize living challenging lives according to their own needs and wants leads to an emptiness that begs for healing?

WHAT OUR FRIENDS NEED

WHAT CAN WE SAY to them, our friends and family members, those whom we love and have prayed for to encourage them to see Jesus as their friend and savior?

What did Jesus say to each of the three men we’re studying, Judas, Barabbas, and the thief?

As far as we know, His final testimony was lived out in His actions. He had preached to Judas and taught him for three years, and then warned him about what he was about to do.

We have no record of anything He said to Barabbas, but Barabbas must have turned around to look at Him as he was led out from prison. What did he see when he saw the Master?

WHAT SCRIPTURE TELLS US

WE KNOW FROM SCRIPTURE and from the life of Jesus that our testimony is comprised of our actions and our words, what we do and what we say, how we act and how we speak. They must be in synch, and they must reflect God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

As we enjoy the holiday season with loved ones, we should reflect on our prayers for them during the preceding year. Were we consistent? Were we sincere? Did we pray out of rote or out of conviction?

  • One man threw away three years of friendship and tutoring for 35 pieces of silver and a self-administered noose.
LOOK TO SCRIPTURE
  • Another man escaped a torturous death he deserved and, for all we know, never looked back, never changed.
  • But a third man, struggling with excruciating pain just to breathe, called Him “Messiah” and was granted God’s grace.

POSTSCRIPT

OUR PRAYERS for our loved ones should reflect the grace of the Risen Lord, believing that His love is wide enough and deep enough to encompass all of those who don’t know Him — the casual Christian with whom we share a meal, the family rebel who glorifies himself (or herself) by avoiding the earthly penalty for their lifestyle, and the penitent — the one lost sheep the Shepherd can save.

PRAYER

O LORD, HEAR OUR PRAYER!

Father God, we are ashamed to see ourselves reflected in the unbelievers who demanded our Lord’s crucifixion, wondering if we, too, would have cried out to crucify him and release for us the murdering thug Barabbas. Would we have accepted payment of 30 pieces of silver to turn Him in to the authorities, or would we, like the thief crucified beside Him, recognize who He was, the Messiah, even as the Apostles ran from the authorities and Peter denied Him? We only have to answer for ourselves today. So, Father God, help us who trust the Lord for our salvation share that conviction with those You place in our way who do not know Him. In Jesus’ magnificent and beautiful name we pray. AMEN

GOD’S CHOSEN WATCHMEN

God has planned from the beginning to make men and women in His image and to give us dominion over the world He created. While we gave up that role through our disobedience, He still calls us to a critical role: To tell everyone about Him, who He is, what He has done for us, and how placing our faith in Him will lead us to an everlasting joy … and life with Him.

  • Ezekiel 33:9 (NKJV): “Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”
  • Acts 1:8 (ESV): “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

We Are Ambassadors for Christ

THE MOST LOVING ACT we can do for another human being — be they man, woman, or child — is to tell them about God, both that He is a God of love and mercy and also that He is a God of wrath and justice.

“YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES.”

The world teaches that we should affirm everyone’s life choices, that we should not breath a word about God (especially about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit), and that we should leave the word “sin” out of our conversation entirely.

God told the prophet Ezekiel that he was a “watchman” and that his job was to tell the Jews the truth of what God was saying to  them, that they had forgotten His deeds on their behalf and forsaken His commandments, especially the First One — “I am the LORD your God, … You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3 NIV). 

God’s message to his prophet was simply this: “You tell the people what I tell you to tell them. If they listen, both you and they will be saved; but if they don’t listen, you will be saved because you obeyed, but they will die in their sins.”

The third option was the least pleasant for everyone: “If you don’t tell them what I tell you, and they die in their sins, so will you for your disobedience.”

WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE

SINCE WE’RE ON this side of the Cross, we come under the Law of Grace, not the Law, but we are still called to be God’s watchmen to the people in our lives, and we are still accountable for our obedience … as well as our disobedience.

OUR BIG OPPORTUNITY

IMAGINE THIS SCENE: It is Christmas dinner, and you are surrounded at the big table — with the leaves installed, the candles lit, and the good silverware arranged around the dinner plates — with your loved ones.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!!”

You can enjoy seeing your children all grown up with husbands and wives of their own and the smiling cherubic faces of excited little children, looking so much like their mothers and fathers,  that your heart swells with the joy of the moment.

Yet, beneath the laughter and the friendly banter, lies a dark film and behind that film lurks the evil of unrepentant hearts.

Your family — your most precious loved ones — are grabbing the festive secularism of Christmas while leaving the spiritual essence of the holiday far behind.

While you enjoy their bubbly presence at this long-for feast, your heart burns in anguish for their souls.

FAST TRACK TO HELL

HOW DO YOU TURN the conversation into one that turns their hearts toward the Lord’s outstretched hand, beseeching them to turn to Him in humility, seeking His grace and forgiveness, receiving Him into their lives as Lord and Savior.

OUR MISSION STATEMENT

How do you maintain your joyous countenance when you fear — no, you know! — that if they were to perish this very day on the drive home, they would spend an eternity without God, and their suffering would haunt you.

How can you change that?

We know we can’t change anything, only God can, so, first, we are called to pray … and pray … and pray.

Then, we, as God’s watchmen, can obediently speak a word or two for the Lord, striving to plant seeds (and possibly water seeds) while not tarnishing the moment.

William Fay’s “Share Jesus Without Fear” program offers some suggestions. Let’s look at them.

QUESTIONS TO ASK

NO SET OF QUESTIONS will change a conversation pattern if your audience is not interested in following, but most people have a desire to share their thoughts and opinions, so asking questions is a good starting place.

Here are Fay’s suggested questions:

  1. Do you have any kind of spiritual belief? (Or, more simply, what is your spiritual belief?)
  2. To you, who is Jesus? (Or, Who would you say Jesus is?)
  3. Do you believe there are a Heaven and a Hell (Or, do you believe both Heaven and Hell exist?)
  4. If you died right now, where would you go … and why?
  5. If what you said were not true, would you want to know it?

The first four questions in that list should elicit an animated conversation, but don’t stope there! They are merely set-ups for the fifth question. Let’s look at it again and focus on it:

>If what you said were not true, would you want to know it?

Just lay the question out there. Be patient. Be silent. Wait. Let the words sink in. Even if someone pridefully dismisses the question, even the most jaded is likely to be curious enough to ask, “Okay, so what are the right answers?”

BE READY TO POUNCE

THIS IS YOUR Big Moment.

The Bible tells us (1 Peter 3:15) to “be ready” to share your faith. 

Examine your arsenal: a brief personal testimony, the four-part Plan of Salvation, a few general Bible truths (God died for sinners, Jesus is Truth, God loves you), and the reality that only those who believe in Jesus will spend eternity with Him. The rest will not.

Be ready to pray with them, whoever is willing to call on the Lord. The others can listen to the prayer and jeer, if they want, but probably they will realize the seriousness of the moment and not act out. 

As born-again Christians, we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) and His watchmen (Ezek. 33:7). He has turned the job of witnessing for Him over to us (Matt. 28:19-20), and He expects us to deliver.

This is an awesome opportunity to thank our Lord for His saving grace by sharing the Good News with our families, friends, and neighbors, but also an opportunity to show our obedience to the Almighty.

You are to be My Witnesses.

I call you to be My Ambassadors.

I have appointed you as Watchmen.

PRAYER

“O, LORD, WE COME TO YOU …”

Dear Father God, please save our families. Please turn the hearts of our loved ones to You. Humble them to seek You out and confess their need for You, that only Your Son can deliver them to healing, to peace in their souls, to forgiveness … and to life. Then, Lord, help us carry out our role as facilitators, as ambassadors, as witnesses, as watchmen … as You have appointed us. Come now, Jesus. You are both our Sacrificial Lamb and the Lion of Judah. It’s in Your name and through You that we lift this prayer. AMEN

SLOW TO ANGER & IT’S ALL ABOUT ME

The Kingdom of Me. It’s all about me. Didn’t you know that? It’s not about you … not about us … just about me. Your role? Well, obviously, to satisfy my desires!

• Proverbs 19:11 (ESV): “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

• James 1:19 (CSB): “My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”

• Ephesians 4:26 (NIV): “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

• PHILIPPIANS 2:4 (NKJV): “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

AVOID SENSELESS ARGUMENTS

THE KINGDOM OF ME. It’s all about me. Didn’t you know that? It’s not about you … not about us … just about me. Your role? Well, to satisfy my needs, to make me happy.

You say: What a terribly egocentric, anti-social, narcissistic mindset. No thought for anyone else, just yourself.

I agree with you. My statement of personal interest is everything selfish you said it is.

However, now that I’m a born-again Christian, the Holy Spirit works within me to change all of that, to make certain I don’t consider myself “more highly than I ought” (see Rom. 12:3) and that I should consider others needs “more important” than my own (see Phil. 2:3).

But what about those who aren’t born-again Christians? According to the Bible, most of the people we encounter are not born-again Christians, as Jesus defined the term “born again” (see John 3).

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME

YOU ASK, “HOW DOES this ‘all about me’ stuff impact your meditation topic, avoiding arguments? What’s the connection?”

Great question!

I’ve been meditating and praying a lot in recent weeks about the connection because — this is just what I think happens — arguments erupt when two or more people interact in such a way that each one requires — no, insists on — winning his or her point.

It doesn’t necessarily start off that way. An argument can materialize out of a simple conversation, or maybe an innocent question, or even an off-hand remark that means nothing to the speaker but is dynamite to the listener.

The Bible tells us to avoid such tiffs. In addition to our four text sources above, here are some other gems:

• Proverbs 20:3 (NKJV): “[It is] honorable for a man to stop striving, Since any fool can start a quarrel.”

• Proverbs 21:23 (ESV): “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”

• James 3:6a (NIV): “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

• Proverbs 15:1 (CSB): “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.”

TRIPPING OVER PRIDE

THE WAY IT SEEMS to go is that our pride gets in the way of our conversation. Someone’s comment does not square with our reality, so we want to ensure that our perspective — which we insist is objectively based — prevails.

For Christians, the most important topics focus on faith issues, whether it’s abortion or same-sex marriage or euthanasia — or a host of other topics — we often believe we are “witnessing” for our faith when we make our point, but before too long, we restate it, then we dig in our heels, then raise our voice, then make bold judgmental comments.

***

The late Dr. Everett L. Cattell, former president of Malone College in Canton, Ohio, had this to say about arguing as it relates to Christian witness:

“Witnessing is not arguing. I used to get a thrill of self-statisfaction when, with fellow university students, I found I could hold my own arguing an evangelical faith. But nobody got converted by it. Whenever I find myself arguing religion with any one now, I know I am failing. In witnessing, there is no argument. It is sharing, and if the thing you share is not real, it is false witnessing.”

CATTELL, SPIRIT OF HOLINESS, P. 19)

Instead of demanding recognition of your point, no matter how valid you believe it to be, perhaps sprinkle your speech with salt.

The Bible tells us in Colossians 4:6 (ESV): “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

KINGDOM OF SELF

LET’S FINISH WITH a word of advice from Pastor and Author Paul David Tripp, who speaks of “The Kingdom of Self” and it’s fight with God’s Kingdom.

Tripp gives us five questions to ask in self-examination to highlight how sin tarnishes our motives, words, and actions from the high-minded ideal we hold to the way it gets played out.

  • 1. SELF-FOCUS: Before making a decision, do you think, “What’s in it for me?” or do you freely sacrifice for the good of another without expecting a return?
  • 2. SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS: Are you more concerned with, and on the lookout for, the sin, weakness, and moral failure of others than you are your own?
  • 3. SELF-SATISFACTION: Do you regularly feel discontent, always looking for something new to satisfy you, instead of being satisfied with a God-honoring life?
  • 4. SELF-RELIANCE: Do you avoid living in intrusive and intentional relationships, where others admit their need for grace and seek the help of biblical community?
  • 5. SELF-RULE: Which law gets the most attention and the quickest response in your life and relationships, the Word of God or your own desires?

POSTSCRIPT

PAUL DAVID TRIPP points out that Jesus showed anger when someone violated God’s laws, but men and women show anger when someone violates their laws. This is especially true, he said, for married couples, who constantly navigate the petit irritations of close living.

In his book Love and Respect, Emerson Eggerichs asks us to imagine that Jesus is standing behind the person we’re disputing with, saying, “I created this person in My image. Whatever you say to him (or her), you’re saying to Me.”

Well, that would shut us up fast! At least it would encourage us to tone down our rhetoric, maybe cause us to lead with our ears over our tongues.

Here’s the apostle Paul’s exhortation to his disciple Timothy in his ministry:

Remind them of these things, and solemnly exhort them in the presence of God not to dispute about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the listeners.”

2 TIMOTHY 2:14 (NASB20)

PRAYER

OUR MOST GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL FATHER, we humbly come to You in repentance of our sin, of arrogance and pride, of selfishness and lack of compassion, of judgment and condemnation of others. O Lord, You made us in Your image and yet we flop around in our sin, living a life ruled by distorted vision of Your design. Forgive us, O Lord, and claim us as Your own, washing our sin away by the Lamb’s blood, and giving us the assurance that no one can snatch us from Your hand. In Jesus’ glorious name we pray. AMEN

LIVING A JOY-FILLED LIFE

If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, our lives should be testimonies of joy, peace, and gratitude. When, then, do so many of us grumble about our hardships when God is calling us to receive our blessings with joy … and spread the overflow to those around us.

  • Romans 15:13 (CSB): “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18 (NKJV): “Rejoice always … in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

BEING A BLESSING TO OTHERS

BY THIS TIME, Danny and Marcy were tearing their hair out … and about ready to tear out each other’s hair!

Call it a day of “First World Problems,” if you want, it was still frustrating, and both of them felt justified in their anger.

“Danny! The garbage disposal isn’t working.” Marcy shouted. “Do something! I need to get rid of these left-overs.”

“Stop annoying me!” Danny responded from a nearby room, where he sat hunched over his computer. “The internet is out, and I can’t complete my project.”

OUR DAILY STRUGGLES

THE EVERYDAY CHALLENGES that dot our lives, testing our resolve to be more patient, to be kinder and more loving, to be considerate of others.

Didn’t we just make that pledge Sunday morning during worship? Weren’t we led to believe that blissful state of being bathed by the Holy Spirit was ours to carry through the week, only to see it leak from our grasp by Monday morning?

How far removed are Danny and Marcy from living out the Gospel as a blessing to those around them, to bear the “Good Fruit” of Christian values, when they can’t get past noon the next day without bickering and quarreling.

While Danny and Marcy are fictional characters, they stand in very nicely for some people I know all too well … like me and just about everyone I know.

HOPE IS AVAILABLE

JESUS TOLD US He is the vine and we’re the branches, and that we must “abide in Him.” Why? “Because,” He said, “without Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NKJV)

Every day we fail to live out our faith, every time we “quench” the Holy Spirit, whenever we fail to show the “Fruit of the Spirit,” we are reminded that without the guiding, sustaining light of Jesus Christ, we will fail.

We are living testaments of the apostle Paul’s lament in Romans 7:15 (NASB20), when he complained about doing those things he hates: “for I am not practicing what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate.”

Yup. Got it. That’s not just Paul. That’s me, too.

JESUS IS THE ANSWER

THERE IS A BETTER WAY, and we know that. Our text source gives us the answer. The God of hope and joy can so fill our hearts with peace that the overflow, the excess, the over abundance that God gifts us can reach everyone around us.

We can’t help it. If our hearts are filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, “the peace that passes all understanding,” then even in the worst circumstances of daily living, we should feel God’s presence, and our lives should shine in the darkness.

Paul tells us in Romans 12:12 (ESV): “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Again, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NET): “Constantly pray.”

Just a quick, “Help me, Lord Jesus. I need patience.” “Help me, Lord, to feel the joy of your presence.” “Be with me now, Father God. I need to feel bathed in Your love.”

ASKING A QUICK PRAYER

WITH JUST A TWEAK, Danny and Marcy can rescue their morning.

“Danny! The gar—” Marcy starts, then stops to shoot up a short plea: “O God, my Savior, quiet my soul.” Then, she says, “Danny, Honey, can you check this garbage disposal for me? It’s not working.”

“Not now!” Danny exclaims, cursing under his breath. Then he stops and prays: “Lord, give me patience. I love my wife.” Now, he can say: “I’ll be right in.”

He can leave the Internet problem alone for the moment. With a heart filled with Grace, he’ll prefer helping his wife with her needs. The Internet can wait.

POSTLUDE

THERE’S A NEW SONG in the Contemporary Christian Music field, called “Make Room,” featuring Elyssa Smith & Community Music (©2020, Curb|Word Entertainment). Here is the refrain:

“And I will make room for you. To do whatever You want to. To do whatever you want to. This is where I lay it down. You are all I’m chasing now. This is my surrender. This is my surrender.”

I like this song because, well, the melody is hypnotically peaceful, and the lyrics call me to “lay it down,” and tell me “this is my surrender.”

When I surrender, I live in harmony with the Holy Spirit within me, and that gives Him the room to bless me to overflowing, so that, out of His abundance, I can share my blessing with others, to be a blessing to them.

Without Him, as Jesus constantly reminds me, I can do nothing.

PRAYER

Dear Heavenly Father, our creator, our sustainer, our source of anything and everything that is good in our lives, we praise You, we bless You, we adore You. Thank You, Lord of all, for Your love and Your forgiveness and mercy. Help us to shine in the darkness, dear Lord, spilling over in compassion and love, forgiveness and grace so that we can touch the lives around us, to be a blessing to them as You have blessed us. We lift this prayer in the mighty name of Jesus Christ. AMEN

GIVE WILLINGLY, GRACIOUSLY

As Christians, we are quick to lay claims to God’s promises to us, where He promises to guide us and comfort us and give us eternal security, but how quick are we to give back to Him … and to others … from our bounty? God wants us to give with the same sacrificial love that He gives to us.

  • I Chronicles 29:9a (NKJV): “Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the Lord.”
  • 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV): “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

WHAT’S IN YOUR HEART?

HOW WILLING ARE YOU to give of your time and  your talents? Really give, unselfishly give, without counting the cost to you, giving because we serve a God who willingly and graciously gave His life for us?

Hmm?

In a recent devotional, I read the story of Israel’s King David offering his possessions for building the Temple to honor God, when he asked the assembly, “Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?” (1 Chron. 29:5b NASB20)

The text tells us the assembly leaders responded first and did so willingly, and then the entire assembly responded willingly. As a result, the entire country, from king to leaders to the assembly, rejoiced because they had responded willingly.

God uses the word “willing,” “willingly,” or a substitute term, liked “rejoiced” five times  within five verses — three times in one verse — to underscore His point.

It’s not enough, He says, to do something unselfishly, it must be done willingly.

TRYING TO FAKE IT

 THERE’S NO USE trying to fake it, either. 

The Bible tells us that while we might fool one another by smiling through clenched teeth or covering our discontent with a heartier-than-necessary “of course I’ll do it,” we won’t fool our Creator.

Consider these verses:

  • 1 Samuel 16:9b (ESV): “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
  • Psalm 44:21 (NASB20): “Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.”
  • Luke 16:15 (NIV): “And He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.’”
  • John 2:25 (NLT): “No one needed to tell him [Jesus] about human nature, for He knew what was in each person’s heart.”
  • Acts 15:8 (CSB):  “And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us.”

There are more verses, but those make the point, don’t they?

REAPING THE BENEFITS

DON’T MISS THIS PART. God imparts a blessing when we give willingly and graciously.

Nehemiah 2:18 (NKJV): “And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ Then they set their hands to this good work.”

Nehemiah 4:9 (ESV): “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.”

In both of those verses, taken from Nehemiah’s account of the post-exilic Jews rebuilding the Jerusalem wall, we see the faithful (1) praying to God for help, strength, and direction, and (2) acting in concert with God’s will. 

It’s not enough to have “good thoughts” and wonderful intentions, our God wants us to call out to Him, to be in fellowship with Him, and to fulfill His design for us, His will for us, by acting.

It’s in the acting that we receive the blessing.

Check out this promise from God recorded in Malachi 4:10 (NASB95):

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”

Here’s how author Henry Blackaby describes it:

“When you trust that God always gives His best, you will devote your heart to whatever assignment God gives because you know in that role you can experience everything God has in His heart for you.” Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God. Kindle, Loc. 431.

RESPONDING IN FAITH

NOW, IT’S UP TO US. What are we going to do with the gift of love that our Lord has lavished on us? Are we going to be obedient servants and follow through, or are we going to chart our own course? 

To word it another way, how do the experiences of David and Nehemiah and Malachi, as interesting as they may be, relate to our lives today, to your life and my life?

You can see how it relates to you as I share how it relates to me:

In my life, where I’m called to live out what I write about in my blogs, I must confess I often struggle. In my current situation, where my wife’s heart tells her we must relocate from South Carolina to Maryland’s Eastern Shore to be closer to her family and mine, I have been dragging my feet.

Not only that, and to my shame, I’ve made it a point to tell everyone that I am not pleased with the situation. Recently, my wife scolded me, saying she’s tired of hearing what a martyr I am for giving up my life and my dream to move farther South, when she insists we relocate to the North Pole (my sarcasm) just to chase her dream that (in my view) is not likely to materialize.

You can see my struggle to being obedient to the Lord.

As I gather in prayer each day, petitioning the Lord to change my heart, I find a growing countercurrent, bringing me closer to my wife, to our shared experience, and to my Lord’s guiding touch. 

SENDING REINFORCEMENTS

IT’S NOT BY ACCIDENT that a Christian friend reminded me just days ago of a Henry Blackaby book, Experiencing God, he gave me, which I’m now re-reading.

I’m now on the section where the author points out that God loves us and that His commandments are designed to benefit us and give us the abundant lives He offers.

1 John 5:3 (HCSB): “For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden.”

(See Jeremiah 29:11 and John 10:10 for additional Scriptural support.)

If we know God, Blackaby tells us, we’ll love Him, trust Him, and obey Him. (Blackaby, Experiencing God, Kindle Loc. 485)

The next section of Blackaby’s book capsulizes the point we’re exploring perfectly: “God is all-knowing — His directions are always right.”

It’s not for us to crow when we obey. Our salvation is assured through grace, not our good works, but we do have this assurance: We will have done our jobs.

Listen to what our Lord says:

“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” — Luke 17:10 (NIV)

PRAYER

FATHER GOD, our Creator and Sustainer, we thank You for being a gracious giver, who gives willingly to mankind, created in Your image. How shagrined we are, O Lord, to admit we are not as gracious in response with our time and our treasure and our talents — all of which You gave us to glorify You. Please forgive us and empower us to be worthy servants, just doing our duty. In the name of our Savior, Jesus the Christ, we pray, AMEN.

‘MAY I OFFER YOU GOD’S WORD?’

God’s Word is His inspired sermon to us, His creation. In it, He tells us the answers to our most pressing questions: “Who are we?” “How did we get here?” and “What, if anything, does my life mean?” If we neglect His gift, we shortchange ourselves and risk losing the abundant life He offers. However, if we grab hold of His Word, absorb it, and let it course through our bodies like blood, we will be blessed.

ISAIAH 55:1 (ESV): “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

JOHN 1:1 (NKJV): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

DISTRIBUTING GOD’S HOLY WORD

LET ME TELL YOU a tale about eight simple words: “May I offer you the Word of God?”

Recently, I had the good fortune to join Gideons International.

Those are the Bible people — the folks who place the Holy Bible in the motel/hotel rooms in a bed stand near where you’ll sleep. Perhaps you’ve reached into the drawer to read the Bible or, like me, you bring your own.

We also present the Bible to military bases, hospitals, prisons, colleges, churches, medical offices, and various public events.

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE

My first adventure was passing out small Bibles to  students, faculty, and staff at a local university. My anxiety level was high whenever someone — usually a student — approached my “zone,” the sidewalk assigned to me.

Mustering up my courage, I would utter those eight simple words, “May I offer you the Word of God,” and extend my hand with the Bible.

***

Most students kept walking, some taking a Bible, others refusing with a short wave of their hand. Never was I able to go through the basic Gospel message or God’s plan of salvation. People were busy, and we were asking them to take a moment from pressing matters.

While I had hope for even a few conversations with someone who really was searching for answers to life’s basic questions — like ‘Who are we?’ ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘What, if anything, does my life mean?’ — it never happened.

This probably was not the best place or the right time.

OFFERING ETERNAL LIFE

“May I offer you the Word of God?” the faithful servant presents a gift so precious, so faithful, so rewarding … yet so few will take it.

  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It is the Bible, the Holy Word of God, given to us for instruction, for peace and comfort, for forgiveness of sins, for the promise of eternity with our Creator.
  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It is the salve that heals, caffeine for our souls, batteries for our zeal.
  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It is the answer to life’s perplexing questions, the crooked path made straight, the narrow gate, the difficult road.
  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It’s thinking of other’s needs above our own, of not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, of discarding the past and running the race set before us.
  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It’s being given the crown of life, a house with many rooms, streets of gold, and the river of life.

***

“May I offer you the Word of God?”

No, you say? Okay, I understand. God still loves you, and I’ll pray for you. My prayer will be that someday, maybe in a hotel lobby, or a hospital ward, or a military base, or a prison cell … in a church or even in your home, you’ll reach out for the Word of God.

It could save your soul.

WHAT WILL YOU DO?

If you are a Christian, you should take every opportunity God gives you to introduce someone to God’s Word. Jesus calls it being “fishers of men.”

Prayerfully reading God’s Holy Word keeps us in His will.

If you are not yet a believer, but you “attend” church, you should take the opportunity God gives you right now to read His Word, to savor its message, and to let it sink into your heart.

If you are agnostic or atheist or follow another religious tradition, may I offer you the Word of God? It is the Creator’s own message to His creation, the men and women He fashioned in His image.

***

If you read His Word and believe His Word, you will be eternally grateful.

Seriously. Eternally grateful.

Let’s join together in singing a hymn of praise to our Lord:

PSALMS 30:11-12 (NIV): “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you forever.”

PRAYER

Joining corporately and humbly before God’s throne.

ABBA FATHER, LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, we humbly bow before Your throne. You who made the Heavens and the Earth, the sun to rule by day and the moon and stars to rule by night, who merely spoke the words, and it was so. In the beginning, before the creation, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Then, God created. Lord, equip us to be Your faithful servants, extending our fellowship, witnessing to Your saving grace, and asking those we meet, “May I offer you the Word of God?” In the mighty name of Jesus, Your Son, our Lord, we lift our prayer. AMEN

The Meaning of Life – An Open Letter

(This devotion is an adaption of a letter I wrote to my adult daughters. I have massaged it to hide their identities and to make it useful to a general audience. May God bless you as you read through it and pray with me at the end. WP)

  • “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NKJV)
  • “Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2:15 NIV)

A MESSAGE BORN OF LOVE

WITH THE INCREASING TURMOIL in today’s world, this is an excellent time to reflect on the meaning of life. Since I am not a recognized spiritual “expert,” it’s easy to tune me out (😑), but I hope you’ll suffer through a few minutes, if only because I’m sharing from my heart.

GOD establishes His supreme authority very the very beginning, “In the beginning, God created …”

This is a message born out of love and concern, not from one (me) who has gotten everything right in life but one (me) who has had to learn some very tough lessons. Unfortunately, until I learned them, I may well have damaged other people along the way, but that’s what gives this message its impact.

It’s about God’s grace, not my accomplishments.

The text source above gives us two purposes for family as God designed us: one, that He created us male and female for marriage; and two, that He wants us to raise “Godly offspring,” that is, children who know the Lord.

When I was a young man busy with career and family, I did not know the Lord. Now, I do, and I want to tell others about Him because He has brought peace and joy to my life.

OUR INTERCONNECTEDNESS

You (my reader) and I together have experienced the ups and downs of a world connected through mass media and the internet, so a royal wedding in England and a typhoon in Asia are shared by billions around the globe.

GOD designed marriage as a physical, emotional, and spiritual union of male and female to begin families and provide the foundation for orderly society.

We experience it all: mass shootings here, an act of bravery and sacrifice there; devastating illness in one family, joy and thanksgiving in another.

With this perplexing puzzle and the ever present news feed, it’s no wonder so many today feel confused, disoriented, discouraged, and resentful.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. God — our Creator — has graciously provided us a way out.

We are called to join those of faith who, as one church elder phrased it, “praise God in the good times and praise Him in the bad times.”

More than anything else, I wish you would take your spiritual lives seriously and search into the claims the Lord makes for Himself, to see if they are true.

Jesus (God in human form) says He is God.

That makes him one of three things: a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. If He’s one of the first two, we can safely ignore Him.

However, if He’s the third, the Lord — the only other option — then we must worship Him.

WE HAVE CHOICES

God has given each of us a choice, with consequences, in our response. My prayer each day is that those we love — independently and with conviction — will seek the Lord’s guidance in their lives and then teach this to others, especially their children:

GOD designed the man (husband, father) to lead the family in devotions; He created the woman (wife, mother) to raise the children and encourage her husband’s leadership.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7 NKJV)

You, dear reader, may well be an accomplished and capable man or woman, making it very easy — seductively easy — to rest in the falsehood that your success is strictly your own doing and that you owe God nothing, that He has done nothing for you.

A quick list of God’s blessings starts with the fact that He created us, that He gave us life. He did that for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify Himself and to have Fellowship with us. That is the greatest blessing in life, to be in Fellowship with our Creator.

Don’t let another day go by without taking advantage of that free gift of God’s grace. If you are a husband and father, lead your family to worship the Lord and walk with Him daily; if you are a wife and mother, encourage your husband to start leading you and your children so they will become the “Godly offspring” your Creator desires.

The husband’s job is to lead the family; the wife’s job is to ensure he does it!

SHARING OUR GRATITUDE

Finally, I am grateful for my wife being in my life — she is my third wife but my first and only Christian wife. Despite our joy in being together, we see the hurts and sorrows that divorce brings. She and I both suffer from our divorces, and we can see our children accommodating to it in their lives.

GOD desires my worship, praise, and adoration.

Both of us love our collected children and grandchildren, and we’re both trying to present the message of redemption, fellowship, healing, and life to each of them.

God gives each of us the freedom to make our choices. However, there are consequences for our eternal destination. Either we will continue in Fellowship with the Lord forever, or we will be separated from Him forever.

You, dear reader, should not want separation from the Lord for yourself. You should want Fellowship with the Lord. He tells us to “choose life.”

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19 ESV)

Two choices: one is foolish, one is wise. Please choose the wise one for you and your families.

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PRAYER


GOD’S holy and inspired Word guides us, comforts us, leads us, sustains us, and calls us to Him

ABBA, FATHER, we come to You, O Lord, in humility and  repentance, knowing we are unworthy to approach the throne of grace except through the blood of Jesus Christ. We ask forgiveness for our pride and waywardness and seek Your mercy, O Lord, as You reconcile us to Yourself and lead us in all righteousness for Your name sake. Lord, bring a saving grace to a darkened world and may we, Your servants, not be a stumbling block but a light in that task. We ask this in the mighty name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN

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