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Growth

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Growth is essential for a Christian to thrive. Peter challenges us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Peter is calling believers to cultivate stability, so to speak, through Christian growth. This growth is spiritual growth, growing in faith.
When we enter into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we are born again spiritually into God’s family. This new birth, similar to that of a newborn baby, requires nourishing milk for growth and proper development. A new or baby Christian needs spiritual food for growth. Peter writes: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Christians are to be like infants in their longing for pure spiritual milk. Milk is used in the New Testament as a symbol of what is basic to the Christian life, God’s Word.
Just as healthy babies move beyond milk to solid food, so do believers (see: Hebrews 5:12-14). Paul saw a problem with the Corinthian believers in that they had not grown in their faith, and he could only give them “milk” because they were not ready for solid food (see: 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Christians are expected to grow. We need to learn and grow and become confident in handling the Bible, discerning God’s will, and sharing it with others. A baby needs to be fed, but a growing believer learns to feed themselves, eventually helping others grow.
A Christian will only grow as much as he or she purposefully reads and obeys and applies the Scriptures. Growing is up to each individual believer. Growth is not measured in years, but commitment. Some believers have been saved many years, but spiritually are still babies. Others have been Christians for a relatively short time, but have grown in leaps and bounds due to their devotion to God and His Word. It is important to note that it’s the doing of the Word, not merely hearing it that makes it a reality in one’s life. Genuine Christian growth comes when one puts what they know of God’s Word to practice in their life. This allows the Scriptures to take root in them.
A Christian’s diet ought to consist of the Word of God. The truths taught in the Bible are rich food for the believer. Peter writes, in 2 Peter 1:3, that God has given us everything we need for life through our (growing) knowledge of Him. As we continue down through verse 11, we discover a list of character qualities that need to be added to our beginning point of faith for maturity to take place, allowing us to thrive in Christ. There are many things that can help us grow.
Crosswinds have developed a discipleship strategy that assists believers in developing a daily time alone with God as well as meeting with fellow Christians through one-on-one discipleship groups and small groups. Meeting with other believers allows us to ask questions, share what we are learning with one another, and be encouraged as we continue to grow in knowing God and making Him known. We offer ministry teams where you can serve with other believers putting into action your growing faith. However, ministry does not only happen in ministry teams. As Crosswinds, we encourage one another to be used by God in extraordinary ways as missionaries in the ordinary places we find ourselves each and every day. Our large weekend worship gatherings are where we put God’s glory on display, sharing the workings of God in our lives and together are sent out on mission throughout our region. We also offer support options for those wrestling with specific issues like depression or situations like divorce as well as those desiring freedom from the hurts, habits, and hang-ups of life. The believer is called to take personal responsibility for their growth but is not meant to grow alone. God has provided His Spirit and the community of other believers to help us grow.
The foundation of Christianity – the milk – is something wonderful and not something we should forget. But, we are meant to grow beyond milk and become self-feeders of the solid food of God’s Word, able to help others grow. We are meant to be doers of the Word as we allow the Spirit of God to use what we know of the Scriptures to transform us more and more into the image of Christ. This is what it means to grow as a believer and thrive in Christ. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Trust

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Trust is a powerful word. According to Merriam-Webster: “Trust is reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Trusting God is essential for a believer to thrive. Now, you don’t need to spend much time around Christians to hear the expression, “trust in Jesus.” This statement is layered with meaning. We trust in Jesus by believing in Him for our salvation (John 3:16). We believe who He is and put our faith in Him as our Lord and Savior. We believe He died for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation (Romans 4:15). Not one of us can save ourselves, so we trust Jesus to save us (Romans 3:10-20 & John 11:25).
Once one finds salvation by trusting in Jesus for his or her salvation, “trusting Jesus” means committing or dedication one’s self entirely to Him. Followers of Christ trust Jesus by putting complete confidence in Him and His Word. We discover in John: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). To abide in Jesus’ word means to continue believing what Jesus has said and walking in obedience to Him. Continuing to trust Jesus and obey Him is one test of who is truly His disciple. Jesus is speaking of one way to know the truth, and that is by continuing to believe and obey His word. Such trust in Christ brings freedom from guilt and the enslaving power of sinful patterns of conduct. Simply put, the more we know and abide in the words of Jesus, the more we will obey Him, and the more we grow to trust Him and experience freedom in Christ, we thrive.
One verse that I have expressed more in prayer than I personally like to admit is Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!” In context, this verse is found amidst an account where a father is seeking the Lord’s miraculous power to heal his son. Jesus calls this man to trust in Him. The father’s confession is raw. He confesses he has some faith but also acknowledges his spiritual weakness and appeals to Jesus to create in him a heart that believes more firmly in Him.
It is easy to become discouraged when our trust waivers, but Jesus understands our weakness and knows we will struggle to trust Him. Paul encourages us: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). When we take our uneasy hearts to the Lord in prayer, He offers us peace. His very presence is peace. Notice that the promise is not to give whatever we’re are asking for, but the promise is peace to guard our hearts and minds.
Trusting Jesus means to come to Him and believe He is good and is trustworthy. His plan for our lives is to thrive. We can be confident in this because of who He is and who we are in Him. We are as John 1:12 proclaims: “To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” When we trust in Christ for our salvation, God’s supernatural work makes us His children. When we trust in Jesus and who we are in Him, He pours out His peace into us, empowering us to thrive.
Our trusting in Jesus grows as we continue to walk with Him. It grows through experience (see: 2 Corinthians 1:10). As we experience God’s faithfulness through the good, the bad, and the ugly of life, our faith, our trust in Him grows. In this sense, the Christian life becomes a testing and training ground of trust (see: James 1:2-4).
To trust the Lord, we need to know who God is and who we are in Him. Jesus is teaching us to trust Him in all things at all times with all our heart. As we learn to trust Jesus more and more, He empowers us to thrive. Soli Deo Gloria (God Alone be the Glory)!

Humility & Confidence

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Interestingly, we descend into greatness, as one author has put it. In other words, humility is an essential character trait of the believer becoming more like Christ. After all, Christ is the great example of humility (see: Philippians 2). Biblical humility is grounded in the nature of God. In James 4:6, we read: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” That’s pretty straight forward. God’s grace is extended to the humble, but He resists those who are proud.
An excellent summary verse of humility is Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” To be humble, we must trust God and believe that He will lead us down the right path. We are to place our faith in God prayerfully leaning on His understanding, not our own. In fact, our prayer ought to be to make His way our way as we are transformed into Christ’s image (Romans 9:29). It is humility that opens our hearts to God and allows us to withdraw from the arrogance of our ego.
Some people choose humility as a survival method, at least the appearance of humility. However, it is true humility interrelated with confidence in a believer’s life that is essential to thriving in Christ. Some view humility and confidence as opposing realities. The Scriptures view them as crucial aspects of a believer’s life.
It takes humility to have Christian confidence. Confidence is having trust in someone or something. We trust those in whom we have confidence. The world teaches us to have confidence in ourselves. We are told to trust that we have the ability to accomplish anything we desire. We are to have confidence in our wealth, in our power, in our position. The sources of Christian confidence is not ourselves but in God Himself.
We find in Jeremiah 9:23-24: “Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” A truly wise man and woman find confidence in the Lord. They learn what God teaches. Knowing God means knowing His profound love, justice, and righteousness. Paul wrote it this way, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31 & 2 Corinthians 10:17).
God desires for the believer to thrive, not merely survive. Therefore, the Christian life goal is not selfish ambition, but to glorify God by knowing Him and making Him known. We are not to trust in ourselves or our own wisdom but trust in God (see: Proverbs 3:5-6). God is our confidence, our rock our refuge (see: Psalm 18:2).
The believer is to have confidence in the risen Christ. It takes genuine humility to admit our need for Christ for salvation and everything else in our lives. He is our everything. As we grow in the Lord, such humility is paired with a confidence rooted in Him that empowers us to partner with Him as we walk in faith. Such a walk is not void of self-confidence or self-respect. The issue is the source of our confidence. We are to be confident in Christ and our identity in Him.
The interrelation between humility and confidence in a believer’s life is remarkable and essential if one is to thrive in Christ. Jesus is the perfect example of humility and confidence. I pray that each of us will become more and more humble and confident as we become more and more like Him. The world does not need another survivor but desperately needs to see those who are thriving in the Lord. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Service

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When we speak of thriving in Christ, much attention is given to a proper understanding of God’s work in us, and rightfully so. However, our thriving is also affected by our actions. Specifically, I want to look at how serving God and others empowers a believer to thrive.
First, let me clearly state that our service to God is not necessary because God lacks the ability to accomplish something. Our service to Him is not a reflection of His neediness, but ours. Each and every one of us has been created with a need to serve. In fact, we have been created and gifted to partner with the Lord in fulfilling His purposes.
Peter addresses the importance and purpose of serving God in 1 Peter 4:10-11: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” All believers have received at least one spiritual gift from God, and we are not to hoard these gifts but use them to bring Him glory. No matter what our gift(s) we are not to depend on our own strength but draw our power from God, so that God alone “may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” We receive our gifts from God to serve Him and others. In doing so, we bring Him praise. In our service, the Lord is glorified, we are blessed, and others benefit.
God receives glory when we serve because it is His transforming power that is on display in our lives as we exchange selfishness for selflessness. This is why Peter declares that we ought to recognize that all we do, whether speaking or serving, is to be done on behalf of God to others. He gives us the ability and strength to partner with Him and gives us purpose in our service. It is with this awareness that we direct all credit toward Him instead of ourselves. This causes the believer to standout and leads others to take notice of the life-change that occurs in a believer’s life. This not only validates our faith to others but also draws others to Him.
When we work, and yes serve, on our own behalf, and for our own purpose, it is for survival. When we work and serve on God’s behalf, and for His purpose, we are empowered to thrive. Surviving speaks of barely having enough. Thriving is having more than enough. When we serve by God’s power and leading, we give out of the overflow, serving and thriving in His name.
This is at the heart of what Paul writes to us in Romans 12: “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” (Romans 12:1-2). “Therefore” points back to the saving work of God Paul has written of in the previous eleven chapters. We, Christians, are to give ourselves entirely to God because of His saving grace. The believer is to give their whole being to God as a living sacrifice. We are to use our new life in Christ for His glory.
This present age still threatens everyone, even those who belong to Christ. Believers are called to resist its pressure. Through the transforming power of God, our lives are changed, and our minds are made new, making us able to “discern” God’s will.
Paul points out that those who have been saved by the finished work of Christ, who died for our sins and resurrected for our salvation, it only makes sense to honor Him.  Our giving of ourselves is our spiritual act of worship. It is the reasonable response. We serve the God who has provided the greatest service of all. We have been given salvation from sin and self and have received eternal life with Him. God has taken us out of the realm of mere existence and surviving into one with divine purpose and thriving.
Life is filled with its own difficulties. It is tempting to fall into survival mode and make sure we have what we need. God has a better plan. He calls and empowers us to serve Him and others as we thrive in Him. We can either choose to run on the hamster wheel of survival or empowered by the Spirit of God thrive as we journey down His path. I hope each of us chooses to thrive. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Repentance & Restoration

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Many people settle for merely surviving when God offers to empower them to thrive. One of the steps God calls us to take on the journey to thriving in Him is repentance that leads to restoration. This is a remarkable and rewarding journey offering salvation and freedom in Christ.
I acknowledge that this is a difficult topic for many people. Shame has kept far too many from approaching the Lord in repentance to find restoration. To overcome shame, it is essential to realize that when we come to God with a proper attitude of reverence toward Him, He lovingly receives us. We mustn’t let shame keep us from receiving God’s blessing for us.  Repentance and restoration are used by God to help us thrive.
David’s 51st Psalm teaches us much about repentance and restoration. David shares how he repented after being confronted by the prophet Nathan (2 Sam 12) for his adultery with Bathsheba and her husband’s murder. The psalm is powerful because of David’s honesty by revealing the depth of his anguish and repentance before God.
David reveals in Psalm 51 that at its root, all sin is a disregard for the holiness of God (v. 4). Ultimately, all sin is against Him. He also reveals that we are not sinners because we sin, but sin because we were born into sin (v. 5). Since we are born into sin, we have a sinful nature, no kind of inner resolve or self-help plan can deliver us. Restoration is found in God alone. Only God can cleanse us, making us white as snow (v. 7). Only God can create in us a clean heart (v.10). Only God can draw us into His presence and empower us with the Holy Spirit (v. 11).
The simple truth is that repentance and restoration are only possible by God’s grace. God makes it possible for us to respond to Him. However, we must take steps to come before Him to confess our sins and repent, allowing God to restore us (vv. 12-16). David responded through an act of repentance, and God restored Him. Our Lord will do the same for you and me.
We must repent of our sins in order for the Lord to make us new and restore us. One of the first verses I memorized was 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We confess our sins, initially to receive salvation and then to maintain a healthy fellowship with God and with one another. Unrepented sin is not the mark of a Christ follower. Those who genuinely know God come to him and find mercy and grace in our time of need (see: Heb 4:16).
Repent and receive God’s forgiveness. Allow Him to cleanse you. We need to come to God with humility. Pride is a root sin that, among other things, keeps us from God’s forgiveness and cleansing. We need to seek His face and receive grace. To seek God does not mean to look hard. It means to place nothing before Him and His will for you.
God invites us and makes it possible to repent and ask for forgiveness. Because Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation, we can be restored in Him. Repentance and restoration are used by God to help us thrive.
I pray that each of us will shed our shame. I ask God to help us remove our pride and, in humility, come to Him, repent, and be restored. God uses such obedience to empower us to thrive. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone).

Lordship of Christ

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Unfortunately, many people settle for merely surviving when God offers to empower them to thrive. One essential step in the divine pathway leading to thriving is responding appropriately to the lordship of Christ. The 17th Century leader, theologian, and academic John Owen wrote, “We have no power from God unless we live in the persuasion that we have none of our own.” In other words, surrender to God with all one’s mind, body, and soul is a prerequisite to receiving spiritual power. In a very real sense, we are speaking of God as Lord. The Lordship of Christ in our lives is used by God to help us thrive.
Throughout the Bible, there are various Hebrew, and Greek words rendered lord. However, two words rise above the rest as the most abundantly used. In Hebrew, the word is Yahweh. This is the name God revealed Himself by to the ancient Hebrews. It refers to “the self-existent, eternal God.” This title for God was held so sacred by the Jews that is was never pronounced except by the high priest on the great Day of Atonement, when he entered into the most holy place.
In Greek, the word is Kyrios. Kyrios is used throughout the Greek translation of the Old Testament in place of Yahweh. It is also found throughout the Greek New Testament. After Easter, one of the most important Old Testament texts to be applied to the Risen One Jesus Christ was Psalm 110:1: “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Here the word “Lord” is used both for God and for the messianic king (Acts 2:34). The application of this text to Jesus meant that the title, ‘my Lord,’ addressed to Him during His earthly life in recognition of his unusual authority, was upgraded as a messianic address. In other words, Jesus is indeed Lord God.
Lordship, when speaking of God, is more than a title. It is expressed by Christ’s followers in their posture. Let me illustrate it this way. When I was growing up, my Dad taught me that when I shook someone’s hand, I needed to look them in the eye. It was a sign of respect and confidence. However, this is not the way we are to show “respect” to God. Lordship posture is lying prostrate before God showing complete trust and the honor due Him. It is our acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord that serves as the foundation of a life that thrives.
In Jeremiah 23:1-6, we read about the coming king. This king is no other than Jesus Christ. In verse 1-2, false shepherds are shown to contrast with this coming king, Jesus, who is the true shepherd. Verse 3-4 speaks of the people of God being restored. The believer discovers this blessing when those once far from God enter into His salvation and rest through Christ. Then we read in Jeremiah 23:6: “this is the name by which he will be called: ‘the Lord is our righteousness.’” We discover that the King to come is the “Lord” who is “our righteousness.”
Jesus is the king who has come. In Him, we have been offered His righteousness. Imputed is a form of the word imputation that means to designate, and action as reckoned or given to a person. In other words, the righteousness of Jesus is given to us when we believe to make us right with God. The work of Jesus in His people is not only to clean the stain of sin. The perfect obedience and righteousness of Jesus are ours in Him. Think of it this way. Jesus as our righteousness does not merely mean that He reflects the righteousness of God but that He will impart His people His righteousness, making it their very own. The Apostle Paul had this in mind when he spoke of “Jesus Christ” “our righteousness” in the New Testament (see: 1 Cor 1:30 & 2 Cor 5:21).
The power we have to thrive is not something we have within ourselves. Such power only comes from God and is received only when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord. The Lordship of Christ in our lives is used by God to help us thrive.
So, I ask you, “What is your posture in approaching Christ?” Do you try to avoid Him? Do you show respect, but keep an eye on Him like a good handshake? Or, are you all in, laying prostrate demonstrating trust and acceptance as Him as your righteousness? Will you allow Jesus our righteousness to make you thrive? If you say yes, be prepared to not merely survive, but thrive. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Thrive

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2020 has been a unique year, to say the least. One of the most common responses I get when I ask people how they are doing is, “I am surviving.” I certainly understand the sentiment. But, as I look at Scripture, it is clear that God wants more for us than merely to survive, He wants us to thrive. This is not only His desire for us, He actually has provided the pathway to thriving amidst all the ups and downs of life. As we explore God’s Word, we discover the divinely laid path we are called to walk. This path empowers us to thrive in Him. Community is an important part of God’s plan for us to thrive.
I have seen pictures of the huge redwood trees in California, and they are amazing. They are the largest living things on earth and the tallest trees in the world. Some of them are 300 feet high, and more than 2,500 years old. You would think that trees that large would have a tremendous root system, reaching down hundreds of feet into the earth. But that is not the case. Redwoods have a very shallow root system. The roots of these trees are, however, intertwined. They are tied in with each other, interlocked. Thus, when the storms come, and the winds blow, the redwoods still stand. With an interlocking root system, they support and sustain each other. They need one another to survive and thrive.
Similarly, the picture of the longevity, beauty, and survival and thriving of redwood trees is a picture of our community through Christ. This begins to become clearer when we realize that the ultimate destination of all our lives is God’s presence to know Him and make Him known. We read in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Jesus shares these words with His disciples after He has addressed how to deal with a brother or sister in Christ who sins against you. He speaks of the power of forgiveness, then speaks these words on unity.
Take a second to think about what Jesus is proclaiming in these words. Remember, the ultimate destination of everyone’s life is God’s presence, to know God and make Him known. In essence, we are to live in the presence of God, and as His ambassadors, image-bearers of His, usher His presence into the world around us through sharing His message and love with others. Therefore, as we look upon these words of Christ, found in Matthew 18:20, we discover that community has a bigger role than we ever imagined. When God’s children gather together, His church, His body, a spiritual dynamic takes place that is designed to change lives.
Community is used by God to help us thrive. Now, you don’t need me to tell you that community is difficult. But, it is worth all the effort and commitment. Community benefits the individual, but will not allow one to genuinely thrive unless it is sought and built upon Christ and for God’s glory. The community God calls us to, the community that enables us to thrive, is called to be focused on Christ. When the focus of our community is someone or something other than Christ, we will not thrive. In fact, we will barely even survive.
The community God calls us to is focused on Christ and characterized by abundant life. Jesus proclaimed, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). Jesus’ promise of abundant life begins in the here and now and extends to the unforeseen future. Community, built upon Christ, is alive, together, walking in a God-given direction, being used to change lives for the sake of Christ. If we focus on Christ and build our community upon Him, our perspective, language, and actions change. In part, God uses community to assist us in thriving and uses a thriving community, a thriving church family, to make an eternal impact on others.
I believe God desires for another great awakening to spread across this region. God offers us His blessing of thriving and His presence to those who genuinely seek to know Him. In Jeremiah 29:13, we read, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Revival comes when the heart of a single individual is transformed by God, but it also comes in a people living in authentic Christ-focused community seeking to know Him and make Him known.
Interestingly, trees are mentioned in the Bible more than any living thing other than God and people. We discover in Psalm 1:1-3 that a person, focused on the Lord, thrives like a tree planted by streams of water and bears much fruit. Such a community of trees is used by God to help us thrive. God uses community, in part, to help a person thrive. Are you willing to live in genuine Christ-focused community with God and others? I hope and pray that each of us answer yes and amen. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Be Transformed

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Our response to the world around us is crucial to our witness and call. It is easy to allow our culture to influence our thinking and, as a result, our actions. Paul warns us to “not let the world around us squeeze us into its mold’ (Rom 12:2). I have heard it said that if you place a kettle on a burner with a frog in it and slowly increase the temperature, it will not notice the heat and eventually suffer the consequences. I am not sure this would pass the “Myth Busters” test, but it is certainly applicable to the culture. It is easy for us to get caught in the current of culture, and unknowingly swept away to undesirable places.
What’s the solution? Paul gives it to us, we need to “be transformed by the renewal of our minds” (see: Rom 12:2). This occurs when we give ourselves to the Lord (heart, mind, and soul) (see: Rom 12:1). God’s desire for us is to influence culture, not the other way around. Another way of looking at it is that the Lord wants us to be thermostats, not thermometers. A thermometer simply reflects the temperature of whatever is being measured. But, a thermostat has the ability to change the temperature. Believers are called to change the temperature, reflecting Christ’s heart and character.
I believe God desires for us, His church, to partner with Him by sharing His love and message with others. A wonderful blueprint is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). The sermon was addressed to disciples and a large crowd of listeners to guide them and us in life. It is an ethics class for believers centered on God’s love, truth, and character. It is well worth the read.
It is all too easy to be well-intentioned and actually not represent Christ, but reflect culture. When we take our eyes off Christ, we drift off mission and allow good intentions to be a poor substitute for what the Lord would desire.
When we live adrift, critical thinking is neglected. Critical thinking for the believer is the analysis of facts, using the Bible as the foundation of truth, to form a God-honoring judgment. When cultural groupthink is mindlessly followed, the result is detrimental. It certainly does not lead us to be the world changers we have been created to be for the cause of Christ. On the contrary, when we allow the Spirit of God to use the Word of God in our life to form our thinking and direct our actions, we are unleashed to be the change agents our world desperately needs.
It is vital for me to make it clear that you and I are not the answer. God is the answer. We are not superior to anyone because we are believers, we are ambassadors of almighty God called to humbly serve Him and others with His love and truth. As God’s grace leads us to repentance and salvation by revealing His great love and our great need for forgiveness and relationship with Him, our reflection of His grace to others is what the Spirit uses to minister and draw them unto Himself.
The world we live in needs believers who are willing to know God and make Him known. It might seem easier to not make waves and go with the flow. Still, God calls us, as His ambassadors, to do the inconvenient thing, the sometimes-unpopular thing, and point people to Jesus by rejecting the mold the world would make us fit and allow the Spirit to transform us into image-bearers of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

On The Independence Holiday

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This past weekend our nation celebrated, on the fourth of July, Independence Day, also known as America’s birthday in the United States. It represents America’s separation from British rule. When the United States gained its independence, the population was around 2.5 million. Today the population is about 330 million. America is not perfect, but it has proven time and time again when we allow the biblical foundation of our founders to bear down on us that God-honoring course corrections occur. America is not perfect. It took a bloody civil war to free over 4 million African Americans who lived in slavery. It took another hundred years for these Americans and their descendants to be given full equality under the law. Still today, more work needs to be done to ensure equal opportunity for everyone. As long as we live in this fallen world, we will need to fight to focus on Christ and allow Him to direct our paths into His preferred future for us.
America, as a nation, is a cultural and political mosaic. America is a place of possibilities and hope. Not everyone can embrace these possibilities and feel this hope, but we who are God’s church has the responsibility and privilege to do good by living justly, loving kindness, and to follow Christ by walking humbly (see: Mic 6:8). God calls we His church to be a “city on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matt 5:14). Jesus’ disciples have the kingdom life within them as a living testimony of the hope and freedom found in Christ. It is this hope and freedom that leads us to walk and live in a way that brings glory to God.
Our culture today is quite unsettled. How are we Christians to live, especially in today’s turbulent culture? I would say that the very first thing a believer needs to do is pray. Prayer is not a passive response but an effective one (see: 1 Tim 2:1-2, 8 & 2 Chron 7:14). When we pray, we release the resources of heaven to work in the lives, and in the very situations, we are lifting up in prayer. I have found that prayer changes me as I seek the Lord’s will. Through prayer, He continues the work of making me an image-bearer of Christ and leads me to act for His glory.
As I look at our nation, I believe that most Americans honestly desire what is best for their families and our country as a whole. We may disagree on how to proceed into a preferred future, but we must learn to work together. We all have our faults and failings. We all are works in progress. No one is an exception to this truth. We need to seek unity wherever possible and offer mercy and grace at all times while standing for truth. Paul, writing to the Philippian believers writes:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:1-4).
Here, the unity spoken does not imply a drab intellectual uniformity; rather, we are to use our diverse gifts is an agreeable, cooperative spirit, with a focus on the glory of God.
As ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20), we pray and obey. Praying, in part, exhibits and builds our trust in God. However, it is never to be an excuse for laziness. We pray and obey. We partner with our Lord, where He is working and leading, to see “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). With the Spirit’s leading and by His power, we are to be salt and light in this world. Believers are called to share the love and message of Christ with others drawing people to Him. We are not to reflect the hopelessness, rage, and social media madness of the world, but model hope in Christ, the real peace found in Him, and the true transformational power of God in the life of the person, lives of the family, community, and yes nation who places their faith in Him.
Lastly, we need to remember that God is still on the throne. We still live in a fallen world, but one in the capable hands of an all-powerful God who loves His children and has, through Christ, provided our true independence from sin and its eternal consequences. In Christ, we are offered abundant eternal life (see: Jn 3:16 & John 10:10). No matter how out of control things may seem, God is still on the throne and always will be. We need to trust and obey.
I hope that as we celebrated our nation’s independence, we did so understanding our true freedom found in Christ. We don’t celebrate a perfect nation. How could we as imperfect people? But we can celebrate. God is on the move. He has worked in and through our nation and continues to do so. We, His church, are still on mission to be disciples who make disciples who make disciples. God is good and does good in the life of a person, and people focused on Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Conflict

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When we look at Scripture, we discover that the family is the essential building block of human society. The family spoken of is both biological and spiritual. My wife, children, and other relatives make up my biological family. My spiritual family is made of every believer who has, is, and ever will exist, and in a practical day-to-day sense, my local church family.
God’s desire for us is to live in unity with Him and others. He wants us to experience wholeness in Christ, which is the fruit of the Spirit’s work in the life of a believer. The obstacle to oneness and wholeness in one’s life is sin. When sin entangles us, it leads to fractured marriages, shattered families, and broken people.
The first conflict between a married couple is recorded in Genesis, chapter 3 when sin caused a rift between the original couple (Adam and Eve) with God and each other. The first sibling rivalry occurred with their children and is recorded in Genesis, chapter 4, where, out of jealousy, Cain kills Able. Yes, the first family was a dysfunctional one due to sin, which brings conflict.
Conflict is a disagreement or struggle between two opposing beliefs. Some conflicts are minor such as the right way to put toilet paper on the dispenser. By the way, it is over, not under. It can be as major as the differences between parents on how to raise their children. Anytime there is a disagreement or struggle between two opposing beliefs, there is conflict.
Conflict is something that everyone will encounter. Some will even face conflict daily in relationships and circumstances. This is important to realize because often times when we go through a conflict, we feel as if we are the only one who has ever experienced it. Conflict existed with the first couple, the first family, and as long as there are people, this side of paradise, there will always be conflict.
Not all conflict is harmful. Some differences are natural and beneficial. Some conflict is healthy, presenting an opportunity to learn from another and strengthen the bond between people who seek a positive resolution. However, some conflict is destructive. In fact, many disagreements are the result of sinful motives and behavior (see: James 4:1-2). When conflict results from sinful desires or actions, they are too serious to simply overlook. They need to be dealt with in a God-honoring straightforward manner.
How we handle conflict matters. It matters to God. It matters to others. It matters. God is serious about unity and peace. He wants us to experience peace with Him by turning over the leadership of our life to Him. He wants us to have inner peace, which comes as we turn our lives to Christ and receive forgiveness and experience fullness of living in Him. Our Lord also wants us to experience peace with others for the sake of His witness (see: John 17:20-23). The good news is that God has a plan to resolve conflict that leads to oneness and peace with Him and others as well as wholeness in Christ.
Paul challenges us in 1 Corinthians to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Doing all to the glory of God includes the way we handle conflict. We handle conflict in a way that glorifies God when we trust Him believing He wants what’s best for all involved. We show our trust in Him by obeying Him (see: John 5:3). We obey God by following His Spirit’s leading of us through His Word – the Bible, imitating Him (see: 1 John 2:6).
Let me share three ways to handling conflict. Proverbs 15:1 teaches, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” All of us have been in a conflict with someone that has led to a heated discussion. It is important to take a moment to pause. Perhaps, you have heard it said when you get angry to stop and count to ten. This is good advice. When we are provoked, usually, our first response is not the best. Take a moment to pause and breathe a prayer for guidance. Listening also helps us give a “soft answer” amidst conflict. Listen to the person with the opposing belief and listen to wise counsel. It is incredible how knowledge gained from an opposing view and godly advice on how to proceed in a godly way can lead to a “soft answer” rather than “a harsh word.”
Then, I would draw our attention to Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” This verse addresses, in part, how to live like a Christian. Believers are to speak with extreme love and let their words be as appealing as salted chocolate (my interpretation). In other words, such character is attractive and God-honoring.  Simply put, choose your words carefully. Saying things like “That’s ridiculous” does nothing to advance the conflict to a healthy resolution. However, a phrase like “I see things differently” or “I have some questions about what you just said” lets others know we don’t believe ourselves to be all-knowing and care enough to work through the conflict with them to reach a deeper understanding.
God’s Word has much to say about how to handle and resolve conflict. What I have shared is not exhaustive, but a good start to dealing with conflict in a healthy God-honoring way. Ultimately, only the Lord’s Spirit work in our life can cultivate the godly character we need to navigate conflict in a way that brings peace and glorifies God.
It is not the absence of conflict, but the way we handle it that glorifies our Lord. We all will face conflict; this is a fact of life. But, not all of us will handle it well. Let’s encourage one another to trust God and challenge one another to obey Him by following His Spirit’s leading of us through His Word – the Bible, imitating Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!