Am I Being Punished?

Have you ever felt like every time you turn around there’s another problem? Do you get the impression you’re being punished? One answer is “Yes!” you could be suffering the consequences of poor decisions, but what if you’ve been walking with The Lord in his ways, but you still feel that way? What’s going on? The short answer is: “something very good”.

If you have felt that way before or are feeling that way now, here is an excellent word of encouragement for you from Hebrews 12:5-12:

“And have you forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For whar son is not desciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Lateer on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for you feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”

So you see, you’re “punishment” or discipline is not because God is against you, but because he’s for you! He loves you and wants to see you grow into the person he’s created you to be. So don’t lose heart, but learn to appreciate the hard things, because they are proving you to be children of God!

A Vision Worth Working For

“So we built the wall… for the people had a mind to work.” -Nehemiah 4:6

The setting for the story of Nehemiah is that the people of Israel had been in captivity for 70 years and God has now granted that they should return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. So the rebuilding of Jerusalem was more than just building another city it was a sign of God’s mercy towards his people and a sign of his people turning back to him after years of rebellion. It was in a sense a ministry of reconciliation. This reconciliation was demonstrated not only in the work that they did but by the heart with which they did it.

Sometimes we lose motivation at work because we don’t have a vision for it. It just becomes something we do simply because we have to in order to survive. And as great as surviving is, we want to know that our work means something more. The truth is you can have a vision worth working for and you don’t even have to change your career.

You see, in Colossians 1:19-20 we’re told that God is reconciling ALL THINGS to himself through Christ. All things means all things – the whole created order. And that includes YOUR WORK! Consider the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was Jewish tax collector for the Roman government. He cheated and extorted people and therefore became rich by false and unsavory means. But after he met Jesus all that changed. He repaid the people he cheated four times the amount he extorted and even gave half of his wealth to the poor. You see, once he was reconciled to God so was his work. The way he operated his business was a demonstration of the mercy and reconciliation he had received and the people around him benefited because of it.

Likewise, your work can be a demonstration of God’s mercy and righteousness. You can literally reveal God’s nature to the people around you by the way you work and what you do with your income. Are other people benefiting somehow from your work? Are you demonstrating God’s character through your work? If so, you are a part of God’s mission to reconcile all things to himself through Christ – that’s a vision worth working for!

Who’s Responsible for Me?

“(2) Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. (3) For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing he deceives himself. (4) But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. (5) For each will have to bear his own load.” -Galatians 6:2-5

The first and last sentences of this passage seem contradictory; one says “bear each others burdens” and the other says “each will have to bear his own load”. So that might leave us asking: “Who’s Responsible for Me?” The truth is many people don’t know the answer to this question. And this is another area of life that needs balanced in our day.

There are two facts about our own responsibility that need to be reconciled: 1. We are responsible for ourselves, and 2. We will, at some time, need help with our responsibilities. Verse 3 tells us why this gets out of balance. According to verse 3 we get out of balance when we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. In one case, the person who thinks highly of himself refuses to help someone else because he believes that he achieved his position in life without the help of others and therefore everyone else should do the same. On the other hand, someone might think so highly of themselves that they believe that they are entitled to have others take care of them, or “bear their burdens”. Neither of these attitudes are correct.

So how then do we reconcile these two facts and therefore correct the two incorrect attitudes that result from them. The key is in one phrase: “the law of Christ”. What is the law of Christ? We find the answer in John 13:34. After Jesus had the last supper with the disciples and then washed their feet He told them: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” The law of Christ then is love! If we act with love toward one another then the two issues are reconciled. For on the one hand, love would teach the first person that he did not get to his place in life on his own and that he could be a means of helping someone else get on their feet. For the second person, love would compel them to not become a burden unnecessarily to those around him and would urge him to find ways to be a benefit to others. Love causes us to take responsibility for ourselves and for those around us. Love teaches us that if someone we know is suffering that is not only a reflection on them, but on us as well. For it is true that everyone is ultimately responsible for themselves, but the love of Christ would have us feel responsible for all.

Jesus isn’t unfamiliar with either of these struggles. He is the Only Begotten Son of God, through whom all things are made and for whom all things are made. If anyone had the right to brag of their position and tell others to measure up it would be Him. But He didn’t do that. Instead, He took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7) and gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). As a human, Jesus grew up poor and in lived in a city that didn’t grant much opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty. Yet, in spite of the set-backs of His circumstances and background He still became the savior of the world. He was faced with both sides of the issue and He modeled love on either side. He was not arrogant and stingy nor did He believe Himself to be entitled to anyone’s to anyone’s help, even though He was often in need.

Therefore, let us take responsibility for ourselves – only you are responsible for you. Yet, all the while let us continue to care for every person as if they were are own responsibility, for such is the example of Christ and the law of love.

Retire or Rebrand?

“Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you – I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” -Philemon v.9

There are three things we can deduct about the Apostle Paul from this verse: 1. He’s still ministry, 2. He’s old, and 3. He’s in prison for the sake of Jesus. To get a clearer picture of what’s going on in Paul’s life it’s important to know that his imprisonment at this time was not like the others. He’s not in a cell somewhere, cut off from society. No, he was actually under house arrest in Rome. He was not cut off from society completely, people were allowed to come and go as often as they liked, he wrote and sent letters to the churches and received letters from fellow believers. And most of all, he continued to proclaim the gospel and see many come to faith in Jesus; Onesimus, the young man discussed in the letter to Philemon, was one such person.

Now to those of you about to retire or are already retired consider this: Your work isn’t done yet! You may not be a carpenter, a salesman, an engineer, or whatever it was you did for the past 30+ years of your career, but you are still a Christian. In fact, your Christian experience is invaluable to the rest of the Church. If you have walked with the Lord for many years, then you have a lot to pass on to the younger Christians. So, don’t look at this season of your life as retirement, look at it as “rebranding”.

In the previous devotion we talked about the priesthood of all believers, and discussed the call on every believer in every walk and season of life to be a minister of the gospel. In this season of your life you have less restraints on your time even though you may be restrained in other ways. Paul, was restrained in a great many ways, yet because of those restraints he had time, time to mentor, teach, encourage, exhort, write, and so on. In a world as busy as ours, many young Christians need mature believers to dedicate their time to them, to listen to them and mentor them and exhort them in godly living. That person could be you! So don’t retire – rebrand!

Every Believer a Priest

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light… Live such good lives among the unbelievers that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” -1 Peter 2:9, 12

Here the Apostle Peter calls all believers “a royal priesthood”, but what does that mean, and how does it look in our daily living? In short, being a priest is being an intercessor or a mediator between God and man. As priests our duty – and privilege – is to pray for people, model godly living for them, and seek to reconcile them to God.

This is not just a task for those who have gone to seminary, it is the responsibility of every believer! To be a priest, you don’t have to have studied hermeneutics and  homiletics, or have systematic theology down pat; you simply need to know what God has done for you and who He’s called you to be. As a priest, you are meant to declare God’s praises. What has He done for you? How has He moved in your life, provided for you, healed you, guided you, forgiven you etc.? As a priest you are to share these things with your spouse, your children, your co-workers, friends, etc.

You are also meant to live a holy life, fraught with good deeds. That is, you are to live a life that displays the character of God; demonstrating His genuine love, kindness, and generosity toward others. You don’t have to start a church or organization, you don’t have to move overseas, or even speak in front of great crowds (although some are called to do these things). What is required of every believer is to live the way Jesus would in our respective situations.

As we share about the good things God has done in our lives and model a godly life people will be drawn to God. What people? Where do we do these things? The answer: All people, everywhere. With your family, your co-workers, your sports team, your classmates – whomever, wherever. That’s how the gospel is meant to spread. It spreads through everyday, ordinary believers walking with God each day, declaring His praises and modeling His character in plain view of those who don’t yet know Him, so that they may know Him through our lives, our words and our actions.

How about you? Are you a priest? Have you been seeking to reconcile those around you to God? You can be – you’re called to be! You don’t have to drop everything and get ordained through some institution, you simply need to live fully for God in your day-to-day and watch how God can build His kingdom through you!

How Shall They Be Reached?

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” -1 Corinthians 5:10

Paul was writing to the Corinthians about the immorality that was taking place in their congregation. When he tells them to not associaate with the sexually immoral person he makes sure to clarify that does not include unbelievers. Oftentimes, as the Church, we get this wrong, even backwards. We avoid certain people at work because of their foul language, or we don’t talk to a certain relative because of their poor life choices, and so on. But in this Scripture we see that this should not be our behavior. He says, in effect, that if you don’t want to interact with sinful people, you need to leave the world. In fact, if you don’t want to interact with sinful people and you spend your time judging them it’s probably better that you do leave the world.

There are people who say things like, I wish I could work at a Christian organization or around no one but Christians. It is good that they desire things to be right in the work place, but such a statement is a selfish one. People who want to only work around other Christians all the time say such things because they want to better enjoy their work atmosphere. However, to separate ourselves from the world is to condemn the world, because we are removing the light (our own witness) from them. Again, if we separate ourselves from the people of the world – how shall they be reached?

Therefore, the goal of the Christian is not to get away from evil as much as possible. Instead, it is our mission to brush shoulders with evil on a daily basis so that we might be the means of expelling it. We need to interact daily with the immoral, the perverse, the unbelieving so that through our witness – in both word and deed – such people may come to a knowledge of the truth and a sincere faith in Christ.

Down is the Quickest Way Up

“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.” -Romans 9:16

The context of this verse is set in Israel’s hardening toward the gospel and the Gentile’s acceptance of it, but there is much application for each of us as individuals as well. You see, the same principle applies to our own salvation as well as our daily Christian living and to our ministries. Too often we think that if we follow particular steps exactly right we will get results. We hear this all the time with sermon titles like – “7 Steps to a Victorious Life” or “The Five Stones You Need to Slay Your Giants” and so on. The problem with this mentality is that God is not a system to be worked, and we cannot make Him do things for us simply because we “played by the rules”.

That is not to say that God doesn’t love to answer our prayers or help us when we call, but He doesn’t do so on account of our desires or efforts. He answers us on account of His mercy. That is why the title of this devotion is “Down is the Quickest Way Up”, because the only way we will ever see change in our lives, ministries, country, etc. is by humbling ourselves before God and depending solely upon His mercy.

There is one thing that the revivals recorded throughout history have in common – prayer! Humble, heart-felt prayer offered up in unity among all God’s people across denominational lines. So once again, it is high time that we seek God earnestly and in unison as believers. Let’s not rush ahead and try to make things happen by our own efforts; instead, let us throw ourselves on the mercy of God and wait for Him to answer.

Deepen Your Soul

“Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting we will do so.” -Hebrews 6:1-3

Just last week, Hope Christian Academy opened its doors for this school year. We have a variety of age groups at the school and each one is at a different level of learning. Among those age groups are the very young who are just now learning the elementary facts of addition and subtraction. These, of course, are basic to all other math skills one will need in life. These foundations must be laid.

However, it would be a bit strange – in fact, the school would be brought into question – if our high school students were still studying the principles of addition and subtraction. Unfortunately, we often do this as Christians, we hang on to the elementary things of the faith and fail to move on to the deeper things. Here, the writer of Hebrews says that repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection, and the judgment are all “elementary”. That is, these are all the foundational principles of the Christian faith. This Scripture indicates that once we have learned these things we need to move forward – there is so much more to learn! It is important to have the foundational things in place or else we can’t go on, but once we do have the foundational things we must go on.

Let’s go back to the high school student studying basic principles of math. If the student had been studying the same things for that many years, you can be sure that he or she would be beyond bored, he or she would be entirely disinterested. On the other hand that student may feel like a master of math and that they know all there is to know about math. Again, this happens in the faith as well. Some people who stay on the primary things eventually become disinterested in the faith or they begin to believe that they have everything figured out and they become arrogant and complacent.

Therefore, check yourself today and examine you’re attitude. Are you disinterested in the faith, do you think that you know all there is to know, or are you learning and growing and deepening you soul?

Culture and Salt

What is culture? How should the church respond to its surrounding culture? Many have debated over this issue. So what should we do, do we reject it or embrace it? The simple answer is both. But to better understand this we have to know what culture is and we have to know what Jesus has said about it.

First, what is culture? A most basic description of culture is: the worldview, beliefs, values and behaviors that are characteristic of a particular group of people.

In light of this definition let’s take a look at a familiar passage of Scripture and look at how it applies to this question of culture: Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:13 that we are the salt of the earth. To know how this applies to culture lets take a look at the functions of salt.

A. Salt preserves meat from decay. Likewise, the Church should preserve the moral value of its surrounding culture. This does not mean the Church preserves the culture in the sense of never allowing it to change, but that the Church should keep the culture from becoming corrupted by sin. (i.e. immorality, injustice, pride/arrogance, dishonesty, exploitation of its own people or outsiders, etc.).

B. Salt enhances the natural flavors of a food. Likewise, the Church should highlight or enhance those good qualities of the surrounding culture.

C. Salt creates thirst in the one who consumes it. The Church should impact the culture in such a way that it makes the people of that culture realize their thirst for God. Everyone in every culture is thirsty for God. The problem is that they try to satisfy that thirst with other things. The Church is meant to enhance this thirst and point the thirsty in the direction of the Living Water – which is what Jesus refers to Himself as in John chapter 4 – so that they would find satisfaction for their thirst in Christ.

So, how should the church respond to the culture it resides in? Well, we see that it’s not just a matter of embracing or rejecting; it’s also a matter of adding to the culture. The Church should embrace what is good, reject what is evil, and add or enhance that element of thirst.

To give a concrete example, let’s look at something from our own culture. It was once said, “If you want to learn about Americans, learn about baseball.” Baseball is a huge part of our culture. Even people that don’t like it end up at game with some friends or watching it at friends barbeque/baseball party. Is baseball wrong? No, it’s just a game. So can the Church embrace baseball? Yes, baseball is a wholesome activity that the Church could support and even get involved in. Baseball could even become an avenue for building the Kingdom of God. Christian players can demonstrate integrity and good sportsmanship, Christian fans can exercise self-control, umpires can exercise fairness, and so on. Thus, as Christians get involved with baseball we could begin to affect it positively, by highlighting the good (such as fairness) and rejecting the bad (such as cheating) and even add the element of spiritual thirst because when we walk in the good character of Christ it would make non-Christians desire, or thirst, for the Source of the goodness we promote.

Being the salt of the earth comes with a warning though. Jesus goes on to say, “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Therefore, if we do not fulfill our duty as salt, the world will not only be unaffected by us, but we will be trampled by them. Our saltiness is not just based on the quality of our character, but also on our effectiveness to “season” the world around us. Therefore, if we have Christ-like character, but fail to use it to salt the world around us we have become ineffective salt and are in danger of losing our saltiness.

Church Growth

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” -1 Corinthians 3:6

Should there really be conferences and seminars on Church growth? Didn’t God make it easy for us? In this Scripture we see clearly who is responsible for Church growth – and it’s not us! We are to plant and water, but it is up to God to cause growth. In spite of all our efforts to grow we often fail because we take on the wrong role in the process. We try so many things to make our churches grow, but should we really expect spiritual results from natural means? We too often depend on our own ideas and efforts rather than simply doing our part of planting and watering and trusting God to fulfill His part – the growth!

Yes, there are times that the Church will have to make certain adaptations as the world around us changes – and we should confer about these things. That being said, the changes we make to our local congregations, buildings, structure, worship style, etc. should be done only as a means of relating better to the people we hope to reach, not as some gimmick to effect growth. Being relevant is an important part of the equation, but it’s not nearly as important as trust; that is, trusting God enough not to try and take His responsibility of making the Church grow. Instead, let us all resolve to stick to our task of planting and watering and let God take care of His.

“And The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:47