MY CHRISTIAN WALK: A PERSONAL STORY – PT 1

Anyone who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ later in life — instead of in childhood or mid-teens — probably can relate to my story. I am blessed to be His, but I wish I had accepted Him decades earlier. This is Part One of my story …

Supporting Biblical Text …

  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” — Matthew 11:28-30 (NET)
  • “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” — 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
  • “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” — Jeremiah 29:13 (NASB20)

COURTING A STUBBORN MAN

WHAT AN AMAZING JOURNEY! Jesus has taken a broken, dispirited, sinful man and turned him into a joyful being with eternity in his heart!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Yes, He had to overcome my disobedience and stubbornness, but He assures us that He is stronger than the world’s evil and that when we obey His will for our lives, we are building our houses on solid rock.

The evening I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior was on a Wednesday in November 2010. I had vacillated for at least a year, afraid my two daughters, who had been raised in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, would reject me over my newfound faith.

I likened my decision to leaving them on a sinking ship (the UU life) while I snuck away to safety on one of the lifeboats (a Christ follower).

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA

But the Lord, calling me to Him, gave me a verse to savor. It’s from Matthew 10:37b (NKJV): “And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

That moment was magical because I knew I wanted Jesus, even more than my two precious daughters; and, of course, I wanted them to follow me in worshipping the Lord.

“I WANT JESUS!” I cried out in my soul. “I want Him even if I lose my family and my friends and if total strangers hate me. I want Jesus.”

I knew He could save my life in this world. At that moment, I wasn’t even aware that He could — and would — save me for all of eternity.

Choosing Jesus … A Rough Road

HARDEEVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA

FOLLOWING JESUS PROVED to be even a rougher road to follow that I had thought it would be … and I certainly thought it would be rough.

Until then, I had no idea my heart was so dark.

For one thing, the Holy Spirit took over my conscience, repeatedly rebuking me for errant thoughts and salty language, even before trying to straighten out my actions.

Fellow Christians added their comments, all in love, but they sounded alike: “That’s not a nice thing for a Christian to say.”

Even one non-Christian friend told me I was too hard on myself, beating myself up for my non-Christlike feelings, thoughts, comments, and actions.

I was a mess — a mess for Jesus!

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA

I was trying so hard to learn a new way of living. I saw myself as the last one to the banquet table, walking into the room with mud on my boots and a stained shirt, while everyone else was properly seated, with folded napkins, correct forks, and clean hands.

At one point, I announced to a church home group that I was quittng “the Christian thing” because I felt I was a fraud and didn’t really belong.

Why Did I Choose Him?

WHY DID I FINALLY TURN to Jesus Christ for the answers to my life’s questions? Two reasons: (1) I was desperate for answers, and (2) No one else had meaningful answers.

OKATIE, SOUTH CAROLINA

Yes, I had looked for other answers because I knew that Jesus is perfect and, as such, would demand more from me than I was willing to give. I wanted answers *on the cheap,* that were within my ability to understand and control.

Jesus, I knew, lives outside that orbit, and He would want to control me … for my own good, but nevertheless He would be in control.

I had begun a serious search once I came to realize I was plummeting and harming myself, but with one stipulation — that I would find an answer that did not include Jesus Christ!

That search took nearly a decade, until I finally came to accept that no answer outside of Jesus Christ would satisfy the hunger in my soul.

Even then, it took another four years to accept the Jewish Messiah, the Son of God, as my Lord and Savior.


PRAYER

HUMBLY IN PRAYER

FATHER GOD, I AM so grateful to You for your patience with me and Your perseverance, foreknowing that I eventually would raise my arms in praise and call on Your holy name for my salvation. Now, help me, strengthen, direct me to share the Good News of salvation with those You place in my life. In Jesus’ precious and magnificent name. AMEN


NOTE: Photos are from several locations important to me.

BAD THEOLOGY IS ALIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA, PART 2 

ANYONE WHO HAS SPENT TIME RECENTLY ON SOCIAL MEDIA HAS BEEN EXPOSED TO, PERHAPS INUNDATED BY, BAD THEOLOGY. THIS IS NOT JUST A SLIGHT TINKERING WITH CORRECT DOCTRINE BUT A WHOLESALE REWRITING OF THE BIBLE. SINCE THE MEMES ARE POSTED BY SELF-PROCLAIMED “CHRISTIANS,” THE MEMES CARRY THE IMPRIMATUR OF HOLINESS AND WISDOM. ONCE THEY ARE EXAMINED, HOWEVER, IT IS CLEAR THEY ARE WICKED IN TEACHING AND DEMONIC IN ORIGIN.

THIS IS THE SECOND IN AN OCCASIONAL SERIES. YOU CAN READ THE FIRST ITEM here.

  • Gal. 1:6 (NLT): “I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News.”
  • 2 Cor. 11:4 (NIV): “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

MISUSING THE BIBLE

LET’S START WITH the assumption that the Bible is the Holy Word of God, that He inspired the writing and superintended its content. 

GOD’S WORD IS TRUTH

The Bible makes that claim for itself, so the next step is for the Bible — as written — to back up that claim.

It does so with fulfilled prophecies, verifiable geographic, historic, and archeological truths, and — most of all — testimonies of changed lives.

That assumption gives those of us who believe in the Bible’s authenticity a solid foundation on which to place our lives and our salvation. Without that assumption, those who doubt the Word of God are free to concoct their own version of reality, grounded on nothing more solid than whimsy.

In an earlier post, we explored two such false claims; in this post, we’ll look at a third one. In future posts, we’ll examine other false claims.

III. LOVING THE BIBLE MORE THAN JESUS

THIS MEME IS THE WORST ONE, BY FAR. It’s basic message is similar to the first one we examined, but its language and flair make it more dangerous because it is more deceptive. 

CONTEMPORARY WORSHIP SERVICE

The fact that it was posted on social media by a self-proclaimed  Christian makes the wickedness of the message even more toxic.

The meme begins with the shame-finger posturing so loved by the pseudo-Christian crowd: “Many Christians fail to grasp the basic point of the Bible: to follow Jesus. Unfortunately, many Christians love the Bible more than Jesus.”

Oy, vey!

To paraphrase the meme’s next section, this deception goes on to say that those worshipping in a “bible-believing church” (please note the lower case “b” in Bible) should jettison their faith-based approach and mimic the life and legacy of Jesus, to live as He lived. 

Basically, the Jesus-instead-of-the-Bible meme is the political Left’s attempt to dress-up its anti-biblical secular agenda with a sprinkling of “God Talk” to provide a “religious” alternative to Christian values and love of country.

That sounds good, but how He lived is described in the Bible, so reading the Bible and following the Bible’s teaching helps us see Jesus’ ministry and teaching for what He said and did! Without the Bible as a guide, we’re left to do what the pseudo-Christians do — make up His ministry to fit our worldview. 

The meme sanctimoniously concludes: “You should love Jesus even more than you love the Bible, and it’s more important to be Christlike than it is to be “biblical.””

TRANSLATION: The Bible is an obscure book composed of 66 books written by a bunch of Jewish men who are long since dead, no doubt cobbled together from compromised manuscripts of doubtful validity and that any “truth” that might be contained therein might not be adequate or relevant to our more enlightened times. Following the Bible’s prescription for life is tantamount to following 2,000 to 3,000 year-old medical practices!

EXAMINATION: There are two main points to this meme plus a sinister sub-point that really makes the meme “come alive” for those pontificating pseudo-Christians. Let’s take a look together.

BLESSING OF CORPORATE PRAYER

Point 1: There is a difference between the Bible and Jesus’ life. This is never directly explained other than to deny the Bible’s own teaching that it is the inspired word of God and that every word in it is true. Once you divorce the Bible from God’s inspiration, you’re left with a semi-valid book or maybe even a worthless tome. Better to fashion an image of Jesus than it is to look at Him through the lens of eye-witnesses. 

Point 2: People who read the Bible, quote the Bible, study the Bible, and live by the Bible do not necessarily follow Jesus, although those who do not read the Bible, study it, quote it, or try to live by its teachings actually (somehow) are more in-tune with the purpose of the Bible, which is to follow Jesus.  

CRUX OF THE MEME: This is the crux of the meme. The meme refers to those who read, study, and quote the Bible, who also voted for President Trump, oppose abortion (i.e., what the meme’s designers would call a woman’s right to choose), same-sex marriage (i.e., freedom to live one’s true nature), open borders (i.e., racist xenophobia opposing true asylum-seekers), and support the use of fossil fuels (i.e., destroying the earth’s environment). 

Those who claim to follow Jesus rather than the Bible proclaim their virtue to cover the “marginalized,” much as they imagine the Lord did, without regard to His motive, which was not to affirm anyone in their sin or despair but to forgive them and provide them an abundant life with peace and joy.

Basically, the Jesus-instead-of-the-Bible meme is the political Left’s attempt to dress-up an anti-biblical secular agenda with a sprinkling of “God Talk” to provide a religious alternative to Christian values and love of country.

The Bible warns us about such imitations, declaring in 2 Corinthians 11:14 (NKJV): For Satan himself transfers himself into an angel of light.”

The Message Bible describes Satan’s deception this way: (2 Corinthians 11:14 MSG): 

“They’re a sorry bunch—pseudo-apostles, lying preachers,  crooked workersposing as Christ’s agents but sham to the core. And no wonder! Satan does it all the time, dressing up as a beautiful angel of light. So it shouldn’t surprise us when his servants masquerade as servants of God. But they’re not getting by with anything. They’ll pay for it in the end.”

The so-called religious Left even conjures up a code-name for their enemies within the church: “Christian nationalists” and treat this condition they have named as a disease worse than their own agenda, which is secular-based, government-run, socialism. 

Just compare the platform of the religious Left with that of their close cousins, the secular Left. Except for the “God-talk,” there’s little difference.

POSTSCRIPT

THE BIBLE TELLS US that in the “latter days,” many members of Christian churches will veer from the Truth of God’s Word, substituting for it their own theology. (1 Tim. 4:1-10) This is what we are seeing on social media, where so-called Christians plaster false narratives.

A USEFUL COMPARISON CHART

Those narratives seem to focus on one or another of two central themes — one, that following Jesus is somehow different from, and preferred to, following the Bible; and two, that those church members who hold onto the Bible as their main source of truth are  “missing” the true purpose of church. 

Both narratives, usually blended together, falsely advance the narrative that the Bible is not God’s Holy Word; that it is not to be obeyed literally; that it is, at best, a moral guide that should be interpreted holistically; and that those church members who actually do read the Bible, quote it, and try to live by it, are missing the point of church.

When self-proclaimed Christians discard the Bible’s instruction and replace it with their own theology, and then urge non-believers to join them in casting aspersions against those who do follow the Bible’s teaching, we have reached the Bible’s prophesy in 1 Timothy 4:1 (NKJV):

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.”

PRAYER

O FATHER GOD, our hearts are burdened for our fellow church members who have veered off track,  who are following demonic spirits and leading non-believers into the lost spaces with them. Lord, we can see this on social media, where pastors and worship leaders lend their authority to embracing the apostasy that the Bible is not Holy Spirit-driven but just a faulty collection of ancient Jewish writing that needs serious updating to be considered valuable and relevant. Lord, lead us who claim the mantel of Christ to remain faithful. Keep us from going astray, and help us to reach our fallen brethren and bring them back to Your Word. In Jesus’ magnificent and holy name we pray. AMEN

PRAYING FOR OUR LEADERS

Praying for our political leaders, as God commands His people to do, can be difficult, especially when we did not vote for them nor do we agree with their agenda or even like them personally. However, we are not called to pray for their secular agenda to be successful; instead, we are to pray for their hearts, for their spiritual lives, and for their souls that they will turn their hearts and lives over to Jesus and follow His will. 

PRAYING FOR OUR LEADERS
  • ROMANS 13:1 (NIV): “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” 
  • TITUS 3:1-2 (NCV): “Remind the believers to yield to the authority of rulers and government leaders, to obey them, to be ready to do good, to speak no evil about anyone, to live in peace, and to be gentle and polite to all people.”
  • PSALMS 62:11 (NASB20): “God has spoken once; Twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God.”

 Political Leaders Need Our Prayers

PRAYING FOR OUR political leaders, especially those I dislike, disrespect, and wish would go away, is extremely difficult for me.

OUR CALL TO BE HUMBLE

I don’t say that in a public forum with a great deal of pride, only as a confession that I have been, and continue to be, guilty of failing to abide by God’s clear directive that I offer prayer for all those in political power. 

I prefer praying for those political leaders I admire and those I voted for, while ignoring those whose lives are, in my view, not worth my attention.

I also am aware that some readers of this blog might experience the same dilemma, even while their prayers are raised for the very leaders I disdain.

God sees this differently. I know that. I only need to refer back to our text source Bible verses at the top of this meditation to be reminded.

So, why do I continue to resist?

Pause. 

Well, this was unexpected. Although I wrote that question, I can’t provide an adequate answer. So, I’m stumped.

Getting Over Ourselves

THE KEY FOR ME is to “get over” myself, my judgmentalism, my willingness to write politicians off if they’re from the “wrong” party. Yes, they might be promoting issues, like abortion and same-sex marriage, that I believe clearly are contrary to the Bible’s teaching.

JOINING IN PRAYER

But my hesitation to pray for God’s will to be done in their lives also is contrary to the Bible’s teaching. Much less pleasant is to recognize that my disobedience is no better than someone else’s disobedience.

When I confront this difficulty, I start to think I’m turning a corner and I really could begin to pray for the President and Vice President, the House Speaker, the Senate Majority Leader, and various other individuals. 

Then one of them appears on TV and says something that I consider incredibly stupid, and I backslide. Can’t pray for that person. He/she is just a horrible person and praying for him/her is a waste of my time. My teeth grind just thinking about it!

What Should We Do?

THE ANSWER, OF COURSE, is found in the Bible. 

In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, he questioned whether he would rather be alive on earth so he could continue to preach the Gospel or perish so he could be with the risen Lord. 

He concluded that, just as Christ “died for all,” those of us who are living “should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” (2 Cor. 5:15 NKJV)

He said, “Our only goal is to please God whether we live here (on earth) or there (in Heaven).” (2 Cor. 5:9 NCV)

Seeking God’s will and following it is the correct course, and even feeling called to write this meditation about my failure is acknowledging God’s call on my life to obey Him.

I need to — I will — change course and lift prayer each day for our political leaders, even those I despise, not that their unbiblical agenda will be fulfilled but that they will be changed into followers of the risen Christ.

We read this is 1 Peter 2:17 (ESV):

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

AMEN AND AMEN.

PRAYER

FATHER GOD, FORGIVE ME for continued failure to obey Your command to pray for our rulers andthose You have placed in authority over us. It is not my job to discern if You willed their placement to do Your will or because You withheld your restraining hand and have given us the evil we deserve. It is my job, in humility and obedience, to lift them up to You in prayer, that You would work on their hearts and change them into Christ’s followers. In Jesus’ magnificent and glorious name we pray. AMEN

BAD THEOLOGY IS ALIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA, PART 1 

Anyone who has spent time recently on social media has been exposed to, perhaps inundated by, bad theology. This not just a slight tinkering with correct doctrine but a wholesale rewriting of the Bible. Since the memes are posted by self-proclaimed “Christians,” they carry the imprimatur of holiness and wisdom. Once they are examined, however, it is clear they are wicked in teaching and demonic in origin. This is the first in an occasional series in which we’ll examine some of them.

  • 1 TIMOTHY 4:1 (NKJV): “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.”
  • JAMES 5:29 (NASB20): “Let him know that the one who has turned a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

MISUSING THE BIBLE

God’s Holy Word Is The Truth

LET’S START WITH the assumption that the Bible is the Holy Word of God, that He inspired the writing and superintended its content. The Bible makes that claim for itself, so the next step is for the Bible — as written — to back up that claim.

It does so with fulfilled prophecies, verifiable geographic, historic, and archeological truths, and — most of all — testimonies of changed lives.

That assumption gives those of us who believe in the Bible’s authenticity a solid foundation on which to place our lives and our salvation. Without that assumption, those who doubt the Word of God are free to concoct their own version of reality, grounded on nothing more solid than whimsy.

We’ll examine two falsehoods on social media in this post, then pick up a third in a future post.

I. THE BIBLE OPPRESSES PEOPLE

ONE RECENT MEME proclaims “History is filled with people who used the Bible to oppress other people. Being “biblical” is not the same as being Christ-like.” (Quote from Carlos A. Rodriguez, (thehappygivers.com).

TRANSLATION: Don’t trust the Bible as God’s Truth because it has been used by some (unnamed) people to “oppress” (no definition) other people. 

The Master Calls All Mankind

EXAMINATION: Just because some people claim the Bible as their guide does not mean they actually are. Jesus told us in Matthew 7:16 that we would know His followers by their “fruit,” meaning by how they act and how they live. If individuals, groups, races, or nations claim the Bible but do not act accordingly, Jesus said they are not true believers. So, where does the fault lie? In the Bible or in the hearts and minds of false witnesses? 

Additionally, the Bible was written by Jesus. The Bible says all Scripture is inspired by God, which means the Son of God was the Author. So, by definition, being “Christ-like” is exactly the same as being “biblical.” There is no daylight between the two terms. 

Finally, history also is filled with people who have used secular ideology to oppress other people, yet that doesn’t stop the anti-Bible crowd from touting their manmade (and, therefore, false) ideology. 

CONCLUSION: The Bible remains the authoritative Word of God, so you can trust its message. Just as standing in a garage doesn’t make you a car, so “attending” church and claiming Christ’s mantel doesn’t make you a disciple. The fault lies with the person, not with the Bible.

II. JESUS DESPISES LEGALISTS

ANOTHER COMMON FALSEHOOD making the rounds on social media  describes Jesus’ ministry but misapplies it to today’s church.

Jesus Cleans Out The Temple

Here is the meme: “Jesus is far more critical of legalists, elitists, and anyone believing they are morally superior to another than he is of humble humans owning their various states of desperation. The Gospel is Good News bc (because) it achieves what legalism cannot.”

TRANSLATION: This meme is extremely dangerous because it takes one truth, that Jesus was critical of the moralists of His day, and distorts it to claim He would be critical of what the meme writer and poster would call the “moralists” of today. 

EXAMINATION: The irony in this meme is so rich as to be stupefying. It literally says, “We are morally superior to those in our midst who we think think they are morally superior to those they think are immoral.” 

This smacks of the Pharisee’s hypocritical prayer when he thanked God he was not like the humble tax collector (Luke 18:9ff). 

Who are the “moralists” then and now, and what differentiates them? 

In Jesus’ day, they were the religious teachers. Jesus criticized them because they imposed manmade regulations on top of God’s commands and so distorted God’s will. Today’s “moralists,” by contrast, are teaching God’s commands, and it’s the naysayers who are imposing man’s interpretation and so distort the truth. 

In other words, the situation is completely flipped.

SEARCHING GOD’S WORD

CONCLUSION: Satan is alive and well in the church. The Bible is clear that  many who claim to be His followers do not know the Lord as their personal Savior and, more alarmingly, He says He doesn’t know them. Despite the Bible’s warning about adding or subtracting from its message, these are the very people who twist the Bible’s message to fit their own outlook, instead of twisting their outlook to fit the Bible.

POSTSCRIPT

THE BIBLE TELLS US that in the “latter days,” many members of Christian churches will veer from the Truth of God’s Word, substituting for it their own theology. (1 Tim. 4:1-10) This is what we are seeing on social media, where so-called Christians plaster false narratives.

Those narratives focus on two central themes:

‘MODERN’ JESUS || ‘BIBLICAL’ JESUS
  • one, that following Jesus is somehow different from, and preferable to, following the Bible; and 
  • two, that those church members who hold onto the Bible as their main source of truth are “missing” the true purpose of church.

Both narratives, when blended together, falsely advance the narrative that the Bible is not God’s Holy Word; that it is not to be obeyed literally; that it is, at best, a moral guide that should be interpreted holistically; and that those church members who actually do read the Bible, quote it, and try to live by it, are missing the point of church.

When self-proclaimed Christians discard the Bible’s instruction and replace it with their own theology, and then urge non-believers to join them in casting aspersions against those who do follow the Bible’s teaching, we have reached the Bible’s prophesy in Paul’s first letter to Timothy: 

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.”1

PRAYER

O FATHER GOD, our hearts are burdened for our fellow church members who have veered off track, who are following demonic spirits and leading non-believers into the lost spaces with them. Lord, we can see this on social media, where pastors and worship leaders lend their authority to embracing the apostasy that the Bible is not Holy Spirit-driven but just a faulty collection of ancient Jewish writing that needs serious updating to be considered valuable and relevant. Lord, lead us who claim the mantel of Christ to remain faithful. Keep us from going astray, and help us to reach our fallen brethren and bring them back to Your Word. In Jesus’ magnificent and holy name we pray. AMEN

________

11 Timothy 4:1 (NKJV) 

‘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

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