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.

Rest 9-4-18

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All of us need rest. In fact, as Americans, we celebrate work with rest. In the United States, Labor Day is a federal holiday honoring the American labor movement and the contribution that workers have made to the country. It is somewhat ironic that we have a day off to celebrate labor, but I like it. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate work and the worker than giving them a three-day weekend. The time off allows for rest and relaxation. No doubt we have been created with a capacity to work, but work alone leads to physical and emotional burnout.

Our need for rest is seen in our standard five-day workweek. It was Henry Ford in 1926 that was the first manufacturing leader who set five-day workweeks for his employees. Ford noted, ““Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity … It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege.” Ford believed that having the weekend off would provide Saturdays for workers to not only rest but shop and produce greater prosperity for both the worker and the manufactures. He understood not only our need for rest and relaxation but also the economic benefits of time off.

Truth be told, however, it was God who set the standard for work and rest. We read in Genesis 2:2: “And on the seventh day God finished His work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” It is important to note that God rested from His work of creation. But He did continue the work in Providence and (after sin enters) redemption. The word for “rest” is Sabbath. Although, Sabbath means rest it is more than a day of physical and mental relaxation. It is even more than the day on which many believers worship. The Sabbath has a particular redemptive significance. The New Testament often uses the word rest to describe the good news of salvation realized in Jesus Christ  (see: Matthew 11:28; Hebrews 4:2-3). Ever since the Fall, this promised rest in Christ has been linked with the Sabbath. This is why the major feast days in the Old Testament were designated as Sabbath days of rest – they pointed ahead to the Messiah and His redemptive work. In short, Sabbath refers to more than physical and emotional rest, but also spiritual rest that can only be found in Christ.

I would argue that Sabbath is more than a day, but a life-principle God would have all of us follow. In Colossians 2:16-17, the apostle Paul declares, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” The Old Testament observances pointed to a future reality that was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, Romans 14:5 states, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” These passages make it clear that, for the Christ follower, Sabbath-keeping is a matter of spiritual freedom. We find true rest in Christ and Christ alone.

I would pose that we are called to worship God with our work and our rest. We are to be mindful of Him and our need to find real, complete, rest in Him, realizing only He can provide the true rest for which our souls long. Maybe, on this Labor Day we can be mindful of the God who has given us the capacity to work, to make a difference with our lives for His glory and the lives of others, as well as, the rest we find in Him and Him alone.

It is a privilege to be about the good work of Christ with each of you. Let us worship Him with our efforts as we rely on Him as well as our rest while thanking Him for the true rest found only in Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Wisdom Is Morally Right And Never Uptight 8-27-18

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The book of Proverbs was written around 950 BC. Several authors, including King Solomon, wrote it. The proverbs we read in this book are one-liner nuggets of wisdom for dealing with everyday life. Proverbs deals with the most fundamental skill of all: practical righteousness before God in every area of life. Proverbs cover many topics such as how we obtain wisdom and how such wisdom ought to impact our morality.

 When we speak of morality, we are referring to wise living or conducting one’s self in a way that is right and true. Every day we are faced with moral or ethical decisions. The question is where do we find the wisdom to live morally?

 We find in Proverbs 2:1-10 King Solomon writing to instruct his son. It is wise to listen to the counsel of godly people who have walked the path before us. It is also essential to do so if you desire to walk morally. Solomon is providing us the readers with a tried and true secret to living morally. We are to gain wisdom from God.

 Wisdom is the art of learning to succeed in life. It is a philosophical – a thoughtful – study of the real meaning of life. Realizing that the true essence of wisdom is spiritual, it is of no surprise that it comes from God. To receive wisdom will involve observation and instruction, but it really begins with God and one’s faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Therefore wisdom is defined merely as the God-given capacity to understand as well as the ability to apply what is understood to succeed in life. Look at Proverbs 2:1-10. This passage describes how we are to obtain wisdom. We discover that effort must be put forth for one to become wise. Getting wisdom involves openness, retention, hearing, and applying, requesting, and diligent searching. Specifically, the how to obtain wisdom is found in the “ifs” that appear three times in verses 1-4.

 Solomon writes: “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding” (Prov 2:1-2). He is instructing us to personally interact with the word of God. This means that we must embrace both the commands as well as the promises of God. We must not only receive, but also retain the word of God, and lodge it in our hearts, that it may always be ready for us.

 We receive wisdom when we passionately go to the Lord in prayer. Solomon continues: “if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding” (v. 3). We are to cry out to God in prayer for wisdom. We need to cry out because we know that our God wishes to answer our prayer. Our crying out is a confident declaration that we are hungry – hungry for wisdom.     Could it be that wisdom is ours for the asking? When we need directional aid, could it be that it is right there for us? Absolutely! God wants to give you whatever you need to succeed in life.

 We receive wisdom when we painstakingly pursue wisdom. Solomon explains: “if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures” (v. 4).  Solomon writes that we are to seek wisdom as silver. Search for it like a hidden treasure. Wisdom is to be preferred before all the wealth of this world and laboring in search of it as those who dig in the mines, who undergo great toil and run great hazards, with loyalty and resolution, in pursuit of the ore. Wisdom is ours to seek and find. Through God’s Word and prayer we will receive the great reward of knowing how to live and make decisions that are morally right. We are to seek this wisdom relentlessly.

 Solomon then describes the benefit of wisdom. First, he writes, “Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov 2:5-6). Wisdom allows us to practice the presence of God more fully. Once we understand that God is the source of wisdom and we seek and obtain it from Him, we come to a level of more freely relating to God. As God directs our steps, we become more confident in Him doing so. One right step builds upon another. Wisdom allows us to practice the presence of God more fully, as well as, project the will of God more completely. As we grow in our relationship with God, we also grow in our ability to take the steps God has called us to take.

 Solomon then shares in Proverbs 2:7-10 that wisdom provides a vast amount of moral benefits. It keeps one from evil and moves a person to Christ-likeness. Wisdom is not merely an intellectual understanding, but a matter of the heart deciding to conduct oneself morally. When we seek God to receive the wisdom we need to act rightly or morally God offers protection. God also provides peace. Moral living enables a person to be reasonable with others, to do what is right and just and fair. Moral living is the right path, and God is willing to grant all who ask the wisdom to do so.

 It is my honor to serve with each of you. I don’t know what area you may need direction in. Perhaps you are seeking God for wisdom as a parent or spouse. Maybe you are asking God for guidance at work, school or in a friendship. I don’t know what it is you are seeking from God, but I do know that God rewards those who seek wisdom. He directs their paths. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Friends Make Or Break People 8-20-18

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Proverbs is a unique book among those found in the Bible. This book contains pithy, memorable sayings encouraging people to pursue wisdom. Proverbs deals with the most fundamental skill of all: practical righteousness before God in every area of life. Put another way, the purpose of Proverbs is to give instructions on right living. One of the areas this fantastic book advises us on is friendship. In the Bible, we do not find, a concise definition of “friend” or “friendship.” What we do receive is a significant amount of teaching throughout the Old and New Testaments on various aspects of friendship. The Bible book that references friendship the most is Proverbs. Nearly every occurrence either cautions against unhealthy friendships or commends the virtues of true friendship.

A simple definition of friendship is “a close, trusting relationship between two people.” The book of Proverbs has much to say about friendship and the way we are to treat one another. The intimacy involved in friendship involves influence. Friends influence one another. That is why it is so important to choose our friends wisely and to be a wise friend. As I explore Proverbs three truths about friendship rise to the surface.

First, who our friends are say much about us. For instance, we find in Proverbs: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). We must be careful about who we allow in our inner circle. Those closest to us have the greatest influence on our thinking and decision-making. It is challenging to walk the right path if those around you are not. On the flip side, it becomes more likely that you will choose to walk the right path if those around you are doing so. We also read: “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Prov 12:26). A person committed to living rightly does not just accept anybody as a friend. Let me clarify, I am not talking about “friend” in the generic term, “Hey friend!” When I write “friend,” I am talking about someone who is close and trusted – A person who is a real influencer in your life. A person committed to living rightly chooses friends carefully.

Secondly, Proverbs teaches that loyalty is a true test of friendship. We discover: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov 17:17). The main point of this verse is not to differentiate between friend and brother, except to say that both are to be valued. The real point is that a true friend is not a “fair weather” friend. They are there for you and with you through all the highs and lows of life. This is emphasized by the fact that a brother’s love is especially seen in adversity. This type of friendship is quite significant. We observe in Proverbs:   “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 18:24). The point being made is that people, who have numerous friends chosen indiscriminately, may find themselves in trouble. It’s better to have one true friend than many unreliable companions.

Then, thirdly, Proverbs teaches that a friend ought to make others better. For instance, we find in Proverbs: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17). When iron is rubbed against another piece of iron it shapes and sharpens it. It’s in a similar way people can aid each other in improving themselves through their discussions, suggestions, and ideas.   The success we experience in life is in part determined by our growth. Our growth is in part determined by those we allow to speak into our lives. Therefore, we ought to choose them carefully.

I realize that what I have shared could be misunderstood as a lesson on snobbish living. It certainly is not meant to be such. However, we are fooling ourselves if we do not accept the fact that whom we let into our inner circle influences us and as a result influences the type of person we will be. On the flip side, we need to be the kind of person whose friendship will benefit others.

Friends either help people become better people, or they don’t. Even worse, a reckless friend may tear down or lead us down the wrong path. What I am saying could easily be expressed this way: “Friends Make or Break People.” As I look at the picture Proverbs gives of friendship I am personally challenged. It would be easy to begin to evaluate my friends, but I have to begin with me. I have to ask myself, “Am I the friend God has called me to be?” Only after prayerfully evaluating myself am I then free to evaluate those friends I have let into my inner circle. I need to seek the Lord to help me be a good friend and seek His wisdom in determining whom I allow to speak into my life. Friendship is a close, trusting relationship between two people. I want to be sure that this trusting relationship is beneficial to both of us.

I am grateful to be able to call each of you friends in Christ. Let us encourage each other to be a person others can trust as well as chose to place trustworthy people in our inner circles. Lastly, if any of us still have any question what a good friend looks like all we need to do is look to the amazing example found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Take This Job And Love It 8-13-18

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One of the books of the Bible I find myself digging into more often than not is that of Proverbs. Unlike many books of Scripture Proverbs does not have a storyline. The book is a collection of wise advice intended for us to follow. We are taught that the first step in learning is to love, respect, and worship God (see: Prov 1:7). This is the foundation of wisdom. The book builds on this foundation and is filled with proposed actions intended to lead to right living accompanied by good outcomes. It is important to note that Proverbs is not a book of promises, but probabilities. In other words, the adages found in Proverbs encourage and equip us to pursue wisdom, but do not make guarantees that in doing so we will always avoid hardship. However, those who walk in wisdom will flourish, in all the spheres of their lives, including their work.

Although all too often in our culture work has become a four-letter word. Many relate to Jonny Paycheck who in 1977 sang, Take this job and shove it. God intends for us to enjoy work. God created us to enjoy meaningful work. Before sin (all the wrongness in the world and in our own lives) ever entered into the world God gave man meaningful and fulfilling work to do. God entrusted to Adam and Eve the administration of all creation. Through the Fall (when sin entered the world) Satan seized mankind’s rule over all creation and became the god (small “g”) of this age. H. Wayne House in his book, Living Wisely in a Foolish World, further explains: “Not only did Adam and Eve loose meaningful work, but they also lost the ability to obey God perfectly. The presence of a sinful nature perverted the experience of work. Work became burdensome and filled with toil.” Here lies the problem or paradox. We have been created with a desire to experience fulfilling work, but sin has warped that desire. As a result, for many of us, our jobs or careers do not offer fulfillment. Proverbs has many teachings to help us put work into a perspective that leads us to fulfillment. In other words, the instructions on work in Proverbs help us work in ways that honor God and moves us to a place to experience the blessing of God, even in our jobs and careers.

Fulfillment in our jobs and careers is found when we understand that only God brings true completeness to our life. We read, “Better to have little, with fear for the Lord, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil” (Prov 15:16). This passage is not teaching against work that provides a generous income. What it is teaching against is choosing a career as a status symbol. No job has the power to complete your life. Only God can bring you wholeness. A difficult problem develops when people expect from their job what only God can do for them. No career or vocation can make you complete; only God can do this fantastic work.

Fulfillment is found when we commit our work to God. The old sage proclaims, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Prov 16:3). Our work is not for our own glory. All we do is for the glory of God. We need to hand over our jobs and careers to God. The Lord needs to be a part of every area of our lives. When we commit our work to God, even the most mundane work assignment can have tremendous implications.

Fulfillment is found when we understand that our jobs and careers are a means for growth and impact. Here we look at two proverbs. First, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Prov 10:4). Then, “The earnings of the godly enhance their lives, but evil people squander their money on sin” (Prov 10:16). God uses our work to teach us life lessons. He also uses our work to impact the lives of people around us. Could it be that what we do is not as important as the opportunity what we do provides for our growth and ability to minister to others? When we take our jobs and careers and give them to the Lord, they prove to be a remarkable means of growth and impact.

Fulfillment is found in realizing our jobs and careers are not secular but sacred. We read in Proverbs, “For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths” (Prov 5:21). We also read, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Prov 21:2). Not one book of the Bible differentiates between a secular (something apart from God) and a sacred (belonging to God) job. The main reason for this is that there truly isn’t anything that is apart from God. In fact, as we explore Proverbs, we note that this amazing book treats work as something to be used for serving the Lord. As a result, we are to work in a manner pleasing to God, with a godly attitude. Knowing that our very vocation is sacred has a profound influence on what we choose to do for a living and how we do it. Our work is a means of serving God. Our work is a ministry and we, who are in Christ, are all ministers no matter what we discover written on our employment job descriptions.

Our careers offer us opportunities to exercise our faith, to put what we believe about our Lord into practice. Our work is a place to test our obedience to the Lord. Where we work and what we do provide the opportunity for spiritual growth and impact. Our very jobs are to be looked upon as sacred, set apart for God’s glory. These are profound truths. In fact, this scriptural reality of our jobs ought to have a profound impact on how we view our work. Let me encourage you that our jobs and careers are sacred, belonging to God. When we give our jobs and careers over to God extraordinary things happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us, and we find fulfillment. In Christ, we can take our job and love it.

What a privilege to serve alongside each of you. I pray that right here and now, perhaps for the first time, maybe as a recommitment, that each of us will commit our work to the Lord and be fulfilled in Him. Ask God to work in and through you at your workplace.

Glory 8-6-18

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Recently I saw a beautiful sunset. It was truly glorious. When the word glory is used about God, we are speaking of God’s infinite beauty because of who He is in His perfections. God puts His glory on display as He manifests Himself through creation and redemption. Furthermore, glory is the brilliant splendor that radiates from God’s revelation of His character and mighty acts.  God really put His glory on display with that sunset.

Truth be told, God is speaking to us continually. God is relational. He does not always use words, but speaks to us, for instance, through a jaw-dropping sunset. Beyond a doubt, God uses nature to speak softly in the depths of a believers spirit. The apostle Paul writes:

            “For God’s invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).

Paul expresses that the natural world bears witness to God through its magnificent beauty, complexity, design, and usefulness. He declares that God’s revealing Himself through nature leaves all of us “without excuse.” In other words, no one can rightly complain that God has left insufficient evidence of His existence and character because among other things nature puts God’s glory on display.

The psalmist David, I assume inspired by nature, writes:

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than the heavens. You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you. When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them” (Psa 8:1-4)?

David declares that God’s name is majestic in all the earth, even if not all people acknowledge it. The psalmist is overwhelmed that the God who is powerful enough to make the heavens takes notice of him and cares for him. To look at the world our creator has made could lead one to mistakenly believe God is distant from us, but in truth, God is close to us.

God is glorious, and yet, we can find Him by merely opening up our hearts. He is continually speaking to us, but we must be willing to listen. Perhaps, we need to ask God to sharpen our eyes and ears. Possibly we ought to practice looking and listening to God’s voice. I know in my life when I do I become more aware of God’s presence, more in tune with His voice, and better placed to respond appropriately.

There is no doubt as the song declares:

 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day           pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psa 19:1-2).

God reveals Himself through nature. As I gazed at the beautiful sunset, I could not help, but think what a mighty God I serve. My God created the sunset as well as me. I was left speechless by the sunset, but even more by the thought that the God who spoke the world into existence chooses to know me. I hope the sunset drew others into a wonderful awareness of God and His love for them. I know through the sunset He was revealing Himself for that very purpose.

I am so blessed to do life with each of you. As we move throughout the day, let’s take time to pause, take in God’s creation, and listen to our loving creator.

One Rotten Apple 7-30-18

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I have an interest in the origins and validity of phrases. I know, that sounds exciting. But, stick with me. Here is a phrase I was thinking on the other day: “One rotten apple will spoil the whole bunch.” I wondered if this was accurate. Interestingly, it is a true statement. As apples ripen, they release ethylene, a hormone that is a ripening agent. Over-ripened apples release the hormone in high amounts, causing other apples stored nearby to ripen faster and rot sooner. So, it’s true that one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. (Fun tip: Want to ripen an avocado? Stick it in a paper bag with an apple overnight.)

In Matthew’s Gospel, we discover a conversation Jesus had with His disciples. Earlier the Pharisees and Sadducees (religious leaders) had asked Jesus “to show them a sign from heaven.” Jesus responds by explaining that they have failed to see the sign present in His person walking among them. We are told that Jesus and the disciples leave and head across the Sea of Galilee. Once they arrive on shore, they discover that they have forgotten to bring bread (Matt 16:5). Then we read: “Jesus said to them, ‘Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees’” (Matt 16:6). The disciples miss Jesus’ point. Matthew reports that the disciples begin to frantically discuss their failure in packing some bread. Jesus, aware of their conversation, addresses them:

“O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:8-11).

 I can totally see myself, like the disciples, dealing with the same misunderstanding. Jesus is speaking of how the negativity and falsities of the Pharisees can infiltrate and corrupt and ruin what is good. After Jesus’ explanations we read: Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 6:12).

 I picture the Pharisees and Sadducees as rotten apples and Jesus warning the disciples not to get bundled up in their spiritual decay. The Pharisees and Sadducees did not believe in Jesus, in part, because He did not fit into their mold. Their negativity and falsities could begin to undermine the disciples growing belief in Christ. Jesus warns the disciples to not allow these bad apples to ruin the bunch.

 As I chew over this account, I come to a realization. I don’t want to be a bad apple. I want to make sure I am a positive force for Christ and immersed and representing His truth. I don’t want to do anything that would disrupt a person’s journey with Christ. I don’t want to be rotten and certainly don’t want to contribute to anyone else’s spiritual decay. I will be watchful and cautious of bad apples and committed to placing myself in God’s hands so I will have fresh faith. Empowered by the Spirit, I want to bear good fruit.

 It is a privilege to serve alongside each of you. Together let’s avoid the influence of the bad apples in our life as we trust the Lord to give us an invigorated spirit. I trust God will be faithful to us as we place ourselves in His capable hands so He can bless us as He continues to use us to bless others.

More Than A Fish Fry 7-16-18

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Once, when I lived in Wisconsin, a friend, Kevin, brought all his frying gear to my house and fried up some freshly caught fish for our small group. It was fantastic and to this day some of the best fish I have ever eaten. I really enjoy a good fish fry and will even travel a good distance to partake of one. We discover in Scripture that one of Christ’s most famous miracles is a fish fry of sorts where He feeds five thousand men, plus whatever family members were with them. Jesus had been healing the sick and preaching about the Kingdom of God. John tells us that, “a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick” (John 6:2). The day was growing late and the evening was approaching. It had been some time since any of the crowd, including Jesus and His apostles, had eaten. Jesus seeing the large crowd and knowing that they are hungry, asks, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat” (John 6:5)? He uses this situation as a teaching moment. Some tell Jesus to send the crowd away. Others point out the absurdity of finding the resources to feed all the people. Finally, “One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many” (John 6:8-9)? Humanly speaking, one can understand the apostle’s dilemma. If each of the men had brought their wife and a child, there would be 15,000 people to feed. This is no small task, but they had not added Jesus to the equation. Could the one who could heal the sick miraculously feed the hungry mass, too?

Jesus instructs the disciples to bring the loaves and fish to Him. He then has the apostles have everyone sit down and prepare for a meal. Jesus gives thanks for supplying their needs and has the loaves and fish distributed, and everyone ate their fill. The apostles gather up the leftovers, which filled twelve baskets. Jesus lovingly met and satisfied the physical hunger of the crowd. Jesus shows His love and ability to meet our needs easily and with plenty to spare. The people realize that Jesus was extraordinary and proclaimed, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14)! Jesus makes a quick exit, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15). Jesus crosses to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, partly on foot (see: John 6:16-21). On the next day, the crowd noticed Jesus and the apostles had left, and they hopped into some boats and went looking for Him. When they find Him Jesus declares:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:26-27).

The people ask, “What they must do?”  Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). Then we read:

“So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30-31).

Jesus responds:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33).

They ask Jesus for this bread, and He declares that He is the bread of life and whoever partakes of Him will never hunger or thirst. But the people, “grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41)

We discover that some of the crowd knew Jesus and His family and questioned His claim to a heavenly origin. Jesus shares that the road to paradise is open to all. Jesus clearly states that “whoever believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:47). He explains that the manna, which the Israelites ate in the wilderness, was miraculously given, but was not the true heavenly bread because those who ate it died. However, those who believe in Him will live forever, and that opportunity is open to the whole world. Jesus then declares, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). This statement of Christ is not to be taken literally but is meant to convey that unless we participate fully in Christ as the complete sacrifice for sin; we cannot realize the benefits of His salvation. Here is the response to Jesus’s teaching: “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it” (John 6:60)? It was difficult teaching to receive because Jesus must die and they must identify with His death to receive eternal life. Jesus, knowing this offended some, encourages them that they may be discouraged by His suffering, but they would rejoice at His resurrection and ascension. The Spirit gives life through Christ and trying to understand them through mere human insight is useless, the Father enables each of us to have the opportunity to hear, understand, and respond.

We find the result of this proclamation in one of the saddest verses in the Bible. We read, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). We also, find a great profession of faith. Jesus asks the twelve if they too are going to leave. Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). We discover that many in the crowd simply liked the show, but Jesus was offering more than a fish fry and Peter understood it and speaking for the other apostles declares we are here to know the Savior. Peter wanted more than free food, He wanted Christ and everything He has to offer. He was not a consumer, but a participant with Christ.

I hope all of us want more than a fish fry, a miracle here and there from Jesus. I pray each of us wants Him and everything He has to offer by believing and participating with Christ as a true follower. Together let’s believe in Christ, learn what it means to belong to Him and His church, become the people we have been created to be, and as those blessed bless others.

Image Bearers 7-9-18

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I grew up in a fishing family where we owned a canoe. I always looked forward to going fishing with my Dad. Our family spent most of the summer outdoors. We made the most of the beautiful summer weather and savored all God’s creation has to offer. There is something majestic about drifting down a river, casting a line, and just taking in the movement of the water, the fish rising to the surface and animals playing on the riverbanks. I think it’s my experience in nature and my enjoyment of it that causes a spirit of awe to rise up within me whenever I read the creation account found in Genesis 1. The first verse found in the Scripture reads: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). This is a foundational fact of the Bible. God brought into existence all that we know of the physical universe. God spoke and out of nothing God brought into existence the cosmos and our world and filled it with birds, vegetation, fish, animals, and people. It is clear from the creation account that God delights in His creation.

What is interesting is that when Moses wrote the opening Chapters of Genesis his overarching intent was merely to inform us of God’s creative work but to prepare God’s people for the mission we have been created to fulfill in partnership Him. The first chapter of Genesis is more than the introduction to the first book in the Bible. It is the opening chapter of God’s redemptive plan for His creation that consists of four parts: Creation (the way things were); Fall (the way things are; Redemption (the way things could be); and Restoration (the way things will be). When we look at the whole gospel, we not only discover the Fall and Redemption but God’s original good creation and His future restoration of it. If we see the gospel as only Fall and Redemption, then we can quickly fall into the trap of seeing our salvation as a bus ticket to paradise and believe that what we do while waiting for the bus doesn’t matter all that much. God calls and empowers us to live on mission, and that mission is to know Him and make Him known by identifying as His people in His world for His glory. In short, God has called us to participate in His restorative mission.

In the first chapter of Genesis, we read God’s purpose for creating us. God declared, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (see: Gen 1:26-27). Through God’s creating of humanity we discover that God is relational, and this quality has been imprinted on each and every one of us. We have been made to be in a relationship with God (to know Him) and with the rest of creation (to make Him known). We have been made in God’s image and as such made to be relational.

We also discover in Genesis 1 our mission. We read: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (see: Gen 1:28-30). Genesis 1:28-30 is commonly called the “cultural mandate.” Here God calls us to partner with Him in His work. The cultural mandate calls us to fill the world with God’s images and “subdue it.” We are to develop healthy social environments through building families, churches, schools, cities and the like. We also are to develop healthy natural environments through planting crops, building bridges, composing music, while caring for the natural world. We are called to create cultures and care for creation for God’s glory.

God presents Adam and Eve with a job description of sorts for them and their descendants (us), “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’” The unfortunate reality is because of sin introduced during the Fall, people have abused their stewardship of God’s creation. Today believers stand in the same place Adam and Eve did before the Fall knowing God’s purpose for creating us and our mission, but they are also filled with the Holy Spirit and have the resources of heaven at their disposal to fulfill this calling. Believers are now called and empowered to properly care for God’s creation.

I guess when I think back on the times I went out fishing with my Dad I recognize that something inside of me identified with God’s purpose for creating me as His image bearer. I have grown to desire to echo the words of the elders found in the book of Revelation: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you create all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11). Floating down the river fishing nature gave witness to God who created me to know Him and the beauty of His creation cried out for me to care for her for His glory.

It is a privilege to do life with each of you. As image bearers of the living God let us rejoice in knowing Him and encourage one another to make Him known by developing healthy social and natural environments.