Fear Not and Share Jesus

13 And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17; NKJV)

There are a lot of reasons we might not take an opportunity to share Jesus with others.  It is a very real challenge for all of us who are followers of Jesus.  We put up walls for not sharing with others who have yet to hear or obey the Gospel.  I think if we are honest, fear of rejection or fear of harm can be very real reasons for this.  An opportunity presents itself and we find different reasons for why we didn’t have the courage to act and a lot of times it can be that we are afraid of what others will think of us.

We all want others to think well of us and I believe this is a natural emotion and/or desire and is not inherently bad.  What becomes troublesome is when we put that desire over the desire of God for us to share with others the good news of His Son regardless of the negative outcomes it might create in our relationships or lives.

This letting what others think or fear of harm are not new stumbling blocks for those who follow Jesus.  Peter denied knowing Jesus because of those around him (Matthew 26:69-75). Several followed Jesus while he was on earth, but they did so secretly for fear of others (John 19:38). However, our salvation comes through our willingness to take a public stand for our Lord (Romans 10:9-10). It is unfortunate that some people value their position with men more than their position with God.

When you take stock of your evangelism in the workplace, your neighborhood, with strangers or any other aspect of your life, do you see more missed opportunities than opportunities taken advantage of?  Have you considered why this is?  Could it be you are worrying more about what others might think of you or a temporary discomfort (physically or emotionally) you will face if you share Jesus with them?  I know that I am guilty of these things.  I know that I have missed opportunities because my perspective was on me rather than the soul of another and eternal hope provided by Jesus.

Jesus was severely mistreated and still He fulfilled all His Father gave Him to do.  We, too, will be mistreated for continuing the work Jesus has given us to do but we should not fear man because God is watching over us (Matthew 10:24-31).

Be ready to give an account and a defense for the hope of Jesus in your life.  Know that God is ready to stand with you in this.  God is for us.  God is for them.  Lets focus on God and maybe we can get of our own way and give others the opportunity to get out their own way too.

Don’t be Afraid to Forgive Your Kids

Did you ask God yesterday or today to forgive you for something you knew you shouldn’t have done or have been admonished for doing in the past?  Did you really mean it?  Were your really sorry for what you did and committed to not doing it again?  I know I did.  I know we all find ourselves before our loving, merciful, longsuffering Father knowing we have violated His rules, hurt Him, or strayed from the straight path He has laid out for us.  So what?  Why start here?

I start here because I am not providing this same blessing to my children.  There are probably a lot of reasons for that but as we have been talking about…a lot of times my own insecurity or fear of the trajectory of my kids’ life is taking when considering their actions or decisions.  I want them to be safe…first and foremost spiritually and when I see them going or catch them in the far country, I am guilty of going straight to angry and sometimes that takes away any opportunity for them to say “I’m sorry” or ask for my help.  Certainly, I am expected to discipline my children, but I am not talking about constructively leading my children.  I am talking about being for them what I find in my Abba Father and Elder Brother…graceful, merciful, longsuffering, forgiving, loving, providing security, help…all of the tremendous blessings I have in Jesus.

So that is the thought for today.  How can we better forgive our children so that we can be a positive part of the solution?  Again, we should all endeavor to get ahead of trouble and teach our children to avoid it…but when they don’t…can we forgive them, love them, and take them by the hand as they stand up and get themselves back on the path they should be on?

Jesus demonstrated it.   (I Pet. 2:21; Phil. 2:3-5; Luke 23:34).  Jesus gave us the example.  Our Father forgives us daily.  We have our examples and they are worth following for our own sake and the sake of our children.

We have been forgiven. God, in Christ, has forgiven the sins of the Christian (Eph. 4:32). As Christ has forgiven us, then we should forgive others (Col. 3:13) and our kids need it so that they can feel safe and we might find opportunity to teach them and model a forgiving heart.

We must pattern our forgiveness after the forgiveness God has granted to us. It must be accompanied by actions which befit true forgiveness.  Forgiveness involves a kind attitude—abandoning all animosity and hatred. All bitterness, anger, wrath, clamor and evil speaking should be put away (Eph. 4:31). We can’t hold grudges.  We are the adult.  We have to act it.

We are going to have to forget.  Of course, we are not able to just erase it from our mind, but we can avoid holding our children accountable to something if they have come to use for forgiveness and with a true heart toward not doing it again.  Our forgiveness granted should be the end of the matter and we should assume the best of our kids to do their best moving forward.  God is for us.   He is for them.  We are in this together with our kids and I know forgiving isn’t always the first thing I think to do but when I can get that right I see a softened heart looking for my leadership and that is an awesome opportunity.

Like you, I have spent my children’s entire lives protecting them and providing them every advantage.  In the end, the best advantage they have is a life lived with Jesus.  That is our best advantage and if we are freed up in that security we can stand to forgive and love…just like our Abba Father forgives and loves us.

H-O-P-E

How much of a difference would I make if I demonstrated “hopeful living” in my home?  There are a lot of things I can do as a dad to help my kids but there are a lot of things I can do to hurt them too.

I wonder sometimes…am I hurting them more than helping them?  I say that because sometimes I am led by selfishness…and in that the mistakes or bad choices and emotions associated with them can feel like a burden…and unfortunately my kids might be getting that message.

Or sometimes I am afraid…and that fear comes out in anger…and so my kids think that I am mad at them when really I am just scared of something bad happening to them.

Neither of these are positive and they certainly don’t represent the kind of person I want them to become…selfish or afraid.  So what do I do?

What I should do is live with hope…which is the favorable and confident expectation…having to do with the unseen and the future.  Vine’s defines it as a verb meaning “to trust”.

Hope describes a happy anticipation of good.

God tells us we can live “in hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2)  But what is that hope based on?

Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  Jesus is the object upon which our “hope” is fixed…“the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).

Isn’t this kind of hope the best of things?  And if this kind of hope is the best of things, perhaps hopelessness is the worst of things…“having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12)

With God..in Jesus…there is hope and we are not alone.  In that, we have to take the focus off ourselves and put it on God.  We have to trust that He will not forsake us and will be there for those who search after Him…that means He is there fore our kids too so we don’t have to be afraid but have a hopeful outlook for them in Christ Jesus.

Live with hope and it will make a difference in your life and the lives of your kids.

Take this little memory aid with you…live with hope…and make a difference for Jesus in your home.

HOPE:  Helping – Others – Prepare for – Eternity

Disappointment

Disappointment is inevitable in a sin-cursed world.  Disappointment is all around each of us in our own lives or in the lives of others.  Why is this so?  Why is there such a thing as a “sin-cursed world” and is the disappointment in it necessary?

We see how this all came to be as a result of Adam and Eve rebelling against God and sinned, there were consequences.

To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”  (Genesis 3:16-19; NKJV).

And it is not just man and woman that is affected but creation in its entirety.

For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. (Romans 8:19-22; NKJV).

 Sorrow.  Pain and Suffering.  Sweat or Tears.  Physical Death.  These are the results of sin.  These all certainly sound disappointing if you don’t understand the why of them.  But in understanding the why we know that all of this is intended to drive us to God and His Son.

In doing so, we live today in the context of eternity and we understand that what is going on here is but a moment and the disappointment of this life does not measure up to the tremendous eternal rest and gain in Heaven.

But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”  (Hebrews 11:16; NKJV)

God is in His country which is Heaven.  Heaven is the country to which those who believe and obey the Gospel of Jesus go. We get to see His face!  What we will not see is deception, lies, temptation, sin, suffering, or death.  These things do not exist there!

In knowing this, we can then bring encouragement into the lives around us as they might be experiencing disappointment in this world.  We can demonstrate the great hope we have in Jesus and in our expectant Heavenly home.  We can live in such a way that clearly articulates “there is no disappointment in Heaven” and “I sure would like to help you get there”!

This will shine a light into someone’s life and if they let you help will lighten their load as they go.

Is anything too hard for Me?

In Jeremiah, 32 we find Jeremiah sitting in prison. He has been preaching and warning Judah and her kings for decades. Babylon, led by Nebuchadnezzar, is once again surrounding Jerusalem. This is the third wave of attack brought about by God through the hands of Babylon. During this siege, the whole city and Solomon’s temple will be destroyed and burned to the ground.

While Jeremiah sits in prison for preaching the words of God, he is told by God to buy his relative’s field in Anathoth, bury the purchase agreement and deed in an earthen vessel that it may stay there a long time. Why? Because God was foretelling through a sign that the people of God will one day come back from captivity and buy and sell land in Israel.

This must have sounded like the most impossible thing, especially considering the circumstances in which Jeremiah and the people found themselves. Jeremiah follows with a prayer of praise as he recounts the character and merciful works of God in contrast to Judah’s faithlessness.

But we can see the challenge of faith that Jeremiah is having in this prayer. He admits readily that “nothing is too hard for God” (a statement which God turns around and repeats to him). However, at the end of his prayer, his is really struggling with the concept that God’s people will actually come back to this land.

Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”–though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.'”
(Jeremiah 32:25)

Jeremiah is like, I know you said this Lord, but that sounds like hope and light, and this is the most hopeless and darkest situations we could be in. It is at this point that God takes over the conversation, and replies with:

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?
(Jeremiah 32:26-27)

God told Jeremiah that yes, Judah will be destroyed and rightly so because of their sins and rejection of God. But God will “restore their fortunes” (vs. 44). “For thus says the LORD: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them” (vs. 42).

Trust me, Jeremiah, God is saying. Just as I will bring certain punishment, I will also bring certain hope, restoration and life! Nothing is too hard for God. And this is the the same God we serve today. God is a just God and will punish sinfulness, but He also a God of mercy who seeks to reconcile us to Himself and pour out upon us His blessings (Romans 5). When we are at our most hopeless and darkest places in life we need to remember that.

Nothing is too hard for God.

God’s Family—Mayer Road Case Study

  • Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;  rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality…. (Romans 12: 9-13)
  • rejoice with those who rejoice…weep with those who weep… (Romans 12:15)
  • But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
  • Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing…let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being… (1 Thes 5:11)
  • Bear one another’s burdens(Galatians 6:2)
  •  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Please consider these verses. Each of them have a specific moral issue for which Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to admonish, instruct, and encourage the various brethren receiving them. I do not want to add to or take away from these lessons but want to emphasize these principles as I consider what is happening in Casco, Michigan as Christians come together for one of our own and do what they can to rebuild for one of our own.

Not too long ago, one of our families experienced a profound loss as their barn burnt in the middle of the night with all their equipment and livestock inside. The physical and emotional loss was tremendous and the ramifications are still felt as each of us continue to deal with the loss. This event was enough to burry many families…to cause many individuals to lose hope. That is not how this story ends though!

Though a terrible and fiery loss, what really resulted was God being glorified, His children strengthened, and an opportunity for those outside the faith to see the hope available through Jesus. I can’t emphasize the significance of the good that has been done, is being done and will continue to be done because of all the experiences around this great loss, clean up and rebuilding process. The work is far from done but isn’t that the case for all of us? Don’t we all have profound loss and struggle? Aren’t we all experiencing physical and spiritual struggles?

In all of that, do we do what we must? Do we put our full faith and trust in God’s love and power? Do we share our struggles with each other or create an environment to make it ok to do so? Do we take the time to not only pray for those who are struggling or hurting…but also to rejoice in the happiness, success, and blessings of our most dear brethren? Even if it isn’t as a result of a great struggle conquered…but in a blessed life…do we rejoice?

We are so blessed in one another and what is happening in on Mayer Road this week is another piece of an exceptional example of that…but we can see the same awesome God and Christian family in the everyday goings on in our own lives. Take time and thank God, thank each other and rejoice! We are here for but a short time and times aren’t always going to be easy…but we all share the hope of Heaven and living now within the context of eternity is such a blessed place to be. Living there with like-minded loving brethren makes it even the sweeter. Take a moment, see God’s blessings in His family and thank Him…and hugs always help too…because that right there is what God’s love looks like.  Have a blessed day brothers!

How Can I Keep from Singing?

The point I am considering today and invite you to consider is that of contentment and joyful living and how that makes a huge difference in the lives of those we come in contact with each day.

One of the Shepherds at South Macomb Church of Christ once said to me… “God didn’t promise a smooth flight…He promised a safe landing.” The comment was made in reference to fact this world is tough, our lives will be tough, difficult circumstances will present themselves…BUT…if we cling to our God and Father through our Elder Brother and Savior Jesus Christ…we will one day make it home to be with God forever. That home has no tears, no fears, no sin, no death, no confusion and the list goes on. It is a perfect rest in the place God always intended for us to be…in His presence, in His family, forever.

Though we are not home yet…God is all around us! His glory and power are screaming at us…but we don’t always see it because of all the noise and confusion and suffering in the world. But He is there and if we look, and we consider Him and His promises…how can we not be filled with joy and peace? And if we are filled with this how can we not love and live in such a way that is different and makes those around us take notice? And how powerful is that opportunity when someone asks “How can you be so at peace or so joyful or so loving and so hopeful in a time or place like this?”? That is when the power and love of God that fills us pours out and makes a difference in the world.

Fill yourself up with Him to the point it overflows and others will notice and opportunity will arise for the Gospel. We sow the seed…the increase belongs to God. Go about your day singing and you will be different and you will have opportunity for Christ and in that God will be glorified.

I love you all and appreciate the work you do for the sake of Christ in your homes, in the Church, in the workplace and throughout your everyday experiences. May a song of Jesus fill your heart today and the spill over into the lives of others.

Do Good

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10; NKJV)

 We are empowered to be a change agent for good in all of our relationships. We stand firm on the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and hope of our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ. We have a peace that surpasses all understanding in the tranquility of right relationship with the Great I Am. We are free to love others how He has loved us and God will be at work.

The great spiritual battle rages on around us and I pray we will become stronger in it rather than bitter or beaten down. We will be hurt and tired for sure. We will are all at risk of becoming defeated or bitter even when we feel like our hearts and spirit are at their strongest. Yet we have a choice to not allow the devil even an inch, put on the whole armor of God, and allow the love of God to prevail in our choices.

We focus on the steadfastness of the Lord and not the fickle or hurtful people in our lives.

We choose to see His smiling face rather than the downtrodden or frowning faces we encounter.

We concentrate on the majesty of our God and not the messes we find ourselves or those we care about sinking in.

We love people from a position of strength in our loving, abiding relationship with the Lord.

We are the first to forgive and we forgive often and we sow mercy and grace.

We work to find common ground with those in conflict, reminding ourselves of the relationship we have or desire in Christ…that God wants us all in the Book of Life.

We die to ourselves (Galatians 2:20) and in doing so we die to other people’s criticism AND praise and focus only on the glory of God and its revelation in our relationships in love.

No matter the situation, we cannot sow evil and produce good, sow discord and produce unity, sow lies and produce truth, sow sin and produce holiness. Those around us might not understand this and have no interest in seeing it. But if we do good…if we sow repentance, compassion, love…we can trust that the increase belongs to the Lord (1 Cor 3:7) and He is working.

Remember the Golden Rule.

“…whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them…” (Matthew 7:12; NKJV)

Look for the Golden Result. People might just surprise you and return to you what you have given to them. Do good, be different, be a light, be the reason people ask “why do you behave that way”, be ready to tell them your story about Jesus, and trust God!

The Bridge Builder

An old man, going a lone highway, Came at the evening, cold and gray, To chasm, vast and deep and wide, Through which was flowing a sullen tide. The old man crossed in the twilight dim; The sullen stream had no fears for him; But he turned when safe on the other side, And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near, “You are wasting strength with building here; Your journey will end with the ending day; You never again must pass this way; You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide — Why build you the bridge at the eventide?” The builder lifted his old gray head: “Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said, “There followeth after me today, A youth whose feet must pass this way. This chasm that has been naught to me To that fair-haired youth may a pit-fall be, He, too, must cross in the twilight dim; Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.” Will Allen Dromgoole

I came across this poem during one of my Air Force leadership classes and have kept it and shared with others when the opportunity presented itself. It resonated with me for all kinds of different reasons but today I wanted to share as we think about Choices and Consequences.

In thinking about my children as I write this, there are two things that come to mind in terms of raising them and the choices/consequences in their lives. First, I have always desired that my kids would not have to face the same heartaches and tough patches that I did due to bad decisions or improper focus. Secondly, I am sometimes frustrated, disappointed, and discouraged with the decisions my kids make and the reasoning they offer me when I ask them “why would you do that” or “what were you thinking?

Disappointed or not, what I know to be true in this is that my kids have to live their own life and make their own path. This is a hard thing to accept at times, especially when my kids stand on the brink of disaster or destruction…and I am not being melodramatic here…they don’t know how close they are sometimes to tragedy or how hurtful they are being.

In times like this, I look to my Heavenly Father and I have to believe He feels the same way about me most every day. Knowing that and what He has done and is doing for me puts my mind right for my kids. Though He is the Great I Am and is in need of nothing…He took the time to build a bridge of reconciliation with Him in Jesus. Further, He continues to work in my life to build bridges over perilous chasms in my life and most importantly…no matter how off track I get, the most important Bridge…the one that leads me home…Jesus…is always there. He is my Rock and I have Him because my Heavenly Father gave Him for me and closed the gap of sin because He knew I was going to have to pass that way and I would not get across on my own.

So…for my kids…for you kids, we can’t control their choices and might have to let them live through some pretty tough circumstances when they choose poorly. That doesn’t mean we stop parenting, stop demonstrating Jesus, stop teaching them the truth, stop loving them, or stop believing God is at work. Those are all bridges we need to continue to build…even if we don’t think we have the time or there might not seem a good reason to do so. If we do that, if we choose to build those bridges, then when most needed our kids will have a safe passage they might not otherwise have and if we do our jobs right…they will always have a way back home to us…and most importantly they will recognize their way back home to their Heavenly Father.

Choices Have Consequences

Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, introduces the concept of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. The Circle of Concern is the area that we have no control over. For this discussion, I adapted this concept and changed “Influence” to “Consequences” and “Concern” to “Choice”.

Throughout the Bible we see the concept of the “Law of the Harvest” or the “Law of Sowing and Reaping”. The idea is that in order for us to receive a return we must first take action and put in the work. To build upon this further, we “choose” to work and have control over this aspect of the equation. The “consequence” of those choices is a result and therefore not something we directly control and/or avoid past the choices we make.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7).  This is a cause and effect relationship…there is a reaction to every action…we are free to choose but slave to the consequence. So what? How does it fit with God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, and hope? In what ways will it impact how we live and our relationships with those in our lives?

We should not be of the mind that because God has forgiven us (or others) that all of the negative consequences of our (or others) sins will be washed away. That isn’t how it works. Conversely, if we have negative things happen in our lives, we shouldn’t think that God really hasn’t forgiven us or that He doesn’t really love us because we are suffering.

Forgiveness and consequences are not opposite ends of a spectrum. Together, they establish an essential part of the Lord’s plan for believers. Forgiveness is relational. The Father sent Jesus to make a sacrifice on our behalf, and by so doing reconciled us to Himself. By His mercy alone, we can have communion with the Lord. On the other hand, consequences are circumstantial.  Consider an illustration of this from the cross itself. Christ made it clear that the thief dying with him was completely forgiven (Luke 23:39-43). Yet moments later, the man died an excruciating death. The thief’s sins had been erased in God’s sight because he chose to believe in Jesus, but he suffered the punishment for his crime…the consequence of his previous bad choices.

Consequences from sin are not an indication that a person isn’t saved or that God is angry with the individual. The Lord frequently allows some painful situations to continue so He can teach lessons we would otherwise never learn. Very few things motivate us to give Him our undivided attention like being faced with the cost of our wrong choices. When we draw near to the Lord, He reveals how to respond correctly to painful circumstances. Unprecedented spiritual growth will often result.

We all have scars. Their purpose is not to cause us grief as a daily reminder of our sin, but rather to remind us of how gracious and merciful the Lord is.  He loves us and chooses to work though us despite our past mistakes and wrong choices. Further, as we bear scars from past sins we often become the most effective at leading unbelievers to know Jesus as their Savior.

Our attitude toward negative consequences affects how we relate to our heavenly Father and to others. A negative approach could lead us to become bitter, whereas a positive attitude could bring us to a point of understanding and gratitude for the daily reminders of divine mercy…and how we can have grace with those in our lives. We can view our scars as monuments to God’s grace, or as ongoing punishment.  I encourage you to see them as proof of your spiritual healing and if you do, you will change even when circumstances stay the same.

Rest assured, sinful choices have consequences, if not in this life, then in the next. We are blessed, though, because the principle of reaping and sowing works in a positive way as well: “The one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:8). We can sow good seeds that will turn negative situations into positive ones.

Don’t spend the bulk of your time trying to convince God to remove painful consequences. Try praising Him instead. Receive His blessings, be at peace, sow love, and allow that to change your life and the lives of those you love.

NOTE: Some thoughts taken directly from "Charles Stanley's Handbook for Christian Living" (1996).