What Advice Would You Give?

Love God and Neighbor

On Wednesday, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, The Ray Edwards Show. Ray combines strong faith in Jesus with sound business insights and a great sense of humor, so I get a lot out of his program. In Episode #193, he presented “7 Shocking Productivity Hacks” which, when practiced, give you lots of extra time you didn’t think you could ever have.

The seventh tip came in the form of a question, specifically, a “desert island” question. You and a nine year old child find yourselves marooned on a desert island far from civilization. You know that you will never get off the island; you will die there. However, you also know that the child will get rescued. If you could distill your wisdom and experience into a single sentence, what advice would you give that child before he or she was saved?

This exercise forces you to focus on what’s most important in life. And the implication is to practice what you preach. Live out the advice you bestow.

So what would you say? What would you share with that nine year old who’s hoping to see ten? Because what you tell that child is what you’re telling yourself.

Two notions bounced around in my head; one was about the Lord and the other concerned doing what you really enjoy in life. Since the answer was supposed to be only one sentence long, I came up with, “Trust Jesus and just do what you want to do in life.”

But right after I spoke this under my breath, I realized that I was copying a dictum given centuries ago by the theologian Augustine: “Love God and do as you please.”

Trusting Jesus and loving God are pretty similar, so I’ll treat them as more or less communicating the same thing. And most Christians would agree that our relationship with the Lord should be our priority.

But what about the second part? Do whatever you want?

Augustine didn’t mean that loving Jesus grants you permission to sin up a storm. Rather, loving God affects everything we think, say, and do.

That sounds like good advice, the kind I’d give a young castaway who’s about to be rescued.

How does it work?

Love keeps you balanced. Life has so many voices which tell you what to do. You encounter numerous distractions and temptations; it’s hard to relax, concentrate, and enjoy.

Loving God by following Jesus keeps you from swaying, stumbling, and falling. You’re free to pursue what interests you because you’re not afraid of offending Him. When you know you’re accepted by God, when you realize that you’re approved in Christ, the world, your world, opens up.

God’s love frees you up to be you. Fear no longer controls your heart; you can trust Him with your desires, talents, and hopes.

“Love God and do what you please.” Not bad advice for a nine year old. How about for you?

 

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Do We Need More in Order to be More Thankful?

In Philippians 1:3-6, Paul wrote, “I thank my God every time I think of you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion to the day of Christ Jesus.” -NIV

He wrote this against the backdrop of being in prison for being a Christian. The last place anyone would expect to find gratitude or a sense of hope or happiness. But in the bleakness of his jail cell, Paul found solace and hope in his gratitude; his thankfulness for the Philippian Christians. He looked beyond himself, higher than the horizon of his own, all too real, human situation and looked with thankfulness to God for the people around him. Gratitude is an amazing strength that enables a person to grace and generosity. It is the basis of Christmas and Christianity.

Next week in America, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving; a day to remember the goodness of God in our lives and land, and to thank Him for all our freedoms spiritually and nationally. And God has given us a laundry list of things to be thankful for in our lives, the predominant part of that are the people; our family and friends, that God has blessed and decorated our lives with. Yet the tendency for some will be to still look at their wants instead of what they already have. To which I’m reminded of what Paul wrote to the Philippians, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion to the day of Christ Jesus.”

Within thankfulness is a sense of hope that looks forward by faith to the future with God by looking back at the past convinced if God got us this far, he’ll get us the rest of the way too. That kind of faithfulness in God leads to thankfulness to God for what he’s already done for us as well as for what he will yet do. Which reminds me of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:56-57, “Thanks be to God who gives us the Victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So this thanksgiving do we need more in order to be more thankful, or do we just need to be more thankful?

Thanksgiving isn’t just a holiday; it should be a lifestyle to God for all the people around us. Regardless of the circumstances, situations shouldn’t be allowed to imprison our thankfulness. So who are you thankful for in your life? Who are the people who support you, love you, encourage you and strengthen you? Who are the people who pick you up when you fall down or help the hurts to heal? Why don’t you tell them how much you love them, appreciate them, and are thankful to God for them? Pray for them that day and every day.

Thank you to all the wonderful people at Victory International Fellowship who make life so rewarding, fun and encouraging. May you feel God’s blessings today and every day of the year, in Jesus’ name.

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I Don’t Know How Birds do it.

“After the smiles, hugs, prayers and kisses, we waved goodbye to our middle daughter as she started the nine hour drive back to college with her friend, after a four day midterm break at home. And as happy and proud of her as I am, there was a pain in the pit of my stomach.

“I don’t know how birds do it” I thought as she drove out of sight. I started thinking about months before in the spring when we were watching a momma Robin bird nesting her baby birds over a few weeks. The nest in the tree was so close to our living room window, we could easily watch momma bird feed her little chirping baby birds as their heads popped up out of the nest. It looked so cute. It easily reminded me of when our kids were little and we fed them in our arms and then in their high chairs. Astonishingly one day, after several weeks of nesting them, feeding them and raising them, she helped them out of the nest. She kind of pushed one out. None of them flew at first. They seemed to stumble. One of them fell to the ground. But none of them died. And I assume they all eventually made it having grown into young adult birds that I saw week’s later flying around in the summer. I didn’t give it a second thought until that day in late October when my daughter drove away.

“I don’t know how birds do it.” You dream about your kids, give birth to your kids, raise your kids, feed your kids, laugh, love and cry with your kids, dream with your kids, only to have them grow up and drive away and then you miss your kids. But that’s the way it is and is supposed to be. They can’t stay in the nest forever. They’re supposed to grow up, move out, find their way and eventually start their own nest, somewhere.

It never seems to bother the mother birds. I wonder if it does. Seems foolish to think that it would, after all, do birds instinctively care for their babies as much as we emotionally care for ours? I don’t remember seeing the mother bird cry when her babies left the nest or worry if they’d be alright, driving all those miles across part of the country.

I think growing up is easier when you’re young. All that energy and enthusiasm. Leaning forward all the way. Can’t wait to get out and get started at life. It’s not because they didn’t like the nest. In fact they liked the nest they grew up in so much and all those stories you told them about when you were their age, they were inspired, envisioned and couldn’t wait to start living stories of their own, now that they’re the age you used to be.

Little birds grow into big birds and leave the nest. It’s the way it is, but it was more fun when I was the one driving away across the country and around the world and my parents were the ones waving good bye. Now the rolls are reversed, having come full circle and it’s my wife and I waving good bye. “I don’t know how birds do it.”

Baby dedication is when you say thank you to God for the most important, dearest person / people, part of your life, short of God and your spouse, your children. But you’re never really trusting them fully into his care until decades later when they’re out of the nest and out of your reach but never out of the reach of God. That’s when you’re really taking God at his word and trusting him with their lives that you dedicated to God so many years ago, that seems like yesterday, as you stand there waving good bye. “I don’t know how birds do it.”  

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Instead of Arguing, Why Not Just Ask God?

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When you don’t know what to do next, pray. When you have to make a decision, ask the Lord for the right answer. When you can’t reach an agreement with someone, don’t insist on your way or cave in to the other person’s demands. Instead, ask yourself, “What does God want?” Do what He wants rather than what you or anyone else desires.

This seems to be a spiritually mature way to handle conflicts. And it’s simple, too. Once you know the will of God, you just do it. Obeying the Lord can be tough, but at least you’re doing the right thing. It might not be pleasant, but you have God’s approval.

So why didn’t Paul and Barnabas do this? These apostles had been commissioned by the Holy Spirit and the church in Antioch to preach the gospel. They obeyed and traveled through Cyprus, parts of modern-day Turkey, and Syria, announcing that Jesus was the Messiah. People converted to Christ and churches were planted. Quite an adventure!

Early in the journey, however, a young helper by the name of John Mark (a cousin of Barnabas) left them. The Bible doesn’t indicate his motivation for leaving, only that he returned soon after starting out with Paul and Barnabas. Maybe the work was harder than John Mark bargained for, or maybe he was scared of the difficulties. Whatever the reason, Paul and Barnabas continued without him, and God blessed their efforts with success.

Sometime later, the apostles decided to revisit the churches they’d started. Naturally, the question arose, “Should we take John Mark with us?” Barnabas wanted to give his cousin a second chance but Paul must have felt that the risk was too great. Not worth it.

They talked it out but got nowhere. They debated, but fruitlessly. Things got heated, but no breakthrough. Finally, they agreed to separate. Barnabas got his wish; he took John Mark to Cyprus. Paul followed a different path; he teamed up with a Christian named Silas and headed out for Turkey.

Why didn’t they pray about the problem? Instead of arguing, or even conversing, why didn’t they just ask God if He wanted John Mark to join them or not?

Were Barnabas and Paul spiritually stunted? Did anger override their good judgment? Was the Lord displeased with them?

I don’t think so. God must have honored their deliberations because Paul began many new churches in regions that had never been exposed to the gospel. By anyone’s standards, he was successful.

And while the Bible doesn’t describe Barnabas’ trip with John Mark, he probably trained and mentored him. That young man so grew in ministry that even Paul eventually vouched for him! No hard feelings!

So what does this teach us about conflicts, tough choices, and challenging decisions?

  • Speak your mind! Know what you want and don’t be afraid to communicate it. Others may not agree with you, but at least they know where you stand.
  • Show respect. If you feel strongly about your ideas, realize that other people likely feel the same way about theirs. You don’t have to agree with their point of view, but they have a right to have one.
  • Don’t be afraid. I get the impression that neither Paul nor Barnabas felt that he disappointed God. Their discussions and decisions were untainted by anxiety or timidity.
  • Trust the work of the Lord. When you pray about a problem, you’re demonstrating that you trust God with your trials. But do you trust what He’s already done in your life? Do you value the new heart He’s given you? Do you rely on the Holy Spirit who indwells you? If you do, you’re free to make decisions without worrying about whether or not you’re in God’s will. That’s liberating!

Sometimes you don’t have to pray about a specific issue. God may have already given you enough for a creative solution. He did it for Paul and Barnabas; He can do it for you, too!

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You Can Know That You’re Humble

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“The minute you think you’re humble, you’re not.”

And then there was the guy who was proud of his humility! And why not? He must have worked hard to get it!

Humility has a tough time among the virtues. You recognize qualities like love, peacefulness, prudence, and courage in others and you probably seek to develop these ideals in yourself. You know when you’re making progress and when you’re slacking off.

But humility? How can you know if you’re humble? It would seem that, of all the virtues, humility lies beyond reach. You refute yourself just by claiming that you possess it.

Right?

Actually, no. According to the Bible, you can know that you’re humble. You can declare it without contradicting yourself. This may sound startling, but here are three examples.

Jesus

Jesus called Himself humble. He encouraged people to become His disciples and learn from Him because, as He put it, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). So Christ appreciated His own humility and didn’t hesitate to announce it.

But Jesus is God in the flesh; He’s perfect and unique. No one’s like the Lord. So can He serve as your role model?

Paul

Let’s try the apostle Paul. He recounted the trials of his ministry among the Ephesians  as “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears” (Acts 20:19). Not just humility, mind you; all humility! I guess Paul had mastered this humility business!

That makes two. Jesus and Paul proclaimed their humility devoid of arrogance.

The Church

But what about ordinary Christians?

The apostle Peter instructed all believers to “be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8). He excluded no one; those who follow Christ should be as cognizant of their humility as they are of their compassion toward others.

As odd as this may appear, the Bible insists that people can know that they’re humble. But that’s the problem – it sounds weird; it doesn’t feel right.

Maybe the real issue isn’t about humility. The deeper concern has to do with the source of spiritual values. Where do they come from? How do you become a more loving person, a more kind-hearted individual, a more patient soul?

According to Galatians 5:22-23, virtue comes from God. Christlike character derives from the Holy Spirit. If love, joy, and peace, grow in you, it will be due to the working of God’s Spirit. He deserves the credit!

If you ascribe to the Lord the development of these virtues in your life, don’t leave out humility. The Spirit fosters that grace just as He does the others.

That’s why you’re not bragging if you know you have humility. You didn’t create it; you’re merely acknowledging that virtue comes from God. Don’t deny it; instead, thank the Lord for making you more like Jesus!

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Praying for People, Not Puppets

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What goes through your mind when you pray for people? Do you sense that God sometimes gives you the words to speak aloud? Or maybe you know exactly what that person should think, believe, or do?

Wouldn’t prayer be easier if you were a puppeteer and could control people like they were marionettes? “Don’t do that anymore!” “Drop that bad habit!” “Be responsible!” “Love God!”

I believe that most of the time, when we pray for others, we do so out of good motives. We envision what Jesus can do and that inspires us to pray powerfully. We don’t want to settle; we want God’s best for them!

Praying for others gets tricky when those people are caught up in sin and failing God. Parents hate to see their children hang out with the wrong crowd. Friends grieve when addictions ruin the lives of their buddies. Church leaders ache over the damage caused by poor decisions made by congregation members or their families. In such cases, what’s the right way to pray? What should we ask for? The answer seems obvious: we should pray for God to change their minds!

Why not? Proverbs 21:1 says that “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” So shouldn’t we be confident that God can alter attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors? Shouldn’t this inform our prayers?

Well, this verse tells us that the Lord can turn hearts the way He wishes, but not necessarily the way we might prefer. We might not get what we want.

So what should we do? How do we deal with those whom we care about who refuse to please God?

A young minister named Timothy faced similar questions. Sent by the apostle Paul to bring order and harmony to the churches in the city of Ephesus, he found himself opposed and his authority challenged. I suppose people don’t like change! What to do?

Paul’s advice was simple: “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Great suggestions, but following these admonitions doesn’t ensure success. “If,” “perhaps,” “may” – all conditional, all tentative. Opponents may remain hostile; rebels may continue to resist. But there’s hope that repentance, like a gift, might be received and opened.

No guarantee. Maybe that’s where you’re at. You might worry about the spiritual condition of friends or relatives. You see clearly what they need, but they rebuff it.

Don’t treat them like puppets. Intercede for them even if you have no assurance that things will go the way you pray. God might grant them repentance. Isn’t that worth it? Won’t you take that risk?

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Guilty of What?

Francis Schaeffer 2

“Guilty of guilt.” That’s all the assembled could convict the accused of. They had nothing else. How hollow!

I encountered that empty phrase in a humanities course in college. In addition to books and lectures, our curriculum included How Should We Then Live?, a video series which analyzed the rise and fall of Western civilization from the Christian perspective of apologist Francis Schaeffer. He quoted the line above from a depressing European film (I forget which one) to illustrate the emptiness of the philosophy of existentialism. Schaeffer insisted that when people deny God’s moral absolutes, they’re left with little more than feelings and force. One can be guilty only of guilt itself.

I was 18 or 19 at the time, but even at my age I knew that before God I bore moral responsibility. I could rattle off specific sins for which I had asked His forgiveness. I’d violated His written rules as well as my own conscience and needed God’s grace. Guilt is real because sin is real.

Yet I also recognized that my sinfulness exceeded my consciousness, that I had issues of which I was only dimly aware. How grateful I am for the indwelling Holy Spirit! Through Him I can triumph over hidden faults.

Sin and guilt include our deeds, words, and thoughts; even dispositions of which we’re only dimly aware. How far does it go?

Acts 2 described the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first Christians. This drew the attention of the many Jews who’d traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. Some were confused, others were dismissive, but no one ignored what transpired.

Peter the apostle explained that God was keeping His promise. For centuries, the Jewish people waited for the Lord’s deliverer, the Messiah, to free them from bondage to foreign governments and to establish God’s kingdom on earth. That kingdom would be characterized by the presence of the Spirit. Peter shocked his audience when he revealed that God had sent the Messiah, Jesus, but the people had rejected the very Person they’d been seeking for generations!

This realization wounded the assembled; the Bible says they were “cut to the heart,” wondering what they might do to atone for their offense.

Peter assured them that if they turned away from sin, and trusted in Christ by being baptized, God would bless them with the Spirit, too.

Approximately 3000 people obeyed and became followers of Jesus Christ.

But were they guilty of the crucifixion? Jesus was nailed to the cross on the eve of Passover, about a month and a half before Pentecost. Probably the majority of those who heard and responded to Peter’s message hadn’t participated in the crowd that cried out for Jesus’ blood.

So what was their problem in the sight of God? Collective guilt. The elders and the rabble who pressed for the death of Jesus represented the nation; indeed, they spoke for all of us.

We’re more caught up in sin and guilt than we know! Like it or not, the temptation and fall of Adam ensnared the whole human race. But the death and resurrection of Jesus rescues anyone who calls for His help.

Perhaps the existentialists were onto something. Maybe we’re “guilty of guilt” in that, as members of the human family, we find ourselves caught up in the damage and destruction that sin causes in us and around us. Guilt pervades us. But God’s grace is greater than sin, guilt, denials, and earnest efforts. Through Christ, we have more of His goodness and blessing than we can imagine!

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