The Whole Story

I watched a TV documentary a couple of weeks ago about Thomas Jefferson’s bible, entitled – The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. He took the bible and physically cut it apart to assemble the New Testament in chronical order leaving out parts that show Jesus was true man and true God – the miracles and the resurrection for example. It was another glimpse into Jefferson’s world view which is not my point. For me, the idea of cutting up the bible into a shorter version is just one way that people are trying to make sense of, “what does it mean?”

Many non-denominational churches don’t want to talk about our sinful nature and our need for redemption. They’d rather focus on the help we can get from God if we are faithful in prayer and performing good works. We miss a big part of the teachings of God, through Jesus and His disciples, if we selectively pick and choose parts of the bible – we miss the whole story! My attention is drawn to the verses below since they speak to the bigger “story” of the meaning of our faith. Please read these slowly and listen to what they are saying to you. The majesty of the bible is that you can read it over and over and come away with something new each time. If you cut away pieces and parts, you will miss God speaking directly to you.

Romans 8:22-30

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

JOHN 14:23-29

 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

What is Love?

I was reading my devotional this week and the verses from 1 John 3 were a part of it. I’ve read this before, but it really stood out this week. Maybe it’s because I’m growing tired of all of the negativity in society today. People are arguing about everything – even when they agree! I’ve got a co-worker that calls that, “being in violent agreement with each other”. I think one aspect that really stands out is this, if you keep reading the bible (over and over) God will speak to you differently each time. As we enter Holy week, I believe there is no better way than to remind ourselves about love and God’s love for us. Let us be reminded of the peace that we find in Jesus.

1 John 3:11-24 11For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 4:7-21 7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 

17This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19We love because he first loved us. 20Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

My cousin Eileen passed away this week at the age of 53 from a short fight with cancer. Her daughter survived a fight a number of years ago when she was in her late teens but her nephew, who also had cancer did not; he was just a boy. My Aunt and Uncle have buried a grandson, a daughter, his parents and all of his siblings. Eileen’s passing is a stark reminder that nothing is within our control and at times, nothing makes sense. For months, the world has been very tumultuous. We’ve got the pandemic, police shootings, protests and politic unrest. It makes you wonder about the end-times. And, while all of this is going on, most people will just go about their business as if it doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t happening to them or in their community.

In our lives, we are constantly fighting a war against ourselves. We are worried about our jobs, the economy, the bills that are piling up and the latest news from our doctor. Worry sets in and we slowly start to panic – war has been declared. Pastor Greg Brown wrote a great book titled “The Seven laws of Breakthrough” in which he describes a journey that we take moving through our lives. At each level, we achieve strength and confidence just before we breakthrough the ceiling to the next level. He points out that when we breakthrough, we are once again on the floor. It is a great relief to know that we are not alone; we will not be challenged beyond what God knows we can handle. While we might think that we can’t possibly take any more and we feel like the waters are rising quickly, we should also feel the comfort and peace in knowing that He will be with us. Its easy to write – don’t worry about things, but when you know that you are not alone, it should make it a little easier to.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:1b-2

We have all heard people say or we have said it ourselves “God has a plan for you”. Some believe that the circumstances in their lives are merely chance happenings and that God doesn’t get into those details of your life or worse yet, that there isn’t a God at all. God does have a plan but it’s being revealed on His timeline not ours. A day or a year in God’s eye is not the same as an earthly one. Many of you will agree that “this life” is complicated and filled with all kinds of problems and trials. Can this really be part of God’s plan? It sure can be! God will only give us what we can handle and He wants us to grow in our faith and in our lives.

We cannot grow if we are not challenged; this is when breakthroughs occur. We all learned to crawl before we walked and mastered that before we started to run. These too were challenges and like the events of today; they exist for specific reasons. God, our Father, wants us to grow and like any parent who helps their baby take those first steps, He is there with us holding our hands for balance. As things get harder and the waters turn into rivers, He will be there, so we are not swept away. God’s grace and love are with us every day, sometimes you need to simply stop and realize it. Don’t rely on God only when you pass through the river, get to know Him and see what happens when you are only passing through the waters. Thank Him for His care and presence in your life.

God’s Armor

Calling someone a Christian leader should naturally come with the assumption that they will lead ethically, unfortunately there is temptation everywhere. Each of us have the ability to justify any action we take, whether right or wrong; the devil is always at work to throw us off course. The Josephson Institute lists twelve rationalizations that people will use to justify not making good ethical decisions: “1. It’s necessary, 2. if it’s legal, it’s okay, 3. it’s part of the job, 4. if it’s for a good cause, 5. doing it for someone else, 6. fighting fire with fire, 7. it won’t hurt anyone, 8. everyone’s doing it, 9. it’s okay if I don’t gain from it, 10. I’ve got it coming, 11. I can still be objective and 12. it’s creating necessity.”

No mater how we try justify our actions, when we violate the trust of the people in our lives, we have lost the one thing that is hard to get back; their respect. If we think about any of the latest “scandals” that have been reported and then compare the Josephson rationalizations listed, it is easy to see how things can get out of control. We must constantly guard against temptation at every turn and stay vigilant against the pressures of world around us.

“…let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Romans 13:12.

The “deeds of darkness” can be those things that we consciously do and those things that we do or think unconsciously. As Christians, we are under attack by the devil everyday; he’s trying to win us over from God. Remember how he tempted Jesus by offering him the riches of the world and how did Jesus respond? He used scripture to rebuff those temptations. God has given us everything we need in His word through the bible.

If we have the word on our hearts and in our minds, we will know what to do when the urge to justify our actions starts to rise up. When we put on “the armor of light” we can hold our heads high and confidently look at ourselves in the mirror and smile knowing we did the right thing; even when it was hard to do. In the long run, people will respect you for acting ethically despite how they may initially respond. The struggle is daily but our armor will keep us protected.

Anxiety

I can’t watch TV news any more, I can’t read news on-line anymore and I’m starting to turn off TV shows that have too much conflict between the characters in them. It seems like everywhere I turn, there is conflict –a non-stop loop from kindergarten of: “yes you did, no I didn’t”. It’s making my nuts (or nuttier). I think it is also influencing how we speak to each other. I’ve spent the last month working in a high-pressure environment with the U.S. Army (12hr days for 25 straight days) and things can get a little testy among the team. As we were wrapping up, one of the team asked me a simple question about going home and I gave him a very sharp answer. He observed, “it has been a tense few weeks”. I had no idea of the way that I spoke. We never really understand how our words and actions affect those around us. What if your kind words were the only kind words that people hear in their lives? Would you go out of your way to speak them then?

There is a story called the blue ribbon that tells of a father who was given a blue ribbon by someone at work because they identified him as being important to them. He was then challenged to give the ribbon to someone who was important to him. He struggled to find that one person and put the ribbon in his briefcase before heading home. Once he arrived home, he found his son sitting in his room as he walked by. He returned with the ribbon and gave it to his son, explaining what had happened that day. He explained that while their relationship hadn’t always been the greatest, he wanted him to know that he was special and important to him. The son started to break down uncontrollably. When he was able, he explained that he was sitting there contemplating suicide because he thought that no one cared. Go out of your way today to speak a kind word to someone, you never know what your impact will be.

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25

There is a lot to be anxious about these days. I seem to be writing a lot about worry and anxiety but they are everywhere and can take over a person’s life. However, those strong in faith know to send those worries and fears to God in prayer. What about the other people in our lives who do not have the confidence or assurance to do that, what can we do to help them? Well placed kind words can mean a great deal to everyone we encounter.

Last week we discussed compassion and leaving people feeling good after we see them. Consider this the warm up act for compassion. When we are simply nice, generous with ourselves and offer kind words we will make a difference in people’s lives. Jesus never spoke poorly about anyone, not even those trying to persecute and kill Him. He teaches us the real meaning of compassion. Jesus was always uplifting even in the face of terrible times. If we compare our lives to His, we have it pretty easy. Share your grace and peace with others as it has been shared with you. A kind word will cheer up an anxious heart.