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Count the Cost of Commitment 10-15-18

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When any of us begin a project, we count the cost and estimate whether or not we can afford to complete it. This just makes sense. In fact, Jesus says that a mark of being His disciple is to count the cost of commitment. In the Gospels, we discover nine marks or qualities of those who follow Christ. These marks are not intended to bring about a guilt-driven self-willed determination to make these marks a reality. Such a path only leads to frustration and a diminished spirit. The path Christ invites us on is one where we join Him realizing that these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One such mark of a disciple is to count the cost of commitment.

Jesus speaking to a crowd of people proclaims:

“Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:28-33).

Jesus uses two illustrations involving building and going to war. Both warn against making a hasty decision to follow Jesus. Potential disciples must first count the cost to see if following Christ is something they believe is worth the long haul. Jesus proclaims that one cost of being His disciple is renouncing everything to Him.

Although the gift of redemption and eternal life are free to anyone who asks (see: John 3:16), the asking requires a transfer of ownership (see: Luke 9:23 & Gal 5:24). “Counting the cost,” means recognizing and agreeing to these terms. It is inconsistent for a follower of Christ, His disciple, to determine to do life his own way and to follow his own inclinations. Simply stated following Christ means we follow Him.

When Jesus shared about counting the cost, He was speaking to a large crowd. The crowd loved Jesus, the miracle man. They enjoyed the free food. They probably even thought Jesus was cool. He was increasing in popularity. But Jesus knew that many loved the stuff, but not necessarily the life He was calling them into as a disciple. So, He challenges them to consider the cost.

Jesus understood that those who merely follow Him for what they can get wouldn’t stick around for the long haul. We see this when someone says church just didn’t work for me. Often, they mean, I had expectations that were not met. Life didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. In short, God didn’t do what I wanted Him to do. I didn’t get the stuff I wanted. God’s way conflicted with my way. The simple truth is that we need to count the cost. If we don’t count the cost, we will turn away at even the smallest threat of sacrifice. This is why Jesus laid it out so clearly when He ended His description of the cost of being His disciple with a breathtaking statement: “anyone of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Renouncing may mean giving up something physically. It could mean letting go of something that emotionally possesses us so that God can genuinely posses us. When we come to Christ we can’t continue to belong to the world or choose to serve someone or something else as lord of our life (see: 1 John 2:15-17 & Matt 6:24).

I recently saw a dream house sweepstakes. The home was beautiful, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area has a moderate climate. The house and location are idyllic. To add to the attraction, you even receive a sizable cash prize. Imagine if you won. You own this beautiful home, but until you pack up and leave your current home, this new life is not really yours. You cannot live in this new home and your current home at the same time. This is the way many approach following Christ. They love the idea of eternal life and paradise. They like what Christ can do for them. But they are not willing to leave the life they now live to go all in with Jesus. They either don’t consider the cost or they fool themselves into believing they can receive a new life in Christ while holding on to all or part of their old one. They want Jesus while holding on to the ownership of their life. Jesus is speaking to such people when he says: consider the cost.

Let me be clear. We can’t earn salvation through any sacrifice of our own. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the only one acceptable as well as sufficiently has paid the price in full for our salvation. But, when we receive Christ, we do so choosing to release control of our lives to Him. In reality, when we receive Christ as Lord and Savior, we relinquish all that we don’t indeed own and receive far more than we could ever ask or imagine. But, renounce all we must. If we are going to be Christ disciple, we must count the cost.

It is a privilege to follow Christ with each of you. It is a fantastic journey. Renouncing all is not a one-and-done deal. I know from time-to-time I still struggle with actually surrendering all to Him. But, I have counted the cost and am growing in my path of surrender. I am so grateful for God’s faithfulness and for His patience and extravagant love. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Sacrifice for the Cause of Christ 10-9-18

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I have often been asked, “What does a disciple of Christ look like?” Well, we discover in the Gospels nine marks or qualities of Jesus’ disciples. Now we could easily look at these marks and determine in our own strength to will them into existence. We could allow our self to operate out of guilt and try to make these marks a reality in our life. I believe such a path leads only to frustration and a diminished spirit. Let me pose a different path. I believe these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One mark of such a God-given grace-filled life of a disciple is sacrificing your self for the cause of Christ.

We discover these words of Christ found in Luke’s gospel:

“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, “’Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62).

These verses can seem a little harsh, but Jesus is merely helping those seeking to follow Him understand what it means to be His disciple. We can only speculate on the actual dynamics present when Jesus encountered each of these would be disciples. Perhaps, the first man who declares, “I will follow you wherever you go,” believes discipleship is going to be glamorous. Jesus corrects this impression. He states that discipleship is not easy. We do understand that each individual Jesus addresses wants to follow Him, but is somehow unwilling to pay the price. We also understand Jesus’ reference to the plowman. Jesus says that discipleship, like a good plowman, means putting your hand to the plow and doing the ordinary, hard work. Jesus says that like a good plowman a disciple keeps their hand on the plow. A good plowman concentrates on the furrow before him. He guides the plow with his left hand while goading the oxen with his right. Looking away would produce a crooked furrow. A good plowman is fully committed to the task at hand, putting his whole self into the work. In a sense, he sacrifices self for duty as a disciple sacrifices self for the cause of Christ. Following Christ takes total dedication and does not allow for halfhearted commitment.

In the original movie, The Karate Kid, there is a scene where the wise sage and karate master Mr. Miyagi and Danielson are preparing to start a journey together as master and disciple. Mr. Miyagi asks Danielson if he is ready and Danielson responds, “I think so.” Mr. Miyagi addressing his would-be disciple explains: “Walk on the Road…walk right side, safe…walk left side, safe…walk down the middle and sooner or later you get squished just like a grape. Here Karate is the same thing. You, karate-do, yes or karate-do, no. If you Karate-do, think so…you squish just like grape.” Following Christ is the same. We either decide to follow Him, or we don’t. Trying to sort of follow Christ doesn’t work. This does not mean we follow Christ perfectly, but that we need to be sure we do indeed desire to follow Him.

Following Jesus is not about arbitrarily choosing what we will and will not accept within the teachings of Christ. We must accept all the teachings of Christ. We cannot desire the benefits of salvation without being willing to pay the price – the price of giving our very selves to Christ and His cause. In following Christ, we understand that we must abandon everything that has given us security apart from Christ and trust in Him alone.  This is a decision made, then learned as we journey with Christ in our highs and lows resting in His unfailing faithfulness.  Again, a disciple is not perfect, but being perfected by the true Perfecter.

When Paul writes about his being a disciple of Christ, he writes: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Paul realized that the focus of Christianity was not dying, but living. Our being crucified with Christ has allowed us to be raised with Him (Rom 6:5). We have become one with Christ, and His experiences are ours. We can live the life God has called us to live because it is Christ that lives within us. When we sacrifice ourselves for the cause of Christ, the Lord empowers us to excel in kingdom living.

For most of us what means the most to us in life, we will do almost anything to get. It is our tendency to do any and everything to protect and accomplish what is truly meaningful to us. We make time for things we want to do and excuses for things we do not want to do. Usually, we will face discomfort and even jeopardize our safety for something we truly want. We must realize that following Jesus is of the utmost importance. In following Christ, we may find ourselves in seemingly unsafe and uncomfortable places. But, we must remember that there is no better place to be than in the sweet spot with Jesus where we are blessed to be a blessing. Such a life takes sacrificing self for the cause of Christ.

It is a privilege to serve Christ with each of you. There is no cause worth our whole self, like the cause of Christ. I ask God to help us trust Him to do the extraordinary in and through us as, day in and day out, as we serve Him in the ordinary. Let’s keep our hand to the plow believing the life of the disciple is truly one that glorifies God, blesses us, and benefits others. Let’ sacrifice our self for the cause of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Love Christ Above All Else 10-1-18

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In the Gospels, Jesus presents us with marks or qualities of His disciples. Now it would be easy to look over these marks and allow ourselves to be motivated by guilt. We could merely declare that if we really loved Jesus, we would do such and such. I would argue that motivation from guilt will quench one’s spirit. Alternatively, I believe these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. In short, the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One mark of such a God-given grace-filled life of a disciple is insisting on loving Christ above all else.

We find these words of Christ in Luke’s gospel:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Jesus said His disciple will love God more than anything else. Another way of putting this is that our family must not rival God as our first love.

Jesus uses strong language, recorded here in Luke, to make this point. Some have called this a hard saying of Jesus. The word “hate,” used in this verse, denotes a less degree of love. Jesus did not mean that disciple’s of His actually have to loathe their own family. Jesus is merely using strong language to help His hearers to understand the priority they need to place on their relationship with God. Compared to God, all other relationships must be valued much less.

Believers love God to some degree but struggle with loving Him above else at every moment of every day. Although in Christ, His disciple has been freed from the power of sin, this side of paradise, we still must deal with the negative influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In short, the negative influences of our culture, our old self, and the enemy fight to remove Christ as our first love. However, our Lord has exchanged our sinfulness for His righteousness on the cross, making us new creations. Thus Paul declares: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). How the truth of this verse enables us to love Christ righty is quite remarkable. We are able to love Him above all else as well as love as He loves because we are now in Him. As we grow in our faith, we grow in our ability to more completely love Him. Therefore, a believer’s path to succeeding to love Christ above all else begins by trusting fully in God’s promise to cover our sinfulness with His righteous life (see: 1 John 4:10) and empowered by the Spirit intentionally growing in our relationship with Him.

At the core of insisting on loving Christ above all else is a matter of priorities. Loving Christ above all else is not merely putting Him at the top of a priority list, but placing Him at the center of our very life. When Christ is central, He is given the freedom to lead and direct how we engage in every relationship and situation in our lives in a way that reflects our love for Him.

Jesus perfectly put God first in His life. His life was characterized by total submission to the Father’s will. Christ was perfect. He had every gift and talent. He had the ability to succeed at whatever He decided to pursue. But there was only one pursuit He considered worthy, and that was to love the Father and bring Him glory in all things.

A believer’s life ought to reflect that of Christ being characterized by an ongoing pursuit of loving and bringing glory to God. This is what it means to love God above all else. We may not do this perfectly, but we can have a perfect intent and a quick response when we stray from this course. The flourishing life God has planned for us rests in recognizing that all we need is found in Him and all we are is due Him. He is to be our all and all. Placing God at the center of our life makes loving Him our absolute highest priority and privilege. After all, when we put Christ first God is glorified, we are blessed, and others are blessed through us. Such a life is how a believer washed over by the grace and transforming power of God lives.

It is a privilege to do life with each of you. Let’s continue to grow in Christ, encouraging one another to love Him above all else. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Becoming Like Christ 9-24-18

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A crucial question anyone considering Christ as well as those who have received Him as Lord and Savior ought to ask is this: What does it look like to be a disciple of Christ? Much has been written on this topic. There are some great insights we can glean from many places to help answer this question. However, I would suggest the words of Christ Himself are an excellent place to start. The Gospels record that during Jesus’ earthly ministry He described nine distinguishable marks of His disciples. One such mark is that His disciples will desire to become like Him, to be Christlike.

Jesus declared, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). To be “fully trained” means being equipped to be like Jesus. In other words, the ultimate goal of a disciple is to be like his or her teacher. Becoming more like Jesus ought to be the desire of every believer, and it is encouraging that this is God’s desire for us. In fact, we read in Romans: “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). We also read in Scripture that God will see it to the end. Paul writes to the believers in Philippi: “I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil 1:6).

We need to be careful that our understanding of God transforming us into the likeness of Christ is not allowed to wrongly create in us a feeling that we can simply sit back and wait to be carried off to heaven. Just because we have a ticket to ride the bus doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what we do while we are waiting. Our becoming like Christ requires God’s divine power and our active partnership with Him.

There are at least three essential steps to becoming like Christ. First, to become like Christ we must surrender to Him.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2).

Surrendering one’s self to Christ means receiving Him as Lord and Savior. It means surrendering control of our lives to Him. It is impossible to retain control of our life and flourish in Christ. To become like Christ, I must surrender to God.

Secondly, to become like Christ we must walk in His freedom. We can’t talk about freedom without discussing sin. Sin is an act of wrongdoing and an alienation from God. Although sin brings spiritual death, there is a remedy to this fatal situation. Through turning away from sin and toward Christ, receiving Him as our Lord and Savior, we receive the gift of freedom – eternal life. Paul writes: “For the wage of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). Jesus has promised for us the forgiveness of our sins. He has made us right with God. He has also set us free. Sin is no longer our master; we are more clearly identified through Christ. Jesus invites us to follow Him, and we have His example of obedience as well as the power of the Spirit to live in freedom. In Christ, I am not condemned but have been set free. To become like Christ, I must walk in His freedom.

Lastly, to become like Christ we must choose Christian growth. Peter encourages us: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul encourages us: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thess 3:12).  We grow in Christ as we follow Christ in faith with each step He leads us on. We are called to know Him and make Him known. Therefore, we want to engage in spiritual disciplines (i.e., studying and applying scripture, prayer, and sharing the love and message of Christ with others).

Christ said that His followers will desire to be like Him. Let me encourage you that in this endeavor it is helpful to just focus on the next right step the Spirit is leading you to take. Prayerfully determine your next step in your journey with Christ and take it. Don’t get overwhelmed with how far the gap is between you and Christlikeness, but be encouraged that our Lord invites you to take the next step with Him to make you more like Christ.

It is an honor to serve alongside each of you. Let’s encourage each other on our journey of becoming more like Christ. Be encouraged that God invites us to join Him in doing the work in us today to make us like Jesus (2: Cor 3:18).  Be assured that in the future the process will be complete (1 John 3:2). Be motivated to, with the Help of God, partner with Him to become more like Christ as His disciple (1 John 3:3). Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Fools: Love Them, Don’t Join Them 9-17-18

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The book of Proverbs is part of what is called “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible. Then it should be of no surprise that not only does the book speak of those who are wise, but also its antagonist the fool. In fact, the word fool or fools is mentioned 99 times in the books 31 chapters. The term appears approximately 360 times throughout the Old and New Testament. So, who is a fool? Persons who do not possess wisdom are called “fools.” A fool’s behavior is described as “folly,” which is silliness and craziness. Folly is the opposite of wisdom. Interestingly, in the Bible, both wisdom and folly are described as philosophies or perspectives on life. Wisdom leads to victory and folly to defeat. A simple definition of a fool is a person who is thoughtless, self-centered, and obviously indifferent to God. Do not think that I am trying to be harsh. We all act foolish or fool-like from time to time in life. The truth is that I am a recovering fool. However, there is a big difference between a person seeking wisdom who acts foolishly and a fool who does not really seek wisdom at all.

There is no way to avoid encountering foolish people. We cannot get away from them. So, the question is not whether or not we will encounter fools, but what to do when we do. We receive this advice from Proverbs:

“Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance” (Prov 14:7-9).

You’ve heard the saying, “Be careful who you hang around.” This is a wise saying. The associations we have can influence us for good and bad. We need to be careful whom we let into our inner-circle, those who have the greatest influence on our lives as these words express: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). We should avoid association with fools for they will bring with them negative consequences.

We discover in proverbs truths for us to follow in dealings with fools. For one, we are not to try to teach or correct a fool (Prov 23:9, Prov 17:10). Trying to teach a fool is useless. A fool does not even care about what a wise teacher has to say. The fool will go as far as to despise the wisdom shared with them. Now I am not saying that God gives up on people. Nor should we give up hope on people. But listen closely to me. I have said it before, and I will say it until the day I die: Every decision to do one thing is a decision not to do another. Every decision to pour into one person is a decision to not pour into another. We all only have so much time and energy. We need to be wise stewards of these God-given resources. It is foolish to waste time and energy pouring into a fool when there are so many others who genuinely desire to grow.

We are not to partner with a fool (Prov 13:19-20). One way to become wise is to associate with wise people; on the contrary, to associate with fools brings problems. When it comes right down to it, humility is essential to success, but the fool will not let go of pride. There are stories after stories about wise men and women destroyed by partnering with fools. We must be very careful. It’s been said that you should not be surprised if you pick up a rattlesnake and it bites you. Neither should you be surprised when a fool disappoints you.

We should not argue with a fool (Prov 20:3). Arguing is not respectable. It’s been said, “Once you defend yourself you have lost.” I believe this is true. Discussing a matter is healthy and helpful, but once arguing occurs then relational unhealth and disruptiveness take over. Of course, I am not talking about arguing in the legal sense, which means an informed discussion, but in its crudest sense, which is an all-out fight. In any discussion, the key is to seek to understand before seeking to be understood. A fool only seeks to be understood. Arguments can be avoided by overlooking insults, by dropping issues that are potentially explosive. Fools refuse to do these things. They are quick to argue.

We want to be careful not to become a fool or act foolishly (Prov 14:16). This can be difficult. Again, I fully acknowledge I am a recovering fool. We must be careful. Our pursuit of wisdom needs to be a priority, or over time we may turn to folly. Wisdom comes from God. We need to let Him direct us in all of life, especially in dealing with fools.

Dr. Henry Cloud offers a diagnostic question to ask in determining whether or not a person is a fool. Here it is: “What does a person do when truth comes to them?” He offers the insight that a fool often responds to truth with anger. He suggests we limit our exposure to such people.

I want to be crystal clear that I am not saying that we should not love everyone. In fact, we are to love every person, even a fool. But, we are not to join them or become one of them. This would be foolish. We need to love them, but not join them. However, we ought never to give up hope and be willing to follow the Lord’s leading in offering opportunities for them to come to Christ and be renewed.

I am so blessed to do life with each of you. Perhaps, you are in a situation where you just need God’s wisdom in dealing with a potential fool. Maybe, you believe yourself to be a fool and want to change your life philosophy or perspective. God is in the business of directing and redirecting people to rightness. Turn to Him. You will find love, acceptance, and wisdom. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Words Build Or Destroy – Use With Caution 9-10-18

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Team,

It’s incredible to me how words stick in your mind. I can be driving down the road, and a song comes on that I have not heard in years, and I begin to sing the lyrics. Our mind is an amazing thing. It stores words and allows us to recall them at a remarkable speed. This can be both a blessing and a curse because words have a substantial impact on us. I have heard various statistics on encouraging vs. discouraging words. It’s been said that it takes as many as nine encouraging words to overcome one negative statement. I don’t know how accurate that is. But I do know that I can find myself mauling over in my mind a negative word spoken to me, even when it is one amongst numerous positive ones. How about you? Our words have power; therefore we should use them wisely. The book of Proverbs has much to say about the wise use of words. I want to look at four principles from this fantastic book.

First, Proverbs teaches us that words are powerful and must be controlled. We read: “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Prov 13:3). Words are very powerful. At times it may be wise to just keep silent. A significant part of self-control is being in command of what words come out of your mouth. Words can cut and destroy.

James recognized this truth when he stated: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire” (James 3:5)! If it is indeed your desire to be self-controlled, an excellent place to begin is with your tongue. Stop and think before you react or speak. James insight can be understood that if you can control the tongue, then you can control everything else. Words are powerful and need to be controlled.

Secondly, Proverbs teaches that encouraging words need to be spoken. We discover: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Prov 27:5). To conceal our love for people is worse in God’s eyes than the pain of being rebuked before our peers. People are desperate to feel valued. Encouragement is important. That is why Paul challenges the Thessalonian church with these words: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess 5:11). It’s been said that a pat on the back, though only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, is miles ahead in results. Encouraging words need to be spoken.

Thirdly, Proverbs teaches that we ought not to let words fly off our tongue. We read: “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Prov 15:28). Those who wish to live rightly take the time to think before they talk; the wicked don’t take the time to consider what they say because they don’t care about the effects of their words. Check out this proverb: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov 10:19). In other words, a person who talks a lot increases the risk of sin – saying things that ought not to be said; for this reason, there is great wisdom in restricting the tongue. We ought not to let words fly off our tongue.

Lastly, Proverbs teaches that we ought not to let reckless words come out of our mouth. Here we are talking about gossip. We discover: “The words of a whisperer (gossip) are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Prov 18:8). Hearing gossip is like eating a delicacy (something not everyone else hears). Therefore, like food being digested, the gossiped news is assimilated in one’s inmost parts (i.e., is retained and remembered). The gossiper secretly carries stories from person to person. These stories may have some truth to them but are secrets that are wrong to share with others and/or hardly represent the truth. The point of these stories is to ruin people’s reputations, to break friendships, as well as other harmful motives. The words of a gossiper wound the person who the story is about. God wants no part in gossip or gossipers.  We ought not to let reckless words come out of our mouth

The simple truth is that Proverbs teaches that we need to understand that words have the power to build up or destroy. We read: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov 25:11). An appropriate and properly timed word, even a rebuke, can be attractive and valuable, like gold apples set against a silver sculpture or carving. We also read: “With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered” (Prov 11:9). The mouth can be used to destroy or build up people. The sad truth is that it is often easier to destroy than to build, and far too many people have received more destructive comments than those that build up. Think about it this way. Every person you meet today is either a demolition site or a construction opportunity. Your words do make a difference. We are to use them wisely. Our words make a difference in people’s lives. We need to choose words that build up and not destroy.

It is a joy to do life along with each of you. Let’s use our words wisely. Let us use our words to build up others and never to destroy them. Let’s use our words to spread Christ’s love and message. These are the words God desires to stick in our minds.

Rest 9-4-18

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All of us need rest. In fact, as Americans, we celebrate work with rest. In the United States, Labor Day is a federal holiday honoring the American labor movement and the contribution that workers have made to the country. It is somewhat ironic that we have a day off to celebrate labor, but I like it. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate work and the worker than giving them a three-day weekend. The time off allows for rest and relaxation. No doubt we have been created with a capacity to work, but work alone leads to physical and emotional burnout.

Our need for rest is seen in our standard five-day workweek. It was Henry Ford in 1926 that was the first manufacturing leader who set five-day workweeks for his employees. Ford noted, ““Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity … It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege.” Ford believed that having the weekend off would provide Saturdays for workers to not only rest but shop and produce greater prosperity for both the worker and the manufactures. He understood not only our need for rest and relaxation but also the economic benefits of time off.

Truth be told, however, it was God who set the standard for work and rest. We read in Genesis 2:2: “And on the seventh day God finished His work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” It is important to note that God rested from His work of creation. But He did continue the work in Providence and (after sin enters) redemption. The word for “rest” is Sabbath. Although, Sabbath means rest it is more than a day of physical and mental relaxation. It is even more than the day on which many believers worship. The Sabbath has a particular redemptive significance. The New Testament often uses the word rest to describe the good news of salvation realized in Jesus Christ  (see: Matthew 11:28; Hebrews 4:2-3). Ever since the Fall, this promised rest in Christ has been linked with the Sabbath. This is why the major feast days in the Old Testament were designated as Sabbath days of rest – they pointed ahead to the Messiah and His redemptive work. In short, Sabbath refers to more than physical and emotional rest, but also spiritual rest that can only be found in Christ.

I would argue that Sabbath is more than a day, but a life-principle God would have all of us follow. In Colossians 2:16-17, the apostle Paul declares, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” The Old Testament observances pointed to a future reality that was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, Romans 14:5 states, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” These passages make it clear that, for the Christ follower, Sabbath-keeping is a matter of spiritual freedom. We find true rest in Christ and Christ alone.

I would pose that we are called to worship God with our work and our rest. We are to be mindful of Him and our need to find real, complete, rest in Him, realizing only He can provide the true rest for which our souls long. Maybe, on this Labor Day we can be mindful of the God who has given us the capacity to work, to make a difference with our lives for His glory and the lives of others, as well as, the rest we find in Him and Him alone.

It is a privilege to be about the good work of Christ with each of you. Let us worship Him with our efforts as we rely on Him as well as our rest while thanking Him for the true rest found only in Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Wisdom Is Morally Right And Never Uptight 8-27-18

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The book of Proverbs was written around 950 BC. Several authors, including King Solomon, wrote it. The proverbs we read in this book are one-liner nuggets of wisdom for dealing with everyday life. Proverbs deals with the most fundamental skill of all: practical righteousness before God in every area of life. Proverbs cover many topics such as how we obtain wisdom and how such wisdom ought to impact our morality.

 When we speak of morality, we are referring to wise living or conducting one’s self in a way that is right and true. Every day we are faced with moral or ethical decisions. The question is where do we find the wisdom to live morally?

 We find in Proverbs 2:1-10 King Solomon writing to instruct his son. It is wise to listen to the counsel of godly people who have walked the path before us. It is also essential to do so if you desire to walk morally. Solomon is providing us the readers with a tried and true secret to living morally. We are to gain wisdom from God.

 Wisdom is the art of learning to succeed in life. It is a philosophical – a thoughtful – study of the real meaning of life. Realizing that the true essence of wisdom is spiritual, it is of no surprise that it comes from God. To receive wisdom will involve observation and instruction, but it really begins with God and one’s faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Therefore wisdom is defined merely as the God-given capacity to understand as well as the ability to apply what is understood to succeed in life. Look at Proverbs 2:1-10. This passage describes how we are to obtain wisdom. We discover that effort must be put forth for one to become wise. Getting wisdom involves openness, retention, hearing, and applying, requesting, and diligent searching. Specifically, the how to obtain wisdom is found in the “ifs” that appear three times in verses 1-4.

 Solomon writes: “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding” (Prov 2:1-2). He is instructing us to personally interact with the word of God. This means that we must embrace both the commands as well as the promises of God. We must not only receive, but also retain the word of God, and lodge it in our hearts, that it may always be ready for us.

 We receive wisdom when we passionately go to the Lord in prayer. Solomon continues: “if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding” (v. 3). We are to cry out to God in prayer for wisdom. We need to cry out because we know that our God wishes to answer our prayer. Our crying out is a confident declaration that we are hungry – hungry for wisdom.     Could it be that wisdom is ours for the asking? When we need directional aid, could it be that it is right there for us? Absolutely! God wants to give you whatever you need to succeed in life.

 We receive wisdom when we painstakingly pursue wisdom. Solomon explains: “if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures” (v. 4).  Solomon writes that we are to seek wisdom as silver. Search for it like a hidden treasure. Wisdom is to be preferred before all the wealth of this world and laboring in search of it as those who dig in the mines, who undergo great toil and run great hazards, with loyalty and resolution, in pursuit of the ore. Wisdom is ours to seek and find. Through God’s Word and prayer we will receive the great reward of knowing how to live and make decisions that are morally right. We are to seek this wisdom relentlessly.

 Solomon then describes the benefit of wisdom. First, he writes, “Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov 2:5-6). Wisdom allows us to practice the presence of God more fully. Once we understand that God is the source of wisdom and we seek and obtain it from Him, we come to a level of more freely relating to God. As God directs our steps, we become more confident in Him doing so. One right step builds upon another. Wisdom allows us to practice the presence of God more fully, as well as, project the will of God more completely. As we grow in our relationship with God, we also grow in our ability to take the steps God has called us to take.

 Solomon then shares in Proverbs 2:7-10 that wisdom provides a vast amount of moral benefits. It keeps one from evil and moves a person to Christ-likeness. Wisdom is not merely an intellectual understanding, but a matter of the heart deciding to conduct oneself morally. When we seek God to receive the wisdom we need to act rightly or morally God offers protection. God also provides peace. Moral living enables a person to be reasonable with others, to do what is right and just and fair. Moral living is the right path, and God is willing to grant all who ask the wisdom to do so.

 It is my honor to serve with each of you. I don’t know what area you may need direction in. Perhaps you are seeking God for wisdom as a parent or spouse. Maybe you are asking God for guidance at work, school or in a friendship. I don’t know what it is you are seeking from God, but I do know that God rewards those who seek wisdom. He directs their paths. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Friends Make Or Break People 8-20-18

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Proverbs is a unique book among those found in the Bible. This book contains pithy, memorable sayings encouraging people to pursue wisdom. Proverbs deals with the most fundamental skill of all: practical righteousness before God in every area of life. Put another way, the purpose of Proverbs is to give instructions on right living. One of the areas this fantastic book advises us on is friendship. In the Bible, we do not find, a concise definition of “friend” or “friendship.” What we do receive is a significant amount of teaching throughout the Old and New Testaments on various aspects of friendship. The Bible book that references friendship the most is Proverbs. Nearly every occurrence either cautions against unhealthy friendships or commends the virtues of true friendship.

A simple definition of friendship is “a close, trusting relationship between two people.” The book of Proverbs has much to say about friendship and the way we are to treat one another. The intimacy involved in friendship involves influence. Friends influence one another. That is why it is so important to choose our friends wisely and to be a wise friend. As I explore Proverbs three truths about friendship rise to the surface.

First, who our friends are say much about us. For instance, we find in Proverbs: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). We must be careful about who we allow in our inner circle. Those closest to us have the greatest influence on our thinking and decision-making. It is challenging to walk the right path if those around you are not. On the flip side, it becomes more likely that you will choose to walk the right path if those around you are doing so. We also read: “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Prov 12:26). A person committed to living rightly does not just accept anybody as a friend. Let me clarify, I am not talking about “friend” in the generic term, “Hey friend!” When I write “friend,” I am talking about someone who is close and trusted – A person who is a real influencer in your life. A person committed to living rightly chooses friends carefully.

Secondly, Proverbs teaches that loyalty is a true test of friendship. We discover: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov 17:17). The main point of this verse is not to differentiate between friend and brother, except to say that both are to be valued. The real point is that a true friend is not a “fair weather” friend. They are there for you and with you through all the highs and lows of life. This is emphasized by the fact that a brother’s love is especially seen in adversity. This type of friendship is quite significant. We observe in Proverbs:   “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 18:24). The point being made is that people, who have numerous friends chosen indiscriminately, may find themselves in trouble. It’s better to have one true friend than many unreliable companions.

Then, thirdly, Proverbs teaches that a friend ought to make others better. For instance, we find in Proverbs: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17). When iron is rubbed against another piece of iron it shapes and sharpens it. It’s in a similar way people can aid each other in improving themselves through their discussions, suggestions, and ideas.   The success we experience in life is in part determined by our growth. Our growth is in part determined by those we allow to speak into our lives. Therefore, we ought to choose them carefully.

I realize that what I have shared could be misunderstood as a lesson on snobbish living. It certainly is not meant to be such. However, we are fooling ourselves if we do not accept the fact that whom we let into our inner circle influences us and as a result influences the type of person we will be. On the flip side, we need to be the kind of person whose friendship will benefit others.

Friends either help people become better people, or they don’t. Even worse, a reckless friend may tear down or lead us down the wrong path. What I am saying could easily be expressed this way: “Friends Make or Break People.” As I look at the picture Proverbs gives of friendship I am personally challenged. It would be easy to begin to evaluate my friends, but I have to begin with me. I have to ask myself, “Am I the friend God has called me to be?” Only after prayerfully evaluating myself am I then free to evaluate those friends I have let into my inner circle. I need to seek the Lord to help me be a good friend and seek His wisdom in determining whom I allow to speak into my life. Friendship is a close, trusting relationship between two people. I want to be sure that this trusting relationship is beneficial to both of us.

I am grateful to be able to call each of you friends in Christ. Let us encourage each other to be a person others can trust as well as chose to place trustworthy people in our inner circles. Lastly, if any of us still have any question what a good friend looks like all we need to do is look to the amazing example found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Take This Job And Love It 8-13-18

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One of the books of the Bible I find myself digging into more often than not is that of Proverbs. Unlike many books of Scripture Proverbs does not have a storyline. The book is a collection of wise advice intended for us to follow. We are taught that the first step in learning is to love, respect, and worship God (see: Prov 1:7). This is the foundation of wisdom. The book builds on this foundation and is filled with proposed actions intended to lead to right living accompanied by good outcomes. It is important to note that Proverbs is not a book of promises, but probabilities. In other words, the adages found in Proverbs encourage and equip us to pursue wisdom, but do not make guarantees that in doing so we will always avoid hardship. However, those who walk in wisdom will flourish, in all the spheres of their lives, including their work.

Although all too often in our culture work has become a four-letter word. Many relate to Jonny Paycheck who in 1977 sang, Take this job and shove it. God intends for us to enjoy work. God created us to enjoy meaningful work. Before sin (all the wrongness in the world and in our own lives) ever entered into the world God gave man meaningful and fulfilling work to do. God entrusted to Adam and Eve the administration of all creation. Through the Fall (when sin entered the world) Satan seized mankind’s rule over all creation and became the god (small “g”) of this age. H. Wayne House in his book, Living Wisely in a Foolish World, further explains: “Not only did Adam and Eve loose meaningful work, but they also lost the ability to obey God perfectly. The presence of a sinful nature perverted the experience of work. Work became burdensome and filled with toil.” Here lies the problem or paradox. We have been created with a desire to experience fulfilling work, but sin has warped that desire. As a result, for many of us, our jobs or careers do not offer fulfillment. Proverbs has many teachings to help us put work into a perspective that leads us to fulfillment. In other words, the instructions on work in Proverbs help us work in ways that honor God and moves us to a place to experience the blessing of God, even in our jobs and careers.

Fulfillment in our jobs and careers is found when we understand that only God brings true completeness to our life. We read, “Better to have little, with fear for the Lord, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil” (Prov 15:16). This passage is not teaching against work that provides a generous income. What it is teaching against is choosing a career as a status symbol. No job has the power to complete your life. Only God can bring you wholeness. A difficult problem develops when people expect from their job what only God can do for them. No career or vocation can make you complete; only God can do this fantastic work.

Fulfillment is found when we commit our work to God. The old sage proclaims, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Prov 16:3). Our work is not for our own glory. All we do is for the glory of God. We need to hand over our jobs and careers to God. The Lord needs to be a part of every area of our lives. When we commit our work to God, even the most mundane work assignment can have tremendous implications.

Fulfillment is found when we understand that our jobs and careers are a means for growth and impact. Here we look at two proverbs. First, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Prov 10:4). Then, “The earnings of the godly enhance their lives, but evil people squander their money on sin” (Prov 10:16). God uses our work to teach us life lessons. He also uses our work to impact the lives of people around us. Could it be that what we do is not as important as the opportunity what we do provides for our growth and ability to minister to others? When we take our jobs and careers and give them to the Lord, they prove to be a remarkable means of growth and impact.

Fulfillment is found in realizing our jobs and careers are not secular but sacred. We read in Proverbs, “For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths” (Prov 5:21). We also read, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Prov 21:2). Not one book of the Bible differentiates between a secular (something apart from God) and a sacred (belonging to God) job. The main reason for this is that there truly isn’t anything that is apart from God. In fact, as we explore Proverbs, we note that this amazing book treats work as something to be used for serving the Lord. As a result, we are to work in a manner pleasing to God, with a godly attitude. Knowing that our very vocation is sacred has a profound influence on what we choose to do for a living and how we do it. Our work is a means of serving God. Our work is a ministry and we, who are in Christ, are all ministers no matter what we discover written on our employment job descriptions.

Our careers offer us opportunities to exercise our faith, to put what we believe about our Lord into practice. Our work is a place to test our obedience to the Lord. Where we work and what we do provide the opportunity for spiritual growth and impact. Our very jobs are to be looked upon as sacred, set apart for God’s glory. These are profound truths. In fact, this scriptural reality of our jobs ought to have a profound impact on how we view our work. Let me encourage you that our jobs and careers are sacred, belonging to God. When we give our jobs and careers over to God extraordinary things happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us, and we find fulfillment. In Christ, we can take our job and love it.

What a privilege to serve alongside each of you. I pray that right here and now, perhaps for the first time, maybe as a recommitment, that each of us will commit our work to the Lord and be fulfilled in Him. Ask God to work in and through you at your workplace.