Don’t imitate Gaston…

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Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 1.08.36 PMGaston is the biggest braggart I can think of in any movie. Nobody likes him. He goes about telling everyone how great he is. Ugh!

Today’s Scripture talks about bragging. We are told not to “boast” about being saved. Our salvation is completely due to God’s choice-and nothing we have done to earn or work for it. God does not want us bragging about it.

Have you ever been tempted to brag about being saved? I doubt it. I haven’t. We understand that God has given us an amazing gift in salvation, but I was thinking that whole boasting part doesn’t really fit me. Why did God include that?

I suspect to fully understand this we have to consider the audience Ephesians is written to. It is a letter written to mostly Gentiles, who have become believers. There was a HUGE divide between Jew and Gentile in this day. If you were a Jew (religiously speaking) you were “better” than the others. You were one of the “chosen people.” Think CEO versus homeless person from a religious perspective. (Seriously, Gentiles were not even allowed in certain places of the temple!) Jews were in. If you weren’t a Jew, you were lower, not as good, not as respected. Now that the Gentiles had been able to become believers, maybe the temptation was to say, “Hey, look at me. Now I am in the ‘in’ group.” Maybe there was  temptation to boast about it. I am not sure, but my guess is that is why God made it clear to be thankful, not to boast. They hadn’t done a thing to earn this privilege or status. It was all the giver, God, not the receiver.

We may not boast about salvation, but perhaps we can contemplate other areas we are tempted to boast about. Are you smart? Am I good with the computer? Are you athletically talented? These are NOTHING compared to salvation, but I still think it is a good reminder that we didn’t “earn” those things either. You and I may have worked hard to learn some things, to get good grades, to stay in shape or so on, but ultimately none of those things would be accomplished IF God had not instilled the ability in us in the first place. We have nothing to brag about.

Keeping these things in mind today, I hope we can be more humble. May we be more thankful for all the gifts God gave us. May we never take credit. Above all of this, may we begin to comprehend the love God had for us to redeem us with his Son’s blood so that He could give us the gift of salvation. The more we understand the depth of that love, the less we will ever be tempted to brag about anything.

Been “blown away” recently?

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Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.54.10 AMI  have recently spoken with a number of parents of middle school children. Unfortunately, one of the things I continue to hear is how hard middle school is and how mean some middle schoolers can be. It seems one of the reasons is because middle schoolers are very easily influenced. They can “turn” on anyone at any time. No one is free from being a “target.” The sad part is, someone who may have been a friend yesterday may turn on you today. It just takes a suggestion by another friend or someone pointing out a flaw to be made fun of. Next thing you know, one innocent person is being emotionally battered (or physically pushed around) in an instant when they were least expecting it…and who knows who is the next victim?

This same idea of being easily influenced that you and I experienced in Middle school is what Paul talks of today in Ephesians. He tells us to no longer be infants, or for that matter, like children, tossed back and forth by the waves. Easily influenced. He is not referring to middle school meanness though, he is referring to doctrine-good doctrine verses false doctrine. God knows and has told us through Paul in Scripture, that false teachers will come-and they will teach lies. We are not to believe these. We should not be constantly changing our “stance” on doctrine. The only way to avoid this is to know the truth. This verse starts out with “then.” It comes after a section where Paul is encouraging the Ephesians (and us) to be built up in the faith and knowledge of God-so we can become a mature body of believers. Only THEN will we not be blown around by those “winds” and “waves.”

Just as you matured from Middle School and hopefully, are not as easily swayed to tease or make fun of fellow students, you and I should be maturing in our faith. We should be growing in the knowledge of God, so that we know what is not truth. We should know if someone preaches “God wants us to prosper and be happy all the time” that this is not true. We should have James come to mind who speaks of trials we will go through. Being mature in truth would mean knowing that a church who decides that homosexuality was not really forbidden in the Bible, but was just a cultural norm, is a church that is twisting Scripture and is not teaching truth. Being mature enough not to be blown by the winds of false doctrine would include holding to the truth that without Christ a person is destined to hell, a real hell-eternal separation from God. We would know there is only one way to heaven: Jesus. Being a mature believer means being built up by the body of other mature believers, who are teaching truth in church, in books, in Bible studies and other ways, and availing ourselves as often as possible to them, so that we are not “blown away.

The tried and true “remedy”…

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Printable15Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 11.42.04 AMMiriam had strep throat this year at least 3 times while at Liberty by my best count. Each time she was prescribed a z-pack (Zithromax antibiotic) I was relieved. In fact, that is what I hoped and even asked her to ask them for. Why? Because a z-pack works against this type infection every time. It is simple. It is proven. It works time and time again and I knew it would cure her and help her feel better each time.  I want you to keep this in mind as we look at this week’s memory verse.

This week’s verse from Proverbs should be fairly simple to memorize as well as understand. Some of the key words or phrases I am listing below, as always, with their alternate translations from other English versions of the Bible:

proves true: is pure, is tried, tested and refined, passes the test, can be trusted, flawless, perfect
shield: defends, guards, safe-covering
who take refuge: put their trust in him, come to him for safety, hope in him, seek his protection

The point of this verse? God’s Word has proven true, his promises are always kept, his wisdom is flawless. We can and should trust in it. It is where we should go when we seek refuge. Go to God’s Word and take refuge in it and in God’s counsel through it.

This is why I brought up the z-pack. Just like I have 100% confidence that this antibiotic would heal Miriam, I have infinitely more confidence that God’s Word will do what is says and prove true. It will do this every. single.time. It is a solid shield. It is where we should go. It is why it is important to study it, know it, read it daily, memorize it on a consistent basis and thereby immerse ourselves in it. It is trustworthy beyond all compare, and is able to cure us from so much more than a z-pack that takes care of strep throat!

Squeaky clean…

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Printable15Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 12.12.08 PMAlmost  every day after practice, Aaron comes home and takes a shower. He works out hard at lacrosse-and wants to wash off the covering of sweat and dirt that has accumulated. I think we are all thankful he showers daily! Of course, he has to do it all over again every day-one shower is not enough. Each day he gets dirty, so each day he needs to wash himself clean again.

When Paul speaks of washing today in Ephesians, he too is speaking of getting something clean. In this case, he is referring to what Christ has done for us as believers. Jesus desire is for us to be clean every day, but not bodily clean-he is speaking of spiritual cleanliness. The “clean” that is required to have a relationship with God. In fact, it is more than “squeaky clean”- He wants us “radiant”, “without stain or wrinkle..or blemish.” That is REALLY clean.

How in the world does that happen? First, we have to realize we are dirty, spiritually speaking. This happens when anyone realizes they are a sinner, which you all know. Sin ruins us spiritually and makes us completely unfit to be in the presence of God or to even have a relationship with Him of any sort.

That “dirt” is only cleansed from us by Christ and through the Word. While it may take more study of this verse, I think we can safely say there are two types of cleansing. First, when we become believers, the blood of Christ cleanses us of our sins. We are forgiven and will not be punished for our sin. But, do we stop altogether with sin? No, sadly we don’t. Each day, we need to be cleansed through the word. This is why I am constantly reminding us all to be in the Word daily. We will not see our sin, see what is right or wrong or be cleansed by the Word, if we aren’t in it. When we are in the word, God instructs us through the Spirit about what is right and wrong, what is sin and what is not. The Holy Spirit through the Word helps us “see” the dirt, and then we can be cleansed of it. It is in this way that we are being perfected so that we can ultimately be presented without “stain or wrinkle.”

I know you all showered this morning, but did you spiritually shower? Did I? Did your Bible even get cracked open yet today? If not, there is still time. Get in the spiritual “shower” and wash that dirt off with the Word of God.

Serve wholeheartedly…

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 10.06.48 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 10.06.43 AMWhen Miriam starts back this year at Texas Roadhouse, she is going to be a server. She will be serving all types of customers, some will be kind, others may be complainers. Some will be good tippers, others will not. It would be nice if she could choose, but she will not have that luxury. She will need to serve everyone well regardless of if they are a “good” customer or not.

The good news is, even if they are not a “good” customer, or a good tipper, she will still be rewarded, if she serves wholeheartedly and well. Why? Because, although she will be serving a human being and their family at the table, from the eternal perspective, even when it comes to waitressing, she has the opportunity to be serving God. He will see how she serves, and whatever good she does He will reward her for.

Paul’s instruction above concerning working or “serving” the Lord is common to us, but how about the “reward” part? Did you know that is part of it? You can reread that verse as often as you want, but I don’t see any way to avoid reading there is some type of reward for serving the Lord well, every day, in all the jobs He gives us. It does not tell us what the reward will be-but from other Scripture, we can learn it may be a blessing in this world OR it may be a reward we will receive on Judgment day.  The fact is, there is a reward.

We have always encouraged you all to work hard, and to work as “unto the Lord.” I still encourage you to do this. But today, as you think about this-whether you are cleaning your room, cleaning up the kitchen, doing schoolwork or later when you are working at your career or in the home-never forget who you are serving, how you should serve, and that there are rewards involved. We serve a great and glorious God, who loves to “lavish” on His children. Nothing goes unnoticed by Him. We should be working and serving our very best because of what He has done for us, not out of obligation. May we work as “unto the Lord” in all things out of love for our “King”-who has given us a huge inheritance for eternity. And, may we be further encouraged to do so in the here and now, knowing He has also promised rewards for good work.

Be a copycat…

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Printable15Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 12.02.34 PMWhen Jordan and Aaron were little, they both wanted to cut the lawn like dad did.  As a means of “being like dad”, they would follow behind him with the little fisher price lawnmower. They were imitating dad, wanting to be like him.

This was a good desire. I hope they still have this desire and hopefully Miriam too. But not just in terms of cutting the grass-and also not just desiring to imitate your earthly dad. Now, as you become adults, while dad has set a wonderful example, we hope and pray that desire to “copy” your dad, turns toward your heavenly father. He is the one we desire you to imitate. He is the one we too, should be imitating.

Paul reminds us of this today in Ephesians. All of us are to be imitators of God. Think about that. Consider what it means to imitate someone or something. To imitate is to copy or repeat what is being done. Do you and I know how to imitate God? Have we ever seen him or watched Him so we even know what to do? No one has seen God, the father. BUT, we have seen Jesus. This in fact, is part of why God sent Jesus. He was sent so we could see God in the flesh. How can you and I imitate like Jesus?

Jesus was humble. He was the creator of the world, but certainly did not go around bragging about how awesome he was, pointing out all his awesome achievements at every step along the way. Be humble. Don’t brag. Jesus was kind. Every gospel tells countless stories of Jesus seeing people in need in the course of His day, and he stopped and took the time to help in whatever way He could. Be kind. Look for and help others who are in need. He did not draw attention to himself. He often went away if too much attention was being drawn his way, knowing he was here on earth and the purpose was not for him to become “famous”-it was something completely different. He came to serve, even to the point of death. Serve others-don’t strive for the admiration from them. These are just a few examples we can start with.

Jesus is an example we should spend the rest of our lives trying to imitate. We are the children of God, and just as you used to try to imitate dad cutting the grass, turn that desire heavenward now as young adults. Where are you and I walking today “behind God” and trying to copy Him? May we ourselves show the world what our heavenly father is like by the ways we are imitating Him daily. Go ahead. Be a copycat, because in this case, it is a very good thing!

The kind of stiff-neck that never heals…

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Printable15Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 12.55.33 PMDad has had a stiff neck for the past few days. Fortunately, it is not the kind of stiff neck God speaks of in this week’s memory verse. Dad’s will eventually heal-as opposed to what we hear about today in Scripture, which has a point of no return. Let’s take a deeper look at Proverbs 29:1. Reread it then consider these phrases:

often reproved – stays stubborn after many corrections, hates discipline, refuses to accept criticism, defiant
stiffens his neck – this is actually a farming reference referring to an animal who would fight being put into the yoke for farm work. The Old Testament people would have clearly understood this illustration, and I am certain that even though we are not farmers, we can too.
broken beyond healing – destroyed without remedy, shattered instantly, crushed and never recover, too late for help.

Again, we find ourselves learning a Proverb that is not hard to understand. The person who turns their back on correction time and time again, is basically headed for disaster. The prime biblical example of this would be Pharaoh, when Moses warned him and gave him instruction. He refused it, hardened his heart, and reached a point of no return. I would venture to guess you have seen this amongst your friends or classmates-ones who have been warned by teachers, administration, and their parents to be more obedient, or respect authority or to stop behaviors that were damaging. Sadly, those who did not heed such instruction may have been expelled and/or the course of their future has been drastically changed.

God’s “yoke” and instruction is for His glory and our good. Refusing it is utter foolishness and will lead to destruction. It is always a bad choice. Have you or I been corrected lately and refused that correction? Really take a minute to consider this. Is there an area in your life that dad or I have spoken with you multiple times about but you are refusing the correction? If you are not sure, consider an area you get defensive on as soon as you are spoken too-that is a red flag that you are being defiant and becoming “stiff-necked”. Dad and I can also examine our own lives and see if God has corrected or reproved us through others and we need to listen and heed the instruction. This does not only apply to children-it is for all. The bottom line is-while we may not like to be corrected, we are fools to ignore godly advice and correction. May none of us find ourselves to be stiff-necked in any way, other than the occasional sleeping on the wrong pillow kind-that will go away in time!

Still standing?

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Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.38.09 AMWe made it back safely yesterday with Miriam and all her belongings, thankfully. Jordan and Miriam are both done all of their exams, papers and their Junior/Freshman year respectively. Aaron will be finished soon as well. They both finished strong and made it through the difficult times and pressures. Now, they are safely home and can rest up and enjoy the summer.

That picture of finishing a tough year and finally coming home I think is a piece of the picture Paul is painting for us in Ephesians today. Its what he wants us aiming for. We are all familiar with the passage about the armor of God, but what caught my eye today was the last part of this verse: “…and after you have done everything, to stand.” Have you ever thought about this? What does that mean?

The day of evil in the beginning of the verse is also translated “day of trouble” or “resisting the devil’s methods of attacks.” Keep that in mind. Now, that last thought says with the armor of God, we will make it through those attacks, difficult days, evil times. Kind of like making it through all the final exams and papers-the hard times, the “tests”, etc. Then, in the end, we will still be standing. All the work will be finished, the spiritual work that God has set before us, and we will stand. In fact, at the very end (our life of course) we will get to “go home.” We will have stood strong and go home forever, kind of like Miriam and Jordan are now home-only infinitely better.

For now, we are in the “evil day”, and the “times of trouble” will come and go. For now, we need to heed the first part of Paul’s instruction: put on the full armor of God. Just like all three of you take time to prepare for your exams, you and I need to take time to put on the full armor of God each day, so that when the battle (tests) come, we can defend ourselves, attack when needed, and stay strong. The armor includes truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. We are in a battle. We will only win each battle (and there are many!) and remain standing if we are well armed. Just like you would never pass a final exam without studying, we should not think we will survive Satan’s attacks without being armed with these things. Arm yourself today. Listen to, read and know what is truth as opposed to what is told to us by the world is “truth”. Act in accordance with righteousness. Have faith in God. Look to live in peace at all times you possibly can. Be assured in your salvation. Be in the Word-reading, listening, discussing, hanging out with others who love God’s word. Join in this army-so that in the end, we have “stood our ground” and are ready to go home, having fought and won.

Go ahead, seek happiness…

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 1.18.58 PMPrintable15Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 1.18.54 PMDo you want to be happy? Do you like being happy? I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t. I even picked this as the theme for the month of May on these devotions; I chose the Disney character named “Joy”.

I once heard in a sermon that almost every time joy is mentioned in the Bible, the word “happy” or some form of it is usually found nearby. They go hand in hand. But here is today’s surprise- apparently the words “blessed” and “happy” are also related. As I began to research this week’s words in the verse, happy popped right up. It is the only other word used in English translations for “blessed” in this particular verse. Let’s look at all the “main” words…
blessed: happy
fears the Lord: is afraid of evil, obeys the Lord, respects the Lord, fears to do wrong, fearful of sin.
hardens his heart: hardened mind, to be cruel, stubborn, doesn’t care about sin
calamity: mischief, disaster, trouble, misfortune, evil, ruin, serious trouble, hard life

I don’t think anyone would have trouble understanding this verse simply by reading. This proverb tells us that those who obey the Lord and are fearful of sin are “happy”, but those who don’t care about sin and are stubborn, will fall into disaster or have a very hard life. This is not rocket science. This is life.

The next time Satan tries to convince or deceive you or I that sin will be so much “fun” and will make you so “happy”…consider this Proverb and decide who you think you should believe. Remember, I haven’t ever heard anyone who has a hard life or who has experienced disaster after disaster say it was really “fun” and made them “happy”. Stick with the truth about finding true joy and happiness every time!

Royal “etiquette”…

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Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 9.45.11 AMI am pretty sure no one in this family follows the lives of Prince William and Kate, but you can’t help seeing them in the news. They are the young couple in England who have had two children and they will be in line for the throne at some point. Being in the royal family means their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, will need to behave a certain way. They will be taught how to wave to the crowds, how to eat at fancy meals, who to speak to and who not to and even what to wear on certain occasions. As children of royalty, their lives are different than others. There are actually  “royal etiquette” rules they will learn. But, with being born into royalty are some benefits as well. They inherit a palace, fortunes, and even though they have to wear certain clothes, they will be given those clothes-they don’t have to “find” them or buy them on their own.

Keep this picture in mind as you read Ephesians 4:1. Prince George and Princess Charlotte have a calling in life to be a prince and princess. Because of this they are expected to behave a certain way and will be given the tools to do so. Paul tells us that we have a calling too. We are called to be God’s children, and to inherit His kingdom. Along with this privilege, there are also expectations regarding how we behave. It should and will be different from how those who are NOT part of God’s family act and live. Some of the “etiquette” (or behaviors) listed in Ephesians that others should see in God’s royal family include: humility, patience, gentleness, love, unity, peacemaking, speaking truth, kindness, forgiving hearts and compassion. We are to be living in this manner. It is this manner that is “worthy of the Lord” and because of who we are. We not only “should” live this way, but we have been given all the tools enabling us to live this way. The question daily is, are we? Are we representing the kingdom well? Is there some “etiquette” that we might need to work on or just remind ourselves we should be living out? Look at the list above with me and choose which of the characteristics you think is your strongest, and which is your weakest area. Let’s bring these to the Lord in prayer and ask him to help make us better “royals” who are living the life that is fully worthy of the calling we have received as his royal children!