14 Mar / 2018
Taking our faith in Jesus to work or out with our friends is an intimidating thing. We are considered wimps or worse for believing in Jesus, and we get confronted with tough questions. People want to know why a “loving” God allows starvation in Africa or massive earthquakes in poor countries or a gunman killing six-year-old kids at school. They consider us extremist, arrogant and intolerant for believing that Christianity is the only way to God.
While we should and can validate their questions and exhibit Jesus’ sympathetic and understanding heart, we must avoid the devil’s trap. Don’t let those taunts and questions intimidate us and prevent us from proclaiming the truth. So how do we avoid that ambush and share our faith? Point them to Jesus!
Jesus is not a religion—He’s a person. That makes all the difference. He the foundation that must be addressed before any other issues are talked about. As any builder knows, the foundation is the most important thing to get right. It does no good to discuss kitchen cabinets until the foundation is squared away.
People must decide who Jesus is. They must be given the chance to examine His life and ministry so that they can decide if He is a liar, a nut-job, or Lord of the universe. If they reject the claims of Jesus, then discussing God with them is a waste of time. If they come to accept Jesus as Lord, then the tough issues are put into context of a loving Lord who gave His life for us.
If the hub of a wheel is true to form, the whole wheel performs correctly. When we take our faith to the yard, we must take our searching sisters and brothers to meet the risen Lord. Everything else will fall into place once they get Jesus right!
28 Feb / 2018
When we discover something for the first time and like what we’ve learned, we usually get excited about it. We can remember the excitement of skateboarding, fly fishing or putting on makeup for the first time. Similarly, many of us recall our excitement when we first came to Christ. We experienced His forgiveness and acceptance. We wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
Many new believers are on fire for evangelism and may impulsively walk into the coffee break room at work and declare the Gospel to every bleary-eyed coffee drinker in the room. Or we take the microphone at a family reunion and preach a ten-minute sermon when all they asked us to do was open with prayer. We buttonhole our team at the bowling league and drive them to distraction with our over-the-top testimonials about Jesus! Ugh! Even seasoned Christians might get tired of this type of over enthusiastic evangelism!
As admirable as this enthusiasm is, the Bible teaches us that we need to mature, allowing older Christians to counsel us. Just as sixteen-year-olds need driver’s training to go along with new driving privileges, newborn Christians need mentoring. Mature believers in our church have the responsibility to recognize that new Christians need help. In their passion for Jesus, new Christians may be judgmental. They may rightly identify sin but could harshly condemn it in others, without the love and gentleness more mature men and women of faith might exercise. Baby Christians can be quite demanding in their desire to be fed. Just as newborn babies demand feeding, baby Christians insist on getting attention. Full-grown believers must teach and offer loving suggestions for contemplation, personal Bible study, prayer, and corporate worship. Allow new believers to mature before electing them to positions of leadership (see 1 Timothy 3:6).
The body of Christ in our world today has many members, and each must nurture the other. New Christians must submit to the authority of the mature members, while the mature saints must not smother the ardor of the new ones. In unity, the work of Christ moves forward.
14 Feb / 2018
Many of us are in prisons without walls. Those prisons are self-made places of confinement that we have constructed in our minds. Built over time, we believe that because of some of the things we have done in our lives, God could never love us. The devil whispers to us, “God could never love someone who has had an abortion, abused drugs, gotten divorced or hooked up on a regular basis.” As usual, the devil’s got it wrong!
One of the amazing things about God’s love is that He loves us despite who we are, not because of who we are. That is radical grace. We all have spent too many years trying to be someone who was worthy of another’s love. We’ve tried to earn love from our parents, our boyfriends, the people we work with, drug dealers, and our bosses. We’ve worked hard to be rich enough, pretty enough, or tough enough to deserve their attention and love. God’s love works differently. God sent His own Son to die for us while we were still sinners. (See Romans 5:8, But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.) Even when we were selling dope, cheating on our income taxes or worse…God loved us. He doesn’t say to us, “Straighten yourself up and clean yourself off and then I’ll take a look at you.” No. He loves us as we are—period.
Another amazing thing about God’s love is that it’s extravagant, over-the-top. God doesn’t skimp on love. He shows His love by sending His own Son—not some low-level flunky—to die for us. He sent His own Son—His only Son—to die for us. Most of us have never experienced that kind of unconditional love.
That unconditional love is life-changing. It offers forgiveness and gives us value, hope, and peace. When it seems dark in our bedrooms are 3 A.M., we can hear His voice calling our name, saying, “I love you just the way you are. Come to Me. Accept My love. My Son has covered your sin.” Who wouldn’t want to say yes to that kind of love?
31 Jan / 2018
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Corinthians 15:33
As we were growing up, we always knew the girls who knew how and where to shoplift the coolest lipstick. We also knew the guys who could hot-wire a car so we could take a joy ride. Those same guys were the ones who tried to get us drunk! We were attracted to their “badness” and power. But when we remember their evil impact on our lives, we can appreciate the role that bad character plays in our lives and why the Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.”
Have we learned our lessons from our experience with the losers in our lives? Or, are we still drawn to the “bad-asses” who know how to manipulate the system? Do we admire the women who can manipulate and get away with murder at work and influence events for their own benefit? Do we overlook the lies and the cover-ups it takes to operate in this fashion? If so, then our companions will lead us into sin.
The people we hang with will definitely have an effect on what we think about life. Friends who seem attractive to us and flatter us may not be the best influence on our attitudes. Our attitudes toward our families, our wives or husbands, our bosses, and ultimately, our own sin, determine how we act.
We must not be seduced into thinking we can keep bad company and still retain good character and a healthy relationship to God. Light and darkness do not go together; one chases the other away. Like the old proverb says, “You lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.”
As the new year starts, we need to evaluate our acquaintances and determine if they have a positive or negative effect on us. Do they promote sinful actions or encourage us to stay close to Christ? We need to find other believers who will have a godly influence on us. Good company promotes good character.
17 Jan / 2018
A little boy found his father’s old collection of comic books in the basement. There were old Superman and Archie comic books alongside the Fantastic Four and Batman comics. All were sealed in plastic sleeves to prevent mold and dirt from destroying them. The son asked his father what these old comic books were worth. What was their value? The father replied, “They are worth what one person is willing to pay for them.”
What is a person worth? What are we worth? What are you worth? Do you ever sit alone after a tough day or in the midst of a busy life and ponder the question, “What am I worth?” Most of us do from time to time. The problem is that we look for the answers in the wrong places. In secular society the answer to “value” question is wrapped up in what our jobs are, or how much money we earn or how beautiful we are. Sometimes we flash the Rolex we wear to garner value from others. Sometimes we brag about the vacation spots we have visited or the new cars we are driving. In a world driven by advertising these are the answers put forth.
Big problem is all these things never satisfy. There is always someone with a more expensive car, flashier watch and bigger house. It is a fool’s game that leaves us feeling like we are hamsters on an exercise wheel. So what is the source of true value and significance?
The answer is found at the Cross of Christ. Remember, the power of the cross is that although we were more sinful than we ever dared think…God loved us so much that He sacrificed His Son to pay the penalty for our sin. God wanted relationship with us…valued us so much…that Jesus laid down His life voluntarily so that we would be in relationship with Him forever. This ultimate gift of love cannot be equaled and is the immovable rock that stands with us when times are good…but more importantly…when times are tough. God demonstrates our value to Him and His love for us on the Cross of Calvary.
03 Jan / 2018
The writer Helen Wodehouse said, “We think we must climb to a certain height of goodness before we can reach God. But He [God] does not say, ‘At the end of the way you may find me’; He says, ‘I am the Way; I am the road under your feet, the road that begins just as low down as you happen to be.’ If we are in a hole, the Way begins in the hole. The moment we set our face in the same direction as His, we are walking with God.”
Many of us wake up each morning feeling that God could never love us. People we trusted sometimes sexually abused us as children and then afterward angrily told us we were worthless. As adults, we often stayed in abusive relationships, hopelessly searching for love. We misguidedly thought that if we treated our abusers better, we could earn their love.
Many of us view a relationship with a loving God in the same twisted way. We mistakenly feel we must “be good” to earn His love. Nothing is further from the truth!
God does not care where we have been; He is concerned only about where we are going. He searches for us and meets us where we are. God comes alongside us at the most depressing moment of our lives and whispers that He loves us, forgives us, and believes in us (see John 3:16; Jeremiah 29:11). We can trust those words!
We can experience God’s redeeming love. We can cop to the sin in our lives and turn away (repent) from it (see 1 John 1:9). When we confess and change direction, we will be on the right road. His genuine, authentic love will flood our hearts as we walk in His direction.
18 Dec / 2017
Christmas is a happy time! Christmas is a time when trees are decorated with lights and ornaments, gifts are bought, put under the tree and families gather to celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. The popular Christmas songs we play create a mood and atmosphere of playfulness and warm feelings. The popular song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Yet, while it may be true for us, for those souls in prison, it is the very opposite.
The Holidays, especially for women in prison are a period of aggravated loneliness and severe self-loathing. Self-loathing and self-hatred flourish during the holidays for the incarcerated because they cannot be with their families…and, they know the reasons why. They have been convicted of a crime where the penalty is separation from society. They understand that, but recognition of their mistakes does nothing to alleviate the pain of their not being able to hug their babies, or press their noses against their child’s neck and inhale the sweet smell of their young child’s skin. They understand their actions and mistakes have caused their pain, but that makes them feel even worse about themselves. Christmastime, rather than being a time of family celebration and warm feelings, becomes, for women in prison, similar to being on a merry-go-round that has stopped dead. Life is no longer moving and all they can do is wait, pray and cry themselves to sleep. It is a very rough, tough and relentlessly cruel period of time for those in prison.
As followers of Jesus, we are not told to open up the prison doors and let everyone out regardless of crime. We are not commanded to ignore personal consequences and individual accountability. To be sure, Jesus would not advocate for a quick fix.
Rather, Jesus calls us to visit those in prison (See Matthew 25). To clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. He instructs us to love and visit them, and in doing so, love and visit Him, by proxy.
How can we do that? Several ways:
- Give a Gift: Prison Fellowship sponsors a program called Angel Tree. Angel Tree (pfm.org). PFM works with local churches and organizations to provides the names of the children of those incarcerated to people who are willing to buy a gift and have it delivered to the child in the parent’s name (google Angel Tree in your town).
- Write a ChristmasCard: Every prison has a Chaplain that can receive Christmas cards, even written anonymously, and distributed to inmates who wish a card. Look up a prison nearest to you on the Internet for specific facility information.
- Google “prison ministry (your city’s name): You will be astounded at how many small boutique prison ministries exist to help you connect with those hurting this Christmas Season.
All it takes is the willingness to help and the awareness that there are women and men who need to feel Jesus’ love through you and your efforts. Let them know, during this Christmas season, they are remembered! Do it today!
12 Dec / 2017
We all have a need to feel connected to another human being. Good marriages thrive on communication. Without daily sharing, one partner feels disconnected and alone. Suicides occur when people lose all loving contact with another human being. In our daily friendships, we require connection to each other. The people with whom we eat lunch or work out with, offer us a sense of community that’s vital to mental health and happiness.
But sometimes spouses or friends abuse that connection by using us for their own selfish, personal advantage. Some of us have been ripped off by a “friend” who stole from us to feed her habit. Perhaps we’ve done it to someone else. Any betrayal damages trust, but it also makes it less likely that we’ll offer that gift of connection again. Think about how we treat God and the connection He offers us through the intimacy of prayer. Don’t we often bring our own selfish wish list to our prayers? Don’t we often consider God a sort of Santa Claus and try to make deals with Him? And then we wonder why our prayers never seem to get an answer! Consider what James said about that, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3 Prayer is not a way to get our wish list completed. Jesus is not our gofer who is just about giving us what we want!
Rather, and more important, prayer is a direct link to the Creator of the universe. He has a plan for our lives, but like most plans, He needs to share them with us. Without our willingness to put aside our selfish concerns and really be quiet and listen to God speaking to us, we’ll never learn what He wants to say to us.
When we pray, let’s connect to God by using our ears first and our mouths second. Let’s keep our motives pure and ask God for the things we need so that we can serve Him.
05 Dec / 2017
We have been looking at 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s famous chapter on Love and what author Henry Drummond had to say about it in his essay, The Greatest Thing in the World. We have studied one virtue per month that when taken together form Love, i.e., The Greatest Thing in the World.
But as we read about these virtues, we admire them and would welcome them into our lives on a daily basis, but we also wonder how we do that? How can we get patience, kindness, generosity and humility, to name just a few, into our everyday persona? How do we learn to Love? The answer is the same answer to the question asked of a taxi driver in New York City. When a tourist asked, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” the driver sarcastically replied, “Practice, practice, practice.””
Drummond speaks to that taxi driver’s snarky (but accurate) response when he says:
“The world is not a playground; it is a school-room. Life is not a holiday; but and education. And one eternal lesson for us all is how better can we love. What makes a man a good (musician, sculptor, artist or athlete)…practice. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character.”
Christian character is crafted out of ever-changing circumstances. Sometimes the times are wonderful and happy; other times it is a trial and temptation. We should give thanks to God for both occasions. The good times are a classroom to practice humility. When we are flush with money, generosity should flourish in our hearts. But it is the tough times and painful experiences that mold our characters the most. Someone once said, “Pain is the Mother of Compassion.” That person was insightful.
We cannot isolate ourselves when times are good nor shrink away and curse our God when times are tough. When times are calm, we have the luxury of focusing on what pleases us. But it is the storms of life that build character. The German poet Goethe said as much when he wrote: “Talent develops itself in solitude; character in the stream of life.”
Do you want to be patient, kind, humble and generous? Then make a point to practice these virtues everyday, in some situation, for someone. You will be surprised as how fast these virtues take root in your souls.
21 Nov / 2017
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
Thanksgiving Day is a time set aside for us to acknowledge our gratitude and thanks to God and those around us for the bounty and blessings we have received. If over the last year our bosses gave us a bonus, we give thanks. If our children or spouses have been healthy and successful, we give thanks. Thanksgiving Day is almost 100% about expressing heartfelt gratitude for things we have received.
And, this is exactly the right thing to do. However, the Apostle Paul offers a new perspective on giving thanks that leads to banishment of fear and anxiety. In addition, the fear and anxiety is replaced with a peace that defies understanding…and the key to it is…giving thanks!
When we read the above listed passage from Philippians, we notice that we are instructed to not be anxious about anything…that would include, but not be limited to…our finances, our health, our jobs, our marriages or relationships…or absence of the same. It means giving up our fears about our children, grandchildren, and sons in prison or the drugs that assault our schools every day.
Paul teaches us to do three things: pray…petition (request, implore, plead) and give THANKS! Now, we certainly GET the first two…but most of us feel Paul has got the third thing wrong. How can we give thanks for something we have yet to receive? Are we supposed to thank God for an outcome that we are not sure is correct? Paul must have this one out of place…surely we should wait until we know what God’s answer is BEFORE we offer up Thanksgiving to God for His answer?
But Paul has not got it wrong. To receive the blessings of peace and rest, we need to trust God and do all three things. This means that we give THANKS to God for His answer to our prayers BEFORE we know the answer! This faith and trust in His provision signals to God that we are willing to acknowledge that His answers to prayer are better than our expectations…that HE WILL GET IT RIGHT! Faith that delivers freedom from anxiety and fear begins with the faith and trust that prays this prayer: “God hear the prayer that I would have prayed, if I had all your information.”
Let this Thanksgiving Day be one where we offer up praise and thanks for answers yet unknown…and live with adequacy knowing God has our back!