Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Two Sides to Every Coin

“But I will stay at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” 1 Cor. 16:9 (emphasis mine).

Perhaps all candidates for admission to bible schools and seminaries should be required to write an essay about this verse as part of the application process. Better to enter your chosen (hopefully called and anointed) profession with eyes wide open, minus the rose colored glasses. Ministry isn't for wimps. Don't believe me? Ask a pastor. He/she's the one with the knife sticking out of their back.

A quick overview of Acts 19 fills us in on Paul's adventures at Ephesus. This city wasn't just a door of opportunity, it was a great one. The work was very effective. Many were saved, miracles occurred and they all lived happily every after! Opps, wrong version.

The successful preaching of the Gospel raised up a solid core of opposition. Most don't like the status quo being disturbed and the Good News shakes things up. Paul initially preached in the synagogues and promptly received the left foot of fellowship. Undeterred, he set up shop at the lecture hall of Tyranus.

The Jewish leaders weren't the only ones unreceptive to Paul's message. The silversmiths, creators of shines to Artemis, experienced an economic recession when their client base got saved. Paul had both Jews and Gentiles mad at him. A full scale riot was avoided only when cooler heads prevailed.

Ministers must see and accept both sides of the Gospel coin. There are the exhilarating episodes when lives are dramatically changed for the good. However, usually sooner rather than later the battle lines are drawn. Be prepared to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, maligned and accused of things you have or have not done. The greater the impact you make, the stronger the push back.

This didn't stop Paul and it shouldn't stop us either. It's part of the territory. Even Jesus wasn't well received by all. As ground is gained opposition will rear its ugly head and bring its bag of dirty tricks. It's arrival is no reason to back off.

Have you attempted to follow God's lead only to run face first into brick walls? Have you been tempted to quit when stymied with adversity? Remember – GREAT opportunities come with increased resistance. Jesus has already won the war so stand firm and win your battle.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Spiritual Worship

“God is Spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24 (emphasis mine)

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1

Worship is more than a set list played and sung on Sundays and midweek services. It's not just goose bumps and tingly feelings. It can be downright painful.

When I offer myself as a living sacrifice (which God already considers holy and pleasing) I remove myself from center stage – ouch. No longer is it MY way, MY plans, MY bright ideas, MY purposes. You get the drift. These become inconsequential when I surrender my will to my Lord. In this process He has freedom to scrutinize the motives and intents of my heart, which may or may not be so pure. Anything He finds offensive or defective has to go. As a living sacrifice I step down from the throne of my life and let Him be Lord. That's worship.

This doesn't sound or feel as warm and fuzzy as eyes closed, hands raised and swaying to the music which is also worship. As good as that is, there's so much more. Regardless of our preferences, it's important to do things God's way.

The purpose of a living sacrifice is not a avenue to get sins forgiven; that was accomplished at the cross. It's an accountability issue. We all goof up at times. Quick to excuse and justify behaviors in ourselves, we judge others more harshly for the same things. At times we do the right things for the wrong reasons unaware of what's really driving us. When Jesus examines our life He'll point out the good, the bad and the downright ugly. If we listen, He'll show us how to avoid those pitfalls in the future reducing the bonfire of our wood, hay and stubble.

Facing the truth can hurt. We aren't by nature good people; that got corrupted at the Fall. We're self-centered, opportunistic, greedy and so forth. Just watch kids at play. No one taught them how to look out for Number One, it came naturally.

When we enter into a relationship with God all this can change – if we let it. He's eager to help us discover and discard old coping and defense mechanisms for Kingdom principles that work right now. As we permit Jesus to daily check us out and surrender to His leading, He'll mold us into His image and likeness.

How about you? How does Romans 12:1 change your concepts of worship? Try laying your life down as a sacrifice. Ask Him to set your agenda, direct your steps and keep a close watch on the motives behind your actions. You may learn some things that are hard to accept but you'll enjoy the beauty and benefits of true devotion.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Preferential Treatment

“Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”  
1 Corinthians 8:13

The last time I came upon a sacrifice burning on an altar to an idol was....never. Probably most believers in the U.S. are in this category. We've heard about them, but never encountered one up close and personal. Still there's a principle to learn and apply to our lives – preferential treatment, not for ourselves, but for others.

Paul didn't extol the virtues of vegetarianism. He simply indicated the length he'd go to so he'd not be a stumbling block to someone else. Paul was willing to and encouraged all believers to esteem and honor others above themselves.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in love.” Romans 12:10

Let's be real, none of us has all the answers. No one possesses the 100% Right Way to do everything, every time. The apostle reminds us that courtesy toward others is essential, not optional. I doubt Paul would give a passing grade to much that is considered political correctness. He stood by his convictions and often paid dearly for his beliefs. Neither rude nor obnoxious even when right, Paul wouldn't flaunt his freedom to the detriment of another.

This same letter contains the famous Love Chapter (13). For Paul, love was the greatest thing to pursue and attain. Not self-seeking, love is conscious of others and not itself. Love chooses the welfare of another at the expense of it's own liberties and freedoms. To be inconvenienced for the benefit and betterment of others is love's life style.

The motives and attitudes behind our actions are supremely important. If I do something to enhance people's perception of me, or to score points with God – forget it. Martyrdom and even altruistic endeavors meant to win public approval and affirmation are wasted effort – wood, hay and stubble. Paul talked about genuine self-sacrifice, to place others before and above ourselves because of love.

How would your life change if you chose to prefer others ahead of yourself? What difference could this make to your family relationships, marriage, work place, school, business and church life? How could this be a greater way of getting the message of God's love to other's who haven't heard?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Holy Place

“The nations will realize that I God made Israel holy when my holy place of worship is established at the center of their lives forever,” Ezekiel 37:28.

In context this verse refers to Israel's future. The bible teaches God's rule on earth will be established and emanate from Jerusalem and Israel. Nations will flock to worship Him there. I've found another nugget of truth applicable to all believers, Jew and Gentile.

Want to introduce others to God and to His ability to make people and things holy? Establish a place of worship to Him at the center of your life. With God firmly enthroned in your heart, the core of your being changes. You don't fix yourself, He does. Forget the long dresses, no make-up and bee-hive hairdos (why is it always women who have to look weird) unless that's your preference. On a mission to anoint the future king of Israel, God warned Samuel against making snap judgments based on looks. Men focus on what's visible; God looks at the heart. Outward appearances don't mean squat.

When God totally captures our hearts others take note. This doesn't mean we never trip up but those instances diminish greatly. Transformed from the inside out, our behavior and demeanor take on a new persona. We don't try to act holy, it happens naturally and people can distinguish what's real from what's contrived. True holiness is the antithesis of the world system, counter-culture to the max. No need for neon lights, blinking directional signs, three piece suits and a hearty amen. A holy person shines like a candle. Automatically and effortlessly they dispel the darkness.

Relax, ditch the behavior modification and self-improvement programs. They may produce some change but the effects will be short lived. Make your heart a place of worship where God resides and alters to fit His liking. Live a life of worship and gratitude and you'll be a living, breathing, walking advertisement for the holiness of God, AND you won't look goofy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Faltering Faith? Take a Break!

For He spake in a certain place of the seventh day on the wise, 'And God did rest the seventh day from all His works.' And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:” Hebrews 4:4-6 (KJV).

For my Facebook friends you know I recently embarked on my own version of Extreme Make Over – Backyard Edition. Three tons of pea gravel and a few hundred pounds of river slate later my yard's no longer a giant mud puddle when it rains. The work's been satisfying but physically challenging. After many hours of labor I'd drag myself inside, thoroughly drained. The most I could do was collapse in my chair in an exhausted stupor. Ask me a question and I'd just stare through eyes glazed over like two Kripsy Kreme donuts. My brain was mush and ill equipped to take on any serious thoughts. Muscles I didn't know I had, along with some old favorites reacted with boisterous complaints. I ached all over and needed down time.

Rest and faith are interconnected. Inadequate time-outs affect our ability to believe and stand in faith. Guilt and a performance mentality on the other hand, gnaw at our need to rest. This is easy to see in the natural realm. Over-tired and over-worked, productivity diminishes. When it's hard to concentrate mistakes are easily made. Fatigued, our emotions are more apt to over react. The problem...we're worn out. Take a day off, are you kidding? We're too busy!

Sick or injured bodies need time to recuperate. Failure to get proper rest slows and delays the healing process. Recovery takes longer than necessary (ask me how I know).

The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom.” Isaiah 41:26

God never runs out of energy. After six days of creating He didn't say: “I'm bushed! I need to take a break!” He did however, take a day off. If the only Perpetual Energy Source took time to sit back and relax, should we ignore His instructions to follow suit? It was so important, He even made this a commandment – one of the Big Ten. Sorry sports fans, God coined that name first.

Just as our bodies need to rejuvenate, our spirits and souls need to refresh and replenish. It's easier to endure hardships when spirit, soul and body isn't worn to a frazzle. Unfortunately our culture and society provides endless activities and distractions. Nights and days are filled with must-do stuff. Sadly, many reach the end of life filled with regrets. Too many really important events were missed and relationships dwindled away. The tyranny of the urgent won out over what truly mattered.

For me to carve out a day of rest takes discipline. Recently this scripture caught my attention.

Without faith it's impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6

If taking the proper time off for rest helps keep my faith strong, I'd be a fool not to do it. If you've felt guilty about your need to step off the treadmill, there's a scripture you can rest on. We're human be-ings not human do-ings. Jump off the hamster wheel, sit back and catch your breath. Enjoy the Lord and a good day off. Your faith will thank you for it.