No need to be scared…

This summer I get to go to the Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference with some ladies from church. It is June  14-16th. I can choose which speakers I would like to hear based on what they will be speaking about. For instance, Don Carson’s talk is on “Teaching the Bible as One Book.” The title tells me what he will be speaking about.

If I told you that Paul was one of the speakers and he was speaking on the gospel or about faith in Jesus Christ what do you think he would talk about? He would talk about Jesus resurrection, how Jesus was the Messiah promised from the Old Testament or maybe even how Jesus was the final passover lamb for all sins, right? Sometimes, that is what he talked about. In today’s Scripture though, that is not what he spoke about. Today, in Acts, we read about Paul coming before a governor and when he spoke “about faith in Christ Jesus”, he “discoursed” on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come. It is not exactly the main subject I would expect him to talk about to the governor. Not only wasn’t it what I was expecting, but the governor’s response is also different than I would expect: We are told he was afraid. He was scared, but not scared enough to stop meeting with Paul. Not scared enough to stop listening.

This portion of Paul’s life can remind us to just speak truth. The response of the listener is not our responsibility. Felix was apparently familiar with “the Way”, which was what they called Christianity sometimes in that day. He continued after this encounter, to send for Paul because he and his wife wanted to talk to him more about Jesus. They had questions, so Paul answered whatever questions they had.

If I asked you today to go out and “share the Gospel” or “tell someone about faith in Christ”, would it be easy for you? Maybe, speaking about our “faith in Christ” is not always the formal, practiced speech that we think of when we are challenged to “share the gospel”. I know I have an inherent fear of trying to “share the gospel” with a stranger. But, if a stranger or friend asked me to answer some questions about Jesus Christ I am pretty sure I could do that. What about you?

Paul reminds us today that sharing or speaking “about faith in Christ Jesus” may mean just giving someone our time and attention, answering their questions, and helping them in whatever specific way God leads us. I am certain we could all do this well. There will be no governors calling us today to answer questions, but there may be a person at Starbucks waiting on you who sees you attend a Christian college called Liberty. Maybe the person checking your membership at Planet Fitness will see your RLCA shirt and ask what you like about the school. Perhaps a co-worker will ask what you do on Sundays and why. Those questions are a good start to further conversation. Who knows, maybe it will turn in to you and I telling someone about Jesus in the most unexpected place and way. Look for that opportunity, and count on God to give you the “talking points” as needed, just like He did for Paul.


Beware of scammers…

Grandpop unfortunately gets a lot of scam and phishing emails. He sometimes finds it difficult to tell if they are legitimate or a scam. They are difficult to tell because they look almost exactly like the real thing-unless you know what to look for. He and I have discussed one of the clues to a scam is to click on the email address and look at the full address. Another way to tell if something is legitimate or not is to see if there is incorrect grammar, punctuation or spelling. These can be clues to a fake. The thing is, they sound and look VERY real, and it is only by close observation that one can tell they are fakes or untrue.

After reading my chapters in Acts today, it makes me think that perhaps if Bereans lived in our day and age, they could teach us a little something about faulty versus true or legitimate things. Luke commends them today for this. He tells us that the Bereans checked all that Paul was saying against the Scriptures. They were checking to make sure it was true. In fact, Luke tells us they were of more “noble character” than the Thessalonians for doing this. In other versions, “noble in character” is translated “open-minded”, “fair minded”, “better”, “more receptive”, and “more willing to listen”. So they were more open-minded, BUT in that open-mindedness, they were intent upon making sure what was spoken aligned with God’s Word. They were so intent, they checked every day!

Let’s copy them. Let’s be Berean. We live in a world today where we can hear fabulous messages from podcasts, YouTube, twitter links and more. Jordan and Miriam have been able to hear countless convocation speakers. We even watched part of a message Carson Wentz gave on tv last night to see where his faith really stood. How do we know if these sources are speaking truth? How do we know if we should be listening to them? Look at the verses in your own Bible that they are referencing when they speak. Does the message line up with the Scripture they are speaking on? Is it taken out of context like if someone were to reference 1 Tim. 5:23 (“… use a little wine for the sake of your stomach”) and then said that all drinking of alcohol has the stamp of ok from the Bible?

The church always has people coming in to it with “new ideas”, “new ways” of looking at Scripture, new “insights’ and more. Some are like the scam and phishing schemes Grandpop gets. If we believe them, just like clicking on the emails, the consequences can be dire. It is very important to follow the Bereans example. Be open-minded and willing to listen, but be SURE to check everything against Scripture, so you can know if it is truth or a lie. Remember, believing lies can have very dangerous consequences.


… like oil and water

Have you ever actually tried to mix oil and water? If you pour some oil and water into a bottle and shake it up, do you know what eventually happens? It will try to mix at first, but you can see it is little bubbles inside of liquid. Then, over time, they will eventually and naturally separate. They can not stay together. This idea is exactly what God is talking about in 2 Cor. 6:14.

This week, Aaron had to memorize 2 Cor. 6:14 for school. It is a familiar verse. I am sure you have heard chapel speakers, convocation speakers or pastors preach mostly on how Christians should not date or marry unbelievers. This is an accurate and appropriate application of this verse, which I hope and pray you all believe and plan to obey. But, today, I would like to add to our understanding of this verse because it is about far more than just who we date and marry. Let’s let the verse explain itself.

We are told not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. In what situations are we “yoked” to someone? We know the picture God is using is one of 2 different type farm animals being hitched together to try to plow. But you and I are not farming, are we? What is yoked for us? Well, look at the rest of the verse because God explains it.

God asks what ‘partnership’ righteousness has with lawlessness? What ‘fellowship’ has light with darkness? Being yoked to an unbeliever is to be in a partnership or in fellowship of some kind with an unbeliever. Other translations include words like alliance, on a team, participation with, join, relationship, and common interests.  God is telling us to not be in our  closest relationships with unbelievers. He is making clear that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ can not be partners. Light and darkness are opposites. Good and bad do not belong together. How would 2 opposites ever work together or have the same goal? They wouldn’t – in fact, they could not. If we are still unclear, here are a few examples: If our closest friends are not believers, do you think you will both go to church together or discuss hard biblical topics? Will a non-believing co-worker give wise counsel regarding how to spend your money? Do you think they will recommend tithing and hold us accountable to that? In regards to a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse, if you asked them to pray for Dad’s doctor’s appointment today, could they?

You are in friendships right now and you could identify which are oil and water. The ones that will never mix. They are the relationships that are not moving you to become more Christlike. Eventually one of your partnerships or friendships will become a spouse for you. Be wise and discerning in your decisions regarding who you are on the team of life with, because oil and water have never mixed, and they never will in the future either.


Working behind the scenes…

Miriam’s 21st birthday is coming up. In celebration of this birthday, a few months ahead of time, over a dozen people helped think up gift ideas, selected items, wrote notes, bought cards and wrapped gifts. Miriam did not know any of this was going on. When it came to the day for her to receive her basket of gifts to slowly unwrap, she was pleasantly surprised. The fact is even though she did not know about it, a lot of things had been going on behind the scenes on her behalf months beforehand.

This is what God does in our lives. He is ALWAYS working behind the scenes for us (Is. 64:4), to show himself strong for us, (2 Chron. 16:9), preparing good works for us to do ahead of time (Eph. 2:10), equipping us with the skills to carry out those works (Heb. 13:21) and helping us further His kingdom. In fact, Psalms tells us He started His work in our lives when we were still in our mother’s wombs. It was then that He already had all our days written out for us. (Ps. 139).

We can see this type of God’s work in action in the book of Acts as noted in today’s verse. Peter, a faithful Jew who has followed all the laws regarding jewish purity is working with the church. In the meantime, God speaks to a gentile named Cornelius and tells him to send men to get Peter in Joppa. Peter has NO IDEA any of this is happening. He is just faithfully visiting Christians in many different towns, one of which will be Joppa. He is following his daily routine, praying when he normally prays when he suddenly has a strange dream that contradicts ALL he has learned. The dream seems to say he should accept some things he has previously been taught are “unclean”.  He does not understand the dream at all. He does not understand it until the men sent by Cornelius bring him to Cornelius’ house. It is then that all the pieces fit together. Peter sees what God was showing him; that Gentiles, the “unclean”, are to be included in God’s kingdom. Cornelius, a Gentile, is told all about Jesus and he, friends and relatives are all saved. God’s plan came to completion, but in God’s own way and timing.

God  gave Cornelius and Peter the information they needed at the time, and sometimes, that was all the information they got. God did not tell them the “why”’s or the “when’s” ahead of time. God was working behind the scenes, writing the “notes” in others lives, gathering “items” like Cornelius and his family, and wrapping it all up to be a surprise at just the right time! He does the same for us.  The better we know God and learn to trust that His will will be perfectly completed in our lives, the easier we can rest in that. It will matter less and less whether we know all the other pieces or not. I wonder what God is orchestrating for you and I right now that we have no idea about?

We are not called to be “bouncers” for the kingdom…

Since I missed hearing the sermon on Sunday, I was decided to watch it this morning while on the treadmill. (Thank you modern technology!)

Pastor Curtis was speaking on Luke 18:15-17, the Scripture where Jesus tells his disciples to let the children come to him. The disciples must have been acting like “bouncers” as Pastor Curtis said, and trying to stop the people from bringing their children to him. For whatever reason, the disciples made the decision that children were not the ones who should be brought to Jesus. They assumed Jesus came for someone else.

As we continue reading in Luke, we can see that the disciples were not the only ones who made assumptions about who Jesus should and should not meet. In Luke 19 today, I read about Zacchaeus. People thought he somehow fell in to the same category as “not” who Jesus came for.  They were muttering about it, questioning his “being a guest of a ‘sinner’”. Zacchaeus was basically a traitor to his own people, the Jews, and by human judgment, was the last person Jesus should be spending his time with as a “religious leader”. They felt he was entering “unclean” territory, a “bad person’s” house. They were right in their estimation of Zacchaeus being a sinner, but they failed to realize they were just as much of a sinner as Zacchaeus. They also miserably failed in their assessment of who did and did not need Jesus. In their perception, Jesus should not have been in a house of a person “like that,” but they were dead wrong.

What Pastor Curtis pointed out and what we see in this Scripture here is a red flag for us about assumptions of others. Who do we think ‘wouldn’t be interested” in Jesus or worse, like Zacchaeus, doesn’t “deserve” to have Jesus come to them? I know there are people who I have assumed are not “interested” because they already know the gospel or have made it clear they want no part of religion. Have I written them off? Do I still pray for them and ask God to give me opportunities to be a light for Him to them? Have I assumed they won’t be interested, so I didn’t share an article or song or Scripture at an opportune time with them? What holds you and I back from bringing Jesus together with certain friends and acquaintances we have? Who do you know that you wouldn’t think about sharing Jesus with?

The story of Zacchaeus and the earlier Scripture teaching where Jesus encourages the children to come to him are reminders that NO ONE is outside the circle of needing Jesus. It may be that someone would jump at the chance…or maybe even climb a tree, if we would only share ourselves, our lives and love them through Christ. Who knows? They may have the faith of Zacchaeus just waiting to be seen by you or I, hoping we will talk to them and think through the questions they have with them. What can we do? Be ready and willing. We are not bouncers who get to decide who gets in to see Jesus, but instead, we need to be ushers trying to bring every single person to Him we possibly can!

What are you putting in your containers?

Have you ever been to the Container Store? It is an organizer’s dream. (Basically, it is my dream store!) They have every possible size and type of container anyone could ever want. We all store and organize something-whether it is the simple storage of desk supplies, winter clothes, or a larger project like items in a basement. I never seem to have enough storage containers for some of our stuff. This leads me to consider today’s verse, about exactly that: storing up “things”.

I have a LOT of things. I spend a lot of time buying, using, organizing and storing “things”. This verse in Luke about the storing up of things is within the parable of the rich man who had excessive crops was making provisions to store. Jesus pointed out how he spent all his time and effort to store all this abundance he had on earth, but paid no attention to God. He invested no time in God. He invested no effort in understanding, obeying or seeking God. He was caught by surprise when in the middle of all his “storing” he found himself face to face with God.

I see 2 difficulties in us relating to this parable. First, we don’t have excessive crops. We can’t appreciate the importance of that in that culture and time. Suffice it to say it is perhaps the equivalent to receiving a $500,000/year salary, buying multiple fancy cars, and building a new garage to house all the cars. Secondly, we have a hard time picturing death and facing God in an instant. We all I believe feel we have our whole life ahead of us. Death is very far away (we assume) and perhaps even our picture of God is one of a “grandfather” type person. Someone who will be all kind and loving no matter what.

Take a moment today to consider Jesus instruction to the crowd about being “on guard” against all kinds of greed (Luke 12:15)-greed of things, money, friends, fun, – whatever it is we put our effort in “storing” up. Has this overtaken our effort in seeking and knowing God. Are we making time for solitude with God on a regular basis so this is a habit of our life or are we too busy “storing” up those things that are valuable to us in the here and now. God has given all of us gifts. Are we seeking Him to see how he wants us using them. Are we spending time using our gifts for the good of others in some way and to His glory-storing those types of things up. Or, are we only storing up things that benefit us? It is never a bad idea to take a minute and consider the day we will meet God face to face and to make sure we are preparing ourselves on a daily basis for that meeting. It may be far off-and I sure hope it is for all of us, but neither you or I know for sure. Let us all be prepared today.

Leave it “open”…so it overflows all the time!

I love Johnson’s popcorn at the shore. It is the best caramel corn around in my humble opinion! If you ever go to Johnson’s to get some, they will ask you a question when you order: “Open or closed?” This means do you want them to put the lid on the container, or leave it “open”. Open means put it in a bag without the lid on and fill up the bucket to overflowing. Guess which one I choose every single time.

I think when we read Luke 6:38, and we read about a good measure that is “running over”-picturing the Johnson’s popcorn spillover is a good illustration of what Jesus means here. Overflowing. Spilling over. He is saying, give in a way that it “spills” over. Give lots. Give generously. Give in a way that you shake the “container” so things settle, and so you can “give” even more.

What are we to give? The context of this verse is Jesus speaking about loving our enemies. He is telling the disciples not to just love people who are nice to them and easy to love, but to love the “hard” ones. Love your enemies. Be kind to those who are not kind to you. He then teaches them not to judge others. He is reminding them to be forgiving of others. (6:37) If we consider all of this together, He is teaching us how to treat people. Be kind, merciful, forgiving, do not hold grudges and don’t be critical. We are to do this to the extreme-in a way that it “overflows”.  Then, He reminds us that the way we treat others is the way we will be treated.

This is how God has treated us. We were his enemies. He loved us and gave in an incredibly “overflowing” manner when He gave His son for our sins. He wants us to now model what He is like. Who is my “enemy”? Who do I need to forgive-that I might be holding a grudge against or dislike? Who is not so easy for me to love? That is the person I need to ask God to help me to be kind to. I need his help to let love, kindness, mercy and forgiveness flow out of me and overflow into that person’s life. God has given us more than enough of these qualities to do it-we just need to be willing. Perhaps we could ask God to show us who in our lives we need to give in an “overflowing” way today or this week. It is then that we will see exactly how much God has given us to give to others. Overflowing buckets of caramel corn are amazingly “good.” So are Christians who are overflowing with God’s love to others, especially those who we might feel are our enemies. That’s what makes Christians an example of what God is like. It is then we are being true image bearers and lights for Him.


All or nothing…

How is your math today? Look at the two verses above. How many verses are between them? 6. These two reactions by people are by the same audience. They are people who have sat down to listen to Jesus. There can not be much time between these two reactions to what He was saying. Let me give a little context to these verses. Jesus had gone into the synagogue and been allowed to teach. As he is teaching, he reads a portion of Isaiah about “someone” proclaiming freedom, healing the blind, releasing the oppressed and declaring the year of “the Lord’s favor.” The people were “amazed.” They liked this idea. Who wouldn’t want those things, right? Next, he moves on to speaking about the fact that people in a hometown usually reject their own who live among them, just like the Jews hundreds of years ago had rejected the great prophets sent by God like Isaiah and Jeremiah. Would you like to guess WHERE this synagogue Jesus was teaching in was? He was in Galilee… essentially his own hometown. The people listening put two and two together and realized he was saying they were just like the “bad guys” who rejected the old prophets. Needless to say, his audience was not thrilled. Well, not only were they not thrilled, they are described as being “furious”. They were so furious, verse 29 tells us they wanted to throw him down a cliff!  This was quite a different feeling from the “amazement” they felt a few minutes ago when Jesus was talking about all the “good” stuff. Weren’t they a fickle bunch?

It is very easy for me to look back at the synagogue audience and see their faults. I can easily see their “selective” nature in accepting the things Jesus said that they liked, but rejecting Him and his teaching that pointed out their true nature and sinful hearts. The truth is, though, we all want to be selective. We want to take the things Jesus taught that we “like”, that are complimentary and easy like getting the eternal life part of salvation, but we are not so quick to accept other parts, like the “Lord of our life” part. How accepting am I of doing the things that are pleasing to God, and rejecting those things I desire to do but are NOT pleasing to Him? Am I really that different than the synagogue audience? Aren’t I also happy to be “kind” to my neighbor (who is really nice and easy to get along with), but rejecting of the notion to not be critical of the unkind postman who made a delivery yesterday? Jesus knew their hearts were being “selective” with his words, and He knows our hearts want to be selective as well. The fact is we can not. It is an all or nothing deal now, just as it was then. We either take all of His teaching, or we do not. There is no in-between when it comes to being in the “audience of Christ.”

The whispering crowd…

“Whisperings of the crowd.” Before school started, I heard many saying Mr. Porter had left the school. Mr. Porter is, in fact, still teaching at school. Somehow we humans very often get our facts mixed up, and not just mixed up, but sometimes completely wrong. Especially when it comes to information that is being passed through a “crowd”..or “squad”…or group of friends.

This has not changed with time despite the invention of the mail system, telephones and now, even technological up-to-the-minute communication via text or otherwise. It can still be bad information or “fake news” to use today’s terms. Look at the verse today in John. As I read this, at first I thought how could a crowd of people listening to the exact same person come up with such a different conclusion, such “fake news”. A “good man” and a “deceiver” do NOT look the same. How could anyone have looked at Jesus and thought he was a deceiver? What was the deceit? The Pharisees claimed Jesus was deceiving others by saying he was the Christ or God’s son, but the people themselves could have adequately judged without the help of the Pharisees. These people had seen miracles. They had heard Jesus teaching with their own ears.

Reading these narratives about Jesus life is a reminder to be VERY wary of what the “crowd” is saying. In today’s case, both conclusions were wrong. Jesus was not a “good man” and he was not “deceiving” people. He was the Christ. They should have just gone to the source. They should have considered their own eyes and what they saw and believed the truth. He was exactly who He claimed to be. We should make sure to do the same. Be very cautious when a large group of people claim something about Christ or christianity. Seek the truth ourselves in Christ, in His Word, and in what we have seen Him do in our own lives. (You are recording those things, right?) Do not take the crowds word for it. Crowds, squads, and friends can be wrong. We must always seek the primary source ourselves. Christ claims are as true today as they were this day, when the entire crowd got it all wrong.

Dangers of “people-pleasing”

The Bible talks about man-pleasers and God-pleasers. Surely we have all heard the term “people-pleaser” as well. I would go so far as to say some of us are more prone to being “people-pleasers” than others. I know this from personal experience because I am one of those “people”. I know that deep down I want others to “like” me or I want to please them, and often both consciously or subconsciously my actions can be determined by this.

Interestingly enough, today in John, Jesus goes deeper than just labeling someone as a “people-pleaser”. Jesus speaks to the Pharisees, and tells them that they are so wrapped up in gaining one another’s “approval” or to accept praise from one another they clearly have no time and make no effort to please God whatsoever. They are so intent on “people-pleasing” with each other and those around them, it was a barrier to believing and pleasing God.

The fact that Pharisees are trying to impress and please those around them is no surprise to me. I doubt it is to you either. What strikes me today in Scripture is the phrase in the verse about “accepting” praise from others…and yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from God.” I have often considered and prayed that I would be a “God-pleaser” more than a “man-pleaser”. But, the wording in this verse seemed to bring to light in a different way what it means to be a God-pleaser. A true God-pleaser would make the effort to obtain praise from God. Think about this. This would determine my actions. If I actually considered each step I took-whether God would be pleased or rejoice in it, how much in my life would change? Perhaps I would be less apt to complain about the construction that slows me down when I am driving on Route 7. Complaining is NOT pleasing to God. I think I might look for ways when I was in Walgreens to share a smile with one more person or let someone go out the door first before me. I might let someone pull out in front of me who is waiting to go somewhere. These are little ways I could surely please God.

Spiritually, as God sees us through Christ, He is already pleased with us because of what Christ did. But, as we become more like Christ, our actions will line up with those of Christ and we know God already said to Him “This is my son in whom I am well-pleased.” Today is a good day to consider if we are so busy seeking approval or praise from those around us, that our belief in God is hindered. Is it possible we could care less about whether HE approves and is pleased by our choices, actions and words? May He continue to transform us into people in “whom He is well-pleased”.