Express Love for Other Christians 11-13-18

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In the Gospels, Jesus shares the marks or qualities of those who are His disciples or His followers. One of these marks is to express love for other Christians. This mark, like the others, is not intended to bring about a guilt-driven self-willed determination to make them a reality. Such a path only leads to frustration and a diminished spirit. The path Christ invites us on is one where we join Him realizing that these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. Again, one such mark of a disciple is to express love for other Christians.

Jesus declared:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-45).

Jesus said that His disciples would express genuine love for one another. He describes this as a new command, which is interesting since this command is recorded way back in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. We read: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:18). These words were shared with God’s people nearly 1,500 years before Christ spoke the command recorded by John. Why then does Jesus call this a new command? The reason Jesus calls this a new command is because Jesus’ own love and teaching deepen and transform this command. The newness is not the actual command, rather the newness is found in loving one another as Jesus loved His disciples. In light of Jesus’ subsequent death, “just as” implies a love that is even willing to lay down one’s life for another (see: 15:13). The challenging nature of this command is found in the fact that we are called to love others with the sacrificial love of God. Such love will serve to strengthen believers as well as attract unbelievers.

How would you define love? Some would describe love as a feeling, but it is really much more. Love as used in John 13:35 is an attitude that makes it known through actions. This kind of love gives when it’s not convenient. It gives when it hurts. This kind of love is hard to do and is only possible when a person receives Christ, being filled by His Spirit, therefore, knowing Christ’s love intimately and empowered to share it with others. It’s no wonder it will attract unbelievers and encourage Christ followers.

As we explore the New Testament, we discover that this love will lead us to serve one another (see: Gal 5:13). Such love brings about the confessing of our sins and praying for one another (see: James 5:16). This Spirit-empowered love will lead us to honor one another (see: Rom 12:10). A believer overflowing with the love of Christ bears with other believers (see: Eph 4:2). Such love leads to forgiving others (see: Eh 4:31-32), as well as, encouraging one another (see: 1 Thess 4:18). Such love leads us to unity (see: Eph 4:3).

John writes: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Christ exemplifies love. Jesus showed love by laying down his life for us. The greatest act of love is giving of oneself for the good of others. We do this through selflessly serving others. We must put the desires of others before our very own. Jesus clearly calls His disciples to this love.

I am honored to journey with each of you. I am asking the Lord to show me who someone may be that I need to love as Christ has loved me. I ask Him to help me demonstrate this extraordinary love by His Spirit’s power and leading. It is interesting that this extraordinary love Jesus describes as ordinary for His disciples. One of Crosswinds’ values is extravagant love. I pray this mark of a disciple will be ever-increasingly present in us as His Church. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Learn the Truth of God’s Word 11-5-18

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In the gospels, we discover qualities that Christ declares as marks of a disciple. These marks are the life-result of a God-directed grace-filled life. These marks are not the outcome of mere self-will, but of a believer who has experienced the effect of Christ’s finished work on the cross, thus bringing salvation while partnering with God in his or her personal faith journey. One such mark of a disciple is that she is committed to learning the truth of God’s Word.

Jesus proclaimed to a group of His followers: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). Simply stated Jesus said a disciple would accept and act in accordance with His Word. The follower of Christ walks according to scriptural principles, ones that he or she may or may not have possessed before they knew God. A disciple meditates on God’s word seeking to know God more and more and is committed to studying and applying His Word to their life.

Paul wrote to Timothy regarding Scripture:  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). When Paul writes that the Bible is “breathed out by God” he is explaining that the Bible is inspired by God as His very word. In the Bible, God communicates absolute truth. This truth includes things about Himself, people, and life. The Bible is useful in getting to know God better and helping us and others live the abundant life in Christ. When we study the Bible, we ought to let the Bible study us or as we seek to master God’s Word the goal is for God’s Word to master us.

The Bible was written to encourage us and offer hope (see: Rom 15:4). The Bible was not written by human will, but through the inspiration of God (see: 2 Peter 1:20-21). The simple truth is that if I don’t invest in my walk with God, I will get caught it the trap of duplication rather than incarnation. God is not calling any of us to merely act like Jesus, but to become like Him. This occurs, in part, when we experience God through His Word. No matter what discipline a pianist performs (jazz, blues, classical) they practice scales. Scales for the believer is time alone each day in God’s Word.

The ancient songwriter proclaims in Psalm 1:1-3 that a man or woman is blessed when he or she meditates on God’s Word. To meditate on Scripture is to consider the great things contained in it and its application to our life. The Bible contains sixty-six books. In these books are the life stories of four to five hundred leaders. It could be argued that some of the best mentors are these dead mentors because their lives are written down, and they always have time for every one of us. We have an excellent opportunity to explore life with these mentors. They have time for us, and God wants to use them to invest in us.

We must understand that God’s Word is the rule of our actions and a source of comfort for our lives. When we seek to study and apply the Bible, we ought to look for the S.P.E.C. (sin to avoid, promise to claim, example to follow, and command to obey) of truth found in the passage. Through the Spirit’s power and leading a believer values God’s Word and desires to walk in obedience.

Not only is God’s Word helpful to me, but also the best gift I can give to others is a consistent investment in my walk with God through leaning into His Word. The simple truth is when I engage Scripture I am blessed, but others benefit as well. A diet of Scripture is essential to living out God’s purpose and to do so in His power. Therefore, Jesus declares His follower, His disciple, will learn the truth of God’s Word.

It is a blessing to grow in Christ with each of you. Let’s encourage one another to invest time in God’s Word. As we do may we grow in knowing God and our ability to make Him known. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Press On In Following Jesus 10-29-18

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In the Gospels, Christ clearly states marks of His disciples – His followers. These marks are not meant to inspire a person to try to manufacture these marks through mere will. Such a journey only results in frustration and a quenched spirit. These marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One of these marks is to press on in following Christ.

Jesus proclaimed: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus said His disciple would follow Him. Believers follow Christ by imitating Him and obeying His commands. We are to deny self. Denying one’s self means to want what God wants more than anything else. To carry one’s cross means being willing to do anything God calls us to do.

In the Bible, we discover that both Paul and the writer of Hebrews use athletic imagery to explain what it means to follow Christ (see: Philippians 3:12-14; Hebrews 12:1-3). Specifically, the description is of a runner competing in a race.  A believer, like a runner, must not let anything take her eyes off the goal of knowing Christ, reflecting Christ and following Him. Like an athlete running a race, she is to keep her eyes fixed on the goal and get rid of everything that would hinder her from achieving the objective of following Christ.

To follow Christ means to be committed to Christ and willing do what is required to live our life rightly in Him. Our race is to be run patiently. We are to battle sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can overcome temptation (see: 1 Corinthians 10:13). We can be cleansed of sin (see: 1 John 1:9). We will stumble if we allow our eyes to stray from Jesus and if we look back on our past. We must always keep Jesus in our sight.

Paul had reason to forget his past. He had been a Christian persecutor before being saved. He had even held the coats of those who had stoned a Christian named Stephen (see: Acts 7:57-58). Like Paul we can keep from looking at the past, by trusting in God’s forgiveness of past offenses against him and others, receiving and walking in His grace. Our sins have been completely forgiven. We are made new in Christ (see: 2 Corinthians 5:17). We can look forward and not be hindered from the past. We can cast our gaze on Christ and not allow sin to entangle us. Christ has given us the victory.

Our following Christ is a real faith journey. It is not a perfect journey, but it is an amazing journey where we grow in our faith. Picking up on the similarities of the athlete, a runner and the believer, both learn and improve. Some runners have various talents that help them run. Every believer is given gifts and talents to help him on his faith journey (see: Romans 12:4-6a; 1 Corinthians 12:4-5; 1 Peter 4:10). However, both the runner and the believer have to run to grow.

Paul wrote: “It is in the gospel that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:17). Our faith journey begins when we give all we know about ourselves to all we know about God and continue to do so as we grow in Christ.  The life of a believer is from faith to faith. Extending from the beginning into the never-ending future and including every large and small detail of life, we relate to God exclusively on the basis of faith. This is why a Christ follower – His disciple – is called a believer.

Paul declared: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). The Hebrews writer explains:  “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Our faith journey is not a straight line upward but one with ups and downs, but ultimately advancing forward and rising up.

Due to God’s grace and strength given to us, we can do anything and everything required of us to run the race and follow Christ. People are willing to pay exuberantly high prices for something they really value. Our following of Christ is a reflection of our understanding of how much God values us as well as the real value we place of Him. Worship is showing worth to someone or something. We express God’s worth; we worship God when we follow Him. A mark of a disciple is to press on in following Him.

I am grateful to run this race with Christ and each of you. Let us encourage one another to press on in following Him. Our stride may not be perfect, but let’s not stop going and growing in Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Ignoring Selfish Desires 10-22-18

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It is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to reach a specific destination without knowing where you are going. Whether you use a map or GPS, some type of help is needed to get you from point A to point B. In the Gospels Jesus shares marks of becoming a disciple. These marks are not met to drive people to some guilt-ridden self-willed determination to become disciples but to show what a life of a person who is God-directed grace-filled will become. One such mark of Christ’s disciples or followers is to ignore selfish desires.

 Now don’t get me wrong a desire is necessarily a bad thing. A desire is a longing or hope for something. One of the marks of a disciple is to desire to be like Christ. I desire to be a great husband and father. I also desire to visit Yellowstone. These desires are good. A selfish desire is not something that is good for you, but something that does not take into account God and the impact on others. Selfishness is not caring for your self. Selfishness is being excessively or exclusively focused on oneself. Healthy desires do not just benefit me but benefit others, and most importantly glorify God.

 In contrast, a selfish desire benefits me in spite of others and without any care for God and His kingdom. Jesus proclaimed: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:25). In the previous verse, we read: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Any person who rejects God’s will and instead pursues his own will for his life ultimately loses eternally every earthly good he is trying to protect.

 To deny oneself is to die to one’s selfish will that is part of his old self before being made new in Christ. This dying to oneself expresses the true essence of the life of a Christ follower. When the old self dies, the new self comes to life (see: John 3:3-7). Dying to self means ignoring those desires that benefit you alone, without any care for God and others.

 Baptism expresses this ignoring of selfish desires or dying to self. In baptism, the act of immersion in water symbolizes dying and being buried in Christ. The coming up out of the water pictures our identification with Christ and His resurrection. This is what Paul was referring to when He wrote:

 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

 Paul is explaining that as a result of His participation (identification) in Christ’s death on the cross the old self has died and now, being identified with Christ and His resurrection, he is a new person where he no longer lives an independent life of his own, but a life of believing dependence on God. A believer’s life is not to be characterized with selfish desires, but a life marked by glorifying God, living blessed, and benefiting others.

 Denying our selfish desires is crucial if we are to use our time, talent, treasure (money), and testimony to honor Christ. Christ followers need to stop trying to control their own lives and allow God to direct their lives. Jesus calls His disciples to a life of submission and trust in Him, not self-hatred. God’s desire is for us to give up our selfishness and live a selfless life in Him.

 In reality, most of us will never be asked to actually give our physical life for Christ. But, the question is, are we willing if necessary? You would have to give up selfish desires to do so. All of us are asked to give up our selfish desires for Christ every day. So, are we willing to do so? Are we willing to die to self?

 Now our surrendering is not perfect, but our desire to do so ought to be. We come to Christ due to His salvific work, extravagant love and Grace. We continue in Him by the same. A growing disciple of Christ will ignore selfish desires and continue, by God’s power and leading, to live such a life.

 It is a joy to journey with each of you as we journey together with Christ. I pray the desires that consume us to glorify Him, bless us and benefit others. Let us pray that we will die to self and truly live in Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Count the Cost of Commitment 10-15-18

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When any of us begin a project, we count the cost and estimate whether or not we can afford to complete it. This just makes sense. In fact, Jesus says that a mark of being His disciple is to count the cost of commitment. In the Gospels, we discover nine marks or qualities of those who follow Christ. These marks are not intended to bring about a guilt-driven self-willed determination to make these marks a reality. Such a path only leads to frustration and a diminished spirit. The path Christ invites us on is one where we join Him realizing that these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One such mark of a disciple is to count the cost of commitment.

Jesus speaking to a crowd of people proclaims:

“Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:28-33).

Jesus uses two illustrations involving building and going to war. Both warn against making a hasty decision to follow Jesus. Potential disciples must first count the cost to see if following Christ is something they believe is worth the long haul. Jesus proclaims that one cost of being His disciple is renouncing everything to Him.

Although the gift of redemption and eternal life are free to anyone who asks (see: John 3:16), the asking requires a transfer of ownership (see: Luke 9:23 & Gal 5:24). “Counting the cost,” means recognizing and agreeing to these terms. It is inconsistent for a follower of Christ, His disciple, to determine to do life his own way and to follow his own inclinations. Simply stated following Christ means we follow Him.

When Jesus shared about counting the cost, He was speaking to a large crowd. The crowd loved Jesus, the miracle man. They enjoyed the free food. They probably even thought Jesus was cool. He was increasing in popularity. But Jesus knew that many loved the stuff, but not necessarily the life He was calling them into as a disciple. So, He challenges them to consider the cost.

Jesus understood that those who merely follow Him for what they can get wouldn’t stick around for the long haul. We see this when someone says church just didn’t work for me. Often, they mean, I had expectations that were not met. Life didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. In short, God didn’t do what I wanted Him to do. I didn’t get the stuff I wanted. God’s way conflicted with my way. The simple truth is that we need to count the cost. If we don’t count the cost, we will turn away at even the smallest threat of sacrifice. This is why Jesus laid it out so clearly when He ended His description of the cost of being His disciple with a breathtaking statement: “anyone of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Renouncing may mean giving up something physically. It could mean letting go of something that emotionally possesses us so that God can genuinely posses us. When we come to Christ we can’t continue to belong to the world or choose to serve someone or something else as lord of our life (see: 1 John 2:15-17 & Matt 6:24).

I recently saw a dream house sweepstakes. The home was beautiful, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area has a moderate climate. The house and location are idyllic. To add to the attraction, you even receive a sizable cash prize. Imagine if you won. You own this beautiful home, but until you pack up and leave your current home, this new life is not really yours. You cannot live in this new home and your current home at the same time. This is the way many approach following Christ. They love the idea of eternal life and paradise. They like what Christ can do for them. But they are not willing to leave the life they now live to go all in with Jesus. They either don’t consider the cost or they fool themselves into believing they can receive a new life in Christ while holding on to all or part of their old one. They want Jesus while holding on to the ownership of their life. Jesus is speaking to such people when he says: consider the cost.

Let me be clear. We can’t earn salvation through any sacrifice of our own. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the only one acceptable as well as sufficiently has paid the price in full for our salvation. But, when we receive Christ, we do so choosing to release control of our lives to Him. In reality, when we receive Christ as Lord and Savior, we relinquish all that we don’t indeed own and receive far more than we could ever ask or imagine. But, renounce all we must. If we are going to be Christ disciple, we must count the cost.

It is a privilege to follow Christ with each of you. It is a fantastic journey. Renouncing all is not a one-and-done deal. I know from time-to-time I still struggle with actually surrendering all to Him. But, I have counted the cost and am growing in my path of surrender. I am so grateful for God’s faithfulness and for His patience and extravagant love. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Sacrifice for the Cause of Christ 10-9-18

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I have often been asked, “What does a disciple of Christ look like?” Well, we discover in the Gospels nine marks or qualities of Jesus’ disciples. Now we could easily look at these marks and determine in our own strength to will them into existence. We could allow our self to operate out of guilt and try to make these marks a reality in our life. I believe such a path leads only to frustration and a diminished spirit. Let me pose a different path. I believe these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. Another way to express this is to understand that the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One mark of such a God-given grace-filled life of a disciple is sacrificing your self for the cause of Christ.

We discover these words of Christ found in Luke’s gospel:

“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, “’Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62).

These verses can seem a little harsh, but Jesus is merely helping those seeking to follow Him understand what it means to be His disciple. We can only speculate on the actual dynamics present when Jesus encountered each of these would be disciples. Perhaps, the first man who declares, “I will follow you wherever you go,” believes discipleship is going to be glamorous. Jesus corrects this impression. He states that discipleship is not easy. We do understand that each individual Jesus addresses wants to follow Him, but is somehow unwilling to pay the price. We also understand Jesus’ reference to the plowman. Jesus says that discipleship, like a good plowman, means putting your hand to the plow and doing the ordinary, hard work. Jesus says that like a good plowman a disciple keeps their hand on the plow. A good plowman concentrates on the furrow before him. He guides the plow with his left hand while goading the oxen with his right. Looking away would produce a crooked furrow. A good plowman is fully committed to the task at hand, putting his whole self into the work. In a sense, he sacrifices self for duty as a disciple sacrifices self for the cause of Christ. Following Christ takes total dedication and does not allow for halfhearted commitment.

In the original movie, The Karate Kid, there is a scene where the wise sage and karate master Mr. Miyagi and Danielson are preparing to start a journey together as master and disciple. Mr. Miyagi asks Danielson if he is ready and Danielson responds, “I think so.” Mr. Miyagi addressing his would-be disciple explains: “Walk on the Road…walk right side, safe…walk left side, safe…walk down the middle and sooner or later you get squished just like a grape. Here Karate is the same thing. You, karate-do, yes or karate-do, no. If you Karate-do, think so…you squish just like grape.” Following Christ is the same. We either decide to follow Him, or we don’t. Trying to sort of follow Christ doesn’t work. This does not mean we follow Christ perfectly, but that we need to be sure we do indeed desire to follow Him.

Following Jesus is not about arbitrarily choosing what we will and will not accept within the teachings of Christ. We must accept all the teachings of Christ. We cannot desire the benefits of salvation without being willing to pay the price – the price of giving our very selves to Christ and His cause. In following Christ, we understand that we must abandon everything that has given us security apart from Christ and trust in Him alone.  This is a decision made, then learned as we journey with Christ in our highs and lows resting in His unfailing faithfulness.  Again, a disciple is not perfect, but being perfected by the true Perfecter.

When Paul writes about his being a disciple of Christ, he writes: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Paul realized that the focus of Christianity was not dying, but living. Our being crucified with Christ has allowed us to be raised with Him (Rom 6:5). We have become one with Christ, and His experiences are ours. We can live the life God has called us to live because it is Christ that lives within us. When we sacrifice ourselves for the cause of Christ, the Lord empowers us to excel in kingdom living.

For most of us what means the most to us in life, we will do almost anything to get. It is our tendency to do any and everything to protect and accomplish what is truly meaningful to us. We make time for things we want to do and excuses for things we do not want to do. Usually, we will face discomfort and even jeopardize our safety for something we truly want. We must realize that following Jesus is of the utmost importance. In following Christ, we may find ourselves in seemingly unsafe and uncomfortable places. But, we must remember that there is no better place to be than in the sweet spot with Jesus where we are blessed to be a blessing. Such a life takes sacrificing self for the cause of Christ.

It is a privilege to serve Christ with each of you. There is no cause worth our whole self, like the cause of Christ. I ask God to help us trust Him to do the extraordinary in and through us as, day in and day out, as we serve Him in the ordinary. Let’s keep our hand to the plow believing the life of the disciple is truly one that glorifies God, blesses us, and benefits others. Let’ sacrifice our self for the cause of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Love Christ Above All Else 10-1-18

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In the Gospels, Jesus presents us with marks or qualities of His disciples. Now it would be easy to look over these marks and allow ourselves to be motivated by guilt. We could merely declare that if we really loved Jesus, we would do such and such. I would argue that motivation from guilt will quench one’s spirit. Alternatively, I believe these marks represent the life-result of God showering a believer with His grace. In short, the marks give us a picture of what living out and enjoying God’s grace looks like. One mark of such a God-given grace-filled life of a disciple is insisting on loving Christ above all else.

We find these words of Christ in Luke’s gospel:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Jesus said His disciple will love God more than anything else. Another way of putting this is that our family must not rival God as our first love.

Jesus uses strong language, recorded here in Luke, to make this point. Some have called this a hard saying of Jesus. The word “hate,” used in this verse, denotes a less degree of love. Jesus did not mean that disciple’s of His actually have to loathe their own family. Jesus is merely using strong language to help His hearers to understand the priority they need to place on their relationship with God. Compared to God, all other relationships must be valued much less.

Believers love God to some degree but struggle with loving Him above else at every moment of every day. Although in Christ, His disciple has been freed from the power of sin, this side of paradise, we still must deal with the negative influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In short, the negative influences of our culture, our old self, and the enemy fight to remove Christ as our first love. However, our Lord has exchanged our sinfulness for His righteousness on the cross, making us new creations. Thus Paul declares: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). How the truth of this verse enables us to love Christ righty is quite remarkable. We are able to love Him above all else as well as love as He loves because we are now in Him. As we grow in our faith, we grow in our ability to more completely love Him. Therefore, a believer’s path to succeeding to love Christ above all else begins by trusting fully in God’s promise to cover our sinfulness with His righteous life (see: 1 John 4:10) and empowered by the Spirit intentionally growing in our relationship with Him.

At the core of insisting on loving Christ above all else is a matter of priorities. Loving Christ above all else is not merely putting Him at the top of a priority list, but placing Him at the center of our very life. When Christ is central, He is given the freedom to lead and direct how we engage in every relationship and situation in our lives in a way that reflects our love for Him.

Jesus perfectly put God first in His life. His life was characterized by total submission to the Father’s will. Christ was perfect. He had every gift and talent. He had the ability to succeed at whatever He decided to pursue. But there was only one pursuit He considered worthy, and that was to love the Father and bring Him glory in all things.

A believer’s life ought to reflect that of Christ being characterized by an ongoing pursuit of loving and bringing glory to God. This is what it means to love God above all else. We may not do this perfectly, but we can have a perfect intent and a quick response when we stray from this course. The flourishing life God has planned for us rests in recognizing that all we need is found in Him and all we are is due Him. He is to be our all and all. Placing God at the center of our life makes loving Him our absolute highest priority and privilege. After all, when we put Christ first God is glorified, we are blessed, and others are blessed through us. Such a life is how a believer washed over by the grace and transforming power of God lives.

It is a privilege to do life with each of you. Let’s continue to grow in Christ, encouraging one another to love Him above all else. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Becoming Like Christ 9-24-18

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A crucial question anyone considering Christ as well as those who have received Him as Lord and Savior ought to ask is this: What does it look like to be a disciple of Christ? Much has been written on this topic. There are some great insights we can glean from many places to help answer this question. However, I would suggest the words of Christ Himself are an excellent place to start. The Gospels record that during Jesus’ earthly ministry He described nine distinguishable marks of His disciples. One such mark is that His disciples will desire to become like Him, to be Christlike.

Jesus declared, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). To be “fully trained” means being equipped to be like Jesus. In other words, the ultimate goal of a disciple is to be like his or her teacher. Becoming more like Jesus ought to be the desire of every believer, and it is encouraging that this is God’s desire for us. In fact, we read in Romans: “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). We also read in Scripture that God will see it to the end. Paul writes to the believers in Philippi: “I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil 1:6).

We need to be careful that our understanding of God transforming us into the likeness of Christ is not allowed to wrongly create in us a feeling that we can simply sit back and wait to be carried off to heaven. Just because we have a ticket to ride the bus doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what we do while we are waiting. Our becoming like Christ requires God’s divine power and our active partnership with Him.

There are at least three essential steps to becoming like Christ. First, to become like Christ we must surrender to Him.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2).

Surrendering one’s self to Christ means receiving Him as Lord and Savior. It means surrendering control of our lives to Him. It is impossible to retain control of our life and flourish in Christ. To become like Christ, I must surrender to God.

Secondly, to become like Christ we must walk in His freedom. We can’t talk about freedom without discussing sin. Sin is an act of wrongdoing and an alienation from God. Although sin brings spiritual death, there is a remedy to this fatal situation. Through turning away from sin and toward Christ, receiving Him as our Lord and Savior, we receive the gift of freedom – eternal life. Paul writes: “For the wage of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). Jesus has promised for us the forgiveness of our sins. He has made us right with God. He has also set us free. Sin is no longer our master; we are more clearly identified through Christ. Jesus invites us to follow Him, and we have His example of obedience as well as the power of the Spirit to live in freedom. In Christ, I am not condemned but have been set free. To become like Christ, I must walk in His freedom.

Lastly, to become like Christ we must choose Christian growth. Peter encourages us: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul encourages us: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thess 3:12).  We grow in Christ as we follow Christ in faith with each step He leads us on. We are called to know Him and make Him known. Therefore, we want to engage in spiritual disciplines (i.e., studying and applying scripture, prayer, and sharing the love and message of Christ with others).

Christ said that His followers will desire to be like Him. Let me encourage you that in this endeavor it is helpful to just focus on the next right step the Spirit is leading you to take. Prayerfully determine your next step in your journey with Christ and take it. Don’t get overwhelmed with how far the gap is between you and Christlikeness, but be encouraged that our Lord invites you to take the next step with Him to make you more like Christ.

It is an honor to serve alongside each of you. Let’s encourage each other on our journey of becoming more like Christ. Be encouraged that God invites us to join Him in doing the work in us today to make us like Jesus (2: Cor 3:18).  Be assured that in the future the process will be complete (1 John 3:2). Be motivated to, with the Help of God, partner with Him to become more like Christ as His disciple (1 John 3:3). Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Fools: Love Them, Don’t Join Them 9-17-18

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The book of Proverbs is part of what is called “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible. Then it should be of no surprise that not only does the book speak of those who are wise, but also its antagonist the fool. In fact, the word fool or fools is mentioned 99 times in the books 31 chapters. The term appears approximately 360 times throughout the Old and New Testament. So, who is a fool? Persons who do not possess wisdom are called “fools.” A fool’s behavior is described as “folly,” which is silliness and craziness. Folly is the opposite of wisdom. Interestingly, in the Bible, both wisdom and folly are described as philosophies or perspectives on life. Wisdom leads to victory and folly to defeat. A simple definition of a fool is a person who is thoughtless, self-centered, and obviously indifferent to God. Do not think that I am trying to be harsh. We all act foolish or fool-like from time to time in life. The truth is that I am a recovering fool. However, there is a big difference between a person seeking wisdom who acts foolishly and a fool who does not really seek wisdom at all.

There is no way to avoid encountering foolish people. We cannot get away from them. So, the question is not whether or not we will encounter fools, but what to do when we do. We receive this advice from Proverbs:

“Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance” (Prov 14:7-9).

You’ve heard the saying, “Be careful who you hang around.” This is a wise saying. The associations we have can influence us for good and bad. We need to be careful whom we let into our inner-circle, those who have the greatest influence on our lives as these words express: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). We should avoid association with fools for they will bring with them negative consequences.

We discover in proverbs truths for us to follow in dealings with fools. For one, we are not to try to teach or correct a fool (Prov 23:9, Prov 17:10). Trying to teach a fool is useless. A fool does not even care about what a wise teacher has to say. The fool will go as far as to despise the wisdom shared with them. Now I am not saying that God gives up on people. Nor should we give up hope on people. But listen closely to me. I have said it before, and I will say it until the day I die: Every decision to do one thing is a decision not to do another. Every decision to pour into one person is a decision to not pour into another. We all only have so much time and energy. We need to be wise stewards of these God-given resources. It is foolish to waste time and energy pouring into a fool when there are so many others who genuinely desire to grow.

We are not to partner with a fool (Prov 13:19-20). One way to become wise is to associate with wise people; on the contrary, to associate with fools brings problems. When it comes right down to it, humility is essential to success, but the fool will not let go of pride. There are stories after stories about wise men and women destroyed by partnering with fools. We must be very careful. It’s been said that you should not be surprised if you pick up a rattlesnake and it bites you. Neither should you be surprised when a fool disappoints you.

We should not argue with a fool (Prov 20:3). Arguing is not respectable. It’s been said, “Once you defend yourself you have lost.” I believe this is true. Discussing a matter is healthy and helpful, but once arguing occurs then relational unhealth and disruptiveness take over. Of course, I am not talking about arguing in the legal sense, which means an informed discussion, but in its crudest sense, which is an all-out fight. In any discussion, the key is to seek to understand before seeking to be understood. A fool only seeks to be understood. Arguments can be avoided by overlooking insults, by dropping issues that are potentially explosive. Fools refuse to do these things. They are quick to argue.

We want to be careful not to become a fool or act foolishly (Prov 14:16). This can be difficult. Again, I fully acknowledge I am a recovering fool. We must be careful. Our pursuit of wisdom needs to be a priority, or over time we may turn to folly. Wisdom comes from God. We need to let Him direct us in all of life, especially in dealing with fools.

Dr. Henry Cloud offers a diagnostic question to ask in determining whether or not a person is a fool. Here it is: “What does a person do when truth comes to them?” He offers the insight that a fool often responds to truth with anger. He suggests we limit our exposure to such people.

I want to be crystal clear that I am not saying that we should not love everyone. In fact, we are to love every person, even a fool. But, we are not to join them or become one of them. This would be foolish. We need to love them, but not join them. However, we ought never to give up hope and be willing to follow the Lord’s leading in offering opportunities for them to come to Christ and be renewed.

I am so blessed to do life with each of you. Perhaps, you are in a situation where you just need God’s wisdom in dealing with a potential fool. Maybe, you believe yourself to be a fool and want to change your life philosophy or perspective. God is in the business of directing and redirecting people to rightness. Turn to Him. You will find love, acceptance, and wisdom. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Words Build Or Destroy – Use With Caution 9-10-18

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Team,

It’s incredible to me how words stick in your mind. I can be driving down the road, and a song comes on that I have not heard in years, and I begin to sing the lyrics. Our mind is an amazing thing. It stores words and allows us to recall them at a remarkable speed. This can be both a blessing and a curse because words have a substantial impact on us. I have heard various statistics on encouraging vs. discouraging words. It’s been said that it takes as many as nine encouraging words to overcome one negative statement. I don’t know how accurate that is. But I do know that I can find myself mauling over in my mind a negative word spoken to me, even when it is one amongst numerous positive ones. How about you? Our words have power; therefore we should use them wisely. The book of Proverbs has much to say about the wise use of words. I want to look at four principles from this fantastic book.

First, Proverbs teaches us that words are powerful and must be controlled. We read: “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Prov 13:3). Words are very powerful. At times it may be wise to just keep silent. A significant part of self-control is being in command of what words come out of your mouth. Words can cut and destroy.

James recognized this truth when he stated: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire” (James 3:5)! If it is indeed your desire to be self-controlled, an excellent place to begin is with your tongue. Stop and think before you react or speak. James insight can be understood that if you can control the tongue, then you can control everything else. Words are powerful and need to be controlled.

Secondly, Proverbs teaches that encouraging words need to be spoken. We discover: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Prov 27:5). To conceal our love for people is worse in God’s eyes than the pain of being rebuked before our peers. People are desperate to feel valued. Encouragement is important. That is why Paul challenges the Thessalonian church with these words: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess 5:11). It’s been said that a pat on the back, though only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, is miles ahead in results. Encouraging words need to be spoken.

Thirdly, Proverbs teaches that we ought not to let words fly off our tongue. We read: “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Prov 15:28). Those who wish to live rightly take the time to think before they talk; the wicked don’t take the time to consider what they say because they don’t care about the effects of their words. Check out this proverb: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov 10:19). In other words, a person who talks a lot increases the risk of sin – saying things that ought not to be said; for this reason, there is great wisdom in restricting the tongue. We ought not to let words fly off our tongue.

Lastly, Proverbs teaches that we ought not to let reckless words come out of our mouth. Here we are talking about gossip. We discover: “The words of a whisperer (gossip) are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Prov 18:8). Hearing gossip is like eating a delicacy (something not everyone else hears). Therefore, like food being digested, the gossiped news is assimilated in one’s inmost parts (i.e., is retained and remembered). The gossiper secretly carries stories from person to person. These stories may have some truth to them but are secrets that are wrong to share with others and/or hardly represent the truth. The point of these stories is to ruin people’s reputations, to break friendships, as well as other harmful motives. The words of a gossiper wound the person who the story is about. God wants no part in gossip or gossipers.  We ought not to let reckless words come out of our mouth

The simple truth is that Proverbs teaches that we need to understand that words have the power to build up or destroy. We read: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov 25:11). An appropriate and properly timed word, even a rebuke, can be attractive and valuable, like gold apples set against a silver sculpture or carving. We also read: “With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered” (Prov 11:9). The mouth can be used to destroy or build up people. The sad truth is that it is often easier to destroy than to build, and far too many people have received more destructive comments than those that build up. Think about it this way. Every person you meet today is either a demolition site or a construction opportunity. Your words do make a difference. We are to use them wisely. Our words make a difference in people’s lives. We need to choose words that build up and not destroy.

It is a joy to do life along with each of you. Let’s use our words wisely. Let us use our words to build up others and never to destroy them. Let’s use our words to spread Christ’s love and message. These are the words God desires to stick in our minds.