Category Archives: How should we then live

Breaking the Code v. 4

Often we invite people to church and want and expect that they’ll feel comfortable in this place where we go to worship as a body of believers.

I’ll never forget my friend Joe (not his name) who was having trouble in his home and Image result for worshipgenuinely looking for answers. So I invited him to come to church with us and he agreed that maybe he’d find something there that would comfort and calm his storm. We walked in together and found a seat. Everything was good. Then the music started and everyone stood up. One song after another and by the middle of the third song, Joe’s eyes were as big as a full moon and it was obvious that he had no idea what was going on. I had not done a good job of preparing Joe for what was going to happen. Joe gave it one more chance, but could not absorb a service clearly aimed at mature believers. To this day I pray that God will have used that experience for good in Joe’s journey.

We Christians have this thing we do that is called worship. But what is worship? The first usage of this term is found in Genesis 22 where Abraham took his son Isaac up to the mountain to worship. The word means to prostrate one’s self before a divine being, or in Abraham’s case, to submit himself to the will of God. Other implications include to give reverence to, to pay honor to, to bow down humbly. From these various phrases, we come to understand that when we worship, we are bowing our hearts to God’s holiness and majesty. From this, we see the attitude with which we gather together each week for worship.

Worship is more than just the musical portion of the service, yet we have “worship leaders/pastors” who lead only in the music intended for us to sing praises to the Lord our God. I have concerns about this being another area where our terminology is being holy-hijacked by a group of well-meaning people. The worship portion of the service has come to mean the singing of songs of praises to God. The Lord gave us His hymnal in the book of Psalms to show that He wanted us to sing to Him. He tells us to “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all the earth.” (Psalm 100:1) Many of the songs we sing today contain key phrases from these ancient Psalms.

In many churches, we continue our worship by remembering the work of Christ through His death and resurrection, in the act of communion. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 tells us, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Some churches celebrate communion every week, some monthly, and some quarterly. But nearly all Christian churches celebrate communion as a part of their worship.

Bringing our tithes and offerings is another part of our declaring His provision and goodness by returning a portion of the blessings He has given to us. Malachi 3:8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. And in 1 Corinthians 16:2 we read, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” We make a statement of honor and reverence when we return to Him a portion of what He has provided for us.

Listening to the teaching of His word, the Bible is another part of our act of worship. Something that those who love God want to hear is what He has to say to us as recorded by those He chose to receive His words through His Spirit breathing out what they should write. 2 Timothy 3:16 assures us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Listening to the teaching of Scripture bends our heart and will to His commands and instruction.

The worship service was somewhat described in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In chapter 3 verse 16 he writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” It is interesting to note that at the top of the list is the teaching of the word.

When you come to your next worship service keep in mind the many ways that we humble ourselves in reverence to our God. We submit to His word, we remember the work that Christ completed on the cross, we bring our tithes and offerings and we sing praises (most of us make a joyful noise) to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. (Psalm 95:6) If God is who we claim He is, He deserves our true worship, adoration, and obedience.

There are as many different styles of worship as there are churches. Find a church where the music connects your heart to God and the teaching stays true to the meaning of the Scriptures and focuses on pointing you to Jesus as the author and finisher of your faith.

Blessings!

Breaking the Code v. 3

What is grace? We have churches named Grace this and Grace that, yet many of the people inside have no idea what the name of the church refers to.

Image result for GraceA majority of the apostolic letters open with the words grace and peace to you and that greeting is ascribed to Jesus Christ our Lord. First, what is an apostolic letter and then, what is the meaning of the greeting?

An apostolic letter is a letter written by one of the Apostles (Paul, John, Peter, James, Jude) to the churches. These are letters that provided guidance to the churches that were formed as a result of the spread of the gospel through various means. Paul took the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles as far as his travels would carry him on three different missionary journeys. Over the course of time, the Apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote letters of encouragement and instruction to these new believers. Their teachings have become part of our Scriptures or the collection of books we call the Bible.

Regarding the greeting, going back to the original Greek language the word we interpret as grace is “chairo.” In a spiritual context, it means the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life of the recipient. The Greek language often expresses concepts rather than narrowly defined terms. With chairo we have implications of acceptance, benefit, favor, gift, grace, and joy.

Some have explained the “grace” of God by calling it unmerited favor. It was our ancestors who sinned in the Garden of Eden. But this didn’t catch God by surprise because He already had a plan. That plan was through His grace to provide a way for us to be in eternal relationship with Him. It is because of His grace that we are saved when we place our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He did not have to do this, but by His benevolence (grace), He has extended to us the offer of salvation.

The popular song “Amazing Grace” really has it right when it says, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” This song, that once was a hymn sung only in churches, is known by the masses as a beautiful tune that can be sung with passion and great artistry. Yet the true meaning of the first few words is completely lost on most who would never otherwise refer to themselves as wretches. We are indeed unworthy of God’s grace.

In considering the grace of God and what it affords us, one can’t help but be amazed and broken of all our pride. If we are honest with ourselves, this grace is truly nothing we have deserved. In his letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8). It is God’s favor made available to us for the simple act of placing all our faith, our confidence, our hopes for eternal life in the work of Jesus Christ. It is available to every human on this earth, regardless of their current belief system. That, in itself, is pretty amazing. That is not the way people would think without the help of the Holy Spirit.

Understanding the grace of God will bring us the peace of God, because by His grace we have confidence that God has a plan for us and this world (Jeremiah 29:11), a hope and confidence in our life beyond death’s door into eternal life with Him. That should give us a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Two key passages on grace could be Ephesians 2:8-9 and Jude 4

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Jude 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designate for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

So, grace is an extension of God’s love for us, not conditioned on our good deeds or behavior. But that gift must not be distorted to claim freedom to indulge in perverted lifestyles that deny the teachings of Jesus. To claim this grace, we need only to place our faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope.

God’s grace is a significant topic, one one which stirred the reformation some 500 years ago. Much more could be said, but just a few nuggets for thought.

Scarecrow in a Melon Patch

Where is our confidence? Where is our trust? Jesus said, do not worry about tomorrow because each day has enough trouble of its own. He told us not to worry about what we Image result for scarecrowwould wear or what we would eat. Look at the birds of the air and the flowers of the field that are beautiful to watch and to look at. We are more valuable to God than all the other parts of creation. Don’t get all hung up over something that will impress others. Who are you living for and what will all these things do for you? They won’t bring you happiness!

Many of us in the Baby Boomer generation are spending a lot of time engaging people who will help us plan to make sure our finances will last as long as we do. Many have accumulated collectibles, homes, toys, etc. that are the result of planning and playing out our personal passions. The proverb says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (15:22) And another, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (21:5) We need to know that God applauds planning.

Yet, in recent years, many have become uncertain about their security or the future of those things we’ve collected being placed in the hands of their beneficiaries. We must however keep all these things in proper perspective. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk..Do not fear them, they can do no harm nor can they do any good.” (Jer 10:5)

Our stuff is just stuff. All our collectibles may be good hobbies which keep us active and capture our interest, but the things and money that are the results of our diligent planning are just things. They are inanimate and exist in our lives much like a scarecrow which serves only to scare off the birds that would otherwise eat the fruit of the garden. The scarecrow can’t hear you. In fact if you talked to it, some might begin to wonder about you and your ‘friends’.

Jesus also said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 19:23) That is because these things begin to own us. We allow them to become part of who we are and a path for acceptance among people. The only path for acceptance we should be pursuing is to be accepted into the kingdom of heaven by God. Another proverb on planning tells us that “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s purpose prevails.”

Let’s not let the scarecrows run our lives. Enjoy the fruit of your diligent planning. Know that the Lord has honored your diligence for a purpose. Consider what he wants you to do with your resources to further his purposes. When we commit our lives to God, that includes our assets and resources. Let’s give it all to him and let God direct our paths.

Lots more to say on this subject, but for now, be wary of the scarecrows in your melon patch.

The Parable of the Hole

Portia Nelson penned a brief story that will be familiar to many of us. The moral of the story lines up with the instructions of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5. In the Sermon on Image result for the parable of the holethe Mount, Christ tells us regarding lust, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

What is Christ suggesting here? I believe it safe to say that he is presenting options to us. We can continue to sin and miss the glory of heaven or remove those things that cause us to sin and be welcomed into the presence of God.

It would definitely be true that to lose an eye or a hand would be better than for our souls to end up in hell and miss spending eternity with God in the new heaven and the new earth. There is nothing here on this earth worth missing out on the treasure of that hope.

In the bigger picture, however, Christ is telling us that if we frequent a particular coffee shop so that we can lay eyes on an attractive woman who works there with the fantasy that her favors might be ours, quit going to that coffee shop. If you find ways to spend time with a particular colleague with the same intent, set different habits that will remove those tempting thoughts. Or consider something that an increasing problem, internet pornography, which devalues both the men and the women who lead us into a fantasy world.

In other areas of life, we can choose to associate with those who propose a different view of truth and the origin of things than what God has given us, thus opening ourselves to accepting their views. Or the even more subtle, “You have your truth and I have mine.” This ends of with neither one of you being right. The point is that we have choices to make regarding the voices we will take in on a regular basis.

With this concept in mind, Portia Nelson wrote The Parable of the Hole. It goes like this.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same
place, but it’s still not my fault. It still takes a long time getting out.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it
is there, but I still fall in. It’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where
I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down a different street.

Proverbs 25:28 tells us that a man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. That is quite a word picture. In those days, a city without walls was defenseless. The walls were not intended to keep people in, but rather to keep invading marauders out. The gates to the city were the only path into the city and could easily be defended. In the same way, we as God’s people need to recognize that we are in a battle.

Remember the battle of Jericho when the people of Israel began to take the land of Canaan after their journeys in the wilderness. The key to the battle was to take the walls down. Many years later, God used Nehemiah to lead the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem because that city was lying defenseless. The walls of the city were instrumental to the safety of its inhabitants.

In the same way, a man or woman who does not prepare for upright living by taking in the teaching of wisdom, by listening to what God has to say about all that the world throws at us, is leaving themselves open to the situational ethics proposed by the world. As we have seen in our short lives, the lines between right and wrong have all but vanished and ethical behavior is being redefined by the loudest voices in our society. Truth, like beauty, is thought to be found in the mind of the beholder.

Peter writes, in his first letter to the churches, that we are to be sober-minded and watchful because our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for those of us who have let our walls fall into disrepair, because that person is an easy target and defenseless. Without a foundation of truth we’ll buy into whatever someone thinks is right.

Let’s be men and women who chose on each and every day, to focus our minds on those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. And if there is anything that is excellent or worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil 4:8) Solomon reminds us that the path of wisdom is to keep our hearts with all vigilance. James reminds us that if any of us lacks wisdom we simply need to ask God who will give us wisdom.

Follow the path of wisdom, know where your holes are, and walk down another street.

Never Better

Our pastor has the license plate NVRBTR and if you ask how he is doing, his response is consistently, “Never better.” These two words describe a world view. It is a view that Displaying 20170202_130217.jpgconfidently proclaims that the day of Christ’s return is closer today than it was yesterday, so without a doubt, we have never been in better position. Many, if not most of us could learn from that perspective. We could learn that no matter what is going on in our personal worlds, keeping in mind that Christ’s return is one day closer, should be an encouragement to us. As men and women of faith, this is our ultimate hope … the Day of Christ, the Day of His return, when we will be caught up with him in the clouds into a glorious eternity that God has promised for us.

God told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that because they followed the lies of the serpent (Satan), life would be hard. It would be much harder than just caring for the garden. Weeds would begin to grow, there would now be a conflict in marriage that would be a struggle for leadership for the rest of man’s days on this earth, there would be incredible pain in childbirth, and our children would be in conflict with one another. The challenges of family are not new to our society or our culture. Yes, some of the things we do, like pushing God out of our lives, exacerbate the problems, but the problems we see today, began with the first man and woman on this earth, the real first family.

This did not catch God by surprise and God told Adam and Eve that he had a plan to make a way for us to have eternal life. This was first told when God confronted Satan, Eve, and Adam after the fall and that is found in Genesis 3:15. From the beginning of time, God had a plan. This is in line with my previous blog referencing Isaiah 44-46, Be Strong and Courageous. God created everyone of us with a plan for each of us. Some of us have chosen to identify with “The Way” and others are still looking to define our own way. Those who have taken God’s Way, are in a position to live rewarding lives fulfilling God’s plan for us. I can promise you that nothing is more satisfying than to watch how God guides us in his steps and helps us fulfill our mission here on earth.

All to say that for those who are following “The Way” and are filled with the hope that really is eternal, this life is always better today than it was yesterday, because we’re one day closer to The Day!

Here’s hoping and praying that you have never been better and are experiencing the blessing of living the life God had planned for you!

Generational Gifts

I’ve talked about this in the past and will likely talk about it again in the future, because it is a subject that is near to my heart. We often talk about heritage and legacy. For centuries Image result for family faithpast we have been a world that has lived in close proximity as families and as communities. We were able to walk from our homes to the homes of other family members. Speaking from my personal family history, my parents with their siblings and their parents, with few exceptions, lived in close geographic proximity. Uncles, and aunts and cousins lived across the street from our house. In fact, at one point, our family shared a house with my father’s sister and her family.

I know from talking with friends, that our experience was not unique. Neighborhoods even in New York City were filled with family networks throughout the neighborhoods. This level of living in proximity facilitated the passing down of family traditions, customs, and generational values that most often were and are interlaced with values of faith, or lack thereof. We sing a song titled “Faith of our Fathers” which talks of that faith living still, and our children dying for that faith. The concept of which we sing is that of passing our faith and system of truth along to the next generation. It is indeed one generation’s gift to the next.

In the sixth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses says that this is the commandment that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you … that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son … that your days may be long. He goes on to write, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise … You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” In other words, show the next generations, first of all, your faith in God, and because of that how they should live. Pass these values along at every opportunity when you are with your children whether in the house or at play or walking along the path as you work.

In our world, proximity is a rare commodity. Our families are spread across hundreds and thousands of miles. Passing along these generational gifts becomes more challenging but technology gives us many opportunities to cross the miles to influence the next generations. This blog is an example of that. It will be left behind for my children and grandchildren to read and reflect on the words recorded here. I have the opportunity to talk about God’s word across the miles and into the future for the generations that I may never meet until we see each other in heaven.

In many cases, we awaken to the faith long after our children have left our homes and have settled in other parts of our world. We ought not to live in regret, but rather in thankfulness that we have awakened to the need for influencing the next generations. Galatians 6:10 provides this counsel, “And let us not grow weary of doing good for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” And again in Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul tells us that regardless of where we find ourselves, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” So, as an encouragement, at such a point in time when we awaken to God’s call on our lives, we have the opportunity to begin walking as wise people, sharing the wisdom of God’s truths with our children, so that they too will be able to see the love that God has for them.

We all love to give good gifts to our children. What greater gift can one give to the generations that follow but to create an environment that holds the opportunity for that generation to take hold of the faith that is to love and know the Lord our God, which is indeed an eternal gift. The choice is their’s whether they accept the gift or not. Our opportunity is to extend to them graciously and lovingly the gift that we have received from our Father in heaven. Can there be a better time to give such a gift but during this time when we celebrate Jesus, God Himself coming to earth as a baby? Let’s make the most of every opportunity, and let God do the work that He has promised He will do.

Set the table, my friends.

Cheers

Some time ago there was a television show called Cheers. The setting was a neighborhood Image result for friendshipbar and the by-line was “Where everybody knows your name.” The idea was that a wide variety of people from the neighborhood would stop in, not so much to wet their whistles, but more for the conversation that would happen there.

Having lived in eight different communities, I have to say that each city, each neighborhood, each circle of friends have brought different things to my life. There were communities within the communities. We have community with our colleagues in our work, with those in our neighborhood, and among those with whom we worship. But one is forced to ask, why do we have so many lonely people in this world? How is it that we know people, but don’t have any relationships or friends?

As humans we are made to need and to have relationships. A relationship with God first, and then relationships with each other. When we don’t have those relationships, we have a sense that something is missing. We are unique among all of creation, because we alone have the need and capacity for selective relationships.

If this is a basic part of who we are, why are so many of us lonely? Might it be that we will not give others the opportunity to love us for who we are? Might it be that we hold back feeling that we may not be accepted? Maybe it is because we live in a closed garage door world. We go to work, are cordial but not really friendly with our co-workers, then go home, drive into the garage and close the door until we start the cycle all over again.

Now, I’m not so naive to think that this isn’t a gross oversimplification. But I do think it worthwhile to consider whether there aren’t some simple things we can do to know and be known, love and be loved.

Suppose for a moment that you would pick one day in a week when you reach out to a neighbor, yes, that one that you would like to get to know, or that one that you are thinking needs a friend. What if you reached out just to invite for a cup of coffee, or you found a reason to talk to that person on the phone. The worst that could happen is that they are not available or just hang up on you. What have you lost? Nothing. You have the satisfaction of having reached out. You may have to reach out to multiple people before you get a taker. Don’t give up on inviting others into your world.

Now someone accepts your invitation. Now what? A great place to start is to ask the other person about who they are, where did they grow up, what hobbies do they have, what about their family, what makes them really happy? Perhaps there is something that you could really use their input on. Think about it. Do you really have all of life figured out? With minimal thought, there are questions we could pose. You’ll be surprised how many things you’ll find that are common concerns, common viewpoints, or common interests.

This is the beginning. The next time you see that person you greet one another, exchange pleasantries, and ask about that thing that was a concern for that person. No need to make a federal case about it. Just show the other person that you’re interested in them and the things that concern them. Even something as simple as remembering names. I met a couple in church one Sunday. A week later, they came back and I greeted them by name. This simple act made them feel like they mattered. After all, isn’t that we all want? We want to know that we matter to someone? It’s even true of God. We want to know that we matter to God. When he answers our prayers, our deepest heart cries, we then know that we matter to him.

The fact that other people know our names gives us a connection. It is the beginning of relationship. Hey, I know who you are, and it matters to me. I am blessed to live in a neighborhood community where neighbors connect at an uncommon level. We care for one another, pray for one another, have meals together, support one another in causes that are important, not necessarily to me, but to different ones. We’re learning how to carry each others’ burdens.

I write this just to encourage you to sit back to think about how you might encourage your neighbors and colleagues or even family members who have become distant. We’re all on a journey. Some make friends easily, others not so much, but we’re learning. What if you joined with that neighbor to do a good deed for someone? None of us was made to do life alone. Find a way to connect with someone who needs a friend. For all the people in this world there is no need for anyone to be lonely.