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Category Archives: Encouragement

Ministry to missing members: How to respond when people are in danger of ‘dropping out of church.’


The Apathetic and Bored Church Member

John S. Savage wrote a doctoral dissertation several years ago on inactive members and the steps they go through to become ‘permanently’ inactive. I believe it will be advantageous for all of us to be aware of these steps and be ready to assist our brothers and sisters if a need arises.

1. The first step is an anxiety-provoking event.

An incident which produces some type of anxiety or uncomfortable feeling in the active member (1) Conflict with the minister; (2) Conflict with another family member; (3) Conflict with another church member.

2 Peter 1:21 (48 kb)We found 95 percent of the people had experienced what we now call an “anxiety-provoking event”-an ape. Subsequent research showed these events usually come in clusters, several apes compounding within six months to a year.

Anxiety is the emotional alarm system triggered by disequilibrium, hurt, or anticipated hurt. The inactive members we visited revealed high levels of anxiety, which drove them from church membership because they were never resolved. Their anxiety fell into four categories.

  • Reality anxiety. This anxiety is based on some real, historical event; you could have videotaped what caused it. Normally the event is a snub or an utter lack of church care when a member needed it.  A family from the church had their home burn to the ground, and their 2- and 4-year-old children died in the fire. How many people went to visit him and his wife? Maybe the minister, but probably not many parishioners. Most would confess, “I wouldn’t know what to say,” as if they had to say something.  That event causes reality anxiety. A family experiencing this kind of tragedy would have a hard time returning to a church they felt let them down when they needed them.
  • Moral anxiety. Moral anxiety arises when people experience in themselves or others behaviors they believe aren’t right.  Immoral sexual activity causes many people to eventually leave the church.
  • Neurotic anxiety. Neurotic anxiety is pain caused by the imagination. Someone may claim, “I don’t go to church because the minister doesn’t like me.” The feeling might be based on reality, but the chances are it’s neurotic. It’s only in the person’s head.  A man goes into the hospital, doesn’t let you know he’s there, but expects you to visit. Then he gets angry when you don’t. Months later when you do call, you may trace his problem to that hospital stay. The man is convinced you don’t care about him. That’s neurotic anxiety.  We can inadvertently foster neurotic anxiety. For example, a minister regularly calls on a couple who are potential members. He spends time with them and makes them feel important. All the time they’re thinking, Look at all the personal attention you get from the minister around here! Then they join the church, and the attention they receive drops almost to zero. They wonder what happened. The minister has accidentally encouraged unrealistic expectations, which give rise to neurotic anxiety.
  • Existential anxiety. Existential anxiety is the feeling brought about by the thought that some day you may not exist, or that even if you do, your life may be meaningless. We hear the refrains, “The church has lost its meaning for me,” “The sermons don’t mean anything anymore, Minister,” “My kids are bored stiff in Sunday school.”

Main conflict areas
All anxiety arises from some problem. The most common is intra-family conflict. Husband and wife square off on some issue; parents and kids squabble. This kind of conflict is the most consistent characteristic of people who have left the church.

Conflict with ministers is the second most common problem. When ministers avoid dealing with people’s anxiety, the people simply avoid the ministers and their churches.

Family against family, inter-family conflict, is the third arena. It’s the Hatfields against the McCoys; people don’t get along with one another.

Overwork, or at least the feeling of it, presents a fourth problem area. With volunteer church service, too much too soon or too long, with no reward, will drive people from the church.

Suppose you discover a family is having troubles at home, seems to be avoiding you, is feeling disappointed about the way other church members have treated them, and thinks they’re overworked and unrewarded. You will usually find they are experiencing reality, moral, neurotic, or existential anxiety-often simultaneously. Then you can predict the next stage: they cry for help.

2. The second step is the blinking red light.  The member is hurting inside and wants/needs to talk.

3. Anger is the third step. When anxiety reaches the stage of acute discomfort, the anxiety is transformed to anger.

The cry
If we learn to hear and respond to people’s cries for help, we can usually prevent their dropping out. Those still crying will respond to our efforts to reach them. But cries don’t last forever. Some cry longer than others, depending on their bond to the congregation, but when the cry goes unanswered, eventually members leave. Then the damage is much greater and more difficult to repair.

A verbal cry for help may sound like this: “I don’t know if I want to continue coming to this church. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s hypocrites!”

Or it could be more subtle: “You know, all the men but me in our Sunday school class have had promotions at work.”

I worked with a woman in Christian education for two years and never once heard a complaint. Then one day in the midst of a long paragraph she let slip just one sentence: “I’m not sure I can do this job much longer.”

I didn’t say anything right then, but when I saw her the next Sunday morning in the hallway, I said, “Sally, I have a feeling you might be upset about some things in church, particularly in the Christian education area.”

“Can I talk with you this week?” she said.

She came in the following Thursday with all her teaching materials-and unmistakable body language. Even before she sat down, she said, “You’re not going to like what I’m about to tell you, but I’m going to resign.” I listened to her story for an hour and a half, and I heard from her the classic phrase of one who is thinking of leaving: “I don’t want to leave the church. I love the church, but I’m tired.” She was overworked-reality anxiety-so we renegotiated her workload, and she stayed. The key is hearing the story first.

Ministers can respond to cries in one of three ways:

First, they can listen and respond to the pain the cry represents. That can be amazingly beneficial.

Second, they can ignore the cry, not realizing how serious it is, until the cry moves into anger. The person gets more agitated and says, “Hey, what do I have to do to get you to hear me? Somebody help me. Can’t you see I’m about to leave the church?”

Third, they can shoot the person with the gospel gun: “What’s the matter with you? Are you losing your faith or something?” That’s a mistake of confusing the symptom for the disease, the behavior for the cause.

But surprisingly, even if we react to the immediate anger rather than the anxiety behind it, we’ll still recover about 80 percent of the people. Even hesitating steps in the right direction can help.

If we miss the verbal cries for help, we at least have a whole string of nonverbal cries to alert us to the problem. The cries for help become behavioral. The person either leaves or begins the process of leaving.

4. Behavioral change. The member either becomes more aggressive or withdrawn. If the problem is not resolved at this point, they move further away from active membership. They drop out of committees. They give up their Sunday or Wednesday classes, if teaching. Usually, at this point, they stop attending except on Sunday morning. They stop attending special meetings and their contributions are either cut down or cut out altogether.

The first behavior change is the leaving of worship.

Second, people leave major committees and boards. They either don’t show up or they begin to show up sporadically. Both of these indicators can be seen on an attendance graph. The one who was always there four Sundays a month drops to three to two to only rare appearances. Or the board member makes one or two meetings a year after nearly perfect attendance in past years.

Third, people begin to leave Sunday school. Most adults have their closest friends in their Sunday school classes. Backing away from friends is a major change.

Fourth, the kids are pulled out of Sunday school. The parents decide they don’t even want to bring them, let alone come themselves.

Fifth comes the letter of resignation, and finally, interestingly enough, the pledge is dropped. That’s the final gasp for help, the last commitment to be given up in most denominations.

The sad thing is, these dropouts are hurting. They’ve not only experienced a cluster of anxiety-provoking events, but also are grieving the loss of their church.

Skunks and turtles
In my experience, a third of the inactive people we called on had tears running down their cheeks once we dug out the original cluster of pain. Uncovering that hurt caused them to cry before perfect strangers.

But people respond to their pain in different ways. Some begin to blame something external – the church, the elders, the members, the minister. We’ve nicknamed them skunks. When you call on these people, you get sprayed on. It’s what happened to me when the woman slammed the paper into her lap and lashed out at me.

When these people drop out, they wait six to eight weeks and then psychologically seal off the pain and anxiety produced by the original cluster. They back away and by all appearances become apathetic. But the pain of the cluster remains and acts as the block to returning to church. In order to get the person to come back, we must deal with that pain.

After they seal off the pain, people reinvest their time, energy, and money in other pursuits. Half reinvest themselves in the family; they buy tents, trailers, and snowmobiles and go away on the weekend. You visit them and hear, “Our family is just as close to God fishing on the lake as we were back at church with that bunch of snobs.”

The other 50 percent reinvest themselves in other institutions: hospitals, PTA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Rotary. So if we call on them, they’ll point their finger at us and say, “I’ve gotten involved with that volunteer ambulance crew. I’m a dispatcher on Sunday mornings. You know, we really help people now.” That’s a skunk speaking.

Another set of dropouts experiences a different emotion: hopelessness. It’s the antithesis of helplessness. It’s the sense of being incapable of generating any inner motivation. As a result, these people withdraw and become inactive. We call them turtles.

Turtles have incredible power to hook other people’s guilt. A turtle’s cry for help might sound like this: “I’m sure you could get Mrs. Green to teach the class. She would do a much better job than I could.” The turtle drops out, waits six to eight weeks, and seals off the pain, much like the skunk. But turtles point the blame internally, toward themselves.

Whether it’s the skunks’ spray or the turtles’ timidity, the various cries for help can be addressed.

Pain – listening
So what do we do for these people? We need to teach ourselves and our lay people to hear the pain of inactive people. It helps, too, if we learn how to intervene in the stages leading to inactivity, before the people disappear.

When we call on an inactive family, or one heading that direction, chances are strong we’re going to have to deal with anger. The turtles’ anger will make us feel guilty, and the skunks’ anger will make us mad. Since calling on an inactive member is often painful, it’s easy to enter a cycle: People leave because they’re angry; I’m angry because they left; I punish them by letting them sit in their pain; they punish me by not coming back.

5. Holding Pattern.

This lasts from six to eight weeks. During this time, they are breaking emotional ties with the folks at the church. They are waiting to see if anyone from the church will call on them. If no one comes during the holding period, then they begin to reinvest their time and energy in other organizations and clubs. Camping, or other family outings, especially on weekends, seems to become a favorite pastime of the inactive member.

6. Out the back door.

The active member has now made the journey out of the church and no longer attends or takes interest in the congregation to which he/she once gave much time and effort.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2018 in Church, Encouragement

 

The Day the Angels Sang to Mother


     One day, a young Mother set her foot on the path of life. She was excited and thrilled by what laid ahead of her. Curious, though, by her mysterious journey, she asked her Guardian Angel, “Is the journey long and difficult?”

     Her Guardian Angel replied: “Yes, and at times the journey will seem hard and burdensome. But remember this, no matter how tough it gets, you’ll discover that everything will work out for the best if you have faith in the Almighty One. Trust me, the end will be better than the beginning.”

     The young Mother was happy, and she did not believe that anything could be better or more special 1 Peter 1:12 (34 kb)than these years. So she played with her children, and gathered flowers for them along the way. Life was good during these early years since the sun always casted its radiance on them. Because of this, the young Mother rejoiced and said, “Nothing will ever be lovelier than these years.”

     Then night came and a violent gathered. Both the wind and the rain drenched them. In no time, the children were trembling with fear and terror. Concerned about their safety, the Mother immediately drew them close to her bosom and tenderly covered them with her mantle. Comforted, the children said, “Mother, we are no longer afraid, for you are near. No harm can touch us now.” The Mother then took a deep sigh and said, “This is better than the brightness of day, for I have taught my children the value of trust and courage.”

     Eventually morning arrived. At the break of dawn, they all saw a rocky hill ahead. The children decided to climb it, but quickly grew weary. The Mother too was weary, but she repeatedly encouraged her children saying, “A little more effort and patience, for we’re almost there.” So the children continued to climb the hill — even when they slipped and fell along the rugged path. When they finally reached the top, they triumphantly cheered, “We couldn’t have done it without you, Mother, and now we know that we can overcome any mountain that comes along our way.” That night, the Mother raised her tired eyes to Heaven and thanked God saying, “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned endurance and hope in the face of hardships.”

     The next day, strange clouds came which darkened the earth — clouds of war, hatred, and evil. Overwhelmed by these threatening clouds, the Mother and her children staggered and stumbled. Fortunately, though, the Mother remembered what her Guardian Angel told her. Therefore, she inspired her children saying, “Have faith, my beloved ones. Lift your eyes to the Light, for the Light will bring forth sunshine in the midst of this dreadful darkness.” So the children looked to the Light, and saw an Everlasting Friend above the clouds. The Everlasting Friend guided them, and successfully brought them beyond the horrifying evil. That evening, the Mother wept and said, “This is the best day of all, for I have taught my children to love God.”

     And the days went by. The weeks, the months, and the years took their natural course. The day, however, finally came when the Mother grew old. By now, she was tired, wrinkled, and weak. But her children were tall and strong, and walked with courage. Indeed, when the road was hard, they helped their Mother. When the road was rough, they lifted her. And when the road was too painful, they carried her.

     Ultimately, though, the day came when the Mother and her children arrived at a forest. Beyond the forest, they could see a sparkling trail which led them to some gates that were made of diamonds and pearls. The golden brilliance of this Gate was majestic and breathtaking. At the other side of the Gate, there were some people dressed in white robes.

     With a smile on their faces, they beckoned the Mother to walk through the Gates. Upon seeing the wondrous Gate, the Mother said: “I have successfully reached the end of my journey. My Guardian Angel was right, for now I know that the end is better than the beginning. Indeed, my children can walk alone, and their children after them.” The children then turned to her and declared, “You’ll always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the Gates.”

     Soon thereafter, the children watched her as she walked through the Gates of Eternal Life. When the Mother finally made it through the Gates, the children suddenly heard a heavenly chorus. Unlike anything heard on earth, the chorus sang extravagant songs of praise and admiration in honor of the Mother. The children wept when they heard the songs because they were so grateful for their Mother. At last, though, they were forced to smile and say, “We cannot see her, but she is still with us. A Mother like ours is more than a loving memory. She is a living Presence for all eternity.” It was a day never to be forgotten because it was the day the angels sang to Mother….Unknown Author.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2018 in Encouragement

 

A Strong Desire Toward Excellence: “Good enough” is not good enough


In keeping with the biblical goal of spiritual growth and greater levels of maturity, we often find in Scripture the call to abound or excel in Christian character, especially in the various ways we can express love to one another. Spiritual maturity is a quest for character for which there will be little progress without the pursuit of excellence.

Without pursuing excellence, life will remain bland, very vanilla, lukewarm at best (see Rev. 3:15-16). The quest for excellence fuels our fire and keeps us from just drifting downstream gathering debris. This focus and need becomes quickly evident from the following verses.

Hebrews 13:5 (230 kb)(Ecclesiastes 9:10)  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

 (1 Corinthians 10:31)  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

 (2 Corinthians 8:7)  But just as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us –see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

 (Philippians 1:9-10)  And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, {10} so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,

 (1 Thessalonians 3:12)  May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

 (1 Thessalonians 4:1)  Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

 (1 Thessalonians 4:10)  And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

From these verses, it should be clear that God wants His people to abound or excel in both what they are (inward character) and in what they do (behavior or good deeds). It would seem obvious that there is simply no way one can love God with all his heart (Matt. 23:37) without seeking to do his or her best to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Since that is so, the pursuit of excellence is both a goal and a mark of spiritual maturity. However, for this to be true, the pursuit of excellence must be motivated by the right values, priorities, and motives. If we go astray here, the pursuit of excellence can quickly become a mark of immaturity and just another result of man’s obsession with his own significance, which, as mentioned previously, is a perilous pursuit.

It is known that Admiral Hyman G. Rickover’s interviews were legendary and one of the reasons is he always wanted to cut through the glib and rehearsed answers to get a look at the person underneath. He especially wanted to know how candidates would act under stress. On occasion he had them sit in a chair with the front legs sawed off an inch or two shorter than the back, to keep them off-balance. In his autobiography Why Not the Best?, President Jimmy Carter tells about his Rickover interview.

The admiral asked how he had stood in his class at the NavalAcademy. “I swelled my chest with pride and answered, ‘Sir, I stood 59th in a class of 820!’ I sat back to wait for the congratulations. Instead came the question: ‘Did you do your best?’ I started to say, ‘Yes, sir,’ but I remembered who this was. I gulped and admitted, ‘No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.’ He looked at me for a long time, and then asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget—or to answer. He said, ‘Why not?”[1]

Because of who Christians are in Christ, because of our eternal hope, and because of the enabling grace of God available to all believers in Christ,  seeking to do our best and choosing what is best is part of God’s will and an evidence of genuine spiritual growth and maturity. However, there is one distinction that needs to be stressed up front.

As Edwin Bliss once said, “The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is frustrating, neurotic, and a terrible waste of time.”[2] As finite human beings, none of us ever arrive, as they say, and there will always be room for growth and improvement.

(Philippians 3:12-14)  “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. {13} Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, {14} I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

While this reality should never promote negligence or apathy or slothfulness, and while we should seek to grow, mature, and do our best, understanding this reality should help us all relax and rejoice in the Lord.

Pursuing Excellence is not to be a Quest for Superiority

In the first definition in The American Heritage Dictionary, excellence is defined as “The state, quality, or condition of excelling; superiority.[3] The word excel is defined as, “to do or be better than; surpass; to show superiority, surpass others.” Then under the word excel, the following terms are listed and explained as synonyms for excel.

The words excel, surpass, exceed, transcend, outdo, outstrip all suggest the concept of  going beyond a limit or standard.

To excel is to be preeminent (excels at figure skating) or to be or perform at a level higher than that of another or others (excelled her father as a lawyer).

To surpass another is to be superior in performance, quality, or degree: is surpassed by few as a debater; happiness that surpassed description.

Exceed can refer to being superior, as in quality (an invention that exceeds all others in ingenuity), to being greater than another, as in degree or quantity (a salary exceeding 50 thousand dollars a year), and to going beyond a proper limit (exceed one’s authority; exceed a speed limit).

Transcend often implies the attainment of a level so high that comparison is hardly possible: Great art transcends mere rules of composition.

To outdo is to excel in doing or performing: didn’t want to be outdone in generosity.

Outstrip is often interchangeable with outdo but strongly suggests leaving another behind, as in a contest: It is a case of the student outstripping the teacher.[4]

Competition or being better than others is a prominent part of the above definitions. But when we think of the pursuit of excellence from a biblical standpoint, is that what is meant? No! As the above terms and their explanations suggest, those who approach or look at life from the viewpoint of the world typically think in terms of competition, of outstripping others, but such is usually done for one’s own glory or significance or for the praise or applause of men.

Brian Harbour picks up on this issue in Rising Above the Crowd: “Success means being the best. Excellence means being your best. Success, to many, means being better than everyone else. Excellence means being better tomorrow than you were yesterday. Success means exceeding the achievements of other people. Excellence means matching your practice with your potential.”[5]

Gene Stallings tells of an incident when he was defensive backfield coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Two All-Pro players, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris, were sitting in front of their lockers after playing a tough game against the Washington Redskins. They were still in their uniforms, and their heads were bowed in exhaustion. Waters said to Harris, “By the way Cliff, what was the final score?”[6]

As these men illustrate, excellence isn’t determined by comparing our score or performance to someone else’s. The pursuit of excellence comes from doing our best with what we have to God’s glory and with a view to growing and improving, but not with a view to the score or who is watching from man’s standpoint.

So then, biblically speaking, the pursuit of excellence refers to pursuing and doing the best we can with the gifts and abilities God gives, giving our best to the glory of God. But ideally, it is done without the spirit of competition or seeking to excel simply to be better than others.

Excellence includes doing common, everyday things, but in very uncommon ways regardless of whether people are watching. The reality is that God sees our work and rewards us accordingly (1 Corinthians 15:58)  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”).

Pursuing Excellence Is a Matter of Choosing the Best

The pursuit of excellence is never a matter of simply choosing between what is good or bad, but of choosing what is best or superior because it will better enable us to accomplish what God has designed us to be and do (Ephesians 2:10)  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

 (Philippians 1:9)  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,”).

In keeping with the fact that all believers are to abound or excel in the expression of Christian love, the apostle prayed that the Philippians my have greater knowledge and every kind of discernment. But in order to excel in love and wisely express it, they needed to be able “to approve the things that are excellent” (NASB) or choose what is best (my translation).

The term “approve” or “choose” is the Greek dokimazo„, which carries two ideas. First, it means “to put to the test, examine,” and then as a result of the examination or testing, “to approve, make the right choice.” Through the values and priorities that come from the knowledge of God’s Word, we are to examine and test, and then choose accordingly.

What is to be chosen is explained by the words “the things that are excellent” (NASB) or “what is best” (NET). The Greek word here is a present neuter participle from diaphero„, which means in this context, “the things differing, but in accordance with what is best,” i.e., the best or what is excellent.

The pursuit of excellence from a biblical world view is always connected with the issue of God’s values and priorities. This means the pursuit of  excellence must include the elimination of some things even though they may be good and legitimate. The principle is are they the best and will they get in the way or hinder the main objectives of a Christian’s life based on biblical principles and values? If so, they need to be eliminated.

We see this truth in Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (see also 1 Cor. 6:12).  Just because they are legitimate does not mean they should be chosen or pursued.

Film-maker Walt Disney was ruthless in cutting anything that got in the way of a story’s pacing. Ward Kimball, one of the animators for Snow White, recalls working 240 days on a 4-1/2 minute sequence in which the dwarfs made soup for Snow White and almost destroyed the kitchen in the process. Disney thought it funny, but he decided the scene stopped the flow of the picture, so out it went.

When the film of our lives is shown, will it be as great as it might be? A lot will depend on the multitude of ‘good’ things we decided to eliminate to make way for the great things God wants to do through us.[8]

 Pursuing Excellence is an All-Inclusive Pursuit

Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going (Eccl. 9:10).

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Both of these passages point us to the all-inclusive nature of the pursuit of excellence. The words, “whatever your hand finds to do” and “whatever you do” point to the importance of doing our very best in everything we do.

The preacher of Ecclesiastes teaches us that apart from faith in God and living one’s life for Him, life is empty and futile. But this does not mean that men should therefore have a supine attitude by which one simply drifts along since nothing really matters because it does. Life is full of opportunities and there is work to be done.

This means that the strength and abilities we have are to be used to take advantage of the opportunities God gives us as they lie in the scope of our gifts, strength, His leading, and our responsibilities.

Besides encouraging his readers to enjoy life as God enabled them, Solomon also encouraged them to work diligently. The idiom whatever your hand finds to do means “whatever you are able to do” (cf. 1 Sam. 10:7).[9]

If it is a task worth doing, it is a task worth doing right and diligently.

Perhaps it might be worthwhile to make a list of as many areas as we can think of where the pursuit of excellence should touch and change our lives. Be specific! Are there any areas or tasks that I have not really taken seriously and I need to work on? Scripture says, “whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). This would mean our occupation, ministries, family, hobbies, recreation, etc.

Pursuing Excellence Is a Matter of a Whole-Hearted Endeavor

Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going (Eccl. 9:10).

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:4-5).

Jesus said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment (Matt. 23:37-38).

These three passages also point us to the importance of whole-hearted endeavor in whatever we do as Christians. But even more basic than that, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 23:37 teach us that pursuing excellence is a matter of the heart, of the inner person and proceeds from a inner faith/relationship with God. Scripture clearly teaches the real issues of life are spiritual and are really matters of the heart, the inner man.

Maybe it’s for this reason the word “heart” is found 802 times in the NASB, 830 in the KJV, 837 in the NKJV and 570 in the NIV. Heart is one of the most commonly used words of the Bible and  most of these occurrences are used metaphorically of the inner person.

When so used, they refer to either the mind, the emotions, the will, to the sinful nature, or inclusively to the total inner person. Thus, the term heart speaks of the inner person and the spiritual life as the seat and center of all that proceeds from a person’s life. Like the physical pump, the spiritual heart is central and vital to who we are and how we live.

Both Solomon and the Lord Jesus teach us that the issues of life proceed from the heart (Pr. 4:23; Matt. 6:21; 12:34; 15:18). What we do in word and deed is first of all a product of what we are on the inside from the standpoint of what we truly believe and how we think.

This is easily illustrated by the Lord Jesus in His teaching in the sermon on the mount. There He spoke strongly against the mere external and performance-oriented hypocrisy of the religious Pharisees. Importantly, in Matthew 5:17-48, no less than six times, He contrasted the external teaching of the Pharisees with His own teaching which stressed the inner life. Note the following statements:

· “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 21-22)

· “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 27-28)

· “It was said … but I say to you …” (vss. 31-32)

·  “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 33-34)

·         “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 38-38)

·         “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 43-44)

What was the Lord seeking to communicate? He was reminding the people of the moral precepts they had been taught by their religious leaders for years, precepts which often had their source in the Old Testament Scriptures.

But then, with the words, “but I say to you,” He addressed those same issues again as being first and foremost matters of the heart. This and only this is authentic Christianity and reveals an intimate walk with God by faith. Anything else is nothing more than religious hypocrisy and will fail to pursue excellence, at least from the right motives.

Because of the central place and importance of the heart in all we do, which naturally includes the pursuit of excellence, it would be well to think a moment about some issues concerning the heart as it applies to doing our best for the glory of the Lord.[10] By itself, the heart is not a safe haven. It needs guarding or protection from invasion by the world system around us and from the sinful nature that dwells within us.

In Proverbs 4:23, Solomon wrote, “More than any act of guarding, guard your heart, for from it are the sources of life” (NET).

The heart needs special care because the heart, which includes the mind, the emotions, and will, is the place where we deposit the knowledge of God or biblical wisdom; it is the place of our values (Matt. 6:21) and priorities and where vital choices are made. Thus, it becomes the wellspring, the source of whatever affects life and character (see Mt 12:35; 15:19).

Chuck Swindoll has a good word here: ”Relentlessly, we struggle for survival, knowing that any one of those strikes can hit the target and spread poison that can immobilize and paralyze, rendering us ineffective. And what exactly is that target? The heart. That’s what the Bible calls it. Our inner person. Down deep, where hope is born, where decisions are made, where commitment is strengthened, where truth is stored, mainly where character (the stuff that gives us depth and makes us wise) is formed. . .

“The quest for character requires that certain things be kept in the heart as well as kept from the heart. An unguarded heart spells disaster. A well-guarded heart means survival. If you hope to survive the jungle, overcoming each treacherous attack, you’ll have to guard your heart.”[11]

Indeed, the heart needs guarding. We need to place a sentinel over the heart because it is the storehouse for the treasures that lead to the formation of Christ-like character. But these treasure can be stolen by the variegated deceptions and temptations of Satan who seeks to seduce us to pursue the lust patterns of destruction like power, prestige, pleasure, possessions, fortune and fame and always at the expense of the pursuit of excellence and godly character.

In keeping with the idea of excelling, the pursuit of excellence naturally works against a half-hearted, drift along or go-with-the-flow kind of mentality. As Ecclesiastes 9:10 shows, to do our best requires doing it with all our might.

In keeping with the rest of Scripture, this means “with all the ability and strength that God gives us.” And, as Matthew 23:37 and Deuteronomy 6:5 teach us, pursuing excellence is a matter of giving the whole heart. But this does not mean there is no place for leisure or rest and relaxation.

A certain amount of rest and relaxation is essential to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It is not only okay to relax, but it is essential as long as it is kept in the scheme of its purpose and not used as an excuse for laziness and irresponsibility. The goal is to enhance our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Strangely, however, in our workaholic society many people, and this include a lot of Christians, get their sense of identity and significance from work and a busy schedule. They often give their all, but for selfish reasons—the pursuit of position, praise, or significance. Some Christians even promote the idea that you really aren’t living for the Lord unless your are “overcommitted, hassled, grim-faced, tight-lipped believers… plowing through responsibilities like an overloaded freight train under a full head of steam…”[12]

Some would view such behavior as a sign of pursuing excellence when in reality, it can become a hindrance because of the debilitating impact on one’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.

Swindoll writes: ”Strangely, the one thing we need is often the last thing we consider. We’ve been programmed to think that fatigue is next to godliness. That the more exhausted we are (and look!), the more committed we are to spiritual things and the more we earn God’s smile of approval. We bury all thoughts of enjoying…for those who are genuinely dedicated Christians are those who work, work, work. And preferably, with great intensity. As a result, we have become a generation of people who worship our work… who work at our play… and who play at our worship.

Hold it! Who wrote that rule? Why have we bought that philosophy? Whatever possessed someone to make such a statement? How did we ever get caught in that maddening undertow?

I challenge you to support it from the Scriptures…

According to Mark 6:30-34, Jesus purposely sought relief from the hurried pace of ministering to others and advised his apostles to do the same.[13]

The pursuit of excellence will mean hard work and diligence which may take on various forms—research, study, time, sweat, planning, brainstorming for ideas, etc. It may well mean swimming against the stream and sometimes navigating the rocky and swift rapids of life. It will often be exhausting and bring us up against that which is really beyond us.

Thus, in keeping with our own shortcomings and weaknesses, the pursuit of excellence in the execution of our daily routine or special projects is something that must be pursued by God’s strength. Such a mentality can be seen in the attitude and actions of the apostle Paul.  As one totally committed to God’s purpose for his life, Paul gave his all to be all God wanted him to be in seeking to bring men to maturity in Christ, but he did so by God’s enablement rather than by his own strength.

 Colossians 1:25-29: “I became a servant of the church according to the stewardship of the grace of God—given to me for you—in order to complete the word of God,  26 that is, the mystery that has been kept hidden from ages and generations, but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim him by instructing and teaching all men with all wisdom so that we may present every man mature in Christ. 29 Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me”

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in Church, Encouragement

 

Doing What We Should: The Keys to Consistency


There are few of us who wouldn’t like to improve the consistency of our obedience. We make what we believe an honest effort to please God, but we find ourselves stumbling and failing to follow our conscience.

We can identify with the pain Paul described in Rom. 7:15-24: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. . . . For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. . . . For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

It is this wretchedness, of course, that originally brought us to the foot of the cross seeking to be saved. Yet having been forgiven of our past sins, we still find ourselves frustrated by failures in our obedience.

John 17:20 (40 kb)Sin is an ongoing reality for us, even as Christians. John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8).

This means that we’ll continue to struggle with sin as long as we live in this world. Try as we may (and as we must), we can’t be perfect. The fact that we’re fallible, however, doesn’t mean that we’re helpless. There is something we can do, and it is simply this: we can improve! We can learn to be more consistent in our obedience. And we simply must not allow ourselves to settle for anything less.

It seems to me that this is a subject of immense importance. Learning how to win crucial victories over sin and actually grow in the consistency of our obedience is, I believe, one of the major challenges before the Lord’s people of our day.

1. Clarifying Our Character.

We won’t make much progress improving our conduct until we see that our conduct is produced by our character. If we frequently find ourselves acting in ways that contradict what we say are our principles, at some point we have to ask whether these really and truly are our principles! We may need to clarify who it is that we really intend to be, and strengthen our commitment to those things that we say are our principles.

2. Keeping Our Vision Clear.

Even when we’re truly and deeply committed to the principles of righteousness, the devil is ingenious in finding ways to distract us and fool us into momentarily forgetting how important certain things are to us. We must learn how, in the hard moments, to remember who we are. We must develop the ability to stop and think. The key to Jesus’ own obedience was His ability to keep clearly focused on who He really was and where He was going. We must look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

 3. Training the Flesh.

If we find that our flesh is too weak to reliably carry our spirit’s instructions, it needs to be strengthened. If it’s been undisciplined for a long time, the flesh is used to doing whatever it wants to do and it will resist being brought into submission to a higher authority. But given time and incremental training, the flesh can be brought into subjection. Paul said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27). The flesh doesn’t have to be the hindrance we’ve let it be in the past. There are specific things we can do to strengthen it. It can, in fact, be trained to be one of our greatest spiritual assets. We can learn to use our bodies rightfully, as instruments through which God is glorified (1 Cor. 6:20).

 4. The Sources of Spiritual Strength.

In moments of specific need, we can’t have available to us the same spiritual strength as the saints of old if we don’t live as they lived in their overall manner of life. There are certain activities that are the means by which spiritual strength and wisdom are acquired, and we must build these “disciplines” into our daily lives. Such things as prayer, study of the Scriptures, worship, meditation, and fellowship with God’s people may seem commonplace, but they are nothing less than the activities through which we become strong in our relationship with God. It’s time that we learned how to look practically at these disciplines as the sources of spiritual growth and strength.

 5. Moment-by-Moment Obedience.

Everything about life and godliness comes down to the peaceful management of the moments that come and go. No one is strong or wise enough to handle at once everything that life can throw at us, and we only discourage ourselves by trying to take a bigger approach to obedience than is possible. The truth is, life comes to us in moments, one at a time, and these individual moments are always manageable. There are many things we can learn to help us manage them more successfully in our obedience to God. It is possible for us to live the same kind of life as Enoch, who “before he was taken . . . had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hb. 12:5).

Obedience to God can never be completely “automatic.” There is no way to eliminate the necessity of choosing obedience in each moment that comes to us. Yes, there are things we can learn that will help us. And yes, we can build up a certain momentum that will tend to keep us moving in the right direction. But granting all these things, it still must be said that individual acts of godliness are choices that we must make.

We won’t always make the right choices, obviously. We can’t be perfect, but we can improve.

(1)    We can improve our character, clarifying what our principles really are and making a more powerful commitment to them.

(2)    We can keep our vision more clear and do a better job of seeing through the devil’s distractions.

(3)    We can, by patient practice, train our flesh to be stronger, so that it is more of an ally and less of an enemy.

(4)    We can practice more of the spiritual disciplines and live an overall style of life that is conducive to spiritual strength.

(5)    We can improve in our management of the moments and become more consistent in our choices.

In short, we can learn to more “pure in heart” (Mt. 5:8).

We can live before our God with a more wholehearted passion for Him and His will. We can be “those who diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6).

And “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,” we can be those who “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:13,14).

Worth Doing “Badly?”

In the Lord’s work, we must be willing to try to do whatever is necessary

 (Luke 16:10)  “”Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

“Humility” sometimes serves as a respectable smokescreen for negligence, laziness, cowardice, and other less-than-honorable characteristics.

(Exodus 3:10-11)  “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” {11} But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?””

 (Exodus 4:10-13)  “Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” {11} The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? {12} Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” {13} But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.””

 (Matthew 25:24-30)  “”Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. {25} So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ {26} “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? {27} Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. {28} “‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. {29} For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. {30} And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

“I can’t” sometimes means little more than “I don’t want to.”

“Someone else can do it better” frequently translates into “I would rather someone else do it, period.”

It is good to have high standards of excellence — but, in the Lord’s work, we cannot afford the luxury of declining to try a worthwhile task merely because we think we cannot do it as well as we would like.

The Lord’s work is that of saving spiritual lives.

In regard to physical life, the first person on the scene of an auto accident would not think of letting persons die in a burning vehicle while he waited for more skilled rescuers to arrive.

There are simply some activities in life where one must always do what one can.

I. “ANYTHING WORTH DOING IS WORTH DOING BADLY”

This remark by G. K. Chesterton contains an important insight.  When a task deserves to be done at all, it deserves a less-than-perfect attempt while we are learning to do the thing better.  In very few of the practical affairs of life is it possible to wait to act until we can act up to the standards of our ideals or those of others.

Most things must be done relatively poorly before they can be done passably well.  Much as our pride might like to find one, there is just no shortcut to competence.  It is practice that makes “perfect,” and the person with no time or inclination to be a beginner for awhile will forfeit the pleasure of ever being anything more than that.

“The shortest cut is usually through.”

“A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault” (John Henry Newman).

 II. THE SHIRKER IS NOT TRULY HUMBLE

This way of looking at life and the Lord’s work does not require that we give up our appreciation of excellence and settle for mediocrity.  It does mean that, in valuable and urgent works like the Lord’s, we must have the true humility to do a mediocre job at first while we are trying to improve our skills.

We may excuse ourselves from our work with “modest” remarks about our abilities, but it is actually pride, not humility, that is holding us back.  We don’t want to be laughed at, or do a job that would look inferior by comparison to someone else’s, etc.

In truth, there is no more proud or self-centered person than the one who will not do anything except what he can “look good” doing.  In the Lord’s work, it is a pity that the doing or not doing of so many things is determined by such considerations of ego.

The truly humble person does not shirk work he needs to be involved in — he swallows his selfish pride enough to make a fool of himself, if need be, in the attempt to do something that is worth his effort.

 III. THE LORD IS LOOKING FOR PEOPLE WHO WILL TRY

As someone has said, “The Lord is not looking for people who can do everything; He is looking for people who will try to do anything.” Cf. Isa. 6:8.

In nearly every congregation, there is a handful of Christians who understand this. These folks are refreshing to all who have the privilege of working with them — they can always be counted on to try, regardless of the nature of the work. They are not always the multi-talented, conspicuously-gifted ones, and they never sound a trumpet before them. But they are workers.

They have placed no restrictions on the nature of the work they are willing to attempt in the service of other people’s souls. Whether we do things in a big or little way, our “sufficiency” is from God.

 (2 Corinthians 3:5)  “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.”

Our quibbles about our “little ability” may place the emphasis in the wrong place!

(Exodus 4:10-11)  “Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” {11} The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

Ironically, it is actually more difficult when we are “strong” to do our work as it should be done – (2 Corinthians 12:10)  “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The Lord is never more pleased than when we do all we can with limited resources

(Mark 12:43-44)  “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. {44} They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.””

 (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)  “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. {2} Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. {3} For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, {4} they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. {5} And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”

In all things our attitude must be that of Solomon at his coronation: I am inexperienced, but I will do what I can . . . and God will help.

(1 Kings 3:7-9)  “”Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. {8} Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. {9} So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?””

Most of us need a keener awareness that, after all, the Lord has called us to serve, not to be served.  As servants, we are to be at the beck and call of our Master, ready to be used in whatever way He may need us — without regard to whether our efforts may suffer by comparison to someone else’s.

If what our Master needs is something we can only do badly at present, then the Master’s work is worth doing “badly.”

If we are not faithful in the “least” amounts of ability, would we be in “much”?

(Matthew 25:23)  “”His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'”

 (Luke 16:10)  “”Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2018 in Encouragement

 

Lack of Spiritual Health


We are always looking for someone else to blame for our lack of spiritual health.

A woman’s husband had been slipping in and out of a coma for several months, yet she’d stayed by his bedside every single day. One day, when he came to, he motioned for her to come nearer

As she sat by him, he whispered, eyes full of tears, “You know what? You have been with me all through the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you stayed right here. When my health started failing, you were still by my side ….You know what?”

“What dear?” She gently asked, smiling as her heart began to fill with warmth.

His reply: “I think you’re bad luck.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Faithful Feelings: Doing Emotions God’s Way – Giving Thanks When You Don’t Feel Like It



9780825425424It should go without saying that Christians are commanded to give thanks.

(1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV) 18  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Ephesians 5:20 (ESV) 20  giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But this is where the rub comes. Even in those times when we should feel like giving thanks we can neglect to do so because of our own sin:

Deuteronomy 6:10-12 (ESV) 10  “And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11  and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12  then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Such forgetfulness can have serious consequences:

Deuteronomy 28:47-48 (ESV) 47  Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48  therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.

 

Romans 1:20-21 (ESV) 20  For his 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. 21  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 

But these commands to continually give thanks become even more problematic to us on those occasions when God’s blessing is not immediately apparent. To take an extreme example, how can we give thanks when we read that a terrorist group has just attacked a Christian school and kidnapped several hundred school girls?

How do the Scriptures enable us to think biblically and thus to thank God when such an atrocity or tragedy occurs? The answer is much more complex than what will be suggested in the next few sentences; but let us at least make a start by pointing out how biblical thinking responds to the evils of this world.

First, we can thank God that the Bible squares with reality, so that the atrocities of this world should not come as a surprise to us (so-called prosperity preachers will struggle here). 

The Bible begins with the creation of a perfect world, but by the third chapter it is describing the fall of man and its devastating repercussions for the world in which we live; affirmed over and over again.

Romans 8:18-25 (ESV) 18  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Man’s sin is never minimized, as we see in Romans 3:10-18 (ESV) 10  as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11  no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13  “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15  “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16  in their paths are ruin and misery, 17  and the way of peace they have not known.” 18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

What we see going on in the world is what we should expect from reading the Bible. An accurate diagnosis is foundational to an adequate remedy, and for the Bible’s accurate diagnosis we can give thanks.

Second, we can give thanks to God for revealing to us that our sin and the brokenness of our world is not something that we can remedy.how_do_you_feel_chart-final

Romans 3:19-20 (ESV) 19  Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin

Third, we can give thanks to God because He provided the solution for our sin and its disastrous consequences.

(Romans 3:21-26 (ESV) 21  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Titus 3:3-7 (ESV) 3  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

God sent His Son into this world as the perfect God-man, who died in the sinner’s place, bearing the penalty for his sin. In exchange for our sin and condemnation He offers us His righteousness and the gift of eternal life. Jesus is the cure for the consequences of sin for all who will receive His gift of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV) 17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Fourth, we can give thanks that Jesus is coming to this earth once again, this time to punish evil doers, to put away sin, and to establish a kingdom in which righteousness dwells.

2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 (ESV) 6  since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7  and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8  in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10  when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

Fifth, we can give thanks that God is sovereign over all creation, and over all heavenly and earthly powers

John 16:11 (ESV) 11  concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV) 13  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Sixth, we can give thanks that our God is a God who “causes all things to work together for good.”

Romans 8:28 (ESV) 28  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.) and thus He even uses the sinful acts of men to ultimately achieve His good and perfect purposes. 

We see that with the sins of Joseph’s brothers.

 (Genesis 50:20 (ESV) 20  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Seventh, we can give thanks that our God is mindful of the sufferings of those who are innocent, and that He will always do that which is right.

(Genesis 18:25 (ESV) 25  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

God’s wrath abides on those who are stumbling blocks to “little ones”

Matthew 18:5-7 (ESV) 5  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7  “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

Eighth, we can give thanks that our struggles with the success of the wicked is one with which other saints have wrestled.

Psalm 73:1-28 (ESV)  Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2  But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3  For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4  For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. 5  They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

10  Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. 11  And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” 12  Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

13  All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14  For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

16  But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, 17  until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. 18  Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. 19  How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!

20  Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. 21  When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, 22  I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. 23  Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25  Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27  For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28  But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

This give us instruction as to how we should handle our adversities.

Ninth, we can give thanks for the character of our God, which assures us of His mercy and kind intentions, and informs us that His desire is that men be saved, rather than to face eternal judgment.

Exodus 34:6-7 (ESV) 6  The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Ezekiel 18:23 (ESV) 23  Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)  9  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2018 in Encouragement

 

Faithful Feelings: Doing Emotions God’s Way – The Challenge of Disappointment


9780825425424How do Christians deal with disappointment created by other Christians? We live in a society filled with cynicism, ready to criticize anything or anyone. Our society tells us to think the worst and expect it to happen in every situation. A common response: “That is what I expected!” In our democracy, we do not fear finding fault with anyone.

A man or woman assembles with the congregation “every time the door is open.” However, he or she lives a double life–one being quite evil, and one being quite good. The details of the double life become common knowledge. A consequence: we interpret all difficult circumstances in all troubled members’ lives as evidence of double lives.

A Bible teacher yields to temptation. A consequence: we decide all Bible teachers are especially prone to temptation.

A deacon has an affair. A consequence: we think all deacons are looking for opportunities for affairs.

A treasurer financially defrauds a congregation. A consequence: we think a quality of all treasurers is a love for money that is greater than a love for people.

An elder abuses his position for personal benefit. A consequence: we assume all elders are elders for “the wrong reason.”

Thus, many Christians ask, “What is wrong with us? We seem to be like an army who aims its guns on itself. When we have no pressing enemy, we shoot ourselves. We seem well trained to destroy, but have far too little motive to encourage.

Is Christianity by nature destructive? Is it a part of Christianity’s character to find its joy in destroying instead of encouraging?”

There are many reasons for congregations to be internally destructive, not merely one. One of those reasons that cries out for understanding is this: humans are spiritually weak.

Trusting humans commonly will lead to disappointment. Our faith always must be in Jesus Christ (the Savior), not in congregations (the saved).

The New Testament constantly urges people to place their faith in Jesus Christ.

When Peter spoke to the council after his and John’s arrest, he said in Acts 4:8-12 (NIV)
8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11  He is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone’. 12  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Only Jesus is:

  • The promised fulfillment of God’s determination to bring salvation to the world.
  • The only one through whom salvation is available.
  • The Son of God.
  • The only one in whom there is no condemnation.
  • The only sacrifice from God for the sins of all.
  • The only one in whom there is no favoritism.
  • The only one who can protect us through the living hope.
  • The only one who can grant us entrance into the eternal kingdom.
  • The real one sent from God to be Savior.
  • The only one who can give us the mercy we must have.
  • The only one who can take us to God.

Humans in Christ never stop being humans in this life.

As humans:

  • We always are able to be tempted.
  • We always have choices we must make.
  • We always are limited in our knowledge.
  • We always are capable of being emotional reactors instead of purposeful decision makers.
  • Humans make mistakes, and being in Christ does not eliminate our ability to make mistakes.

Never give a Christian what belongs to Jesus Christ alone.

  • Never give a human the kind of loyalty that belongs only to Jesus.
  • Never give a human the kind of devotion that belongs only to Jesus.
  • Never give a human the kind of appreciation that belongs only to Jesus.

What Isaiah Saw  — Isaiah 6:1-13

Isaiah did not begin his book with an account of his call to ministry. This he gives in chapter 6, where we’ll look today. Instead, he started with a probing examination of Judah’s present situation and gave a passionate plea for God’s people to return to the Lord.

Crisis and change often bring people to times of disappointment, self-examination and reflection and, hopefully, prayer. It was just such a time for young Isaiah when he went to the temple to pray.

King Uzziah’s reign had begun with such promise; for some 52 years he had been guided by God’s will…but unfortunately, pride overtook Uzziah and he presumed to do, in the temple, what was forbidden. He was struck with leprosy and he died, not in the palace, but the leper ward.

Isaiah was in turmoil: what is going to happen to Judah?

Any crisis, even a small one, can be an opportunity for a fresh vision of God. If we consider what Isaiah saw, it might help our spiritual eyesight. Like Isaiah, we can find new inspiration and renewed commitment.

Isaiah saw his Lord (upward look verses 1-4): It was a time of reverence.

He needed to see God. He had placed so much confidence in a visible king that he had previously felt little need to reach out to the invisible king. He saw God in all His majesty; God was “high and exalted.” He saw God in His power: “The train of his robe filled the temple.”

And notice the angels saw “the while earth is full of his glory.” They knew what Isaiah did not feel.

He was made to realize again that God is on His throne. He saw his circumstances from God’s perspective, not his own.

He also saw God in His holiness. The seraphs, covered in humility, sing “Holy, holy, holy.” The seraphs’ song underscores the fact that we have a holy God. In our desire to stress the love of God, we should never rob Him of His awesomeness.

Isaiah saw his sin (inward look verses 5-6): It was a time of repentance.

It should be a natural occurrence that when we see God, we truly see ourselves. This is a natural reaction after coming to terms with the holiness of God. When we capture a vision of God, we must be willing to see ourselves as we really are, even if it grieves us.

It is a refreshing thing to see that Isaiah mentioned his own sin before he mentioned the sin of the people. Isaiah saw his own sin and said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

Isaiah saw his cleansing (verse 7) It was a time of restoration.

-God did not deny Isaiah’s sinfulness, but he did provide an escape. A seraph took a coal from the altar, where the sacrifice for sin was made, and seared Isaiah’s lips, sterilizing them.  There was no reason for Isaiah to continue to feel unworthy. He had been made pure.

Satan specializes is the game of guilt. He works on our individual desires to move us toward sin…and then points his finger at us and reminds of what we’ve done.

What is offered to us? (Acts 2:38 NIV)  “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

(Heb 10:19-22 NIV)  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, {20} by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, {21} and since we have a great priest over the house of God, {22} let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

Rabbis called this the “13 Attributes” because it spoke so fully of the character of God: (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV)  “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, {7} maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.””

Sins of fathers and sons? (Deut. 24:16 NIV)  “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”

(Ezek 18:20 NIV)  “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.”

One more important point: one of the great tragedies we can present is to speak of God’s throne without the awareness of the altar. God is interested in our life and He has provided what we need.

Isaiah saw the need….his mission (verses 8:13): It was a time of recognition. Verses 9-10 are references 6 times in the New Testament. It reminds us that some will not “hear” or “see” and “believe” no matter what is said or done. Some are very persistent in their unwillingness to believe and eventually live in obedience to God.

I have to be true to my training to have us at least read from John 12:38-41: “This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” {39} For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: {40} “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.” {41} Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”

When God says, “Go!” we go. There is no debating. We don’t say, “There he is, send him.” We don’t worry about how the people will respond. Isaiah was warned ahead of time that the people would not respond as they should.

It doesn’t matter what the people do, we must be faithful. God sent the people a message not because they wanted it, but because they needed it.

The message Isaiah would bring his people was the message he had received. There is forgiveness and purpose with God, if you will just turn our life over to His care and authority.

There is change and chaos in the world, but I say to you, “God is still on the throne.” If you doubt it, just look around. He might be closer than you think. Maybe you can say, “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, and that has made all the difference.”

Can this make a difference?

The story has been told of two men who were the sole survivors of a shipwreck. They were afloat on a life raft and after several days had given up any hope of rescue. Finally, one said to the other, “Do you think it would do any good to pray?” The other agreed that nothing could be lost by trying. Neither, however, had ever prayed. Finally, one recalled living next door to a church as a child. He had often heard their mid‑week meetings through an open window. Bowing his head he began to pray, repeating his recollection of the words he had heard uttered in that church so many years ago. His fervent prayer began, “I‑26, B‑15, N‑7. …”

We may smile at this but before we begin to feel too smug there are some who know little when it comes to worship.

I found a statement that seeks to apply the principles we’ve seen today….In the book by Reggie McNeal’s A work of Heart: “God’s Sabbath did not mean a cessation of activity, but a different activity…it is not a day off to pursue whatever fancy is attainable and affordable. Rather, it is a day to restore eternity to our souls….a day of communion and reflection. God established Sabbath to accomplish a re-creation of eternity, a reminder of what is really real….and involves the worship of God and reflection on the work of our hands (what is going on in our lives).

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2018 in counsel, Disciplines, Encouragement

 
 
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