build up

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You will notice that building projects are going up all over your neighborhood, so it is in your church. Building up never stops, but this is how it starts…

Could you imagine getting a personal letter from the apostle Paul? That’s what we peer into when we read the letter to Philemon. By the time Philemon got this letter (58-60 AD) Paul would have had a reputation. I am sure when Philemon got this letter his adrenaline was pumping and heart fluttering.

Paul wrote the letter while in prison at Rome. It is also where he wrote Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians. In fact, Philemon, lived in Colossi, which is modern-day Turkey. We do not learn much about him. What we know is from this letter. There was a church that met in his home. His son was a minister. And he must have had some wealth as he had a slave and likely he had others.

The bulk of the letter is about Onesimus—a runaway slave. We do not know a lot about Onesimus either, but what is known is that he ran away from Philemon and went to Rome. For whatever reason he was not able to hide or blend into the crowd and was caught and thrown into prison. In prison, he connects with Paul who is in prison too. Paul is there for preaching about Jesus.  Paul’s ministry isn’t stifled by his circumstances, rather Paul continues to proclaim the good news to a captive audience. Onesimus hears and comes to faith. As Paul learns Onesimus’ story he encourages him to reconcile with his master.

Thus the thrust of the letter is Paul pleading to Philemon to receive back Onesimus, not as his slave but as a brother in Christ.  Paul is an inbetweener. He is in-between both Philemon and Onesimus. Have you ever had to be an inbetweener?  Can you think of two people not in a right relationship with each other, but you are in a right relationship with both of them?  May this letter encourage you as an inbetweener.

The beauty of this story is that it is true story. While there are many stories about forgiveness in the Bible this letter is a living example of the Prodigal Son (Lk.15:11) or Unforgiving Servant (Mt. 18:21ff). It is an incredibly personal letter. Yet it is a fitting letter in a series of letters that Paul writes to churches, in which he mainly addresses divisions and relationships within the church.  Paul is aware that the number one thing that destroys the church, its mission, and the reputation of Christ is two believers living in unforgiveness. On the flip, two believers walking in forgiveness magnifies Jesus.

There are two types of people in the church that Paul often addresses. The first type of person TEARS DOWN. These people look for ways to cutdown others. They speak words that are discouraging, critical, and are quick to point out faults and failures. They are the kind of people you love to avoid if you are needing encouragement, but love if you are needing someone to empathize with your own critical spirit. The second type of person BUILDS UP.  They are the kind of person who encourages, sees the good, speaks truth in love, and has the knack of pointing you back to Christ.

Can you think of someone close to you who tears down or builds up? How would others describe you? Paul is known for building up people. He is a disciple of Christ who makes disciples of Christ, which necessitates one who will build up the church and those within the church. Paul’s letter to Philemon helps us to see what building up one another that looks like.

1. Give thanks to God for people and circumstances (v.4)

To give thanks is ironic considering Paul’s circumstances. Where is Paul again? He is in prison. What would that be like? Notice Paul doesn’t mope. He doesn’t curse God. He knew this would be a result of his calling and following Christ (Acts 9). Instead, Paul is engaged in writing letters of encouragement to others from prison. Also he is taking the opportunity to share the gospel and is leading people to Christ in prison. In fact, the gospel is reaching the ears of those in Caesars household (Phil.4:22).

Thankfulness is a choice. Gratitude is the attitude that gives fortitude to your faith. Would others around you consider you a thankful person? Are you thankful for the cards you were dealt? You might not have had a choice in the kind of family you your born into. You have learned that you cannot control the actions or words of your parents, spouse, children or friend. Maybe you’ve experienced someone walking out on you or you have felt the wounds of neglect or abuse. It is most difficult to chose to be thankful when you don’t feel it, but rather feel pain, abandonment or bitterness.

I am the son of two unmarried teenage parents. They married to appease their parents but the marriage only lasted a few years. I lived with my mother and observed a revolving door of relationships. I felt I had to be the responsible one. I would stay up late waiting for her to come home from her outings. My mother failed lived up to my high expectations. I thought if she’d just change to what I wanted things would be better. I had much self-pity. Even when my mom and I came to Christ I was still unthankful. I thought if only the church could fix my family. When I went to college I chose a college far away from home.  However, my sour feelings still followed me. After I finished college, I couldn’t find any other job alternatives, but moving back home with my mom and working with her. It was a summer of irony. God in His providence was giving me an opportunity to forgive as if to say, ‘Justin, If I you do not reconcile with your own mother. you will not be an effective agent of reconciliation to the world.’ It was true. I was about to go to South Africa on mission that fall. Living in unforgiveness could have derailed the mission and my faith. As hard as it was I sat down with my mom and thanked for working three jobs to support me while I was young. I thanked her knowing it was not easy to raise a young boy being only a teenager herself. I thanked her for loving me.

Beware of self-pity and pitying others. Can you hear those close to Paul saying? “Poor Paul. Why would God let such a person be thrown into prison?” Others might have mailed him letters saying, “Dear Paul, you know you could have avoided imprisonment if you just kept your mouth shut,” “You can’t save the world,” “Maybe prison is just God’s way of saying, ‘Take a break.’” It is clear from Paul’s writings that certain people were aiming to tear down his apostleship and most of them came from within the church. Isn’t that a shame? It’s a shame it also happens today. It might even be happening in your church.

It takes a mature Christian to look at difficult people and circumstances and say, “God is using this. God is eternal and sovereign. Everything he does or allows is good.” Do you believe God is using every person or circumstance to make you more like Jesus? What about those harsh or hurtful words? What about that hard thing that occupies your thoughts? God comes to you through difficult circumstance or difficult people. God is at work in the things we see as bad, ugly, painful or hurtful. Remember, God is for you!

If you need proof just survey the Bible. You will see dozens of examples of men and women gripped with gratitude despite unideal circumstances. Joseph was abused by brothers and falsely accused by Potifar’s wife, but in the end sees how God used bad for good (Gen. 50:20). Jeremiah preaches for 50 years and sees no one turn back to God, rather they drag him through the ditches. This weeping prophet hopes in God (Lam. 3). Then there is Job. Everything is taken from him. To make matters worse he has friends who give him bad advice and his wife encourages him to curse God or die, but in the midst of it he sees how God was making him like gold (23:10). Jesus himself was rejected, abused, abandoned, betrayed, and disrespected, yet forgave those who did not understand what they we doing to him. Each bore sacred sorrow, yet praised God.

Joseph Scriven grew up in Ireland. He faced many difficult circumstances in his life namely losing two fiancés before he was to be marry. In the midst of the hardship he went to the One who was most faithful. He put pen to paper and wrote ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’.

Like these examples you and I are in God’s university. The problem is it’s not a 4-year degree and then you pass. For some of us it is lifelong. Each person and situation is a unique subject to learn how God uses all people and circumstance for his glory and purposes in you. Chose to be thankful.

2. Build up others by focusing on the work the Spirit of God (v.5)

Why is Paul so thankful for Philemon? He sees God’s work in Philemon. He has visible characteristics of God that are manifesting themselves. If you are a follower of Christ you too are showing the world the powerful work of what the Holy Spirit can do with someone. For Philemon, the visible characteristics were his love for people and his faith in Jesus.

What would the person sitting next to you say are the visible characteristics you are displaying right now? Can you imagine what an encouragement that would be to have someone point those things out to you?  This is what the apostle Paul is doing with Philemon. He is building him up in Christ by sharing with him the ways he is seeing Jesus in him.

Are you this kind of person? Or are you critical of others, especially of people in your church? There are many excuses one can create for being critical of others. Criticism is almost thought of as a spiritual gift or strength. One can spend more time finding faults in others or shooting holes in the pastors message than looking for ways to build up the Body.

Do you recognize the name William Wilberforce?  William Wilberforce made it his lifework to abolishment of slavery in Great Britain. It was a seemingly impossible work that brought him much discouragement. Wilberforce was at the beginning of his career, but John Wesley (who was nearing the end of his career) caught wind of Wilberforce’s discouragement and jotted him a note just 6-days before his death. He wrote, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it… That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, Your affectionate servant, John Wesley”  Wesley had the right words at the right time to help his brother continue on the right path.

Paul focuses on the good he sees in Philemon. Paul has the right words at the right time to help his brothers continue on the right path. He focuses on the character of Christ in Philemon, namely his “love for the saints,” which will be the very character needed when he reunites with Onesimus.

3. Affirm others through prayer and fellowship (vs.6-7)

Philemon’s faith had already been active; but now wants it to be ‘effective’ in relation to Onesimus. It’s as if Paul says, “I have seen how effective your faith is within your house church. Now extend that same faith to your brother Onesimus.”

The world would say to Philemon, “Onesimus owes you. Make him pay. Mark him as a runaway the rest of his life. Make him feel the weight of what he did to you. Pour on the punishment. Tighten his chains. Don’t forgive him.” Doesn’t that sound miserable? Yet that is where we often gravitate, but there is no personal or corporate benefit to unforgiveness. Unforgiveness imprisons you to the past. It clings onto the pain. It feeds the open wound with anger, bitterness, retribution and other ungodly characteristics. Unforgiveness gives Satan an open door. It is a welcome mat to the devil. Unforgiveness hinders your fellowship with God. It simply paralyzes your walk with God. In fact, unforgiveness angers Him because it is opposite his redemptive heart.

Yet on the flip-side, forgiveness makes you most like God. It frees you from the past and produces other godly characteristics. It removes the ugly graffiti from your spirit and lets God shine. Forgiveness is a most visible expression of the gospel. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32) “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:13)

Philemon is a treatise on Romans 12:17-21 “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Paul has been a recipient of Philemon’s faith and love, moreover, he has been a recipient of the love and forgiveness of Jesus. And he sees the image this would be to the world, the church in Colossi, and his brother Onesimus. Paul says, “Philemon, you’ve got all these great characteristics that God is working in you, continue in them bless ‘our brother’ Onesimus. Jesus has forgiven him and so must you. Whatever difficult emotions this fuels with you, remember that love and faith you have in Christ. Embrace Onesimus. He is coming your way soon.”

Paul’s letter to Philemon shares the basics or ABC’s of building one another up:

  • Affirm others through prayer and fellowship.
  • Build up others by focusing on the Holy Spirits work.
  • Chose to be thankful for people and circumstances.

The Spirit of God has likely brought to your mind a relationship that needs building up. Maybe, like Paul, you are an inbetweener. How do the examples of Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus bring healing on your own journey with Christ? Which of the three characteristic of one who is forgiven do you need to work on today?

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loving your brother while living in a messy world

mess worth making

You just don’t let anyone in your fridge. Why is that? It could be that there is a mess in there or something you wouldn’t want just anybody to see. That might embarrass some. Yet for those privileged few you give permission to find something to drink or eat from your fridge you have reached a certain level of comfort. Even though there might be a mess, you are comfortable showing your mess because you have nothing to hide.

I’ve been walking through 1 Corinthians, a letter written to a messy church (and what church isn’t?). Looking at the church in Corinth is like looking into a messy fridge. It’s a little embarrassing. We see all the faults and fears.  Yet it is somewhat comforting looking at Corinth because it’s somewhat normal church.

The question I’ve been asking while reading 1 Corinthians is: How can I make much of Christ in a messy church in a messy world? There is no mistake that Paul brings every question and every concern of the church back to Christ (so important!). For Christ is the solution and the center of the church, and if not, the center becomes the mess not the Messiah. Christ has come to be the Messiah of the mess we have made.

As I enter 1 Corinthians 8, the question becomes specific: How do I follow Christ (or exercise my rights and freedoms in Christ) while living in a messy world without bringing more messes into the church? To this the Bible gives a mosaic of wisdom that when pieced together helps me to see how I am to live in a messy world.

First, seek His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:31-33). Jesus wants me to think of God’s kingdom and righteousness as two lanes of a oneway street. To seek God’s kingdom is to honor His authority, not usurp it. To usurp God is to veer off the left shoulder of the road. To seek God’s righteousness is to honor His standards, not disobey them. To disobey God is to veer off the right shoulder of the road. Together seeking both God’s kingdom and righteousness help me to walk the road of freedom in Christ when everyone else around me is abusing that freedom.

Second, be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus says I live in this world by default. I cannot escape it. Therefore since the world is my temporary home, I must choose to live purely (salt) and shine brightly (light). In the process, by God’s grace, I display the gospel of Christ to a messy and darkened world.

Now it is possible to seek God’s kingdom, to seek His righteousness, and to be salt and light, but there is still a missing piece of the mosaic, which is thirdly, love God and your [brother] as yourself (Luke 10:27). This piece is seen in 1 Corinthians 8, which in reality, is that Great Commandment made practical. Loving your brother or considering others in your community of Christ, makes much of Christ. Our text today gives three truths towards loving your brother while living in a messy world.

1) Love your brother, love not what you know (vs.1-3).

Paul introduces the issue, “Now concerning food offered to idols” (v.1a) but before dealing with the question of food sacrificed to idols, He comments on related matters: 1) the danger of knowledge about such things and 2) the primacy of love over knowledge as the guiding principle for Christ-like behavior.

Knowledge is good, but dangerous. Paul begins by quoting certain Corinthians who thought they were ‘in-the-know’ who said, “all of us possess knowledge” (v.1b) The ‘knowledge’ quoted here is a specific kind of knowledge related to the idols who they knew were nothing compared to the One True God (see: v.4). Their knowledge was theologically spot on. Paul had no disagreement, but what he did disagree with their application of that knowledge to those not in-the-know. Paul saw their knowledge or know-it-all-ness as a danger sign.

It is said, “knowledge is power.” Have you ever known someone who was really knowledgeable, knew it and flaunted it? Have you ever possessed a little bit of knowledge and felt it’s dangerous affect? Sometimes the most dangerous Christians are those who gain a little bit of knowledge and wield it with reckless tactlessness like a kid with an broadsword who’s just watch Braveheart. The Corinthians knew a few things about Christian theology, but they became so full of pride and they lost sight of more important teachings, such as loving and edifying others.

Love over knowledge is our guiding principle. Paul warns those in-the-know that “knowledge puffs up” (inflates), “but love builds up” (deflates). Knowledge makes us feel important, but it is love that strengthens the church. There is absolutely no room for arrogance in the Christian community. Paul will not put up with it. Not because he is anti-knowledge, but because he is anti-knowledge that is anti-loving. For a swollen head does not equal a swollen heart.

Recently, I met a grand marabou at a friends house. Once that he found out I was a Christian he railroaded our conversation by waxing eloquent his view of Islam and the Quran. He might have some good things to say, but it had no effect on me. For anytime I tried to ask a question he refused to answer and anytime I tried to insert a comment he interrupted. After 30 minutes of talking and chanting he finally asked my opinion. I said, “You love hearing yourself talk more than you love me or your God.” I told him I’d like to talk more later, but that I’d come to be with my friend.

True knowledge humbles those in-the-know because they realize how little they know. “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (v.2). Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

After seminary, I was a know-it-all. I graduated from Bible College with a small piece of paper and a big fat head. Then I began to pastor and went to seminary. It was then that realized I really didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. When I compared my faint and fragment knowledge with the infinite knowledge of God, there was a humbling that went on within me that was good. I never really know enough until I recognize that God alone knows it all.

This text hits me hard because I love what people think of me more than I’d like to think that I love them. That is so anti Christ and it’s an extremely dangerous attitude in the community of Christ. Maybe, you, like me, need to take a moment to reflect upon the infinite knowledge of God and the incomprehensible love of Christ.

Love is redeeming. Paul illustrates this by saying, “If anyone loves God, he is known by God” (v.3). The expression “known by God” appears elsewhere in Paul’s writings (cf. Galatians 4:9) as a description of redemption. Paul meant that, unlike the prideful people who center their religious lives around knowledge, those who focus on love demonstrate that they have been redeemed. Christian love is always constructive. It builds up. It encourages. It shows people a picture of Christ who Himself possessed all knowledge yet loved his brothers to the death. He knew-it-all, yet He was the most humble man. // Love your brother, love not what you know.

2) Unite around what you know about God (vs.4-6).

Since Paul has laid a foundation for love over knowledge, he now returns to the main topic of concern: “eating food offered to idols” (v.4). He affirms to theological truths those in-the-know knew, first, “an idol has no real existence” (cf. Isaiah 40, Psalm 115) and second  “that there is no God but one.” With these statements he resolves the issue that there was no problem with eating idol meat since it had been offered to something that did not really exist.

Now Paul is not minimizing idols, rather he is magnifying the God of Israel. The One True God compared to every other god is a non-comparison (vs.5-6a). Moreover, there is but “one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (v.6b). These verses take the form of an early catechism or hymn of praise to God the Father and God the Son that all Christians could unite around.

How should theology unite us rather than divide us? For example, as we see how the Father and Son relate to one another, we also see how we in the church must relate to one another. That’s practical and applicable theology! It will get even more so next.

3) Be willing to sacrifice your rights for your brother (vs.7-13)

Next, Paul shares a case study (vs.7-13). He introduces us to someone “not” in-the-know (revealing a wrong assessment of the church; v.1). Likely a young Christian recently saved out of a life connected to the pagan temple. To this new Christian, eating idol meat poses a serious concern, if not sin. For him, every shopping trip to the market, every town festival, every dinner party or BBQ with the locals presented a quandary. And one day, he sees a strong and respected Christian at a local restaurant likely affixed to a pagan temple and he has a bigger quandary, “If it’s okay for him to eat idol meat, then it must be okay for me to sin too.” He then syncretizes his new found faith in Christ with his former lifestyle in idolatry.

In case you did not know, there are varying opinions and consciences within the Body of Christ. That’s okay. The church will always be filled with new, old, mature, immature, strong or weak believers. Even though we have great freedom in the gospel and our freedom grows as our understanding grows, we must be willing to sacrifice freedoms for the sake of one another. It is no trivial thing, for when we cause other brothers to sin, we ultimately sin against Christ.

Remember when God asked Cain where his brother Abel was and he responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Essentially, that is the type of attitude Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Paul responds to the Cain’s who bring their offerings and worship to church, but do not love their fellow brothers rather they lead their brothers to destruction.

Notice the emphasis in this text isn’t on with the weaker brother who needs to know more about his unfound freedom. The emphasis is on the stronger brother who is thoughtless towards the weaker Christian (cf. Romans 14). By insisting their rights, even Christian rights, it is a sign that something else other than the One True God is being worshiped. The problem for the stronger brother is that his right to use freedom is more important than relinquishing it for his brother. He is not willing to sacrifice his rights for his brother. (How is this text applicable for us in Chad?)

Paul is willing to become a vegetarian to protect his brothers growth in Christ. He expresses in words how love trumps knowledge. Wouldn’t you be willing to give up going to dinner for your brother? Would you be willing to sacrifice your opinion of the style of worship service or social rights for your brother? Are you willing to follow the example of Christ who Himself gave up everything? Remember, it always comes back to making much of Christ.

Can you think of a church member or brother or sister in Christ you have a hard time loving? What about them is hard to love? How could you love them better? Would you take a moment to pray for them and a God-given love towards them?

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11)

Lord Jesus, we are delighted that you were so principled that you cared about the lost, the weak, and the worldly. We are so grateful for your tender mercy and unconditional love. Now, O Lord, give us the same love for others, that we may honor both you and them. In Jesus name, Amen.

waiting (a story of a boy and Christmas)

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A real-life story of a boy and Christmas from Ben Houchen, a shepherd and my best bud since middle school.

Waiting.

Nikki took Cynnan to the Surgeon today and had the pre-op consultation. Everything went well with that and the Doc said he would have time to do the surgery tomorrow. This got us excited, but as the day wore on and we got no confirmation of a Tuesday surgery we started to have doubts about our excitement. Sure enough, at around 5pm tonight we got the call to confirm the surgery time. Thi
s Thursday at 5pm.

AAAHHHHHHH, I hate all this waiting. I just hate it. And yet, the reality is, this is the season of waiting.

Advent is a season filled with waiting, with anticipation. And because we so closely associate the Advent season with the Birth of Christ and that picture of a baby in a manger, it is tempting for us to think that the spirit of Advent is a purely joyous one. But think for a moment about the people of Israel, at the time of the Birth of Christ.

Times for these people were not good. Israel was held under Roman occupation, and while this was better than the many exiles Israel had experienced prior to this point, it was by no means a good experience. The Romans knew how to subdue a people, and while they allowed Israel to worship her God, they also demanded taxes (an ancient form of worship) be paid to Creaser, and they subjected the people to many humiliating and dehumanizing practices. The people were waiting, but they had no certain hope of what they waited for, or how long they would have to wait to get it. We see evidence of how hopeless and unresponsive the people of Israel had become in the Gospel of Matthew. Just look at who all notices the birth of the messiah, The Maji and King Herod are the first people of any notoriety to even care that this child had been born. No one in the Jewish Community takes any notice of this boy until he is old enough to amaze them during a visit to the Temple. People were losing, or had lost hope. The waiting, it seems, was just too much for many of them to bear.

Advent is a joyous time for us because we are looking backward on a time of anticipation. We know the ending, we see the story, not as it is unfolding, but as it did. The concept, the spirit of advent then, is not one of purely joyous expectation. Advent includes a spirit of anticipation that is laced with negative emotions as well; fear, worry, even hopelessness, these are all part of the spirit of the Advent season. And it is important to realize that, because our understanding of those portions of the Advent season gives us the grace and peace to handle the Advent’s of our own present lives. I once read that Advent is essentially about learning to wait. It is about not needing to know the precise details of what is coming, only that, whatever it is, it is of the essence of sanctification for us. Every piece of it, some hard, some uplifting, signifies the work of God alive in us. We learn in Advent to stay in the present, knowing that only the present, well lived, can possibly lead us to the fullness of life. You see, as humans, we are not complete, we do not arrive, no, we are becoming as we go. Our lives are not meant to be escaped, or avoided. Life is meant to be perused, to be excavated, We are meant to taste and to touch and feel all that there is in life, the good alongside the bad. All of these things are then meant to culminate in our lives in a way that we come to know that the God who created us is with us still. Unto us a child is born, unto us a hope is given, not a hope of ease and indulgence, but of life, life to the fullest!

Would you like to enter into that full life with me? Then please, pull up a chair, wait with me a while.

We will become as we go.

You can read more about Cynnan’s story and how God is using a son to draw his parents nearer to Him.

why I love my church

This is the first day I step off the pastoral staff of Battle Ground Bible Church, but it is also the first day I step onto your mission outreach team. Although the role of my family will change within BGBC, we will still be an outreach arm linked to this church in North Africa.

For the last 6-months I have been thinking about this day. I am reminded of Paul the Apostle’s third missionary journey when he gave his farewell message to the elders at Ephesus [Acts 20:17-38]. I can feel what he feels. I can understand his heart for the church. If I could I would make this my farewell address to my church too.

Paul had little time left to talk to the elders of the church in Ephesus [vs.16-17].

                  I only have one hour left with you.

Paul spent 3 years in Ephesus, which is longer than he spent in anyone place [vs.18,31].

I have spent almost 8 year with you [began September 21, 2003].

Paul wears his emotions on his sleeve. He cares for this church as a shepherd who suffers with his sheep [vs.19,31].

                  I wouldn’t consider myself a stiff board.

Paul was bold in his preaching. He did not hold back [vs.20-21].

                  I did not shrink back either.

Paul leaves Ephesus under the conviction of the Holy Spirit [v.22].

                  I take my family to North Africa by the call of God. Our family is gripped by the glory of God.

Paul anticipates the journey ahead to be difficult and full of trials, but worth the risk [vs.22-23].

                  I know it will not be easy in the desert among the unreached peoples.

Paul views himself as nothing and Christ as everything. Even his ministry is of Christ and for Christ [v.24].

                  I am humbled by the ministry of Christ and ministering for His namesake.

Paul encourages the church to preach the gospel with boldness [vs.25-31].

                  I have sought to protect this church and uphold the doctrine on which it stands.

Paul has worked hard, earned his keep, and challenged the church to give to the mission of Christ [vs.32-35].

                  I have labored hard for you because Christ is my boss.

Paul, not knowing if he would see them again, was sorrowful because he loved their faces [vs.36-38].

                  I know I might not see you soon, but we will see each other again if we are eternal friends!

In summary, Paul is saying to the church in Acts 20, FAITHFULNESS IS WAY BETTER THAN LIFE [vs. 24-25]. As missionary Bill Bentley to Mexico said, “I don’t want make a living, I want to make a [faithful] life.” Faithfulness to my call is far more important than whether I live—whether I live at all or live comfortably. Faithfulness is better than life because the rewards are literally out of this world and God is gracious.

I am grateful that I am not leaving BGBC because of disgruntlement, conflict, joylessness, tiredness, or unfaithfulness. I am leaving BGBC with joyful sorrow because I will severely miss the immediateness fellowship, worship and mutual ministry of this Body of Christ. I have not viewed being a pastor at BGBC as being a job, but a joy. I love my church.

Why I love the church?

1. Jesus sacrificially loves it. [Ephesians 5:25] He built it, established it, died for it, and is still the Head over it.

2. God is glorified through it. [1 Timothy 3:15] He is working out His eternal plan through it.

3. I am a member called to it. [Hebrews 10:24-25] It is the most precious reality on earth [and a glimpse of heaven].

When I first arrived at Battle Ground Bible Church I was 23 years old. I was green. I had just graduated from Bible College. I spent the year before serving in South Africa as a church planting apprenticeship and then served at Montrose Bible Conference for a summer leading evangelism workshops. While at Montrose I had a conversation over lunch with a missionary from Bangladesh named Sam Smoker. We were exchanging funny names churches we had attended. In the course of that conversation he mentioned the name Battle Ground Bible Church. That week I found BGBC’s name on a pastoral search placement list and the rest is history.

Why I love my church?

1. I love the way you have stirred my growth in Christ.

I have grown exponentially since coming to BGBC. Not only have I grown facial hair and a little belly, but also more importantly I have grown up in my faith. That didn’t just happen. Growth doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens in a community of likeminded Jesus followers. God designed growth to happen in togetherness. As a church you have stirred me, shaken me, encouraged me, matured me, prepared me, and helped me to want to be more like Jesus Christ.

You have prayed for me. Bore patiently with me. You have prodded me to continue to dig deep into the Word. You have sent me to pastor conferences for spiritual encouragement. You sent me to seminary to continue my education. And now, you are ready to send me oversees as a light for Christ. Thank you for not holding back in stirring my growth. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:24-25]

Your pastors need to be stirred. Thank you for stirring this one!

2. I love your fellowship and deep friendships.

God has used many of you to stir me to love and good works. Like Paul, you have helped guard my heart from carelessness [v.31], shallowness [v.32], covetousness [v.33], laziness [v.34], and selfishness [v.35].

I have been spiritually and physically refreshed from bike rides with Steve “Z”. I have enjoyed friend chicken and birthday cakes with Edith. I look forward to Sunday hugs from motherly Karen O’Leary. Every Tuesday I hunger lunchtime talks with Brent Childs. I will miss slugging bats with Rollie and praying with the sweaty men on my softball team. I will miss random calls and quirky questions from Sheila Norton. I will miss having a secretary like Joyce [aka: boss]. I will miss the ministry of music played by the fingers of Greg and Alana.

I have cherished prayerful cards from Linda Wheat, Arnetta Berenda, and the Turpin’s. I am grateful for the roof top talks with Steve Fry while hammering shingles onto my home. I will miss praying with Granny Dee Marion [and watching how she did not waste her illness]. I have learned how to suffer graciously by watching Charlie Haines. I am blessed by the visual expression of the Zinn’s and Miller’s when the Word of God is preached. And I could go on and on listing VIP’s [Very Important Partners] in this church.

Fellowship is partnership. Partnership is more than just a liking of a sports team, talking about the weather, or ranting about the warts of our church. Fellowship is having a common partnership is what matters the most—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:3-6]

3. I love the great teaching and godly leadership of Pastor Kenny Loehe.

Those who know Kenny know he proclaims the Word of God with boldness. He is not an ear tickler. He does not hold back out of fear of man or a desire to please people. He faithfully and meticulously exegetes the Word of God, and delivers meat that I am forced to gnaw on. Steak is hard to swallow sometimes, but I’d rather chew on steak than suck blended spiritual food out of a straw of baby bottle.

You have expanded my vocabulary. In my Bible I have a list of words that I still need to go to the dictionary for a definition. I have learned how to use the word flagellation and ghastly without sounding boyish. I suppose I will now need to subscribe to Readers Digest and enrich myself with Word Power.

You have also expanded my love for the church, the Word of God, and living a real faith. I have had the privilege of seeing you work from behind closed doors. I have seen you wrestle through sermon preparation trying to apply the truth to your life, your family, and your church family. I have watched you suffer with your people, weep for them, pray over them, losing sleep because of them, and unconditionally loving them [even the difficult ones].

Kenny, I will miss you. You are my pastor. You have been just the pastor I’ve needed. You have shepherded my heart.

4. I love your gracious generosity.

As a pastor, it is humbling to know that the money I have to buy groceries comes from the generosity of faithful givers. You have given above and beyond.

When I first arrived at BGBC, as a single guy, I had nothing to my name other than a few books, a folding chair, and an extra pair of glasses. The church had a pantry party and afterwards I literally had enough boxes of Mac & Cheese to last me through a famine. A few Christmas’ ago an unknown group of people bought me a new wardrobe, a suit coat, neckties, and really sweet Super Man PJ’s. The gifts were individually wrapped with encouraging verses and letters. Each day in December I was able to open a new gift. When Sarah and went to North Africa earlier this year we got news that Emma Lawson was having a bake sale to support our vision trip. We were so blessed that the kids of our church get ministry and Christ’s mission.

The first Sunday Sarah came to visit our church you lovingly encouraged our blossoming relationship. When I asked for her hand in marriage you came alongside us with generous support. When you learned that we were having our first child you showered us with baby clothing, diapers, wet wipes, and other baby goodies. I think we are still working through all the diapers and we have only bought Justus one original outfit.

Your generosity over the years has been overwhelming, but an incredible blessing. I challenge you to continue to be a blessing to the next assistant pastor and his family. As you have blessed me, I would hope you would also bless him. I have bragged about you to Pastor Jeremy and Jen. I am excited to see how you will come alongside them in the days ahead. A generous church is a Jesus-centered church.

5. I love the young people of this church.

Young people keep you real. You cannot hide or fake your spiritual walk around them. I have enjoyed ministering to and being ministered by the teens of our church. Though sometimes they make me want to pull out my hair I have enjoyed praying with many of them through difficult times, discipling them through a critical life stage, and learning the great privilege of partnering with their parents to serve the whole family. It truly takes a church to raise a child!

The student leaders have been a source a spiritual growth for me. Hannah Starrett, Betsy Goodale, Amy Stratton, Brittany Ristau [Scheiner], Debbie Hill [Fights], Greg O’Leary, Andrew Ristau, Emily Ristau, Levi Starrett, Kyle Miller, and Wonho Rhee are just a handful of student leaders that have challenged me to live more like Jesus, love Jesus, and model servant leadership like Jesus. Many of these youth have been a source of spiritual conviction to many adults because of their love for Christ and willingness to serve Him.

The youth leadership team is a family to me. Many of you have served together with me for years. Some since the day I started [i.e. Starrett’s and Norton’s]. You have struggled and suffered alongside the youth teaching, modeling, and discipling them in the truth of the Bible and reaching out to them the gospel. I am incredibly proud of our young people and I know the students and youth leaders will be a blessing to our new assistant pastor.

I love how the church supports and spiritually invests in the youth. I am grateful for the slew of older ladies who faithfully pray over the youth. We never have a shortage of scholarships for retreats or camps. We never have a shortage of homes will to host events or fellowships. We never have a shortage of volunteers willing to pour themselves into the lives of the young people of this church. We never have a shortage of opportunities for our young people to serve in the church [1 Timothy 4:12]. Thank you for loving the youth who are the younger generation of this church. Keep it up and our church will live long into the future.

6. I love your mission-mindedness.

Missions and gospel outreach is in the DNA of BGBC. You love what God is doing globally and are willing to invest locally. You have encouraged and supported the youth of the church to consider short-term missions, which has spurred some to go out or be sent out. Bethany has gone to Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Hannah has a heart to do linguistics work where people have no Word of God. And you have fueled my passion for global gospel outreach. Continue to go, sent, pray to the Lord of the harvest!

7. I love my small group.

The people in our small group are so different, but yet we so much the same. We are all a work in progress that is willing to work hard to help each other be more like Christ. Anand David has blessed me through his passion for Christ and longing to live for him. He asks me hard questions that keep me sharp and vulnerable. I have learned a lot about perseverance from him as he has waited for a godly bride.

It has been a joy to see Brad Kerns and Pete and Brittany Ristau own their faith and explode spiritually as young adults. Both Pete and Brad have move from being boys to being men! Austin & Hannah Mattern have become great new friends. Even though I know little about farming and country living their passion for Jesus has brought life to our group.

Janel Haines has been a rock to both Sarah and me. There is not one person in this church that does more behind the scenes in this church than her. She has her hands in almost every ministry it [i.e. youth ministry, children’s ministry, Children’s church, gardening, VBS, writing cards, prayer support, counseling, and more] and she obviously loves it. Her growth in Christ has been nuclear and the radiation from her spiritual walk has leaked into the lives of many in our church including the Hutts!

8. I love our spiritual leaders [deacons].

I remember the first time I met the leaders of Battle Ground Bible Church. I was sitting across the dinner table with them at The Hour Time. Immediately I had a respect for these men who dedicated themselves to the church. These men absolutely love this church, and they sincerely care about one another. These men have been used by God to trim my young, rough, and thorny branches.

These men have held me accountable through some spiritually challenging days. They have held the frontlines with me—a man who sometimes lacks confidence—helping me gain a backbone. I have appreciated it when they have confronted sin, rebuking at times, and challenging my vision to make sure it meshes with the Word of God and the spiritual direction of the church. These men have certainly stirred me to godliness.

I love meeting with Mike Fights over a tasty breakfast. He is my David and I am his Jonathan. His wear-it-on-your-sleeve kind of love for the Word and God is contagious. Cort Starrett is a software engineer for a living, but he has been used of God to do some hardware engineering on my heart. Cort intimidated me for a long time, until realized he is wired as one who likes to get to the point of matters. Now I want to be like him. I enjoy Phil Kerkoff’s generosity and knack for the practical. Dave Criswell is simply a rock and prayer champion. Gary Elliott and Todd Rice are full of wise insights and keep our long meetings sane. Deacons meetings—though long—have never been a drudge but a delight.

Together, us leaders have walked through some difficult minefields casting vision for the church, while upholding the doctrinal and theological integrity of the church. We have made some decisions that have met opposition. Yet these men would rather stand before God and give an account to him than please man.

I will miss praying over and pouring over Christ’s church with them men. I will miss caring for and coaching our church to be more like Christ with these men. I will miss the bond of brotherhood with these men. By the way these men lead this church they have reminded me that FAITHFULNESS IS BETTER THAN LIFE.

“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem [North Africa], bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more.” [Acts 20:22-25]

lessons learned from my second year of marriage

Marriage is still sanctifying. I would lie if I were to say, “Marriage is easy.” Put two sinners in a room and you will have conflict, but we have both so benefitted from the spiritual growth in Christ.

My brides beauty is accelerating. Every day my wife becomes more and more beautiful to me. Sarah is the most beautiful woman I know.

Sorry is a cheap substitute for forgiveness. I have learned that saying sorry is not all that effective. Seeking forgiveness is more meaningful and biblical.

Sarah is more than this man’s best friend. Sarah is my closest companion. I love talking, playing games, reading books, watching documentaries and biographies, and taking walks with this wonderful woman. She is more than a friend. She is a lover I love and long to be with.

Study your wife [1 Peter 3:7]. Although I have only taken 2 steps in this mile long journey and still have 5278 more steps to go, I enjoy the new discoveries and territories yet to be explored. I feel like Christopher Columbus charting the course toward a new land or Jacque Cousteau diving depths the seas anticipating to see, hear, and learn about the mysteries beyond the surface of the deep.

Encourage creativity. Stiffing creativity sours a marriage. Sarah is a wonderful writer, song writer, and artist. Giving her freedom to devote time and energy to these talents not only benefits her, but also her husband. I love it when Sarah makes new dinner dishes. They do not always turn out [i.e. mystery stew], but at least she does not have fear of trying. I have learned to choke it down and then tactfully tell her to try something different next time.

Watching my wife transform into a mother has been a great privelage. I had no doubt Sarah would be a great young mother. She has grown so much in the last few month as she cares for an utterly dependent young girl.

Eating dinner together and sitting together afterwards is important time. I am normally a fast eater and I never enter the military. Taking time to eat around the table to talk about our day, pray, and spend quality time together has tremendous value for our marriage relationship.

Submitting to Christ is the source of true love in marriage [Ephesians 5:21ff]. It is helpful that Sarah reminds me that she loves her Savior. I love it that she desires and encourages me to be like Him than being like some other example of man.

Granny Dee

I want to honor and celebrate the life of a daughter of God. Dee Marion was a loving sister, an exceptional mom, an endearing grandmother, a “great” grandmother, and a godly gal who will be missed by our church. I had privilege of being labeled one of Dee’s adopted grandchildren. She made me feel like part of the family. If I felt loved and pampered, can you imagine how her true grandchildren felt?

I suppose there was a time when Dee could have in actuality been my grandmother. On one occasion, my grandfather came to visit from Milwaukee. After meeting him at church on Sunday, Dee ask, “Justin, is your grandfather single?” I about choked on my tongue. I looked at her with a grimace and said, “Granny Dee! That’s just weird!” We laughed. Every now and then she would bring it up again. And we would laugh.

Dee adopted me at the age of 23, and that would have made her 68. I would pick her up in my small green Saturn station-wagon and we would eat breakfast at Bob Evans or have vegetable soup and cold cuts at her apartment [I think that was the only thing she knew how to cook!]. I would dub our visits, ‘a date with Dee.’ I am not sure who enjoyed it more? An older woman with a younger man? Or a young man getting his fill on a good meal?

On our dates we would mostly talk about her family, look at pictures, and fellowship about her True Love, her Savior. Before leaving we would pray, sometimes for a long while. I will miss hearing her pray. She would mostly pray for her family; that they would love Jesus Christ. After my dates with Dee, I would walk away so encouraged. Like the way you feel after leaving grandma’s house. You see, Dee was for me, more of a spiritual grandma than my own grandmothers. Here’s how I want to remember Dee:

I will remember her true strength. It may be difficult to remember, since the last 3 years of Dee’s life she walked with a walker and her health was a nagging reminder that age had caught up with her body, but Dee was a woman of incredible strength. She would flexes her muscles playing backyard football with the boys.

Her greatest strength was that smile. One of my favorite pictures of Dee is of her rocking out to Guitar Hero; wielding an axe in hands and determination in her spirit. Her strength could sometimes be mistaken for her stubborn and/or strong will. Dee had her opinions. If you did not know what she was thinking, just wait a few moments and you will know. Don’t be mistaken; Dee’s true strength came from her faith in Christ.

Proverbs 31:17-31 “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy…Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue…Her children rise up and call her blessed…charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

I will remember her strength in weakness. Dee was not afraid to talk about her past. As a young man it was good to listen her stories and weep with her over the weary road, and learn how she came through scarred yet stronger. Earthly relationships sought to beat, bruise and break her externally and internally, but she fought through the pain, bitterness and brokenness only to come forth as a faithful follower of Christ. I suppose she could relate to her Savior who also walked a path of pain, bruising, and brokenness at the hands of others. Her weakness was her Saviors strength.

The last 36 months were the hardest for Dee. In God’s sovereignty, He allowed her body to face the battles of cancer, age, painful infections, and weakness. This world could not weather or worry her spirit. Her smile and eternal perspective on life pierced through the pain like a bright beam of hope.

I will remember her suffering and dying well. Did she complain? Yes. Did she mention her pain? Yes. Did she want to go Home? Yes. But through it all, her eyes were fixed on her Savior. She would temporarily miss the immediate affection of her family, but the attraction of being with her Heavenly Father was the greatest affection of her heart.

I will remember her love for her family. Her children [Butch, Mike, Denise, Dee Anna, and Scott] were the apples of her eyes. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren were what kept her fighting the good faith. Dee had a picture of her entire family. It was one of the few pictures with everyone together. She cherished that photo. When you get a chance, read her journals and you will hear her prayers, her worries, her fears, her heart, her tears, and her anxieties. She desired her family to know and to love her Savior too.

I will remember her contagious love for Jesus Christ. Spend a moment with Dee and you will hear about her love for Jesus and His church. She loved the Word, studying with her friends, and talking about its truth with all who would listen. You can only imagine, Dee sitting at her Saviors feet, worshiping the one she loved.

It would be easy to make your faith Dee’s faith. Don’t bank your eternal destiny on Dee’s faith. She owned her faith in Christ and prayed that you would too. Dee is not here anymore to remind you about going to church or remind you about the promises of Christ. Remember Dee’s Jesus. He is your only hope of salvation as was hers.

5 Affirmations of a Redemptive Friendship

A real redemptive friendship produces righteousness in one another. In a sermon given by my pastor this Sunday our church peered into the friendship of David and Jonathan. There friendship was the epitome of a healthy, godly and redemptive relationship.

Affirmation #1 – I will be there for you during times of hardship [1 Samuel 23:15-16], Hardship always reveals true friendship. If you are not there for a friend in a hard time you are not a redemptive friend. When Jonathan went to David he was taking a big risk [cf.20:31-33; Proverbs 17:17].

Affirmation #2 – I will help you to depend upon God and not me [23:16-17]. Jonathan strengthened Davids hand in God. He did not minimize the problem. He did not present himself as the answer to Davids problems. He simply points David to the promises of God. Are my friendships strong in Christ because of your friendship with them?

Affirmation #3 – I will seek to be a source of emotional stability for you. Redemptive friends are objective–they measure your words with and against the Scriptures. Redemptive friends do not reed sinful emotions through sympathy, but they help them to see and understand the truth.

Affirmation #4 – I will seek to be your loyal friend even when I lose. Jonathan knew the kingdom was not his. In a day and age when kings killed their competitors. Jonathan affirms his friend David by saying, “you shall be king and I will be next to you.” Jonathan says in essence, “David I will be your biggest supporter when you become the next king!” Jonathan loses the kingdom, but gains a redemptive friend and advocate. He is not really losing anything by obeying God.

Affirmation #5 – I will verbalize my commitment to you [23:18]. David and Jonathan seal their friendship with a ceremony. Like a marriage the ceremony is an important reminder before God as their witness.

Redemptive relationships are critical for spiritual growth in Christ. Do you have a redemptive friendship like this? Are you a redemptive friend like this? Is your church cultivating redemptive friendships like this?

cross-centered relationships

What is at the center of your of your life? Your center is what is your main thing, your top priority, and the thing you most passionate about. It is what defines you. Your center is clearly seen in what do you talk about or what is on your mind the most. Commonly it is a relationship, passion, career or cause. Have you seen your center change over the years?

What is the one thing God says must be our center? In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul says that our first importance is the cross of Christ—the gospel. The cross is like a hub with spokes to a wheel. It affects everything you do—your passions, career, causes and relationships. It wasn’t until I came to know Christ and begin a relationship with the God of the universe that I realized my relationships with my parents, friends, and authorities could be different.

For those who do not know God the cross is silly and stupid. “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18] People hate the work of Christ because it runs so contradictory to the way people think and live. The cross is foolish because people do not make the connection from what Christ did on the cross to how it impacts their life. The cross is crucial to all our relationships. If you say you have a relationship with God, the proof of it is how you view your relationships. How does the cross impact my relationships: with my parents, friends, authorities, or dating partners?

1. The cross is the means to change my motives within relationships [2 Corinthians 5:14-15]. Jesus went to the cross not because he thought it was going to be fun or a vacation to the beach. It was hard, painful, and torturous. He could have backed down, but He didn’t. He was motivated by love and joyful obedience, even when people mocked Him and beat Him and bullied Him.

First, my relationships must be motivated by Christ’s love. This is often difficult because we are motivated by getting things from people. We are consumers. We view our relationships as people owing us attention, love, and respect [note Pharisees: John 12:43; Luke 7:47]. We say to our parents, “You owe me a nice room with privacy. You owe me new clothes for school and respect for my possessions.” We think our authorities and friends should treat us fairly and respectably. If you think people owe you it will frustrate you because you often do not get what you want.

My esteem does not come from self or others, but comes from Christ. I have Christ-esteem [v.15]. The question is not what do people owe me, but what do I owe them? “Owe no one anything, except love each other.” [Romans 13:3] “Walk in love as Christ loved you.” [Ephesians 5:2] “The love of Christ controls us.” [v.14] I owe others love because God commands me to love one another [Colossians 3:12-17]. If I am a genuine follower of Christ I am able to love others because He has loved me [1 John 3:7-21]. The cross is proof of His love [1 John 3:16]. The cross shows just how horrendous my sin is, but how immense is God’s love. The cross puts me on equal terms with everyone else. I am no better, and no worse.

Second, my relationships must be motivated by joyful obedience. I am willing to submit to others authority in my life because I see it has benefitted me to submit to God’s authority. God protects and provides. No longer do I need to live in the frustration of being a man pleaser, but in the joyfulness of becoming a God pleaser. My motivation as a follower of Christ is not what other people think about me, but is God pleased with me [2 Corinthians 5:9].

2. The cross is the means of dealing with conflict in relationships [2 Corinthians 5:16-19]. The cross challenges my attitude towards those I have something against [v.17; cf. Titus 3:1-11; Colossians 3:8-15]. Often when I have something against another person I want to control the situation by letting them feel my pain or know my hurt. However, God says that vengeance is not yours and when we take wrath into our hands we make a mess of the situation [Romans 12:19]. Only God can be God. So how does God desire us to deal with conflicts?

What if I have sinned against someone? What if I have blow it and messed up a relationship? As a new creation in Christ I seek reconciliation and forgiveness for your sin. What if they do not accept my forgiveness? You cannot control their response. You have done your part. Trust God to minister to them [v.18-19]. What if it is physically impossible to ask for their forgiveness because of death or distance? If death take your unforgiveness to God, but if not write a letter or call the person you have something against.

What if someone sinned against me? If someone has wronged you and you are struggling with thoughts of bitterness or rage seek their forgiveness for your sinful attitude. You can, “Forgive as Christ forgave you.” [Ephesians 4:32] because “Love covers a multitude of sins.” [1 Peter 4:8] Love is powerful.

What about those who don’t seem to deserve my love? Have you heard it said, “Hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice shame on me”? The Bible says, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.” [1 Thessalonians 5:15] What does it say about you if God can forgive sins eternally, but you cannot forgive someone? The proper response is to confront in love pointing them to the cross. In the cross, there is no one undeserving of God’s love.

Some people are fire starter while others are fire extinguisher. Who are you? An attitude of humility, gentleness, and understanding can diffuse many arguments, tensions and disagreements. “If any man is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” [Galatians 6:1ff] “Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” [1 Peter 3:8-9]

3. The cross is the means to restore broken relationships [2 Corinthians 5:20-21]. The cross makes our relationship right with God and gives us the ability to reconcile our earthly relationships because we are ambassadors of reconciliation [v.20]. The cross attacks the issues that hurt relationships. The cross attacks and defeats sin. The cross does not tear down a relationship with God it builds up. Teenagers are champs at knocking others down with their teasing and tearing words. This has no place in the life of a Christian, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” [Romans 14:19]

How has the cross impacted your relationships with God and others? The proof of your relationship with Heavenly Father is seen and heard in your earthly relationships.

Quick Q&A on Cross-Centered Communication in my Relationships:

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at home with my parents? What if my parents are on my case? What if we do not get along What if they have does something to you that scarred you really deep? Begin with the road towards reconciliation and obey joyfully as to the Lord [Ephesians 6:1-3]. As you honor your parents you are really honoring God.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at school with my teachers or at work with my boss? Trust God who appoints all your authorities [Ephesians 6:1-9; Titus 3:1ff] Even if some are unfair or unreasonable God has placed them into their positions of authority. Remember your boss is ultimately God. The way you work can be a shining light for God’s glory.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like with my friends? If you see your friends sinning be willing to confront their sin [cf. Matthew 18:15-17]. This is what good friends do—they hold one another accountable. A loving friend does not sympathize with sin; rather they help their friends overcome sin. Also, humbly accept confrontation for your sin too.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like in my future marriage or dating relationships? [More on this the next few weeks] Check out: 1 Peter 3:1-7, Ephesians 5:22ff, and 1 Corinthians 7.

jealousy

Jealousy is as old as Cain and Abel (cf. Genesis 4). Man has often displayed jealous behavior to get what he wants, when he wants it; usually in spite of a person or situation. Jealousy is a strong response that can be used for extreme harm or extraordinary good. The letter of James (4:5) touch’s on the topic of jealousy with reference to a certain Old Testament quotation. What is jealousy? Is jealousy godly? Is the jealousy of God in the OT the same or different as that seen of God when mentioned in the New Testament?

James 4:5 says, “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us”?” James 4:5 specifically states he is quoting Scripture, but when scanning the OT, one observes there is no passage that it directly quotes. However, there are many OT texts that it could be alluding or echoing.

The God of the Bible is a jealous God. Theologically speaking, the theme of God’s jealous love for His people is tied to the exclusiveness of his claims like the exclusiveness of a spouse’s claims in marriage. This claim is ratcheted up because God is not only the metaphorical husband of His people but also their God. He alone is God. Since He is personal, God is jealous when His followers commit adultery because of the betrayal of idolatry. God longs for His follower’s faithfulness with a jealous longing.

Teaching God’s Jealous Character from Exodus 20:5 & 34:14.

From the decalogue and the Law we see teachings of a jealous God (Exodus 20). God is jealous within a concrete context of covenant infidelity (Exodus 34). James describes a jealous God who has not changed in His demand of absolute devotion to Himself by obedience to His commandments. The Hebrew word for jealous [קַנָּא] is used only of God with the focus on punishing those who hate Him (Ex 20:5; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15) and demanding exclusive service (Ex 34:14).

The second Commandment expands and explains the first commandment. It deals with the heart, rather than the object of worship. This commandment becomes the gauge that measures the spiritual vitality of God’s people. God desires worship above all else. Commands against idols and pagan gods appear throughout the OT. Although James is so practical in structure, the doctrine of God is vital to the teaching of the letter. Throughout James’ letter there is an emphasis on a monotheistic God who is One (cf. 2:19). Within the doctrine of God is the doctrine of His character. James emphasizes His jealousy. God is jealous because He desires His people to adhere to the law and likewise abstain from being worldly. God’s jealousy is seen in the Law and through James’ command to His people to obey Him exclusively through their faithfulness and denial of worldly pleasures.

Analogy of Worldly Friendship from Deuteronomy 6:14-15.

The character of a jealous God who desires faithfulness in His people continues throughout the OT Torah. God is jealous for His people and desires them to worship Him exclusively. In the Septuagint [LXX] the word for jealousy is ζηλωτής–where we get our English word ‘zealous,’ or better translated ‘envy’. Within James 4:4-5, a discussion exists of worldly attitudes rooted in fights and quarrels among believers. These attitudes were from envy and selfish ambition in the pursuit of worldly pleasures (cf. James 4:2a, ζηλοῦτε). These selfish motives led to worldly lifestyles (cf. James 3:14-16). Selfish living is the antithesis of a faithful relationship with God. Selfish ambition is considered rebellion and adultery against God (Deut. 6:14-15).

The call to reject pagan idolatry in the OT was primarily against the cultic worship and gods of other nations like Babylon and Assyria. However, the idolatry in the NT brings friendship with the world to the level of being an enemy of God. Worldly living is against that which God teaches and expects of His people. One either loves God or loves the world. Loving the world to James means not only that you don’t love God, it means you are His enemy

The idea of friendship in OT and NT culture was not the shallow depiction that we see in today’s culture. God intended friendship to encourage spiritual unity and accountability against idolatry and worldliness. With a deeper understanding of friendship it becomes clear that—as James says—love for God and love for the world are mutually exclusive (cf. Luke 16:13; 1 John 2:15-16; Matthew 6:24). To be friends with the world is to be God’s enemy. Love for the world or other gods is treason toward God. God is a jealous God and does not tolerate compromising relationships, especially with the gods and idols of this world.

Analogy of Adultery from Ezekiel 16:38, 42.

Ezekiel continues the theme of the Law by echoing that God is jealous for His own honor. Ezekiel compares the rebellion of his day to that of the Exile during Moses’ day (cf. 20:1-26). Ezekiel pleads for God’s grace and restoration in the light of His jealous dealings throughout time (20:42-44). Ezekiel also touches on the adultery of his people and the jealousy of a God who desires their faithfulness (16:38, 42). God keeps His covenantal wedding vows and expects His bride—the nation of Israel—to uphold them too.

Ezekiel continues in the vein of James by relating God’s jealousy to that of an adulterous relationship. It is very likely James is thinking of the OT view that God—the jealous lover—is married to His people and His bride is adulterous and unfaithful. The reference to women in Ezekiel adheres to God’s people being His bride. James’ readers are the church, which is the Bride of Christ. Jesus also used this marriage analogy to call His followers to faithfulness.

In a godly marriage, there is a healthy form of jealousy which a husband should have for his wife. If he found out that she was having affections for another man he would rightly be jealous of her love. If he did not, one would question the husband’s love for his bride. James and the OT reinforce this analogy. God loves His people though they have committed spiritual adultery. God is gracious to restore them if they repent and turn back to Him.

James 4:5 demonstrates in the NT that God desires total allegiance as He did in the OT. God is a righteously jealous Husband who tolerates no rivals. We cannot be friends with the world without provoking the jealousy of God. We cannot claim to be the bride of Christ and then run to the worldly “man next door” for comfort. James supports the OT texts that command His people to turn from all spiritual adultery and be exclusively devoted to God. Living for self and seeking pleasure apart from God is to commit spiritual adultery. To James, active faith is tested by the world and God expects His followers to be faithful to Him alone.

To view a more technical paper with sources see JEALOUSLY intertextuality paper [James 4.5]

a fruitful look at forgiveness

We have defined forgiveness as a decision to treat an offender as if the offense never happened at all. Forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness is an event, not a process [i.e. Jesus on the cross]. Forgiveness is not forgetting, rather it is not dwelling. Forgiveness is like taking a trash bag full of pain and hurt and throwing it away. However, many people like to go to the dump and dig through their old dirt, but that gets you more messy and stinky.

The Bible paints a picture of forgiveness as a tree with deep roots and healthy fruits. The Bible uses this illustration to say that what comes out of a man’s mouth shows you what is in his heart [cf. Luke 6:43-46]. The root of the matter is the heart. The fruit is our behavior. Ephesians 4 gives a practical principle of how to test the quality of fruit by getting at the root issue. God has not called us to be fruit inspectors; rather we are to be root investors.

When I hold onto unforgiveness I will produce destructive fruit [Eph 4:31].

We often ignore or fail to realize the cost of unforgiveness. The cost of unforgiveness is loss of intimacy with God, loss of relationship with others, and stunted spiritual growth [i.e. put off—bitterness, rage, anger, etc.]. If I do not deal with my ungodly anger quickly it will soon be snowball that ends in a deadly avalanche.

I want you to get a real look at forgiveness [Is.55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”]. This is not just a passage about the bigness or smartness of God, in the context it is about His forgiveness. You see we measure our forgiveness with a yardstick: Are they worthy of my forgiveness? And how much am I suppose to forgiven them? God’s forgiveness cannot be measured or compared to our view of forgiveness. Our forgiveness is so little compared to God’s. We cannot conceive the boundaries on God’s forgiveness.

When I unleash forgiveness I produce delightful fruits [4:32a]

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” When I put off the fruits of the old man and begin to live as the new man Christ created me to be I begin to bear fruit that is in His likeness [cf. Gal.5:16ff]. His image has rub off on me. You cannot fake this kind of fruit for long. It is the result of an intimate relationship with the maker and sustainer of the universe.

Growing up my grandpa Dale had a few apple trees. The apple tree didn’t produce much. It just produced dry, wrinkled, brown and mushy apples. Let’s say gramps decided to fix the tree one year. He went out to the tree with trimmers, a staple gun, stepladder and a box of apples he bought from the store. He cuts off the bad apples and puts on the new store bought ones. Did he fix the tree? Stapling apples will not help because they will just rot too. Forgiveness that doesn’t reach the heart [roots] does not last. Cosmetic changes never satisfy. Are you stapling fruit? You can know if you are forgiving person if you have the freedom to give your best, most, and greatest to God and others without reservation.

Why do I need to be forgiving? What is my motivation? [4:32b-5:2]

“As God in Christ forgave you…” When I forgive I am most like God [cf. Matthew 6:12]. I want to be forgiving because I realize how much I have been forgiven. Stop for a moment. Think about all God has forgiven you. Are you amazed? How can you not be impacted by that truth? Think about those you are having a difficult time forgiving. How can God’s forgiveness motivate you to forgive today?

I am certainly no trekkie, but in conclusion we are going to take forgiveness through to the fourth dimension. Here is how we must deal with unforgiveness: First, defer to God. All forgiveness is from God—He is the final frontier [John 20:22-23]. Second, decide to take the initiative. God gives the grace, and you must you decide to enter the race [cf. Lk.15:20; Rom.12:18]. Third, disengage from your emotions. Even if you don’t feel like forgiving that is not an option [Gal.5 “fruit of the Spirit”; Is.43:25]. Fourth, the final dimension is to deliver your enemies to God through much prayer [cf. Luke 6:27-28].

unleashing forgiveness

I had just turned 16. My parents were away for 4th of July weekend and I had my step-dads truck all to myself. He had the coolest looking Mitsubishi Montero. Looking back, the man who gave oversaw my drivers test earlier that March was more into the 4×4 gadgets inside than how I was driving outside. I passed. I do not recall having permission to take out Mike’s truck that weekend, but it was the 4th of July, and my friends were banking on me taking them to the fireworks on the Rib Mountain in the Montero. So with the moon-roof down, music cranked and the 4-wheel on we head up the mountain in the Montero.  All was good and we had a great night.

The next day I had to work. Since we got in late the night before and I had to work so early I decided I would take the Montero [I usually took the bus or road my bike]. No harm, right? As I was pulling into the mall-parking ramp my foot got stuck on the accelerator and the car rammed into the concrete ramp. Cars were lining up and honking behind me. I put a $5000.00 dent into the truck. My sin had just found me out. My parents called that night and ask how I was doing? I did not mention a thing. When my parents got home a few days later my step-dad opened the garage viewed him damaged Montero and was furious. That 4th of July I had to learn a valuable lesson about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is unnatural. We want to hold onto the hurt and anger, payback, seek revenge and retribution. Have you ever been there? Have you been on the offended end of hurt, blame, finger pointing, or collateral damage? Do you really want to live like this? Who are you having a difficult time forgiving?

what is forgiveness?

It is a decision to treat an offender as if the offense never happened at all.

why should I forgive?

Peter asks this very question to Jesus and you sense he is struggling with unforgiveness [Matthew 18:21], since earlier Jesus had taught about what to do if a person offends you [18:15-20]. In Jesus’ day Jewish rabbi’s taught that if you forgave someone three times you were really forgiven, but super spiritual Peter trumps that number to seven. Jesus is going to answer the haughty question using a simple story [18:22-35].

Unforgiveness is foolish [Matthew 18:22-27]. God is like the king who forgives the servants $10 million dollars debt. In those days filing bankruptcy was not an option. If you could not pay, off to the slave market you went. What a forgiving king. God says there are endless reasons to forgive. However, we have endless excuses for not forgiving someone who has offended us. Sin is always irrational, full of excuses and deceitful. I have heard people say, “The hurt is too big.” We believe that there is no possible way to forgive ____ for doing ____ because the wound is deep, fresh and still bleeding. I have heard others say, “Time will heal it,“ “They are bound to do it again.” “I cannot forgive until I forget.” We humans have a hard time forgetting. The problem is forgiveness is the process God uses to help us forget.

Unforgiveness is like a cancerous tumor. The longer it is left unchecked the harder it is to remove, and the messier and more complicated it becomes. Unforgiveness is controlling. It is like a dog leash and its master is the one who has offended you. Unforgiveness will continue to become a weight that becomes heavier and heavier until you deal with it. When we harbor unforgiveness we are saying, “Okay, you control my life. I’m the puppet. You have the strings.” I have lived that way before, for years I was leashed to unforgiveness to my divorced parents who I blamed for my anger and sin issues.

Unforgiveness is dangerous [vs.28-30]. If we decide not to forgive it can destroy people. Think about it: the forgiving servant was forgiven $10 million dollars, but he was bent out of shape over someone who owed him $11 dollars. Ridiculous!? The same is true for one who is a child of God. If Christ has forgiven you of all your sins and you cannot forgive another for one sin, ridiculous. Unforgiveness will destroy you and others.

Unforgiveness is Godless [v.31-33]. Question: How much has God forgiven you? What does it say about God’s forgiveness if we cannot forgive an offender? It slaps God in the face. It says His forgiveness does not cut it. Unforgiveness is anti-God.

Unforgiveness is torturous [v.34-35]. If we do not deal with forgiveness it will deal with me. Ultimately it will destroy me and separate me from the Forgiver.

how do I know if I am forgiving?

Going back to Peters original question do you notice Jesus’ response? [v.22] “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus is not saying you should forgive 77 times, but forgiveness is over and over again. Forgiveness is to be a habit. Now I am not going to minimize how bad someone has hurt you, but do you realize what forgiveness God has given you? Forgiveness starts and ends with God. I learn forgiveness from Him, and I give forgiveness in Him. How do I know if I am a forgiving person?

First, I am not deceived by my pride. You are quick to admit what you did was wrong and seek forgiveness, or you are quick to offer forgiveness by not harboring unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is not your mother’s fault, your friend’s fault, rather own up to it yourself. Second, I am not defensive or protective. You do not have to pay back, pick that fight, or rebel to prove you are right. Instead you leave that up to God [Romans 12:19]. Third, I am motivated by Christ’s forgiveness, so I forgive. It is freeing to allow God to fight the battles for you and to rely upon His forgiveness to forgive others.

Forgiveness is unnatural, but necessary. As followers of Christ forgiveness should come more naturally. Unleash unforgiveness before you are lynched by it.

what if those I am pouring my life into have gone empty?

Sometimes relationships go sour. Sometimes discipleship hurts. Sometimes those we invest our lives into bail on life and our efforts seem bankrupt. What do I do when I pour my life into someone and there are empty returns? What do I do when I am left speechless on the other end of and unanswered call? Or your cries are unheard or ignored?  Here are some good thoughts to remember:

Discipleship is intentional. When I invest in someone’s life I want him or her to know that I am. I intentionally let them know that I want to spend quality time encouraging their relationship with God not because I have it all together, rather together we can begin sharpening iron. Echo the voices of Jesus and Paul, “follow me.” [Matthew 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Timothy 1:13]

Discipleship is eternal. I am intentional about discipleship because I feel the weight of my responsibility before God: to reproduce my vertical relationship with others horizontally [John 15:16ff]. I am responsible for the spiritual growth of our teens. That is a heavy burden to bear, but God brings the fruit. My relationships matter to God. My relationships have eternal ramifications. That is huge.

Discipleship is generational. My relationship does not end with someone after a year or 12-class study. They last a lifetime [Matthew 28:19-20]. From one generation to another I must be willing to disciple and be discipled.

Discipleship is personal. When relationship end or the parking brake seems stuck that can be frustrating. Relationships do not come with 90-day money back guarantee. We might get burned and bruised. If you have some one you are investing in that does not want to be around you: give them over to God, keep tabs on them and don’t close the door on them ever. Chose another to invest in and press on. May our motto be, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” [2 Corinthians 12:15]

a lesson on sin from LOTR

the ring of sin

Lately, Sarah and I have been on a Lord of the Rings kick. We watched all tree DVD’s in the extended edition. We did not watch them back-to-back-to-back. That would be crazy! However, now that I think of it not a bad idea!?

Each time I watch LOTR I am convicted and think about sin. I like to watch the movie and imagine the ring being a symbol of sin. I am sure somebody has already thought of that before, written some book on it and made tons of money already on that notion. Here are just some notes on sin I noticed from LOTR’s:

Sin is a struggle to the end.

No getting around it. Sin will be a struggle until we part from this planet. The reward is in the reliance upon a God who is ready to rescue us. in Him we are dead to sin and live to Christ.

kill sinSin must be killed.

Sin is like a beast waiting and wanting to destroy all who put it on. Frodo has a mission: to destroy the ring, at all costs. On his journey he struggles with the rings powers which weaken him to breaking points. The only way to be free of the rings power is to destroy it.

faithful friendsRecruit others to kill sin with you.

It is hard enough to journey in our sin alone. We all need Sam’s to help us kill sin. I immediately think of my good friend Ben who has been a helping me slay the dragons of sin in my life. Be a part of a Fellowship [i.e. church] that encourages you to destroy sinfulness.

GODcast

Don't knock the Speedo
Don't knock the Speedo

One of my passions is a love to fish. As a child ever summer we would spend weeks at our cottage on Lake Alma in the northwood’s of Wisconsin [as you can see in my Speedo-lishous picture above]. My dad taught me how to fish for bass, bluegills crappies and anything that swims. Any chance I get I go out fishing. You know, fishing is a biblical sport? Fishing should be your passion too!

Thousands of years ago Jesus set forth a strategy for His followers and it looks something like this. In Matthew 4:18-20, Jesus makes a very bold invitation [like asking a girl on a date], “Let’s go fishing.”  Jesus was just walking around the Sea of Galilee. There were about 30 little villages that surrounded this lake, which made their living off the lake. It was the center of thousands of people’s lives. And Jesus approaches two stinky fishermen and says, “Follow Me, and I will make you into something you are not [Fishers of Men].” And the amazing thing is they left their nets and followed Him.

The Fishing Manual for Followers of Christ:

Followers Fish. It is as simple as that. A follower of Christ fishes for other people. If you are not fishing you are not following. Jesus was fired up about fishing. From the first to the last words to His followers he lived, breath, ate and expected His followers to fish [cf. Mt. 4 & 28]. It is interesting He had fishermen as some of His followers.

Fishermen are interesting people. They are passionate, focus, patient, they always tell stories, and they love taking newbie’s fishing.

I am thankful for Mike who fished for me as a young man. Without someone fishing for me I would not know Christ. Who fished for you. Mike was an average Joe. He wasn’t a pastor. He wasn’t super spiritual. Pastors or super spiritual are not the only ones who fish, but also everyone is a fisherman for men.

It is easy to get so wrapped up in the here-and-now that we forget to fish and impact those around us with the story of the Good News. Stop thinking about the now and think eternal. The only things you can take to heaven are followers; people you fish.

Followers Fish Where the Fish are. You got to get out of the Lazy-boy to catch fish. Don’t wait until people come to you. Go out to meet unbelievers where they are. I find the best time to fish right before the weather gets bad or when it is raining cats and dogs outside. Followers fish in all kinds of elements. Sometimes fishing is dirty, stinky, slimy and uncomfortable [where’s the Purel?]. Followers don’t care because Christ is worth the cost.

Followers Fish with Fervency. Sometimes when fishing you do not get hits; the line breaks or the big one gets away. Followers keep on fishing no matter the results. It is not about patience, but persistence [not pushy]. People think fishing is boring or lame because it is a lot of sitting and waiting. Let me tell you: that’s not fishing, that’s laziness. Fishermen go after the fish with fervency.

Followers have Fish Stories to Tell. I have a dozen or more fish stories to tell. Like the time I caught a 20-inch bass without looking, or the time my Gramps caught an 18-pound Musky on 4-pound test-line while fishing for bluegills, or the time I saw a Musky bigger than my canoe oar. Believers have fish stories too. If not, you have been around the Marina too much.

Followers Fish with a Guide. I know all the hotspots on Lake Alma because my dad taught me where they are. My father was my guide. Good fishermen follow a guide. As believers our guide is God. He directs us where to fish. He equips us [John 16:13]. The Holy Spirit works within you to fish.

Followers Fish, Not Catch. Jesus did not say we are to be catchers of men. That job is up to God. We fish, He catches. The Guide does the catching we follow the Guides instructions. Fishing is hard work. It is uncomfortable at times. But the benefits and rewards are out of this world. Literally. Are you fishing for men?

How do you fish? There is no one-way to fish. Some fish with nets, others fly fish, some us real bait and others use plastic worms. This is the same with being a fisher of men. Principles for Fishing: It starts with prayer, then going to unbelieving friends/family, and it ends with relying on your Guide. Share your story of coming to Christ and how He has changed you [BC & AD]. I find that to be the most impactful.

inside the fire: an action plan to live by

feiry furnace

Most everyone knows the universal action plan if you are on fire. STOP, DROP & ROLL However, not many know the universal action plan for living for God inside the fires of life? There are times in life were the heat is poured on and the fires of life get hot. What are we to do? How are we to respond? What is their purpose?

To illustrate this I will be shring a common story from the Bible. The story of Daniel and the fiery furnace. You might have heard this story in Sunday School as a kid and can still visualize the flannal graph. To give a brief History 101 lesson: the nation of Israel had once again rejected God and were living their own way rather than God’s way. Since they disobeyed God, He allowed a pagan nation [Babylon] to capture them. The ruler of this nation was Nebuchadnezzar. He was powerful and very prideful [Daniel 3:1-7]. When he captured Israel he took all their treasures and brightest men. He was strategic and put these men in places of leadership among his empire. Three of these men were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These men took some heat for a heroic action to stand up for what they believed in. This is where we will begin to look at the action plan these men had inside the fire…

1.  Expect flaming words that will throw you inside the fire [Daniel 3:8-15].

Nebby built a big statue to boast in his pride [and god-likeness] and required all to bow to it. These men did not bow, instead they stood out like the squeaky tuba in the marching band. The men didn’t get away with a thing. In fact, some verbal flamethrowers [arsonists] came onto the scene, and accused the 3 men before the king. If you stand up for truth and stand out for Christ you will experience the harsh words of critics, skeptics and bullies. In middle school I was a professional flamethrower. I could cuss people out and cut them down like a lumberjack on steroids. It did not get me anywhere except being labeled among the bullies. Bullies, tattletales, flamethrowers or whatever you want to call them are all-words and no-impact.

We live in a day and age where people think they have a right to be flamethrowers. Just look at some of the examples from the news this week: Joe Wilson said “You Lie!” in congress to Obama, Serena Williams blasting a line judge for a bad call, and Kanye West belittling Taylor Swift at the MTV Music Awards.

Flamethrowers can be large and in charge, but we must rise above their flaming words. Do not stoop down to their level of immature speech, even though revenge is the norm. Be a fire extinguisher. Your priority is to please God and seek His approval. Being a man pleaser will only lead to disappointment. God can use your character in the heat of word battles to shine His glory.

2. Walk inside the fire with confidence [vs.16-18].

The 3 knew the cost of their obedience to God—their jobs and their LIVES. They did not care. They obeyed God and left their lives in His hands. They had confidence [humility], not cockiness [pride]. They weren’t too sexy for Nebby’s shirt. They knew, “Our God can save,” because they had a relationship with Him. They didn’t know if God would rescue them or not.

Dykstra familyThis week my aunt, Lori Dykstra, died of cancer. She was only 40, leaving behind 4 children and a husband. Yet her faith and perseverance inspired be. She had confidence that her cancer was from God and that He wanted her home soon. She impacted many in her church and family. Last night we attended her funeral. It was the best funeral I have ever attended. It was more of a celebration and worship service. She served God selflessly and confidently. She looked cancer in the face and said, “I do not fear.”

3. Don’t compromise when standing inside the fire gets hotter [vs.19-23].

Some say, “True worship comes from the heart, right? If I bow down and pretend that I am worshipping on the outside, but really worshiping God on the inside, then it doesn’t count. It can happen.” Sure, it can happen, but do not allow your circumstances to compromise you. What you believe on the inside will dictate how you live on the outside Remember the story of Braveheart? It wasn’t a happy ending; he stood up for that was right in the heat of the moment. Obeying God could mean sacrificing your friends, career, reputation, success, etc.

4. Grab hold of God while inside the fire [vs.24-26a].

What is disturbing is that Nebby was watching the 3 men burn. Yet that day he observed something miraculous. A fourth Man [Jesus] appeared in the fire and all the men were alive, walking around. When you go inside the fire others are watching your walk. They might want see you burn or end up getting a glimpse of God. God will sometimes use the fire to burn away things that bind you. Like Job we can say, “I’ve learned that the fire can purify me like gold. It was tough, but I would not trade it. I know God deeper now.” Remember, inside the fire God is with you.

5. Standing inside the fire is not forever [vs.26b-30].

The king was impressed. He had just witnessed the power of God. The character of the 3 men out shined the too-hot-to-handle fire. He immediately restored the 3 to their jobs and gave them a promotion. The greater reward inside the fire is the promotion we receive from God, “Well done. You have been a faithful servant, and I am pleased with you.” That will be amazing!!

In conclusion, a follower of God will undoubtedly spend sometime inside the fire. The question I must ask is not “Will I win? Will everybody see that I am right?” Rather, “Am I obeying God?” The consequences of our obedience are in the hands of God.

Bella

This is a movie review:

The name Bella means beautiful.

As one watches this movie they find two characters whose lives are anything but beautiful. First, there is Jose is a scruffy character that hasn’t been the same since a tragic accident that ended his promising soccer career. He becomes the head chef at his brother’s fancy restaurant. People worry about Jose—especially his family.

Second, there is Nina, she is a waitress at that same restaurant. She is young, unmarried and discovers she is with child, but does not want to be pregnant. Her morning sickness and consecutive late arrivals to work get her fired. No one worries about Nina—except Jose.

Jose is drawn to the troubled woman and offers his help. She doesn’t want his help at first. Nina has decided that if her life is ever going to be normal again she must abort her little girl.

The movie follows these two characters one damaged by the past and the other afraid of the future. Beyond friendship and caring for others, abortion and adoption are the two big themes in Bella. It is interesting to note that the Bible talks a lot about adoption. Without a relationship with Christ we are all orphans without a Father. One of the most comforting passages is when Jesus promises, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” [Jn.14:18] He will never leave us or forsake us as a Father. And when we come to Him He adopts us into His family for all eternity [Romans 8:15-17; Gal.4:5],

True, there are no direct mentions of God in the movie, but one is given the strong impression that Nina is struggling with not just a physical and emotional decision, but also a spiritual one. At one point in Jose and Nina’s discussions about the baby, she asks him, “Do you think this is all there is?” Jose says, “My grandmother used to say, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.'” And as they walk the street of New York City they meet a blind man who’s sign reads, “God closed my eyes. Now I can see.”

Bella is an intelligent film that reminds one that you can be impacted by another person’s life, even save, by love and time.  There are threads of grace, faith, redemption and the sanctity of life woven into the fabric of the movie. The cast is not constructed with A-list stars or built on a multi-million dollar budget. Eduardo Verástegui, who is Jose and producer of the film, realizes his film will not bust box office numbers, but stated,

“This film is for the Ninas of the world. This film is not for the people who already agree that life is personal and has dignity. I want to touch the girls who come from broken families who don’t know anything about all these important issues—and next thing you know they find themselves pregnant and they think it’s fine to just go and have an abortion because that is what they have been taught. I want to reach them and embrace them and love them through the film and then by that they can choose what is best for them, which is to have their baby.”

In the end of this movie we truly see how beautiful life is.

I recommend Bella for any occasion.