Nov 08

Ready, Shoot, Aim

Have you ever gotten into a conversation or been in a situation that is absolutely frustrating?  Have you ever been around someone who knows everything, or at least pretends to?  Many times these situations lead us to speak first, think second.  I must confess that many times my mouth is 100 miles down the road before my mind even shifts out of neutral.  One such example from my marriage may provide you with a good laugh.  My wife and I were traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway one evening.  I had a pretty stressful and frustrating day and was thinking about that as my wife was speaking (guys a little marriage advice, listen to your wife when she speaks).  Now because I was not paying attention I cannot refute her version of the story (but that doesn’t stop me from denying it).  She says that she told me that she loved me and that she didn’t deserve a guy like me.  That is not what I heard, but my response was “I couldn’t agree with you more.”  Diana busts out laughing and I get indignant with her and says “I am pouring out my heart to you and you are laughing at me.”  I was thoroughly convinced that I was in the right here and I was getting angry.  It is then that she repeats what she said to me, and it was at this point I knew two things needed to happen.  First I needed to ask for her forgiveness for getting upset with her.  Secondly, I needed to find a 24 hour florist and quickly 🙂  Everyone (except me) gets a great laugh out of that story and it certainly is not the only time I made a fool of myself by speaking before thinking.  But how many times have we gotten upset about something that we didn’t fully understand?

James 1:19-20 reminds us, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”  God gave us two ears and one mouth.  That tells me that we should do twice as much listening as we do talking.  We may not agree with others on certain things, but one thing is for sure, arguing with them is not going to win them over.  As hard as it is at times, we need to sit down with the person and hear their entire story and reasoning before making up our mind.  You may find that you have the same goal just a different way of approaching it.  Sometimes you may actually have to agree to disagree but at least you will not have started a war of words that was completely unnecessary.

So if we are going to be swift to hear, we need to allow the person to say what they have to say without interruptions.  To be slow to speak, again here the person out and only after they are done should we respond.  And for the sake of the Gospel and relationships, don’t jump to anger, make sure you have all the story and all of the facts.  Remembering to do twice as much listening as talking will preserve and strengthen your relationships with people, and cause you to have to call the florist much less!

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Nov 01

Watch Your Step. . .Because Others Are Watching

The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:22, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”  Like it or not once you have identified yourself as a Christian to people, they begin watching you, especially those who are against Christianity.  It is very easy for us to assume they are watching to see if we are going to slip up and fall into sin, thereby giving them an excuse to avoid becoming a Christian and labeling you as a hypocrite.  However, I think that most people just want to see a genuine person, especially those who claim to be Christians.  We can all think of countless of examples of people who say they are Christian but then make no attempt at following Christ’s example.  I truly believe the unsaved are not rooting for Christians to fail, I believe they just want to see something genuine.  And that is why as a Christian we must be careful in how we live our life.

The context of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 is Paul telling Christians in Thessalonica to live a godly life because the return of Christ could be at any moment.  The word “abstain” means to refrain from or to completely avoid.  The key word to this verse however is the word “appearance.”  Paul was instructing the Christians in Thessalonica as well as us to not only avoid evil itself, but anything that could be construed or misconstrued as evil as well.  Sometimes what you do is not necessarily wrong, but it doesn’t look good to those watching you or it causes another Christian to stumble in their walk with Christ.  If it doesn’t pass the “eye” test or it causes a brother or a sister to stumble then even if it is not forbidden in Scripture, we as Christians have no business doing it.  A simple rule of thumb is, if I have to ask should I, then I shouldn’t.  That is not another burden or unnecessary restriction for a Christian.  Rather because we love God and we love others and want to see as many as possible come to faith in Christ, we willingly give up the right to do certain things if there is a chance it could keep others from coming to faith in Christ.  We must realize as Christians that the devil desires us to sin, not so that he can laugh at us, but so that he can try and keep others from coming to Christ.  Therefore, be careful in how you live, because even if you don’t see them, they are watching!

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him!

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Oct 30

Preparation is Key

We here on the East Coast have been preparing for the days leading up to the landfall of Hurricane Sandy.  Yesterday here in Virginia the grocery stores were packed looking like when the weather channel calls for snow in the area.  All along the eastern seaboard people have been getting batteries, candles, lanterns, boarding up businesses and houses, and making sure they have the necessary supplies to get through several days of horrible weather and potential power outages.  But all this got me to thinking, are we as diligent about preparing for eternity as we are a storm?  The Weather Channel and other media outlets have been good about warning those in the path of this storm of the potential destructiveness that is coming with this storm.  Yet as I woke up this morning there are people in the northeast and other parts of the east coast that decided they could ride it out and are now in need of being rescued.

Believe it or not there are a lot of people who try to “ride” life out despite the numerous warnings that life is going to end, and sometimes it will end unexpectedly.  All you have to do is read the newspaper or read online, not all the people who are dying each day have lived a “long” life.  And yet many people feel that they are bigger than life and that there is not an eternity to prepare for, just like those who think despite the warnings of an approaching storm, they decide they can ride it out and will be fine.  The truth of the matter is this, the Bible speaks very candidly about eternity.  James 4:14 says, “. . .For what is your life?  It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”  Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”  These are just two verses that speak to the certainty of not only death, but an afterlife as well.  For those who believe they can “ride” out life and that since God is loving He would not send them to hell or you don’t believe in a literal hell.  It should be noted that Jesus spoke of hell and its literal existence three times more often than He spoke of heaven.

The best method concerning an approaching storm or your death is to be prepared.  The best time to prepare for a storm is when it is several days away.  The best time to prepare for eternity is now.  Don’t be like the people who wait until the last possible second to go to the store to prepare for the storm, because you just might miscalculate when the “storm” (death) is going to happen and you may be stranded.  The biggest difference between riding out a storm and not planning for eternity.  If you get stranded in a storm, rescuers might be able to get to you in time, if you die without being prepared for eternity, there will be no one to save you.  Make the necessary preparations for eternity now, trust Jesus Christ, believe that He died on the cross for your sins, He was buried, and on the third day He rose from the grave.  That and that alone will save you and prepare you for your eternity.

P.S.-eternity is a lot closer than you think!

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Oct 29

Bigger Than You

One reason I love team sports is because it requires such a high level of togetherness and selflessness.  I read a story earlier this morning about a small change a college football coach made.  The head coach of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers football team came in a year ago and removed the individual’s name off the back of their jersey.  His quote “you can have them back when you play like a team.”  In a society that focuses so heavily on the accomplishments of an individual, here was a coach that wanted to teach his team that this team is bigger than you.  I can think of another team in the state of Pennsylvania who needs to learn this lesson or their head coach is most likely going to lose his job at the end of the season.  It is the Philadelphia Eagles.  They have some of the greatest talents assembled at various positions, but for the past two years they have really struggled to win games.  It isn’t because they don’t have the talent.  It is because they are not working together as a team.  They have not learned that the parts are not greater than the whole.  For a team to work well together, each individual must work hard and be dedicated to their part, but realize that they are just one small part of the much larger picture.  This was on display in 1997 in the little town of Vinton, VA.  It is where my high school is located.  It was that year that the William Byrd Terriers baseball team won the Group AA state championship.  If you looked at the previous year (1996), that team was much more talented than the 1997 team.  The key difference (and I played on both teams) was the 1997 team played as a team.  Our motto was “One team, One dream.”  It may seem or sound corny, but that was the rally cry and for an entire season it focused a big group to strive for one thing.

This reminds me of a valuable teaching in the New Testament.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”  The church (local and universal) is made up of many different people that have been given many different gifts by God.  However, what unites us is the fact that we are one in Christ and that we are to use our many gifts for one purpose, to make God’s name known throughout the world.  As a Christian we must remember that we are part of two things that are bigger than us.  First is the local church where we worship.  When church becomes about “me” or what “I” want, trouble is sure to follow.  But as a Christian we are also part of the universal church which is made up of all those who have professed belief in Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven.  We may look, talk, and live differently but if we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ then we are brothers and sisters in Christ and we need to act that way.  God has placed each individual and each church where He desires it so that they can focus on making His name known in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world.  But if we are going to reach our God-given goal then we are going to have to sacrifice the “me” for the “we.”  Too many souls hang in the balance of heaven or hell for us to worry more about the name on the back of the jersey (our name) than on the front of the jersey (team name-Christ).

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Oct 25

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

At the beginning of every game the visiting team has two choices.  The first choice is heads or tails.  The second choice (if they win the coin toss) is do we want to receive the kick-off or do we want to kick to the other team to start the game.  The long held belief (although not always holding true now) is that as the visiting team you want the ball first.  There are a couple of reasons for this logic.  First, it is always easier playing with the lead than trying to play catch up.  Secondly, if you can score on the first drive of the game you can somewhat take the crowd out of the game, therefore making it easier for your team.  Spiritually speaking, Christians are the visiting team in this world, because it is not our home.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  In face 2 Corinthians 4:4 teaches that the satan is the god of this world. That is why it is so important for us to be prepared every day.  If a team is going to play on the road, that week during practice they generally play music really loud during practice to get the team use to a lot of noise in case the crowd is really loud.  They have meticulous meetings going over the playbook, hand signals, and other small details.  Because in difficult situations a lack of communication could cost you the game.  For Christians are meticulous preparation is prayer and study of the Word of God.  It is part of the armor of God.  They are both things that take time, but are so vital for a Christian if they want to live a victorious life. Prayer and the Word of God are our offensive weapons.  Prayer can protect our mind while studying and meditating on the Word of God can protect our heart from being drawn away from God.

We see in Matthew 4 with the temptation of Jesus by satan that Jesus’ power came from the Word of God.  Every time satan tempted Jesus, Jesus countered the temptation by quoting the Word of God.  We must realize as Christians that as long as we are in the world satan has home field advantage.  Not only does he have home field advantage because we live in the midst of a fallen world, but satan also has the crowd on his side.  Satan loves to use others to discourage us and distract us.  In a game, if a wide receiver can’t hear what the quarterback is saying, the result can be disastrous.  Therefore, they many times switch to using hand signals, but again every one on offense must know what the quarterback is calling.  We must spend time with Jesus, study Him, and learn from Him if we are going to avoid falling into sin.  We must know our opponent (satan) and his tactics (how he is going to tempt us and try to get us to sin), but then we must also know the play that will defeat whatever satan is trying to do.  This is why we must be men and women of prayer and men and women of the Word, that is how God gives us victory on the road in a hostile stadium, with a hostile crowd, and a hostile opponent.

Have you taken time today to work on your offense?

By His grace and through His strength, may we live for Him!

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Oct 25

Conformed or Transformed

Yesterday on Facebook I posted a quote, “We have created a group of professional church-goers who know when to stand up, when to sit down, and when to say ‘Amen.’  The problem is there is very little change happening in our churches.”  The saddest part of this is this problem isn’t just in the pews, it is also in the pulpit.  Romans 12:2 says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  I think a question that we must all ask ourselves is this, am I being conformed or transformed?

To be conformed means to make like or to fashion after something.  When I come to church am I conforming myself and my image into the acceptable image of the church I attend? In other words, Am I becoming more and more like those I worship with?  This may not be an all together bad thing, especially if you worship in a godly church where it is all about Him and not about them.  But what if you attend a church that is not healthy and that is more people-centered than God-centered?  This goes to what is known as “the mob mentality.”  What that means is that as an individual you may talk, act, and live one way, but when you get into a group setting, you begin to take on the characteristics of that group.  It happens more often than we would like to think.  I heard one church strategist put it this way, after a number of years of a pastor being at the church, the church body begins to take on the personality of their pastor.  What a scary, scary thing for myself as a pastor to think about!  This means that I must not only speak of godly character, but that I must also make sure I live it out so that I as Paul can say “follow me as I follow Jesus” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  But is conformity to a pastor or a church what God calls us to?

The most important word in Romans 12:2 is the word transform which means to be changed.  It is my belief that God does not call us to be conformed to anything or anyone that is on earth, but that we would be changed by the One who is heaven.  When you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, He didn’t create a “better” you, He made you a “new ” you according to 2 Corinthians 5:17.  In other words, He didn’t conform you, He transformed you.  This transformation is not a one time thing, it is a lifetime thing.  God’s desire is to continually transform (change) you so that you will be conformed (made like) to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).  If we desire to be like anyone, please don’t make it a pastor, a deacon, a Sunday school teacher, or someone other person other than the One who sought you and bought you with His precious blood!

Everyday when you read the Bible and when you pray multiple times throughout the day, may you read and pray seeking God to transform you.  We should pray, Lord change me that I may become more like you.  When we come to worship we should come with the expectancy of meeting with God and being changed by God.  Every time you come into the house of God, God desires to reveal Himself to you and to your church.  It isn’t about the music, it isn’t about how long the service is, it isn’t about how good or bad the preaching is.  When we come into the house of God it must be about how God is going to change me and the body to make us look more like Him and be fit for His use.  I promise if you come to Sunday worship asking God to change you through worship today, and you are sincere about it, God will change you and you and I will be better for it.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him!

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Oct 22

Change

Many of you know that our family’s situation changed pretty dramatically here recently.  Diana and I knew it was the right decision and God has confirmed that time and time again.  However, at the beginning I wondered how would this new challenge effect our boys?  That answer came the first night when they displayed more love to someone else than I thought was humanly possible.  I realize that I am bias, but Eli, Noah, and Caleb are three of the most loving and amazing boys I have ever known.  They didn’t question what this change meant for them or how was this going to change the amount of time Diana and I spent with them, or even why are we doing this?  Rather they embraced the change and have even loved the change.

That got me to thinking, how do we react with change?  In our minds we consider some changes to be good while other changes are considered bad.  But my question to us is this, if the change is God-led is there anything such as a bad change?  Changes can be unnerving, scary, and make us feel out of control, but are those things in an of themselves bad things?  There are countless stories in the Bible in which Jesus taught that if we were going to follow Him, we were going to have to turn over control of our life completely.  Many of us are ok with God making changes in our life, but we want them to be slow and steady.  While God does make some changes over time in our life, there are some changes that are best done like taking a Band-aid off, just rip it.  While you and I cannot control many of the changes that come into our life, we can certainly handle how we react to them.  I think of Job, here was a man who loved God and followed God according to Scripture. Yet in the matter of a day or so, Job went from happy and blessed to I imagine confused but still blessed.  Job 1:20-21 says, “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped , and said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (italics mine for emphasis).”  This was Job’s response to the sudden death of his sons and daughters and the killing of his livestock.  Here was a man who’s circumstances in life radically changed.  He could have gotten mad, questioned God, and thrown a temper-tantrum crying “this isn’t fair.”  But instead we see Job worshipping God and blessing the name of God.  Job couldn’t control the change that came into his life, but he was in control of how he reacted to it.

I know change isn’t easy.  You can ask my wife, I am a man of routine and I don’t like that routine altered.  But many times change is not only good for us, but it is necessary.  God’s desire is for us to become more like Him (Rom. 8:29), and to bring about that change, God must change us.  The best way to handle change is to pray through it asking God for strength, wisdom, and faith.  We need to worship and bless God through change because He is still God, He is still on His throne, and His is still in control.

Although I know you won’t be able to read this right now (especially since only one of you can read as of right now), I want you to know how much I love and appreciate you Eli, Noah, and Caleb.  Though God has given me the task of teaching you to become men of God, you have taught me!

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him!

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Oct 15

More Than A Word

If someone were to come up to you and say the word “disciple”, what would enter into your mind?  It is a word that in Christian circles is thrown around a lot.  But I wonder if those who use the word truly understand what it means.  Many times we over simplify the word disciple to mean a follower.  While a disciple is a follower they are much more than that.  A better word to use to describe a disciple would be “apprentice.”  An apprentice is someone who is following someone around for the explicit person of carrying on their teacher’s work in the future.  That is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do, to carry on His work.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20 that we are “ambassadors for Christ.”  We are to represent God to the world.  In order to do that we must learn about Jesus, study Jesus, and then imitate Jesus.  Luke 6:40 says, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.”  In other words, no disciple is greater than his teacher, but when he is fully trained he will be like his teacher.   Again, this goes right in line with the idea of an apprentice.  The word disciple is much more than a word, it is a lifestyle.  When Jesus called His first disciples in Matthew 4 He said, “Follow Me.”  In Matthew 11:29 Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  Notice Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of me.”

Jesus didn’t call His disciples and then say don’t change your lifestyle or become more like Me.  In fact, Jesus says just the opposite.  That as we learn more about Him, He will change us and that we will become more like Him.  That is also the thrust of Paul’s message in Romans 8:28-29.  Are you a disciple of Christ by mouth only or by deeds?  Are you obeying Jesus’ first command to His disciples, “Follow Me?”  If not, there is no better time to start than now!

 

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him!

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Oct 11

Out with the old, In with the new

Today we want to look at the last two verses of Ephesians 4.  Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  Paul here wraps up his contrast of the old way of life versus the new life we have in Christ.  So let’s look at it in a little more detail.

As we begin in verse 31 we first encounter the word bitterness.  Here to be bitter means to have resentment for someone or to be unwilling to forgive.  Next is wrath which is a burst of rage or what we call in small children temper tantrums.  Then comes anger which is similar to wrath but in this instance refers to having animosity or hostility towards someone. Next we see clamor which is loud outcries of anger, bickering, or shouting down your opponent.  Evil speaking in the verse refers to insulting someone or abusing them with your speech. Paul says these things should be put away as should our malice, or our wishing evil on someone.  How many times have we ever fallen into one of these traps?  These are all signs of our sin nature.  Earlier in the week we said that this passage was about two things. First we are to put away some things. But secondly we are to fill the space with what we have put away with other things.  So many times we simply focus on asking God to remove the sin in our life, but then we never ask God to fill it with Him and His character.  The end result of this is that God removes one bad habit and we pick another one up.  2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine (what we should believe), for reproof (telling us what we do wrong), for correction (telling us what to replace it with), for instruction in righteousness.”  In this instance Paul says that we should replace the sinful nature stuff with kindness towards others.  This kindness is not just towards those who are kind to us, but also to those who are mean to us (cf. Mt. 5:44).  We should also be tenderhearted which means that we are compassionate towards people and willing to bear their burden rather than wishing God would give them what they deserve.  Paul’s last replacement strategy is that we give them forgiveness which is our being willing to overlook how someone has hurt us and to harbor no desire to retaliate against them.  Paul closes the chapter by telling us why we should be so ready to forgive and it is, “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  This falls in line with Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15.  The meaning of Matthew 6:14-15 is that if we have truly experienced God’s forgiveness for our sins, then we will forgive others readily.  But if we are unable to forgive others for what they have done to us, that shows that we have not received God’s forgiveness for our sins.  Simply put, those who have experience the amazing, matchless grace of Jesus Christ cannot help but to extend the same grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to others that has been extended to them.

So as we close out this mini-series on Ephesians 4, I hope you will take time to ask yourself, who is in control of my life right now?  According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, when Jesus saved us and became Lord to us, He threw out the old way of life and He gave us a new heart with new desires.  Is it evident to those around you that you have received a heart transplant?

By His grace and through His strength, may we live for Him!

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Oct 10

What God Grieves Over

In the second part of our look at the last four verses of Ephesians 4:29-32, we want to look at what breaks God’s heart.  Today’s focal verse is verse 30 which says, “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”  I really enjoy the Christian music group Casting Crowns.  They write some of the most powerful songs because they come straight from Scripture.  There is one song that has somewhat recently been released titled “Jesus Friend of Sinners.”  We will sing that song, Lord willing, on October 21st as part of our Youth Sunday.  There is a line in the chorus that says, “break my heart for what breaks yours.”  Do we understand what breaks God’s heart?

As we begin to break apart verse 30 we need to ask ourselves, who is Paul talking to in this verse?  Based on the overall context of Ephesians 4:17-32 being a contrast of our old way of life versus the new life Christ has given us, we can say that Paul was specifically speaking to Christians when he said “and grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.”  So the next question to ask would be, what does it mean to grieve?  In the Greek, the word is “lupeo” (loo-peh’-o) which means to make sorrowful or to have a heaviness of heart.  The next logical question is, how do Christians make God sorrowful or have a heavy heart?  The simple answer is that we break God’s heart when we do not live in a manner that reflects that God has given us a new heart and a new life.  In other words, when we sin we bring sorrow to God.  Have you ever bought something for someone and you were really excited about it and couldn’t wait to give it to them, and then when you did give it to them they didn’t seem all that grateful or as excited as you thought they would be?  How did that make you feel?  I imagine God probably often times feels the same way with His children.  He sent His Son to pay a price that we owed, but God paid that price so that He could give us a wonderful gift that we didn’t deserve.  Then we go out and instead of living thankfully for what God has done for us, we want to do things our way.  It is like a parent buying something for a child and the child saying, “but I don’t want that one, I wanted this one.”  When we do this we grieve God.  Not only did God purchase this gift with His own blood, and offer it to everyone, but it also promises that once you receive it, He will never take it away (ye are sealed unto the day of redemption).  Then we go out and act like we never received the gift or that we are ungrateful for the gift.  May we be sensitive to sin and truly pray for our heart, “break our hearts for what breaks yours.”

By His grace and through His strength, may we live for Him!

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