Archive | March, 2013

Honesty

29 Mar

If asked to make a list of my chief sins, dishonesty is not among them. Indeed, I tend to pride myself on my truthfulness. I don’t fudge numbers at work, cheat on my taxes, or tell “white lies” to my friends (even if those lies might make them feel better about themselves or their circumstances). I don’t look to blame other people for my own mistakes and I would certainly never tell an outright lie, whatever the cost. I have plenty of sin problems, but lying is not one of them.

I had been considering my near-Christlike level of honesty as I headed for my congregation’s Ash Wednesday service and was a touch surprised when I opened the bulletin and discovered that the topic of dishonesty found a prominent place within one of the evening’s responsive readings. I quickly scanned the page, then tucking my bulletin into my Bible, determined that I would simply remain silent during that particular portion of the service. It would, after all, be dishonest to confess to dishonesty when one hadn’t been dishonest.

We were well into the service and, noting that we were coming up on the reading, I began to set my bulletin aside when the Spirit prompted me with the rather significant question, “You don’t lie to others, but do you lie to yourself?”
At first, I wanted to brush off the question. Of course I didn’t lie to myself. In fact, if I had any fault at all, it was that I was too honest with myself. The closer I got to Christ, the more aware of my sins I became… to the point where at times, the knowledge of the sacrifice He had made to atone for those sins seemed an incredible weight to bear. Had I never sinned, He never would have had to die. And it was with this admission that I began to understand.
In Galatians 2:20, the Apostle Paul declares that, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Christ did not die for us grudgingly or because He was compelled to do so, but like the cheerful giver of 2 Corinthians 9:7 He offered His sacrifice as He had determined in His heart. Yes, it cost Him. But what He did, He did because of His love for me.

Romans 5:6-10 reminds us that, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

I had not asked God for the gift, but He had given it anyway. Wiping away the past, He granted me the gift of a glorious future. Yet I continued to focus upon what I had done to make the gift necessary in the first place. In doing so, I was lying to myself about the forgiveness which had been purchased through that gift, acting as though God still held something against me just as I continued to hold things against myself. In telling myself that lie, I was missing the true wonder, the enjoyment of all that Christ had purchased through His blood.

Sitting in the pew, I spoke the words, “God forgive us for the times when we lie” and then quietly added, “especially when we lie to ourselves.”

The Pumpkini

27 Mar

Read:  Hebrews 10:19-25

“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions… So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”

– Romans 14:1, 19 NASB

 

It had been a busy afternoon, interrupted only briefly by the rain storms that had finally decided to grace our all-too-dry farm lands.  We were about thirty minutes from closing when, despite the rain, we had one final sweep of customers and had to open up several tills to handle the flood.  Even this, however, was insufficient to meet the need.

I was standing in the check stand carefully balancing my tasks: conversing with my customer, operating the till, talking on the radio, and answering another customer across the counter… when the phone rang.  Picking it up, I gave my standard “thanks for calling” speech.

The caller waited patiently for me to conclude, then asked, “I wanted to know if there could be such a thing as a pumpkini?”

“A what?” I hesitated, my hands just above my till, waiting for me to total the sale.

“A pumpkini,” she repeated.  “I planted my Zucchini and my Pumpkins fairly close together and I wondered if it were possible that they cross-pollinated.  I picked a Zucchini today and it was green and shaped like a Zucchini, but it was hard like a pumpkin.  When I opened it up it was orange inside and had pumpkin seeds in it!”

I raised my eyebrows and then turned to my boss as I covered the receiver.  “Can a Zucchini and a Pumpkin cross-pollinate?”

The answer?  Yes.

As Christians, we too are able to cross-pollinate.  While stronger believers have the responsibility of setting an example, even the weakest of us have something to give as we engage with others through the act of fellowship.  As Christians interact with one another, we have the opportunity to build each other up, encouraging one another as we strive to develop a closer walk with the Lord.  And one thing is guaranteed: none of us will be left unchanged!

Challenge:  This week, keep your eyes open for opportunities to encourage other believers.  Then, commit to following through when those opportunities present themselves!

God Tools

25 Mar

Anyone who has been reading this blog for long knows that I’m a big fan of Gospel tracts, but face it, sometimes you just don’t have enough pocket space to carry your favorite selection with you.  That’s why, in this week’s installment of the iPod Evangelist, we’re featuring Cru’s FREE God Tools App!

Designed to be used without an internet connection, God Tools provides users with four classic, interactive Gospel tracts.  Click on “The Four Spiritual Laws” or “Satisfied” and you’ll be provided with an excellent set of general use evangelism tools.  Looking for something more targeted?  Why not try “Knowing God Personally” (college students) or “Connecting with God” (teens)?  You’ll be delighted as the Salvation message unfolds step-by-step complete with Scripture references, a guide for leading others in the sinner’s prayer, and advice for growing in the Lord.  Each tract offers multiple languages and formats to choose from, so take the time to play around and find which one best fits your style and personality!

Looking for an easy way to answer hard questions?  Check out “Everystudent.com” where you’ll find well-reasoned explanations for everything from the case for God’s existence to why a person should consider Christianity above all the other religious options.  Or, visit the Q & A Forum for Biblical advice on practical life issues.

The God Tools app is full of helpful features, so be sure to download your copy today!

Confessions of a Hoarder

22 Mar

I tossed another heavily loaded black trash bag onto the pile and frowned. The stacks on both sides had been steadily mounting every since I’d begun packing for my move and I was beginning to feel convicted about both the things that I was donating and those that I was tossing into the garbage. Perhaps it wasn’t so much the things in themselves as the quantity. I was only half way through and a good 50% of what I affectionately referred to as “my junk” was no longer mine.

Some of the stuff was good (I wouldn’t have donated it otherwise), like the size 14 pants that no longer fit. I had justified hanging onto them as an act of “frugality” – after all, I’d never have to buy a pair in that size again. Never mind that I’d never need a pair in that size again.

Some of the stuff was useless, like the 25 pair of 3D glasses. If I had to pay extra to get into a 3D movie, I was certainly going to keep all of the accessories. Besides, these were an “investment” – someday, they’d be worth something.

Some of the stuff was downright awful, like the broken bits of toys that had long ago been discarded, deformed paper clips, and nails that could become useful if I took the time to bend them back into shape.

As I envisioned charity shops and landfills steadily filling up with my “collections”, I was absolutely certain of one thing: it was all too much. My intention in forming the stash had not been a bad or unbiblical one. I wasn’t “storing up treasures” in the sense in which Jesus spoke. (Matthew 6:19-21) My goal wasn’t to have “stuff” simply for “stuff’s” sake. But unbiblical intent or not, the result was a negative one. Over the years, I had collected so much that I now had to dispose of much of it in order to make the move to the mission field.

I found myself reminded of the words of Scripture: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1,2)

The Apostle knew that sin wasn’t the only thing with the power to hinder God’s people and that is why, for nearly 2,000 years now, the Church has observed the season of Lent. It isn’t simply about giving up sin (though that is a good thing), but about taking the time to carefully examine our lives. It’s about looking at our schedules and our priorities and determining whether they contribute to our spiritual health or prevent us from running the race as we should. Like me with my closets, drawers, and shelves, we often find that what we’ve been “collecting” isn’t as much use as we thought it would be.

This week, take the time to consider you routine. Examine your habits. Take a look at the things with which you fill your hours. Then make the commitment to discard everything that stands between you and your ability to effectively follow God’s call!

Fertile Soil

20 Mar

Read: Luke 8:4-15

“Still other seed fell on good soil.  It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

– Luke 8:8b NIV

My favorite encounters during the sign up period for our garden club were with the stalwart women who formed the core of our nursery’s faithful.  They wouldn’t have dreamed of buying their flowers from anyone, but us.  They came in twice a week, collected bonus dollars, and demanded that all gifts given to them by their family and friends be in the form of gift certificates to the nursery.  It didn’t matter if the chain stores offered the product at a lesser price: we were the store for them.

Because of this, they were more than eager to take a few minutes to hear what I had to say to them about our new program.  Each one recognized the benefits that they had received as one of our customers, but now they had the opportunity to be a member.  Instead of drawing generic benefits which ranged from knowledgeable staff to quality product, they now had access to the inside scoop through members-only classes and special discounts.  The deal was irresistible and it was not uncommon for me to have several of them crowding around the table at once, all reaching for pens and registration forms.

As Christians, we often encounter a similar response to the offer of membership in God’s family.  While there are many people who are quick to reject the Gospel or hesitant to consider it, there are many more who, like these ladies, have already experienced its benefits.  Whether they’ve seen the way that Biblical principles have affected the way they were treated by a Christian employer or have experienced the love of a believing neighbor, they know that a relationship with Christ has the power to dramatically change lives and benefit society.  And they’re ready to take the plunge.

Challenge:  The next time someone rejects your attempts to share the Gospel message, take a look around.  Every Christian you know chose to accept it.  And there are many more out there just like us, waiting to hear the Good News!

LOGOS

18 Mar

From Bible studies and devotions to community sharing and social network plugins, the LOGOS app lives up to all expectations.  You’ll find everything you’d anticipate from a good Bible app.  But that isn’t why it’s made its way into our iPod Evangelist feature.

Based upon the best-selling Bible software, the FREE LOGOS app offers many of the features that PC users have come to know and love.  Download books to your collection, then watch as a powerful search engine cross references your personal library to bring the most to your study of God’s Word.  Compare the text from different Bible translations, perform word studies in the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, or delve deeper with a Passage Guide which links all of the top features in a single, easy to navigate screen.

The app comes with a selection of basic resources and access to thousands more available for purchase.  Check out sermons, commentaries, ministry guides, Bible studies, devotionals, the early Church fathers, and the best of Christian writers throughout the ages.  From apostles to apologetics, you’ll find everything you need to perform in-depth study of God’s Word!

Already own the LOGOS computer software?  Link your account and LOGOS will automatically share bookmarks and files between your computer and your handheld device – allowing you to take your studies with you wherever you go.

With so much to offer, the FREE LOGOS app will quickly become a favorite!

When Submission Turns to Slavery – Part II

15 Mar

I looked down at the caller I.D. and cringed.  It was my boss.  Again.  It was my day off and I could guess why she was calling.  The company had a notable difficulty retaining employees and we almost constantly had someone on sick leave.  Every time someone called in, I got called out.  I knew that I wasn’t their slave, but at this point I was definitely beginning to feel like one!

The truth is that most of us have faced similar situations in which someone with authority over some aspects of our lives (in this case, the hours I was scheduled to work) has felt that their authority extended to all aspects of our lives.  The situation can be a sticky one regardless of your religious convictions.  After all, if we don’t take a stand, the odds are that others will take advantage of us.  But if we do draw a line, the authority has the power to make our lives miserable!  So what do we do?  Do we obediently show up every time we’re asked?  Do we work overtime during our scheduled vacation?  Or do we say no and risk not having a job at all?

If you were paying attention, you’ll notice that there is one common factor in each of these questions:  fear.  Fear of being mistreated.  Fear of someone taking advantage of us.  Fear of being without an income.  And when fear is a factor, slavery isn’t far behind.  In fact, if I were to be asked where the boundary lies between submission and slavery, this is where I’d draw the line.

According to Romans 8:14-15, “… all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”  Indeed, in God’s sovereignty He has ensured that, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”  (1 Corinthians 10:13) If this is true and God’s hand is present even in our suffering, we can be certain that there is no reason to fear.  Nothing that touches us does so without His approval and nothing we encounter is beyond His control.  (See: Romans 8:38-39)  The Apostle Paul urges us, “therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”  (Galatians 5:1b)  As believers, we will face trials and frustrations, but we do so with the knowledge that, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.”  (Galatians 5:1a)

With this in mind, we can approach commands like that of 1 Peter 2:18-19, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable,” from a different perspective.  Why?  Because according to the Apostle, this obedience “…finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.”  The difference between submission and slavery isn’t in the action, itself, but in what motivates that action – a desire to glorify God or a fear of the potential results of that decision.

Where does this leave me staring at my ringing phone?  Quite simply, with a choice.  A choice between freedom and slavery – not by the action I take, but by the attitude with which I take that action.

The decision isn’t always an easy one.  Sometimes we need the day off.  Sometimes God is better glorified by our willingness to help out in a pinch.  Each person and every situation is different.  But whether we choose to go to work on our day off or not, if we make that decision with an understanding of God’s sovereignty and a desire to glorify Him, we can’t go wrong!

The Garden Club

13 Mar

Read: Ephesians 4:1-16

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

– Matthew 28:19 NIV

 

I was hired for one purpose and one alone: to sign customers up for the free Garden Advantage Club.  I was to sit at a table by the door, wait for each client to grab a cart, then ask them if they’d like to join.

It wasn’t a difficult task.  The club was designed to offer discounts on select products throughout the year as well as keep track of the bonus bucks that were earned with each purchase.  As an added benefit, the store would also track the receipts of club members.  (This was a major advantage, since the garden center guaranteed most of its product, but wouldn’t take returns or issue refunds without a receipt.) As customers signed up, I told them about our special Member Discount Days, our series of advanced member seminars, and the special members-only newsletter.

I was in the process of explaining the program to a potential member, but appeared to be losing the battle when another customer looked up from the pop-cooler she’d been rummaging in and began to explain how she, personally, had benefited from the club!  Within seconds, my potential member became an actual member.

The Bible tells us that some Christians are gifted as evangelists.  A bit like me, their spiritual task is to clearly present the benefits of the Christian faith to anyone who might be interested.  Their work, however, is incomplete without the help of other believers who are willing to simply and honestly share their own experiences as Christ followers.  Like my customer, their readiness to present how they have benefitted from their relationship with God can make the difference between someone else walking away, or placing their faith in the only One who can save their soul!

Challenge:  This week, look for opportunities to step out and share your own experience with Christ.  You’re sure to make a difference!

Daily Audio Bible (DAB)

11 Mar

Most Christians agree that time in the Bible is time well spent.  But what do you do if reading just isn’t your thing?  Do you just give up and ingest whatever you can from a few weekly sermons and a Sunday School class?  Hardly!  Throughout the world today, there are millions of believers who struggle with the same fundamental issues – lack of time to read, disinterest in the written word, or the simple inability to read well. That’s why, in this week’s installment of the iPod Evangelist, we’re featuring the perfect app for every non-reader: the Daily Audio Bible.

Join Brian and the rest of the DAB community as they read through the Bible in a year, exploring a different translation every week.  Listen as Brian shares his thoughts on each passage or read along with the in-app Bible.  Designed to provide a fascinating introduction to Scripture for seekers and new believers and promote spiritual growth in long-time Christians, these daily readings (complete with relaxing nature sounds) offer everything you need to get your day started out right!

Want more?  Check out Windfarm radio and the DAB prayer room, view DAB mission films, listen to the daily prayer, or watch live broadcasts of Windfarm events.  And don’t forget to share your favorites with your friends on Facebook and Twitter!

With so much to offer, it’s no surprise that the Daily Audio Bible has become my regular companion.  At just $.99, I think you’ll find it quickly becomes yours as well!

When Submission Turns to Slavery

8 Mar

Over the last few weeks we’ve been taking a look at the ways in which submission to earthly authorities can influence our ability to effectively share the Gospel with others.  Perhaps you’ve even come to agree that obedience to the laws of men (like paying taxes, driving within the speed limit, and complying with “No Swimming” signs) is, indeed, a good idea. But what about those rules which seem to violate our rights as human beings?  What happens when the laws put in place by our congressmen or the store manager don’t respect our individuality or personhood?  Is it okay to take a stand when submission gets warped into a form of slavery? Christians have been struggling with this question since the very beginning… and the answer can be a bit complex.

In order to make a Biblical judgment concerning whether we should defend our rights, we need to take a close look at the concept of suffering.  According to Scripture, the ultimate purpose of all believers is to bring glory to God.  We also know (from the accounts like those of Job and Ruth) that God is often glorified more by our response to suffering and sacrifice than by our comfort and ease.

Why?  Because it’s in the difficult times that both our character and the object of our faith is revealed.  Romans 5:1-5 reminds us that, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

That submission to the point of sacrifice and suffering can have positive consequences is something that the Apostle Peter (and many of us since) had difficulty grasping. When Jesus informed him of His intention to go to the cross, the Apostle objected saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”  (For the whole story, see Matthew 16:21-23.) Indeed, he fully intended to prevent such an injustice when he drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane and carved off the ear of the High Priest’s servant.  (John 18:10)

Yet Jesus’ response was quite different.  Instead of fighting the armed mob or petitioning for His rights and presenting the case in His favor, He simply submitted Himself to the authorities and allowed events to take their course.  Why?  Because He recognized that in sacrificing His own rights, He would be benefiting others and, more than that, He would be glorifying God.  (John 12-17)

It’s a hard path to follow, but it’s one that we as believers are called to walk as well.  In Philippians 2:3-8, the Apostle Paul admonished us to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  The truth is, sometimes in our “giving up” of our basic human rights (whether it’s allowing our boss to encroach upon our time off or willingly submitting to discrimination), we do more good both for God and for others than we would be able to do if we took a stand to defend those rights.

So does this mean we should always submit to earthly authorities even if the result is a form of slavery or injustice?  Hardly!  But it does mean that if we want to know whether we should take a stand we need to begin by looking at the situation from God’s perspective rather than our own.

In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus says to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Only when we’re willing to seriously consider the implications of true sacrifice will we be able to make a reasonable decision about which sacrifices of submission Jesus has or hasn’t called us to make.

Next week, we’ll take our discussion a step further as we discuss the boundaries that exist between submission and slavery.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below!

%d bloggers like this: