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.

THE ELECTION & THE AFTERMATH

Now that the US election 2020 is over, except for the lawsuits and mandatory recounts, what is the role the body of Christ should take in word and deed to bring glory to God and distinguish ourselves from unbelievers in both major parties? Jesus told us to be His witnesses and assured us of His continued presence in our lives, so our marching orders are clear: We are to stay “in His will,” remaining in prayer, and testifying by word and deed what the Lord has done for us.

Romans 13:1 (NASB): “Each person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority  except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

Daniel 2:21 (NKJV): “He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.”

Romans 14:12 (ESV): “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

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GLORIFYING GOD EVEN IN DEFEAT

NOW THAT THE VOTING IS OVER for the President/Vice President in the 2020 US election, how should the body of Christ react when many of us believe the wrong team won?

In the flesh, we’re as capable of temper tantrums as our non-believing neighbors, but as voting_signfollowers of Jesus Christ, we are called to a higher standard.

He told us that the world would know we are His flock if we love one another (John 13:35; John 15:17). He told us we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). He told us to care for the least of these (Matt. 25:40), to proclaim the Good News (Matt. 28:19), and to store our treasures in Heaven, where they will not be stolen or damaged (Matt. 6:19-20).

He also told us (John 15:5) we would not be able to do any of that in our own power. We would need His help.

DISCERNING GOD’S WILL FOR US

SO, NOW WE’RE ABOUT the job of discerning the Lord’s will. We read in Daniel 2:21 that God “changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings,” and we wonder, Did God just remove the king and replace him with another?

Wasn’t it just four years ago that we praised God for raising up a president and vice imagepresident who pledged to honor the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, to honor marriage as a gift from God uniting female and male into one unit, and to proclaim not just the freedom to worship but also the freedom to live out our faith?

If so, then, what happened?

Did God change His mind? Not likely.

Did God give us a brief window to get serious about our faith and find us wanting? Maybe.

Why would God elevate to the highest two offices in the land a duo committed to:

    • extending abortion to include allowing born babies to die,
    • extending LGBTQ+ rights over the rights of normal males and females,
    • quenching religious liberty in subjection to the state, and
    • upending the first institution installed by God, that of marriage between a man and a woman?

WHY??

Why, Lord, why?

STAYING FAITHFUL DURING TRIALS

AT THE MOMENT, I feel sick. I see the country I used to love and still have hopes for turning into a hate-filled narcissistic shell of its former self.

Yes, I see the threats launched from the victorious forces declaring their desire to silence opposition to their rule, to continue their assault on our civil liberties, and, if necessary, to destroy us.

Yet, God tells us to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16), to “give thanks” in all situations (1 Thess. 5:18), and even to rejoice and persevere in “tribulation” (Rom. 12:12).

Okay, we’re there. Tribulation, defeat, rejection. We’re there, Lord. Now we’re supposed to be patient and … what? Quietly endure? Suffer? Seek revenge?

No, our Lord answers. Keep praying, He says (1 Thess. 5:17; Rom. 12:12; James 1:2-3). Besides, our trials are nothing compared with what the apostles suffered. Check out Paul’s trials (2 Cor. 11:24-28).

BELIEVING GOD’S PLAN IS GOOD 

NOT ONLY MUST WE focus on God’s plan being good, we must realize that His timing is not the same as ours. We want answers yesterday; He provides them 500 years later … or 50 years … or maybe five years.

He has to prepare people for the future He has willed. Moses needed 40 years growing up in Pharaoh’s court, 40 years tending sheep in the wilderness, and then enduring the trials of facing Pharaoh with a series of plagues before God considered him ready to lead His people out of bondage.

So, why should we expect an immediate answer to all of our questions by the evening news or tomorrow’s newspaper?

The answers are in His Book, and we can sustain ourselves by reading it and learning from it.

My conclusion: Stay in the Word, remain in prayer, fellowship with the saints, and testify to the world that God is in control, and His plan will occur in the timing that He decrees.

POSTSCRIPT

I DON’T KNOW WHAT the Lord is doing in this election. He doesn’t owe me an explanation. However, I thoroughly trust His judgment and His plan for my life. He will let it develop in His time, and I might live long enough to see some of it play out.

What is very clear to me is that I am to call on the name of the Lord everyday, to seek my refuge in Him, to confess my sins to Him, to ask His will for my life, to engage in intercessory prayer, to be temperate in my comments, to be patient in my demeanor, and to show love and compassion to my fellow man, even those I dislike.

38. God's.MercyThat looks like a pretty full plate, and, no, I am not capable of doing half of that well without the strong arm of Jesus Christ wrapped around my shoulders and the Holy Spirit indwelling my heart.

May my heart cry mimic the covenant prayer of Pastor John Wesley 250 years ago: “I am no longer my own, but thine; Put me to what thou wilt; rank me with whom thou wilt; Put me to doing; put me to suffering. … So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen”

Those are amazing words and an awesome responsibility. I am not up to it, but the God I serve is bigger than any obstacle I face. May His grace lead me and sustain me during the trials ahead.

I’m going to need His love to get me through until the next election … and beyond.

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PRAYER

O LORD GOD, our merciful Father, we come to You humbly and repentant. We know that image-17we have failed to proclaim the Good News as vigorously or as often as we ought. We know You will confront us with our failures when we reach Glory. Help us to see clearly the pathway You’ve laid out for us to follow and give us the strength, and the desire, to obey. Your way is perfect at all times, and we rest comfortably knowing You, Lord, are in control. May we be Your faithful servants. In the loving and mighty name of our Lord Jesus Christ we lift this prayer. AMEN

OBEYING THE LORD’S COMMANDS

The Lord has created us with a perfect plan to glorify Him and to enjoy fellowship with Him and each other. His rules for our lives are designed to help us, not to harm us or destroy our enjoyment. Instead, He promises His prescriptions will give us life and that in abundance. We disobey Him at our loss.

1 Kings 2:3 (CEV):Do what the Lord your God commands and follow his teachings.”

John 14:15a (TLB):If you love me, obey me.”

Luke 2:52 (CSB): “Jesus increased in wisdom and  stature, and in favor with God and with people.”

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LEARNING TO BE OBEDIENT

WHEN WE WERE children, our mother would tell us to “go to the bathroom” before we went anywhere in the car.

Of course, that would mean leaving our toys and other play things, so naturally we would respond, “I don’t have to go.”Boys_Playing_Blocks

After she told us another time or two, with each time our refusing to budge, our father would bellow, “Obey your mother!”

Suddenly, we had to use the bathroom and would race one another to get there first.

In many ways, that is how many Christians treat the Lord’s commands.

We know that He loves us and that He’ll forgive us, so we’re lax when it comes to obeying Him.

What too many Christians are prone to forget is that He also judges us and is not pleased when we disobey Him.

LEARNING GOD’S COMMANDS

WHAT ARE SOME of the commandments the Lord requires us to obey?

The first and primary commandment, as Jesus described it, is to love the Lord your God with your entire body, mind, and soul. The second commandment, He said, is to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matt. 22:37-40)

god-is-sovereignHe also commanded us to obey the Ten Commandments or Law of Moses. The first four commandments are to love God first, to worship only God, do not take His name in vain, and to honor the Sabbath Day, a requirement for ancient Israel that was replaced after Jesus’ resurrection with honoring the Lord’s Day.

The next six commandments regulated our interaction with our neighbors and were based entirely on mutual love and respect for others created in God’s image.

We readily recognize those “love” commandments as mandates from God, but there are others that we must acknowledge and obey:

        • You must be born again
        • Let people see your good works
        • Abide in Him
        • Forgive your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
        • Tell others about Him and baptize them in His name
        • Get rid of anything that causes you to sin
        • Store up your treasures in Heaven
        • Observe communion in remembrance of Him
        • Be humble, not proud
        • Do not lust after women (or men)
        • Be merciful.

OBEYING GOD’S COMMANDS

NOW, THE BIG QUESTION:

WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT LIST?

How many of them are you missing? Are you obeying each of them?

A few of them are one-time only, like being born again, but most of the list is ongoing, a way of life. If we are dedicated and consistent, we will live God-honoring lives that will make for a powerful testimony to the Lord’s saving grace.image-2

When we realize that we cannot fulfill the list under our own  power, we can lay claim to one of the more compelling commandments in the list, to “abide” in Jesus.

When we do that, He promises to “abide” in us and assures that, without Him, we can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

POSTSCRIPT

GOD’S COMMANDMENTS are requirements, not requests or suggestions. He wants us to obey Him because His commandments are good for us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

Those plans conform to God’s design for our lives. We not only are wise if we obey them, but we will be much happier and peaceful. (Proverbs 1:7; John 10:10)

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PRAYER

OUR GRACIOUS AND LOVING Heavenly Father, we  confess to You so often we have lone_crossfailed to obey Your design for our lives, substituting our own desires for Your commands. We have treated Your commands as worthy suggestions, but often ignore them for what they are: directives. Forgive us, Lord, and encourage us through the Holy Spirit to live our lives as a living testament to Your power and Your goodness. In Jesus’ redeeming name we pray. AMEN

 

WORDS MATTER, AS DO BLACK LIVES

Our country is in upheaval, as bands of angry protestors, some of them peaceful and some of them violent, march up and down our city streets, shouting slogans through bullhorns, brandishing hate-filled banners, and clashing with police striving to maintain order. How we respond to our social ills says a lot about our core values. When some are willing to destroy our physical communities as well as our metaphysical sense of community, the body of Christ needs to awaken from its lethargy and promote a spirit that exalts the living Messiah.

Matthew 12:36 (ESV): “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Colossians 4:6 (NIV): “Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Ephesians 4:29 (NKJV): “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

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WHERE IS THE CHRISTIAN VOICE?

LIKE MANY AMERICANS, and people throughout the world, I spent much of the summer months watching in horror as bands of lawless thugs mingled with angry protestors, destroying not just the physical structures of our great cities but also laid out a full-scale assault on American values.

Not only did many set fires, smash windows, and loot small businesses, but additional thugs desecrated statutes raised to honor our nation’s history. Even those statutes raised to honor Confederate troops were erected originally to help restore honor and dignity to those forces that suffered defeat in the War Between the States (some call it the Civil War).

Thuggery says that if you disagree with me, your view is evil and must be smashed. If you persist in expressing your view, then you must be smashed.

This is not the essence of what America is about … but it might well be essence of what America is becoming.

ALL WORDS MATTER

JUST THINK ABOUT how words matter and how quickly we can misrepresent something beautiful with a minor tweak in the lettering.

5740847 - abstract speaker silhouette with colorful lettersTake, for example, the slogan “black lives matter.” When stated with lower case letters, the generic message says the  lives of a certain race created by God in His image matter to Him and should matter to each of us, just as the lives of members of all races matter to Him and should to us.

However, when the slogan is capitalized, as in “Black Lives Matter,” the words reflect a brand endorsing a political group favoring the left-wing politics of division and intersectionality.

SAME WORDS, DIFFERENT MESSAGE

WHILE THE WORDS are the same, the message is different.

We cannot come together as a country and a nation when some people use the political slogan to bludgeon those who oppose the group’s left-wing political goals while affirming the beauty of the generic words, the beauty that black lives—and all other lives—created by God in His image and for His glory, matter.

That’s why many of us push for an end to abortion, introduction of alternative schools to improve educational outcomes, and an influx of private investment in impoverished communities to improve employment rates and economic growth.

Because the lives of those left behind matter.

DO BLACK LIVES REALLY MATTER?

IN THE REAL WORLD, do black lives matter?

What about black babies? Do their lives matter?Black_Teenage_Mother

  • A recent study showed that black women continue to have the highest abortion rate at 27.1 per 1,000 women compared with 10 abortions per 1,000 white women (American Journal of Public Health).
  • Black women accounted for 36 percent of the abortions in 2015, a figure almost identical to the percentage of abortions (36 percent) that year among white Americans, who made up 76.6 percent of the population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • The Guttmacher Institute (a pro-abortion group) says “black women are more than 5 times as likely as white women to have an abortion.”

What about the job prospects of black youth graduating from high school? Do their lives matter?

  • Nationwide, black students graduated at a rate of 69 percent. Hispanics graduated at 73 percent; whites graduated at a rate of 86 percent.
  • While dropout rates for all racial groups have dropped in recent decades, the black population remains higher than that for whites or Asians, with males more likely than females to drop out.
  • Males comprise about 50 percent of the high school  population but 60 percent of the dropouts. This harms their ability to provide for their families.
BREAKDOWN OF BLACK FAMILIES

WHAT ABOUT black families? Do their lives matter?

    • Seventy-two percent of black babies are born to unmarried mothers today, according to government statistics.financial charts.
    • A government report in 1965 outlining the destruction of the black family reflected an out-of-wedlock birth rate of 25 percent. That figure jumped to 68 percent in 1991, 72 percent in 2011, and, in 2015, it rose to 77 percent—77 percent of black babies born to unmarried mothers.
    • As for divorce, a study showed that over the last generation, the marriage rate among black Americans has declined while the rates of divorce, separation, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, and children residing in female-headed households have increased.
SERVING OUR LORD

THOSE STATISTICS are heart-breaking. While different studies yield slightly different numbers, the story remains the same: in most categories of life, black Americans lag behind other racial groups.

When Jesus told us that whatever we did “for the least of these” we did it to Him, He referenced those who were hungry and thirsty, in need of shelter or clothing, or were in prison, but He could just as well have pointed His divine finger at entire communities today where poverty, discouragement, and violence run rampant.CLASSROOM

A colleague of mine recently veered from my point about language, saying, in effect, that if you are the victim of abuse, you don’t worry so much about how the words are written, you express yourself from the anguish in your heart.

True enough, but the upper case version of the words “black lives matter” is a brand, with a website proclaiming its vision, which is specific and not God-honoring. We who follow the Word of God do not need to repeat the brand name to reflect the beauty of the generic words.

RAY OF HOPE

AS STATISTICS SHOW, the need is great, but all is not lost. There is a bright ray of hope bathing the land.

Every school child in America is afforded free public education through 12th grade, with scholarships and low-interest loans available for continued education in community colleges and trade schools.

image-10Every hungry child in America qualifies for free or subsidized meals in school.

Every child, whether gifted or special, disturbed or healthy, has access to a school guidance counselor, nurse, and an army of caring adult teachers and coaches to guide and mentor them.

Affirmative action laws guarantee preference in hiring, as long as the applicant has the necessary skills.

Finally, statistics show that any child can advance out of poverty simply by:

    • Graduating from high school;
    • Getting a job before marriage;
    • Getting married before having babies.
POSTSCRIPT

OUR JOB AS CHRISTIANS, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to care for those God has placed in our lives. Some of those people are youth looking for guidance, while some are  elderly who can use some help around the yard or an occasional visit.67.Jesus_Welcomes_All

Often, though, the need is just greater than what one man/woman can do on a one-day mission, whether it’s ministering to those in prison, or spreading the Gospel to a foreign land, or eradicating life-crippling poverty.

What is clear is that we need to work together as the body of Christ to make our mark on the world, to shine our light into the darkness.

That effort is hampered when some Christians, thinking they are helping, misuse the upper case brand name “Black Lives Matter,” which promotes a message counter to the love of Christ, instead of the lower case generic phrase, “black lives matter,” which gives the glory to God.

Words matter. We use them to communicate.

PRAYER

lone_crossO LORD, OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we humbly ask You to heal our land. Soften our hearts, O Lord, so we can hear Your voice as well as those who need our help. Father God, we also pray that we’ll recognize the difference between one set of words that means one thing and a similar set that means the opposite. The evil one will try to deceive us into thinking there’s no difference when there  is. Lord, help us to understand how we can be of service to You and our fellow man. We humbly pray in the mighty name of Jesus. AMEN

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE? (Part 2 of 2)

Now that you’re “all in” for Jesus Christ, what are you to do? What comes next? You know the Great Commission tells you to share the Gospel with the whole world, starting with your family and neighborhood and branching outward. You know you are commanded to love one another and to serve others, even “the least of these.” You know that each believer is awarded spiritual gifts, which are different from those awarded other believers. So, what form does all of this take for each one of us?

James 1:1 (NCV): “From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To all of God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings.”

2 Cor. 2:14 (ESV): “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)

Col. 1:28 (NLT): So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.

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LIVING OUT OUR FAITH

You say you are saved?

Wonderful! Praise God!

57. JESUS - Ascension 2What have you done about it?

When we read the Epistle of James, we start with an amazing proclamation in the very first verse, a proclamation so stark we’re compelled to stop right there and meditate on its significance.

James proclaims himself to be the “servant,” or, depending on your translation, the “bond-servant” or “slave,” of Jesus Christ. James is the half-brother of Jesus, a sibling whom Scripture relates not only disbelieved in the Lordship of Jesus but also mocked Him during His public ministry.

Last time, we discussed the significance of James’ coming to faith. This conversion was sparked no doubt by the meeting mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:7, when Jesus “appeared” before James. This was after Jesus was crucified, pronounced dead, buried, and then rose from the dead.

This time, we want to focus on the second part of James 1:1 — what James did after Jesus as Lord intervened in his life.

As we look at James, we need to keep this question in mind: So what? What are we doing after the Lord’s intervention in our lives?

PAYING WITH HIS LIFE

WE’RE TOLD FROM the Bible and other writings that James rose to become the leader of the Jewish believers living in Jerusalem and later suffered a horrific martyrs’ death for his faith.

We read in Acts 15 that it was James who lent the authority of his family ties with Jesus to recognize that God in His mercy had extended salvation through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

The apostles Paul and Barnabas had recounted their evangelism to the Gentiles before the Jewish believers meeting in Jerusalem. The council was debating whether Gentiles needed to become Jews before they could be saved or whether they could pass directly from being heathens to salvation.

Luke records the meeting this way (ESV): “After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘Brothers, listen to me. … Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.’” (Acts 15:13, 19)

That settled the matter for “the brothers, both the apostles and the elders” who then conveyed that message to their Gentile brothers. (v. 23)

FOLLOWING GOD’S PLAN

NOW THAT YOU received God’s Holy Spirit into your heart, what does God expect you to do with it?

We can see what James felt called to do. Here, he is writing a short letter filled with advice and directives on how a new believer should act. Yes, in the Jewish tradition, he focuses on the law and actions, but he ties them in to faith and conversion.Walking_in_Jesus'_Footsteps

“You say you have faith?” he asks. “Well, show me your faith by your actions. Don’t just tell me about your good works. Show me.” (James 2:18 editor’s trans.)

Whereas Paul’s letters focused on creed, James was concerned with conduct. Paul wrote about belief; James, about behavior; Paul was doctrine, James was deed. The two narrative styles complement one another.

Of the 108 verses in James, 54 contain a directive on conduct.

Commentators note parallels between his writings and the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

BECOMING FISHERS OF MEN

SO WE ARE TO BE mindful of the evangelizing function, referenced in the Great Commission, among other teaching.

image-6Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of  men.” (Matt. 4:19 NKJV)

If you’re not sharing the Gospel, you’re not being obedient.

2 Cor. 9:13 (NCV): “It is a proof of your faith. Many people will praise God because you obey the Good News of Christ—the gospel you say you believe—and because you freely share with them and with all others.”

How do you share the Gospel?

LETTING OUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN

JESUS TELLS US in Matt. 5:16 (NIV) to let our “light shine before others” that they may see our good works, or our good deeds, “and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Isn’t this what James said by matching our deeds with our faith?

This means acting according to the commandments our Lord gave us: to love one other, to forgive, to serve, to show compassion, to respect, to honor, to refrain from coveting, greed, envy, jealousy, anger, hatred, violence.

Then, when we are given the opportunity, as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT), to explain our “hope as a believer,” we should “be ready to explain it.”

In his book, Talking With My Father, the late evangelical pastor and author Ray C. Stedman, says it this way:

[Lord] Keep us from being ineffective, ordinary Christians. Challenge us to be true followers of you, ready to fling our lives away for Jesus Christ, ready to be utterly careless of what happens to us in order that He may be glorified. We pray in His name. Amen 

—Ray C. Stedman, Talking With My Father

POSTSCRIPT

THESE ARE THE questions each of us must answer:

          • Do you know the risen Lord?
          • Do you worship Him in the way you live your life?
          • Are you ready to explain the hope and joy in your heart?
          • Can you show how the Lord’s message of salvation is important for you and can be for your audience?
          • Are you prepared to share the Gospel?

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PRAYER

OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we humbly ask You to guide us as we strive to honor You in our image-5lives. Grow within us a softer  heart, one more gracious, more compassionate; more giving; a heart that does not puff up but pours out, one that does not expect but serves; one that shows we are loved by the King. O LORD, our God, to You belong all the Praise, Honor, and Glory. In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we pray. AMEN

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE? (Part 1 of 2)

Ever wonder what it took for James, Jesus’ oldest half-brother, to believe that his older brother was the Messiah, the chosen one of God? James grew up watching Jesus and apparently thought He was nutty. When he came to understand who Jesus really was, he worshipped Him, then he became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem and eventually was martyred for his faith. What does it take for you to believe Jesus is the Christ of the living God?

James 1:1 (NCV): “From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To all of God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings.”

Matt. 7:13 (ESV): “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

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OUR DIFFICULT ROAD TO FAITH

Some of the most stirring passages in God’s Holy Word are the ones that sneak up on us, the ones we glide over for years as we enjoy our all-time favorites.JESUS_AND_FAMILY

Surely, the opening lines of James’ short epistle are among those easily-ignored passages that pack a wallop when we focus on them: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

James was the oldest of the children born to Joseph and Mary (Jesus was born to Mary but was begat not by Joseph but by the Holy Spirit).

James no doubt was the frequent recipient of his mother’s scolding: “Jimmy, why can’t you be more like your older brother? He cleans His room, helps His father in the wood shop, is kind to the neighbors, and even tutors that young boy with the learning disability. You, on the other hand, are a scoundrel. Your room’s a mess, your grades could be improved, and you’re too rough with your sisters.”

WHEN GOD IS YOUR OLDER BROTHER

OF COURSE, THOSE CONVERSATIONS were not recorded, but we can imagine quite easily that young boys and girls 2,000 years ago acted much like their progeny today.

Except for Jesus.

YOUNG_BOY_JESUSJesus was perfect. The Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52 NASB). Commentary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association says this shows Jesus knew, even as a young lad, that he  was “unique” and “set apart by God for a special mission.”

There is no indication in the Bible that his half-brothers and half-sisters caught on. The Bible tells us they wanted Him to give up His public ministry and return home to tend to the carpentry shop Joseph had started. (Mark 3:31-35)

“For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” — John 7:5 (NKJV)

THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING

ALL OF THAT CHANGED after His resurrection.

The Bible tells us Jesus “appeared to James, then to  all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:7 (NET))

That certainly would do it, wouldn’t it? Imagine this … James saw his older brother’s beaten carcass stapled to a cross along the major thoroughfare only to see Him a few days later standing in front of him … very much alive.lone_cross

We can only imagine the love and tenderness the risen Savior showed His unbelieving brother. We can only imagine James’ reaction! At that moment, he must have dropped to his knees in worship.

It was a personal encounter with one of His disciples, Thomas the Twin, dubbed “the Doubter,” that cleared up all cloudy issues in his mind when he could see … and feel … the nail holes and sword’s splice that remained in Jesus’ glorified body.

Thomas, overcome with worship, shouted, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 (ESV))

YOUR OWN FAITH JOURNEY

BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU? Are you a believer? If so, what did it take to convince you that Jesus was, and is, who He said He is, the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity?

If you are not a believer, what would it take to convince you to give up your skepticism, your doubt, your hardened shell, and fall on your knees in worship and adoration to the Word made flesh? The One who died on the cross to satisfy God’s wrath against your sins?

James and Thomas had the advantage of a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, but Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29 (CSB))

Think back on James. James, the half-brother. James, the second-born. James, the one compared to his older sibling but, perhaps, not to his credit.

That visit must have been amazing. We read that James, once a skeptic and mocker of his older brother’s ministry, sought His brother’s forgiveness … not as his older brother … but as his Lord and Savior.

As God Himself.

… and when he received it, in grace, as we know he would, he dedicated his life to serving His God.

POSTSCRIPT

LET’S NOT IGNORE the sheer humility in James’ writing, when he describes himself as a “bond-servant” or “slave” of Jesus Christ, not as Jesus’ half-brother.

He was not dropping names here. He did not seek reflected glory.

That conversation must have shaken him to the core.

It was real … and he lived his faith to the end.

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PRAYER

Our Heavenly Father, forgive us our unbelief. Many of us who have come to receive the image-21Holy Spirit find that spot of resistance, where we hesitate to trust You completely. So many around us haven’t even taken that first step of faith to receive the Holy Spirit. Lord, You created us out of Your love to worship and adore You, yet so often we find ways to fail. James and Thomas were “all in” for the Lord, but they, and the other apostles, saw the Lord in the flesh. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who do not see and still believe.” Lord, help us to be those followers who believe, who are “all in” for Jesus, the way Jesus, dying on the cross for our sins, was “all in” for us. We ask this in His glorious and precious name. AMEN

 

TEACHING A DIFFERENT GOSPEL (Part 2 of 2)

Today’s Christian church is under attack from within as Satan sets his sights on dividing us between those who see God’s Word as inerrant and infallible and those who want to “touch it up” to make it relevant to a fallen world. God gives us choices, but He also instructs us on where He wants us to go. Those who reject His instruction are headed for doom. Unfortunately, not only do they misrepresent the Gospel, they also lead nonbelievers astray.

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  • Galatians 1:6 (NET): “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel.”
  • Colossians 2:8 (NIV): “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”
  • Titus 2:1 (NIV): “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.”

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PREACHING A NEW FALSE DOCTRINE

ON FACEBOOK a few days ago, I saw an article posted from a self-proclaimed Christian that was very  disturbing. The article was written by a pastor fired from his position at a megachurch to become, as a bio of him proclaims, “a rising star of the religious left.”

The “religious left.” What exactly is that?

In its current form, it is best described by its own term: “progressive Christianity,” the post-liberal phenomenon that poses as “Christian” while espousing the same moral code as the progressive pagan political left.DIVIDED_USA

Progressive Christianity’s poster boy is former Democrat Party presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, a gay man who proclaims that God made him homosexual and that most evangelical Christians—described as far-right white nationalist homophobic, xenophobic deplorable knuckle draggers who support the current President and Vice President—are intolerant of one of God’s creatures.

Really?

“REFORMING” CHRISTIANITY

A WIKIPEDIA ENTRY defines “post-liberal” theology as a movement that seeks to “reform the faith via the insights of post-modernism and a reclaiming of the truth beyond the verifiable historicity and factuality of the passages in the Bible” and so-on and blah-blah-blah. It claims not to be synonymous, “necessarily,” with progressive secular politics.

However, when lining up the major tenets of progressive Christianity alongside those of progressive secular politics, one is hard pressed to spot the difference. Progressive Christianity looks very much like progressive politics with an overlay of God-talk, as if that would make its teachings more palatable to the faithful.

Satan, the master of disguise, is at it again, aiming his arrows at the body of Christ, trying to divide the faithful who believe God’s Word to be inerrant and infallible from those who want to fudge it a bit to bring God up-to-date.

 COORDINATED ATTACK

WHERE DOES THIS take us?

First, the religious movement joins forces with its secular counterpart to form a coordinated attack against the Word of God and anyone who proclaims the veracity of the Holy Bible.

Lucifer

Second, because it promotes itself as “religious,” it becomes a useful tool for the secular progressives to use against Bible-based Christianity.

This is readily seen, for example, in the lineup of secular left-wing publications this pastor’s work is featured in: Slate, Cosmopolitan, and Quartz. The last publication says it rejects  “racism and xenophobia,” which it finds, of course, among faith-based Christians.

“PROGRESSIVE” CHRISTIANITY 

PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY is just one step removed from non-Christianity, with that short stride being shortened by the moment.

Not only do progressive Christians mislead themselves by claiming to be Christian, they also claim a superior form of Christianity, bound in intersectional politics.

It’s not enough to cast doubt on the Bible’s relevance, they join forces with the global post-nationalist forces, which promote what evangelist Franklin Graham calls “a secular worldview hostile to biblical values.”

Progressive politics, Graham says, “is a code word for someone who leans toward socialism, who does not believe in God and who will likely vote against Godly principles” that are part of our country’s foundation.

DIVIDING WALL

I LOVE MY FACEBOOK friend and have no desire to create animosity between us. This person has been nothing but good and decent to me, and it hurts my heart to see thisperson pulled in a direction contrary to what the Bible teaches.64. Church_Doctrine

But the dividing line between Bible-based Christians and so-called progressive Christians is becoming a dividing wall. Maybe that’s how it should be. Those who no longer place their faith in God’s Holy Word are promoting a false Gospel, one that dovetails with left-wing secular politics, while pretending to be God’s Word.

The apostle John wrote: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” — 1 John 2:19 (ESV)

We need to pray for them, of course, and not become discouraged as those—many of whom have worshipped in our midst—go a different path. “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20 (NIV)

It is their choice, but the Bible tells us in Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV): “There’s a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

POSTSCRIPT:image-8

OUR JOB AS FAITHFUL Christians is to remain faithful to the Gospel as God wrote it, pray for those who veer from the truth, be bold in our witness, and shine a bright light in a darkened world.

 “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” — Galatians 6:9 (NASB)

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PRAYER

Dear Lord, our Heavenly Father, we know that Your  Word is holy and true, just as You, OLord, are a holy God and in You resides Truth. Forgive those who would twist Your Word in a false attempt to make it “relevant” to today’s world, when You have warned us that You are perfect and never change. Your Word does not need modification. May they come to see the error of their way, O Lord, as You bring them back, like lost sheep, to the fold. In Jesus’ holy name we lift this prayer. AMEN

 

TEACHING A DIFFERENT GOSPEL (Part 1 of 2)

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The body of Christ is under assault from those hostile to the Bible’s teaching, but it is under a greater assault from those claiming to be Christ’s followers who insist on disregarding biblical teaching. They are liberals posing as the true disciples of Jesus’ earthly ministry, as opposed to those they disregard as “fundamentalists,” whose fault is to hold firm to biblical doctrine.

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James 3:1 (ESV): “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Matt. 7:15 (NASB): “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Isaiah 5:20 (NET): “Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter.”

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THE WORST ABUSE facing the body of Christ today comes not from those who readily admit they are not believers, but from those who claim to be faithful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ but just better  Christians than the rest of us.

Who are they, and why is that a problem for the body of Christ?

They are the so-called “religiousWOLF_SHEEP_CLOTHES left,” and they are a problem because the non-believing world cannot distinguish between the statements and beliefs they make from the beliefs common to our world.

In fact, most of what the religious left obsesses about is the faithful doctrine preached and testified to by their faith-based brethren, whom they dismiss with a variety of pejorative terms, like, “religious nationalists,” “far-right doctrinaires,” or “fundamentalists.”

“INCLUSION” or “REPENTANCE”? 

ONE PROMINENT THEOLOGIAN from the “progressive” left claims he wants churches to be modeled after Christ’s ministry, but then he mischaracterizes that ministry and what Christ tried to do.

He says that Jesus, the God-Man, fraternized with the worst dregs of first-century Israel—tax collectors, prostitutes, derelicts, and other street people—to the consternation of the religious leaders of the day.

This pastor proclaims a desire to emulate that community of “inclusion” in which the outcasts could feel dignity as human beings, asserting it was the high-strung moralists who were appalled by Jesus’ choice of friends.

However, this pastor misstates Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus was not building friendship circles of diversity and inclusion, He was reaching out to the “lost,” to the “least of these,” and to the “sick,” to everyone who needed healing.

His goal was to call them to repentance and salvation and invite them into the fellowship of believers.

      • “The kingdom of God is near,” Jesus said. “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)
      • “Jesus heard this and said to them, ‘It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to invite good people but to invite sinners.’” (Mark 2:17 NCV)

POST-LIBERAL THEOLOGY

HERE’S THE CRUX of the problem.

This left-wing guru of post-liberal theology wants to figure out how to develop spiritual communities “large enough for everyone” but not one based on “strict doctrine,” which he considers “repressive.”

53. Man_Woman_prayingIn other words, creating a church in name-only, one that looks like a church—with steeples, stained-glass windows, and robed choirs—which stops being the church as soon as the preacher steps into the pulpit.

From that post, the post-liberal pastor can water down the Gospel, and morph it into something “relevant” to the congregation’s “itching ears,” a pablum of feel-good Christianity that reinforces the flock’s desire to feel comfortable and self-righteous.

Why open the Holy Bible if you want to avoid “strict doctrine”? After all, where else would you find strict doctrine but in the Holy Bible?

Why open the Holy Bible if you no longer believe or teach that it is God’s Word—eternal, infallible, inerrant, absolute truth, entirely reliable, and totally believable—but you have to reconfigure it a bit to make it palatable to modern sensibilities.

REVISED HOLY SCRIPTURE

LET’S CALL THIS perversion of the Gospel for what it is: promulgation of sin.

Christian author and teacher John R. Cross condemned the new apostasy this way: “The rejection of biblical absolutes has resulted in a callousness towards wrong, with each generation becoming more comfortable with sin.” The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, GoodSeed International, p. 267 Kindle edition

That’s it! That’s the point! Rejection of “biblical absolutes” is synonymous with rejection of “strict doctrine.”

That is why the non-believing world cannot distinguish between the religious left (progressive Christians) and the general worldview of our times: it’s because there really isn’t a difference.

Those who are standing in the breach are not the tightly wound  doctrinaires and fundamentalists of Christ’s body, as the progressives would calls us—today’s Pharisees—but the faithful men and women who worship the living God, clutching our Bibles and prayer journals, raising our voices in praise, and confessing our need for a Savior.

EVER-WIDENING SCHISM

THIS SCHISM WITHIN the church has widened since the 2016 election of President Trump and Vice President Pence because an overwhelming majority (estimated at 80 percent) of the white evangelical vote was cast for them to lead our great country.

Faith-based evangelical believers voted for them knowing two things: one, the candidates would promote social policies fundamental to civil society, which are held dear by most evangelicals, and two, that the Vice President is a strong believer, but the President needs our prayerful help.

That leaves the progressive left in a diminished position, firing off pop guns and water pistols in its effort to change the political landscape. Of course, that makes them the darlings of their cousins, the secular left.

They are dangerous, not because they wield any power, but because, like Satan disguising himself as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), they lob their rhetorical flimflammery from the pulpits, hiding behind the symbols and denominational names that—like sheep’s clothing—hide the wolves within.

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PRAYER

ABBA, FATHER, ALL PRAISE and glory to Your holy name, O Lord. We  humbly ask You to image-6forgive our sins and heal our land, to lead us in all righteousness for Your name sake, to empower us to be Your witnesses, a light in the dark, salt to the bland, an answer to questions. Let us be the Lord’s witnesses to the world around, starting with our marriages and families and then radiating out. Let our testimony, O Lord, be God-inspired and God-honoring so that everyone will know our testimony is from You. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN

JOINING GOD … Where He’s Working


So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth: the Son can do nothing on his own; he does only what he sees his Father doing. What the Father does, the Son also does. — John 5:19 (GNT)

For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. — John 12:49 (NKJV)


GOD CALLS US to work with Him in the world.

Each of us who has received God’s Holy Spirit in his heart wants to serve the Lord, but where should we serve … and how?

So, the question before you and me is this: Are we serving God where He wants us to be or are we trying to serving Him where we think we should be?

Author and pastor Henry Blackaby frames it this way:

“We don’t choose what we will do for God; He invites us to join Him where He wants to involve us.” (Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God (Kindle, Loc. 1204)

That does not mean that it’s one or the other; the two could be the same. The question is whether the choice we make is driven  by our preference or by His design.

MAKING CHOICES

I WAS CONFRONTED with this choice several years ago after a hurricane tore through our area of coastal South Carolina.

Immediately, we became ground zero for an army of volunteers from Samaritans’ Purse, and many from our church community joined in.

The work involved areas where my gifts — spiritual and physical — are sorely lacking. We were to climb ladders, nail tarps to battered roofs, cut logs, and transport debris to the curb. In short, it was a time of safety glasses and reinforced gloves and  boots.

While I felt a tug to participate in the clean-up operation, I also felt the effort tearing me away from what I thought was my calling: preparing lessons for our weekly church home group, writing meditations and essays for a Christian blog, and meeting the constant demands of shepherding a Christian men’s group that was growing beyond our immediate neighborhood.

I spent time in prayer — maybe too much time — trying to figure out what God wanted me to do. In the end, I spent one Friday in clean-up.

It was the most rewarding experience of that time period for me!

I loved getting involved, being challenged to climb ladders to reach roofs higher than I wanted to walk on, and fellowshipping with God’s saints from our state and those from several states away.

In short, I’m glad I went. I’m also glad I spent only one day.

USING SPIRITUAL GIFTS

WE READ IN THE BIBLE (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12) that God has distributed *spiritual gifts* to each of us to be used to benefit the body of Christ, both our local church and the worldwide church.

We know that from all we’ve read and heard, but are we rightly positioned within His Kingdom to serve Him where we are?

Are we doing the work He has planned for our lives or are we serving Him in the way and manner that feels most comfortable to us?

Have we rightly heard His call as to where we should serve?

IMITATING JESUS

OUR LORD ALWAYS SAID He was listening to His Father in Heaven, and He would pattern His earthly ministry on what He saw His Father doing.

In other words, where was God working in the lives and souls of people around Him? That’s where Jesus wanted to go. Those were the people Jesus wanted to touch.

Blackaby says this:

“God is orchestrating history. He is present and in the middle of all history. God is the One who is at work redeeming a lost world. His desire is to involve His people and His servants.” (Kindle, Loc. 1107)

He adds this:

“Jesus always looked for the activity of the Father and joined Him.” (Kindle, Loc. 1149)

COME JOIN GOD

WHAT GOD IS SAYING to each of us is that He is working in the world right now, all around us, but we can miss the signals.

Blackaby says the Holy Spirit will show us where God is at work. Once we know where He is working, we can adjust our lives and join Him in His work. (Kindle, Loc. 1168)

That is not an easy concept for me to put into practice.

While I understand the point and can discuss it, I find it more difficult to apply it. As my example above shows, to volunteer in Godly work with Samaritans’ Purse, I had to give up time and energy that could have been spent in other Godly work to which I felt a greater calling, yet, at the same time, I felt rewarded with the volunteer labor.

In short, was I serving God where He wants me or where I find the most comfort? Where, at that moment, did He want me? Where, in this moment, does He want me?

GOING FORWARD

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN for me or for you?

FOR ME, I need to be more mindful of what is actually going on around me, how other people may be hurting, who needs my attention or help, or who just needs a listening ear.

FOR YOU, what does it mean?

Many of you no doubt are engaged in a variety of charitable endeavors, volunteer service, and helping out with family members in need of physical or spiritual care, or finding ways to serve at church or in nursing homes or food banks.

Some of you are active in mission trips, whether near your home community, in parts of the U.S. devastated by recent storms, or even overseas. Others are teaching the Word to those who hunger for God’s truth, while still others are engaged in evangelism activities, reaching out to those who are lost.

POSTSCRIPT

IN THE END, we should be attentive to God’s voice showing us where He is working around us so that we can join Him in that effort.

We find that answer through prayer and listening to Him as He speaks to us.

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PRAYER

O LORD, OUR LORD, we thank You for giving each of us a spiritual gift, something special for us that we  can give to the family of believers to benefit one another. Help us, O Lord, to identify those gifts and to use them charitably, not comparing one gift with another or encouraging envy but graciously and enthusiastically contributing where You place us and doing what Your plan calls for. In Jesus name we lift this prayer. AMEN