He was born in Boston the last of seventeen children. His parents He wanted their little boy to have a career in the church. He attended school only two years before giving up on formal school and thought being a tradesman was a better life. Working for his brother as an apprentice, he learned the printing business.When he submitted a letter to his brother for publication he was turned down as simply to radical. Undaunted, he began writing to the paper with a false name and the identity of a middle-aged widow. When his brother was jailed for three weeks , he was released from the constraining editorial comments. His pseudonym said, “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and not such thing as public liberty without the freedom of speech.” He left town and his brothers’ business a political fugitive.No one thought Benjamin Franklin would ever amount to much.2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here.”We all need redemption!
Writer David Roper wrote of an account in an elevator. Three men were quietly and complacently riding down from their workplaces. None of them seemed excited or even aware of their surroundings. For them, the day was done and were anxious to go home. Two floors above the lobby the elevator stopped to let on more passengers. The doors opened and a larger-than-life image of cowboy stared in. He was wearing an old and stained grey hat, a stained sheepskin coat and well scuffed boots.
This tall, rough, and lanky man looked intently through the open door at the current occupants and said, “Good, evening men.” All three men immediately straightened up and squared their shoulders. They all were making a new effort to live up to the name “men.”
Living up to the name. Being a Christian is more than living a life not much different from everyone else. Being a Christian is not living up to an idea or an implied expectation. Being a Christian is straightening up our shoulders and bearing proudly our faith.
Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. I Corinthians 16:13
The more I study His word the more I realize my own self-worth is not worth at all. I see all mankind in one of two groups. You may well think these groups may be categorized as the Good and the bad. But I don’t see it that way. Let me explain
Group one includes those who think they are righteous and the second are those who know they are sinners. Matthew 9:13. One group pretends there is no need for God and the other simply acknowledges a need for God.
The common denominator is that we all need help. The catch is that we don’t all admit it. Rather than realizing everyone is in this together, that we are all in need of help, we often prop up our self-esteem by looking at people who do supposedly worse things than ourselves.
We create a scale and somewhere there is a line between good and bad. In our scale we work diligently to stay above the line. We live our lives in a two-story home on a quiet cul-de-sac, we keep our lawn well-manicured and our cars washed, we stay faithful to our spouse, we work hard at our chosen vocations, we pay our bills, and never cheats on taxes. We compare our goodness to others’ badness and think, “I’m a morally sound person. I’m doing pretty well. I don’t need help.”
All have sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal. We are all PINOGAMS (People In Need of Grace and Mercy). One group pretends there is no need for God and the other simply acknowledges a need.
Our superficial labeling system guarantees that we will never find freedom ourselves. It takes courage and humility to recognize we are as messed up as the drug addict next door. Few ever get that honest with ourselves. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, we’ll never be honest with God. We will continue to whitewash our dark sides and flaunt our good deeds, and nothing will ever change.
I guess we are really all in one category after all. We all need.
What is the cause of violence? For what reason does a person “get into the face of another” and shout and curse and spit vitriol? I think is it simply sin. You see, sin is a riddle, a mystery, a reality that is difficult to define. It is often ignored because there is no personal responsibility if there if it remains a nebulous concept. Often, we try to think of this idea called sin and think of it as wrongdoing or transgression of some standard. But it also includes the failure to do what is correct, prudent, loving. Sin offends people, it is violence and lovelessness pointed and directed toward others. But more than that, it is disrespectful to God.
The concept of sin is very complex, and the terminology associated with is also very complex. And when I try to reconcile all the opinions of what is lawful and what is not, it is easy to be caught up in a definition hell. To make a differentation between peaceful protest and rioters is charged with political condemnation. Simply to say, all lives matter is seen as racist. But in reality, it is not about definitions or even spin or fake news. It is about the expectation of my behavior in relationship to all around me. To repeat the admonition of Jesus, “However you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the law and the prophets.” The cause of violence is simply not doing what you expect others to do to you.
I am building a group of men to think for themselves. To rightly divide the word of truth. The vehicle for this building is a study on the Sermon on the mount. It is in Matthews Gospel Chapter 5,6,7.
But as I read these words over and over again, I am amazed at the teachings of Jesus. He was teaching the disciples on a grassy hill about the Kingdom of Heaven. The hearers were amazed at the teachings of Jesus for it was from authority. It meant something to them. The sermon was one of those in which after the last AMEN, you simply said, “wow”. It pierced their hearts with truth. Not like another law book or set of rules. Jesus taught them about the things which impacted their lives.
The Scribes and Pharisees taught speaking and re-speaking the same words. Words without life and conviction. Jesus said to those who listened, “your righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. This new law of the Kingdom of Heaven, this new way of truth and life, this abundant life points to dire need for a new righteousness.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a righteousness of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit to enable you to lovingly, willingly and delightfully yield your will in total submission to His examination of your heart so that you may be completely set free.
As with any revolutionary idea these words of Jesus were and still are misconstrued. It would be easy for anyone reading the Sermon on the Mount to wince once and a while. We have to be different from everyone else. We can’t even think about getting angry and wishing someone ill, just looking at a woman is the same as having relations with her, divorce is out of the question, can’t make a oath, turn the other cheek and pray for my enemies.
In a quick read the task of obedience is overwhelming. “Jesus have you just traded one set of laws for another?” The demands of Jesus are simply too difficult. Who among us have never hid wrong attitudes in our heart? Who is not guilty of disobeying the rule of the King?
The inevitable result is to fall short of God’s glorious ideal. We try and try to uphold that ideal with every ounce of our strength, but we fail again and again. We end up living a life full of disappointment, guilt and failure. And that is just the point.
your conscience burns within you knowing that Jesus does not rule simply until you’ve had enough. But rather than leaving you naked in your rebellion and exposed to judgment, He forgives you. He heals you. He restores you. He lifts you up and strengthens you to carry on the journey of faith for yet another day.
In our men’s study we simply say, “there are only two things in the Bible, 1) Revelation and 2) reconciliation.” God reveals Himself in his plans and ideals and we are to reconcile ourselves to that revelation. When we fail. And fail we often do. Failure should lead ourselves back to God for His strength, His guidance, His forgiveness, His love, His reconciliation.
As the Israelite’s wandered in the wilderness for 40 years looking for God and His will, I have constantly tried to understand what motivated the Israelite’s to go in circles for all these years in an environment that was trying to kill them with every step. I would think they would have grown tired of constantly moving and getting nowhere. As a Christian, I find that at times I also take to wandering. Why do I do the things I do? I think there is a direct relationship between the wandering by the Israelite’s when they were trying to find their purpose and following a Godly leadership, with my own Christian walk today. I would think that there are four ways to understand the motivation of Christians in today’s modernistic world: Gizmos, pathways, rebels, and stubborn fatalism.
Israel in the wilderness was called to follow an external device of smoke and fire. True they had a leader. Yet even Moses was guided by these heavenly prompts. When the manifestation of God moved so did the Israelite’s. It did not matter what the path these prompts pointed toward, there was an inner belief that these manifestations knew where they were going. They were guided every mile, every year to following the presence of God. When the smoke moved, they moved. Following as they were pointed, may well be characterized as a mechanical device or Gizmo we find in most cars: the GPS. When we want to go somewhere, we simply punch in a destination and there is a turn by turn guide to grandma’s house. It tells us when we will get there and even if there is any delay on our path. We listen carefully to a voice, usually a woman’s voice, telling us where to turn, what road or exit to take, even the name and number of the street or highway which is on our path.
When our GPS Gizmo tells me to turn, I make every effort to follow and fully expecting she knows better than any path I could figure out. But there are times when I may well think “That’s not right”, or “I want to make my own path” or “I know better than this,” or I want to stop along the way to get a Diet Pepsi.” But when I do, my loyal GPS gleefully reports, “Recalculating.”
That little disembodied voice say does not say, “this is not what I told you to do.” Instead, this tiny Gizmo realizes the place you are and plans a new path. Recalculating is saying, “I will start from when you have gone astray and I will map you a new path to your destination. I will set you straight. Trust me I will get you want to go.”
Sometimes I question this seemingly blind faith in the displayed path. I know for a fact there are two routes from the church to my house and they both get me there. The problem is my GPS GIZMO randomly chooses one path over the other because they both are the same distance and duration. To the Israelites God was their heavenly GIZMO. God gave them a turn by turn directions and the first type of Israelite and consequently many blessed Christians will find their way to the promised land.
The second way we can look at the wandering at the wilderness and also our Christian walks in our wandering is characterized by the ant. The total purpose of an individual ant is to serve the whole. To follow the rules of searching to find a source of sustaining resources is the entirety of one class of ants. Some stay home and take care of the young. Some receive the bounty provided by the wanderers. The wanderers provide for the rest of the ants. Each ant has a responsibility to do their job and not to stray in the least. The philosophy of an ant is to survive the journey. And they do this by sending out individual ants in search of a new source of food and bring it back the report to the nest. To find their way back to the nest they produce tiny scent trails wherever they go. They spread out as far as their scent will allow them to go. If they don’t find anything they simply die. Wandering along looking for some choice morsel or better yet a large source of choice morsels like a dollop dropped from my peanut and butter sandwich. If they find the gooey mess, they follow their own scent trail back and tell everyone. In rapid succession, hundreds of ants follow blindly the previously laid down path. All the while, the additional scent is laid down to reinforce the path. Every ant in this parade simply follows the ant in front of them. Every time a new path is found a group of ants will follow. Every time there is a new source of plenty there are followers. Each Ant following dutifully the ant in front of them.
A problem arises when the lead ant loses the scent for a moment and doesn’t know which way to go. When the scent is lost the lead ant turns abruptly looking for the scent again and all the while, every ant behind follows. The lead ant repeats this turning until it finds the scent. What often happens is they run across their own scent line and turn to follow it and in doing so they make a giant circle and they go around and around and around each of the succeeding circles. Every ant following in step following the ant front of them. The mindset of every ant in the parade is to constantly follow the ant in front, “he must know where he’s going.” Every ant following believes and accepts the, “follow the one in front” idea and is fully convinced that they are going the right way. And every trip in the grand circle it increases the scent and they can’t stop. They go around and around and around and ultimately, they simply die of exhaustion. A catastrophic end. Again the Hebrews followed until most of them who had experienced Egypt died. In the Christian walk we must keep the cloud in mind not the person in front.
The 3rd characteristic of those who would find themselves in the wilderness trying to find God’s will is the rebel. The rebel mindset says to himself, “there must be something more in my divine destiny of life.” In the Hebrews in the wilderness, they were characterized as the “Grumblers”. They grumbled about the quality of water, they grumbled with the lack of food, they grumbled with the lack of variety of provided food and they complained because there was not enough water. Dissatisfied with Moses on the mountain they were the first ones to, “make a god for ourselves.” This rebel belief reveals itself with trying and changing everything. A complaint of “we have always done it this way” is confronted with “we have never done it this way.” Let me be first.
These rebel firsts keep saying, “I have to go faster, fly higher, explore everywhere, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” “I am the creator of my destiny.” Or “I can do anything I want.” The rules of sanity and common sense simply doesn’t mean anything to me. It doesn’t matter if I crash and burn; at least I can be an example of what not to do. It is a modern self-description. It is a mindset that says, “I have emerged from the cave where man created God, created faith and created religion and I no longer will follow blindly. It is an attitude of personal self-responsibility. “I know who I am and I don’t need or want some old sage to dictate my life.”
The rebel is plastered all over YouTube. Riding bicycles off of a roof into a swimming pool, or trying to jump over a car while it is coming at you at 20 miles an hour are examples of this rebel attitude.
It is the rebels who have stretched the common beliefs of the church. “Let’s have a church in a deserted drive-in theater,” or “we don’t need pews” or “let’s get tables and coffee” were all once thought of rebellious ideas. “Let me be the first, at least I will be cool about it.”
They live by their own rules because everyone else seems stuck in a pattern and that pattern is I can’t live with. This rebel spirit believes and is willing to die for that belief. Columbus was going somewhere and if he died along the way so be it. Alan Shepard strapped himself onto the back of a rocket to prove something not only to himself but everyone who was going to follow him. It is not a question of, “lead or follow” but just stay out my way. And like Evil Knievel and all his copies, more often than not they crashed and crashed hard.
The last group of wanderers is those who simply give up: the fatalists. “If we keep going, day after day, we will ultimately die, so why go on.” To the fatalist, any path is a path to destruction. The Egyptians wanted to kill them, the people in the destination wanted to kill them, the desert wanted to kill them, all the new laws set by Moses are all filled with death and punishment, I might as well just dig a hole and climb in. When the Christian does not see that perfect path before them like a heavenly GPS, or another ant in front of them, or there is no unction in your gumption to change the path, the fatalist simply sits down and dies. “If I don’t know where I am to be, this spot is good enough.” These fatalists die alone because they find no responsibility to follow anyone or conform to any path.
Four paths: Follow the presence of God, follow the other ants in front of you, rebel and do your own thing, or give up. As we walk the walk that is Christianity, it is my choice and it is your choice.
As we come to the celebration of the birth in a manger of a Messiah King, each of us must look toward our own spiritual needs. Pie, and drink may well satisfy the physical. It is not the satisfaction the dusty soul seeks. It is a sweet well of cool water that flows and urges us to drink of the Well of Life. It is not great intellectual knowledge of the great things of man or even God, but the very person and presence of God. Some would well say restore the Christ in Christmas. Instead I think there is a greater need to restore Christ in Christians. This yearning after God has never completely died in any generation. There have always been some that have looked beyond the Santa Clause hats and grossly decorated trees and insisted on reading the story in the Bible of the reason for beginning and end of Christmas. Please my friends and loved ones, take time this week to read Luke Chapter 2 verses 1-20 for your own and perchance around that aforementioned tree, read it to the those you love and care for the most.
Encouragement is not telling someone they have done well. That is simply a reward for something done. You may well call it honor, or accolade but it is simply something which acknowledges effort. It is a pat on the back for something accomplished. It is something well expected after a job is well done. While this reward, this acknowledgement is a good thing, encouragement, is telling others that you believe in them before they even start. It is action before the battle. Encouragement is to help someone to make a good start. It is the coach telling the team they have it within them to beat the other team. It is one Christian putting an arm around another when he is about to face a big decision. Encouragement is not a, “I knew you could do it” but a “I know you can do it.” It may be a subtle difference but the very act of encouragement leads to better results than a pat on the back afterwards.
Sure, there is always a possibility of failure, of not living up to the encouragement, never-the-less it is a much better than waiting for that failure. Those things, those efforts that never begin are always failures. It is better to start well than to do nothing.
I believe there are six ways to encourage:
- Show you care – When you take the time to learn about others, it shows that you care. This empowers and encourages them. It confirms both our understanding of the task and an honest assessment of the possibility of success. One of the single best ways to encourage others is to care about what they care about.
- Tell them with words – Take the time to tell your small group, your brothers in Christ, that you believe in their abilities and that you are confident that they will succeed. It is never enough to just sit and think about success or failure. Encouragement should be more than good thoughts. It is not about awareness of the task. It must go further to be encouragement. It takes effort and a communication of that encouragement.
- Tell them in writing – The great thing about encouraging someone in writing is that he can keep the note forever. An email, or better yet a real, post office delivered letter is something that may well make the difference. That is why Hallmark is successful; they make a palpable, touchable, savable product that conveys encouragement. It is the gift that keeps on giving.
- Share with others – When you are in public praise your fellow Christians. Be open with our praise and private with your criticisms. And while you are at it praise and encourage when no one expects it. Encourage when they are faced with both little and great things. Tell others of your confidence, your trusting faith in someone to everyone who do or do not want to hear it.
- Trust them with greater responsibilities – When you assign responsibility to someone, even if you verbalize it, you are saying, “I trust you.” Trust conveys belief. When you give someone responsibility, remember you are not only trusting them with the expectation of success, but you are allowing them to make mistakes. When you micromanage or try to “fix” things along the way, it is discouraging and demotivating. Give responsibility, trust the person, and get out of the way.
- Help them – This might sound like the opposite of #5, but let me be clear that helping is not micromanaging or meddling. Simply ask how you can help them. Sharing in a task delegated by the person responsible is not taking over. It’s important for others to know that while you trust them, you are also there to help. This goes beyond just helping with projects or task. It is saying I trust your way of doing things.
Hebrews 3:12-13 See to it brothers and sisters, than none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But ENCOURAGE, one another daily, as long as it called today.
It was an accomplishment. Stepping off the school bus in rural Iowa. It had been the first day of school. Her clothes were a little more wrinkled that when he set off that morning to learn, to study, to be a grown up. There was a little mud on the sweet pink and white checked dress from playing with the kids at recess. And now she was boldly walking up the path to home where dad was waiting to see how it had went.
After a big hug, a peanut butter sandwich made with extra grape jelly, and a cold glass of milk, Dad asked the big question, “Well did you learn anything at your school?”
The daughter stopped and looked at her dad and with a look of disappointment she answered, “I guess I didn’t learn enough”
“Why do you say that my little sweet pea?”
“Well Dad it is like this, I have to go back tomorrow.”
Learning takes a lifetime.
My LORD and my God.
By my very existence I know that I am an image-bearer of you the Most High God. Listen to me as I call upon your name in the full expectation of our like-minded Spirits were created to connect.
I praise you because of your calling, I belong here. I belong here on this earth. I belong here at my Kings table. I belong here at the feet of Jesus. I belong here within this community of like-minded believers. I belong here not because I deserve it but because you desire me to be here.
Sweet Jesus, you deserve to be loved, you deserve our reverence, you deserve all my praise. I will not allow anything, nor my situation, not my lack of faith, not my feelings of unworthiness keep me from your presence. I do not my rejectors and nor my naysayers keep me from worshiping. I don’t buy into their lies.
In your presence, I am strangely warmed, I am blessed, I am encouraged, of your concern of my plight.
There is no other place I would rather be. I am yours.
Please don’t give up on me. Don’t stop drawing me to this place of belonging. I trust you God to lead me wherever it may be. I give you the lead in all my ways. My hope is only in you. Reveal to me your will, your path, and your road to blessings. Because you are here my Jesus, I call upon your name to bless our lives.