Defend and Cheer

Jude 1_3_Cheer and Defend

As much as I love golf, I can’t tell you who won last year’s Master’s tournament.  Likewise, I enjoy Major League baseball, but can’t name the five most recent World Series Champions.  Nor do I have any idea who won Wimbledon (tennis), the World Cup (soccer), or the Stanley Cup (hockey).  Sadly to some, I won’t spend time defending any candidate in the upcoming elections.

While there is nothing wrong with being a sports fan or being involved politically, nowhere in Scripture do I see a command, or even a suggestion that followers of Christ make these temporary things the primary focus of their attention.  Nowhere do we read about the church gathering in Athens to cheer their favorite athlete; nor do we hear Christ, Peter, or Paul instruct the church to be prepared to give a defense for their chosen political figure.

Instead, we see these clear instructions:

  • “…defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.” (Jude 1:3, ESV)
  • “…always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reasonfor the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)
  • “Go therefore and make disciplesof all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19)

You get the idea.  Every winning team has the right balance between a good offense and a strong defense.  Christians are called primarily to defend the faith and share the gospel.  That’s not just the pastor’s job – it’s OURS!  Think back over the past week and consider your conversations and social media posts.  How many of those conversations defended a political figure or celebrated a sports team?  How many defended the faith and celebrated Christ?

Cheer and defend as you see fit; just don’t forget your first calling as a follower of Jesus is to defend the faith and promote the gospel.  –Dave

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Suffering 101

Psalm 119_71_Suffering 101

If it were listed among the “elective” courses at a university, the poor professor would be let go after a semester or two.  For the subject has no appeal and most of us avoid this classroom at all cost.

But what if the Instructor of “Suffering 101” were God Himself?  Would that make a difference?  Would we dare walk into His classroom if He promised that what we learned would favorably impact our lives?  What if He told us the lessons learned in this class could not be learned anywhere else?  Would we trust Him enough to take a seat?

Can I let you in on a little secret?  Suffering 101 is not an elective.  It’s required for absolutely every student!  Nobody graduates without haven’t spent time in Suffering.

So in what ways can suffering benefit us?  Looking back over my own experience, I see that God has used suffering to teach me patience, compassion, and humility.  Things I wouldn’t learn if life were always easy.

The psalmist adds this important lesson which suffering teaches:

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.  (Psalm 119:71, NLT)

In other words, suffering gets our attention.  CS Lewis once wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  If we’ll not fight God on it, He’ll speak to us in ways we’ve never heard before.  We’ll learn about His ways which reveal more of His heart.  As a result, we become closer to Him and more like Him.

Suffering 101.  What have you learned from God in this uncomfortable, but necessary classroom? –Dave

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The Greeting Card and the Gift

John 14_15_17_The Greeting Card and the Gift

Of the Trinity’s members, the Holy Spirit mystifies me the most.  Having been a father and a son, those characteristics of God are easier to comprehend.  But God as a Spirit – unseen, unfelt, unpredictable – now that’s another story altogether!

Because the Spirit is difficult to define, it leaves a wide spectrum on which believers place Him.  Some act as if the unseen Spirit is unreal and uninvolved.  On the other end are those who attribute almost everything to “an act of the Spirit.”  Even if the Spirit is not seen, in many folks’ eyes, He is to be felt – frequently and intensely.

I fall somewhere in between.  I know He exists, I have occasionally sensed His prompting.  He has helped illuminate God’s Word for me, and encouraged me when I was at the end of my rope.  But rarely have I “felt” Him.  I’ve never spoken in tongues, been slain in the Spirit, or heard the Lord speak to me.  I’m not poo-pooing the possibility, but I am concerned for those who take such tangible manifestations as a requirement for being in right relationship with the Lord.

About this topic, CS Lewis once wrote:

It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.”  Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift.  I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system.  Don’t depend on them.  Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too.  But it won’t.  It will be there when you can’t feel it.  May even be most operative when you can feel it least.

The Spirit is with us 24/7/365.  But the assurance of that truth is not a feeling or sensation – it’s a promise Christ made to the church (John 14:15-17).  Don’t confuse the greeting card for the gift!

…He [the Father] will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.…he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)

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Hardened or Despondent?

Ephesians 4_18_19_Hardened or Despondent

Last time we looked at “Spiritual Amnesia” – our tendency to separate ourselves from those outside our faith.  The remedy?  To stop seeing non-Christians as “them” – but as “us, as we once were.”  The only real difference is that we have found what they are still looking for.

Following his instruction to the Ephesians to “no longer” live as the unredeemed Gentiles did, Paul provided a description of what life without Christ looked like; and it wasn’t pretty.

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (vv.18-19, ESV)

Having not yet found the Light, unbelievers are still in the dark regarding things related to God.  They are frequently ignorant and hard of heart.  Just as WE once were!  Until we found hope.

Yet “callous” in v.19 above does not mean hardened beyond reach.  In fact, the word literally means “beyond feeling; to cease to feel pain or grief.”  It was often used to describe those who were hopeless and despondent.  Many of the sinful behaviors in which those outside the faith engage are their desperate attempts to feel SOMETHING – even if it’s a moment of intense, shameful pleasure.  Just as WE once did.  Let us not become calloused to their desperation!

Friends, here’s a second prescription for Spiritual Amnesia – don’t look at unbelievers’ sinful behaviors as an affront to you, but as their desperate response to hopelessness.  Then step in and introduce them to the Source of real hope – just as someone once did for you! –Dave

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Me, As I Used to Be

Ephesians 4_17_Me as I used to be

Much of the church today suffers from something I’ll call “Spiritual Amnesia.”  As a result, we tend to forget what God has done for us, and what we were like before placing our faith in Christ.

To the Ephesians, Paul wrote:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. (4:17)

For the sake of our discussion today, I want to focus on two small, but very important words – “no longer.”  Paul wanted the “saints” to STOP living like the “sinners.”  But the fact that they once lived as the unredeemed Gentiles wasn’t to leave their memories.  Sadly, once “we” become Christians, “we” frequently begin to think of those outside the faith as “they.”  As a result, we frequently recoil from “them” and surround ourselves only with those who think, feel, and believe exactly like “us.”

With such an attitude, we’ll rarely feel compelled to help “them” become one of “us.”  Instead, we’ll encase ourselves in a Christian bubble in an attempt to protect ourselves.  All because of Spiritual Amnesia…

Friends, we need to stop looking at people outside the faith as “them.”  A far more accurate view is to see them as “us – as we once were.”  We too were once alienated from God.  We too were once darkened in our understanding.  We too were once desperately looking for meaning, and hope, and purpose.  They are simply us a few years removed.  A quick review of our own past should generate compassion for those who have yet to find Who we’ve found!

How do you view those who don’t yet share your faith?  As “them?”  Or as “me as I used to be?”  Your perspective makes a big difference – which we’ll look at next time! –Dave

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Our Refuge and Our Hope

Sunday_Psalm 119_114_My source of Hope

In good times and bad times. During days of peace and days of national unrest, God is our refuge, our shield, and our best source of hope.
 
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Something to Be

Ephesians 5_1_2_Something to Be

“I just don’t know what to do!”

Perhaps you’ve said these words a few times too?  Whether it’s dealing with an acute crisis, or some sort of long-term difficulty, there are times when we feel like we’ve reached the end – the end of our abilities, the end of our strength, the end of our options, the end of our fight to continue.  Not trying to be a “Debbie Downer;” just keepin’ it real!

It was during such a time of personal exasperation that I picked up Men of Courage by Dr. Larry Crabb.  On the page where I’d left off, I read these encouraging words:

There is always something to be, even when there’s nothing to do.

Crabb’s point was this – when life throws us a curveball and we don’t know what to do (which it frequently will), as Christians, we can always know what to BE.  We can choose to BE an imitator of Christ.

For example, when the circumstances are dreadfully overwhelming, we can choose to be peace-filled.  When others get on our nerves, we can choose to be patient and long-suffering.  When the situation looks hopeless, we can choose to be hopeful.  When we want to pull within ourselves for protection, we can choose to be generous and selfless.  You get the idea.

Friends, think about those situations in which you have no idea what to DO.  Now ask yourself how you can BE like Jesus in the midst of them. –Dave

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. (Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB)

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