Digging a New Channel

We dig channels or trenches to get water going where we want it to go. At home we have a pasture that has a big pond in it in the spring, and I need to have a trench dug this summer so we can better direct that water to the ditch.

I’ve been thinking about channels in our brains. No, I’m not a psychologist, but I know that through a long time of thinking a certain way you can create a channel in your brain where you will lead all future thoughts. That can be bad or good. Paul had learned to rejoice and be content and to see God’s working in all things (Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:11). Where at one time he struggled with covetousness (Romans 7), he learned from God how to direct his thoughts through a new channel, contentment.

It could be that because of a long time lusting, you direct all thoughts through that dirty channel and corrupt any good thing. Paul talked about that as well (Titus 1:15). He also taught that through God’s grace we can be trained “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,” so that we can “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). We can dig a new channel with God’s help that will direct thoughts through a pure and holy channel.

But we also can dig a channel of malice. In our relationships, we can over a period of time look at all the faults and hurts that someone has directed our way, and we can dig a channel that leads any thoughts about that person into a channel that puts the worst construction on him or her. No matter what he or she says or does is run through that channel. Even his or her good deeds and genuine kindness is discolored by going down this trench we’ve created in our minds about them.

In the book of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers created a channel for Joseph. I don’t believe that Joseph did anything to deserve it, but they just could not see a positive thing in him. That channel was so well dug that any good Joseph said or did was taken negatively. It went so far that they could not even speak peaceably to him (Genesis 37:4,11), in fact, they either wanted him dead or gone.

Listen to what Paul taught concerning this:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:29-32)

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Can you relate to this? Have you seen this happen in relationships? Do you need to dig some new channels in your mind? Please consider it prayerfully. Take some time to talk these things over with a godly brother in prayer. God can teach us to direct our thoughts in a holy, loving and godly way. He can help us dig new channels.

You are not far from the kingdom of God

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord 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 mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
(Mark 12:28-34)

Mark 12 records a great deal of the confrontations that the Jewish leadership had with Jesus on that last week before His Crucifixion.

In this section we see a scribe having a moment of honesty and reflection. What did this man understand? He concluded that loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself were the two greatest commands ever. He also understood that doing these two things matters far more than any “sacrifices” we can offer to God.

To which Jesus replies, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” If we all could understand those two greatest commands then we can really get down to the foundation of what God’s kingdom is really all about.

So, for today, let’s apply this concept to our marriages. If we as men have as our foundation the desire to follow these two commands of Jesus, then how will that help our marriages today? Most of our marriage “problems” are not that complicated, most are pretty simple to sort out (once we calm down all our emotions and attitudes!). It usually comes down to in some way we are not following God’s two basic commands. What is marriage all about in the kingdom of God? It is fundamentally built on the two greatest commands. If you love God with all of your being, and if you love your wife as you love yourself, you are building a kingdom marriage.

Is This A Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 3

We continue our consideration of whether Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was a “new” teaching. Were concepts like turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love your neighbor uniquely Christian concepts that were foreign to the Law of Moses? No.

Let’s look into this further.

In the Old Testament, was it okay to hate your enemy? (Matthew 5:43)

Psalm 139 says the Psalmist David hated the enemies of God with perfect hatred. But we have to keep that in context with the rest of the Old Testament. The Psalmist was intensely and passionately opposed to the wicked ways of man and he stood militantly for God’s ways. But look at how David viewed those who mistreated him.

Even David prayed for his enemies:

Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know. They repay me evil for good; my soul is bereft. But I, when they were sick– I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest. I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning. But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered; they gathered together against me; wretches whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing; like profane mockers at a feast, they gnash at me with their teeth. How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!
(Psalms 35:11-17)

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
(Leviticus 19:17-18)

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.
(Exodus 23:4-5)

If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house.
(Proverbs 17:13)

“If I have rejoiced at the ruin of him who hated me, or exulted when evil overtook him (I have not let my mouth sin by asking for his life with a curse),
(Job 31:29-30)

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.
(Proverbs 24:17-18)

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.
(Proverbs 25:21-22; quoted in Romans 12:20-21)

You can see from the Old Testament passages, God (Jesus) expected the Jew to love his enemies, to pray for them, to do good for them and to bless them. Jesus was not introducing a new standard of conduct that He did not always expect from His people.

More to come later..

Is This A Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 1

Is This A Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 2

Getting the cake out of the oven

A little while back, I wrote about extroverts, and I forgot to follow up about the introverts. They are not off the hook! There are those who say too much, and there are others who do not say enough. The introverts need to remember that Solomon said there is “a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3).

When Joseph and I met with a career counselor a couple of years back, he had Joseph go through a personality assessment. For kicks, I went through it too. No surprise, Joseph was slightly on the introvert side, and I was fully on the extrovert side with an “extra” vert on it.

Here is the quick word picture that the career coach shared with us. The extrovert gives you all the ingredients to the cake and expects you to make it, while the introvert presents you with a completed cake. We extroverts talk to think, so we spew out a lot of ideas that are all over the board as we are trying to think things through. This is a nightmare to the introvert.

On the other hand, the introvert is so silent sometimes that it drives the extrovert crazy because we are thriving on an exchange of ideas. And here is the point that the career coach made about introverts:

Sometimes you have to get the cake out of the oven! The introvert needs to be given time to get all those ingredients together for the cake, but there is a reasonable expectation in a relationship for that introvert to sit down and communicate those ideas. And the extrovert has to be committed to actually listen and absorb without butting in and answering every statement along the way.

I remember another example in Columbus, Ohio when we were working with the West Broad congregation. A brother there named John was the same age as me. He had the engineering mindset, and you could see him in a Bible class with his wheels just turning and thinking. Near the end of class, he would offer a comment (not 10 or 15 comments, just one). That comment would just blow us away, it was full of depth and understanding. One time were were driving together and I said something about it, and he responded kindly, “I’m not like you, Aaron, I don’t have to say everything to comes to mind.” Well, ouch, he was right, but that truly paints the difference between the extrovert and introvert. Sometimes the extrovert needs to be quiet and allow time for the introvert to get the opportunity and courage to speak. Those introverts have a lot of great ideas to share, and they need to share them!

This seems to be a pattern in my relationships, because it makes me remember another example of when I was at Purdue. A fellow college student, Phil, who went to church with me was an introvert as well. We were walking on campus one time, and I said to him, “Phil, I wish I could be more like you and not talk so much.” Phil responded, “I wish I could be like you and talk more!”

Amen. We all have different personalities, strengths, and blessings, and we help round each other out. We learn from each other. I may help you to talk more, and you may help me (with a lot of patience) to talk less.

So, introverts, get the cake out of the oven. We need you to speak.

 

Love Your Neighbor

I just finished talking to my neighbor across the street. What a good man. His father, who lived in the house next to him, recently passed away. The family put the house up for sale recently, and they quickly received lots of bids. My neighbor was going through the family’s thought process as they talked through the various bids.

What I absolutely loved about hearing this was that money and top price was not the issue. They were more concerned with who was going to live there and what that would mean for others. The character (not race or creed) of the people buying the house is what mattered. Some bidders were apparently either dishonest or very rude, and that weighed heavily on their consideration.

It just impressed me that this family came together and discussed this matter not based on the best price, but they also considered their neighbors who would be affected as well. That is truly being a good neighbor. This is part of looking down the road to see where certain choices may end up affecting others. It may mean sacrificing a few bucks in the short term but in the end the right decision is worth more than any dollar amount.

Proverbs 3:29 – Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you.

What Do You Have When the Gifts Go Away?

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

Love never ends, but the gifts will go away. Paul was seeking to show them a better and more excellent way, the way of love (1 Corinthians 12:31). The miraculous spiritual gifts that these brethren possessed would one day fade away. They were all in part, but the perfect word of God when completed would bring their gifts to fulfillment and would pass away. As we have the perfect completed word of God, we have no need of prophecy, tongues and miraculous knowledge. Those gifts all were part of bringing the whole revealed word to completion.

Paul’s illustration of the transition of a child into manhood helps explain the usefulness of those miraculous spiritual gifts during the infancy of the church. They didn’t have Matthew through Revelation, but now we do, and now every person can look into the perfect law of liberty (James 1:23-25). We can look into the mirror of the word and see plainly face to face the image of Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit that word can transform us into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So, the things that these brethren in Corinth were so focused on were temporary and were going to fade away. What they were not focused on was the love that never ends. They are not any different than you and me are they?

What do you have when the gifts and talents go away? If the things that you have that you really hold dear are taken away, what do you have left? Some have great looks, others have charm. Some are really financially savvy, and others are great working with their hands. There are those who are super intelligent and can solve really complex problems. Some guys are great with words, while others have incredible physical and athletic abilities. Again, what happens when those gifts and talents go away?

What do you have left? Do you have love? If all your gifts, talents and abilities are gone, what are you left with?

Go back to the earlier section of 1 Corinthians 13. Are you patient and kind, or are you arrogant and rude? Do you hope for the best or look for the worst in people? Are you irritable and resentful or do you bear, believe, hope and endure all things? Would you be described as someone who always has to be right and insists on his or her own way? Or would you be described as someone who rejoices with the truth, and does so without envying or boasting?

When the abilities go away, do you have love?

“Pursue love…” (1 Corinthians 14:1)

What Love Is and What Love Isn’t

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Please meditate upon this section of Scripture today. Below are some simple questions and commonly used approaches to this text, but they are helpful to ask ourselves. We all need to reconnect with this passage occasionally.  I know I do. It certainly would help to read it everyday.

  • What is love? What are some things love is NOT? It certainly is not a feeling, is it? This is about rising above your feelings and doing what is right regardless of how you feel.
  • How does Jesus/God demonstrate these qualities? Look throughout Scripture and consider your own relationship with God as well. How do you see God being kind? Was Jesus arrogant and rude? Aren’t you glad that He doesn’t keep a score on you? Your record of sins has been washed away by the blood of Jesus because of His great unfailing love for you.
  • Do I have these qualities of love in my heart? Am I patient? Am I kind or am I rude? Do I insist on my own way? Am I irritable or resentful? Is my goal to be right or to be reconciled with my loved ones? Do I keep score in relationships? Am I happy when someone messes up so I can have an, “Aha! Gotcha!” moment? Do I look for the good in people or do I work up the worst possible motives about them in my mind? Am I hopeful for the best outcome in relationships?
  • Can I visualize how these qualities of love would look in my relationships? How do I specifically live out these qualities? What about when my wife gets snippy because she’s under a lot of stress? How do I talk to that person at work who is always self-centered, worldly and rude? What about the person under my authority who questions my decisions and approaches? How do I respond? How would I begin a conversation with someone that I am odds with if I had this kind of love working in my heart and soul?

Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old (Psalm 25:6).

Though I…But Have Not Love

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

5 times (if I counted right) in this section of Scripture Paul used the phrase, “Though I.” Though I possess and did all of these wonderful, spiritual and godly things, but did not have love, what are they worth?

If you saw someone speak with the all the languages of the world miraculously, what would you think? What if he or she spoke with the language of angels? Would you be impressed? How about if the person was so gifted that he or she understood all mysteries of the Bible and had perfect knowledge of it? Would it get your attention? What if their faith was stronger than anyone you had ever seen? Would you think, wow that person is so close to God? Would you be impressed if that person gave everything he or she owned including the body to be sacrificed for Jesus? How would we see that person?

Paul gives us some insight into this much needed discussion. He tells us that we could be incredibly gifted and our words just come out as noise if we don’t have love. We could be so full of knowledge and understanding that people are constantly coming to us for advice and perspective. But we are absolutely “nothing” Paul wrote if we don’t have love. Our mountain-moving faith is made of no value if it is not joined with the love of God in our hearts. We could list a thousand things that we did for Jesus and for others, but if we are not loving to others, then that list isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

But have not love – 3 times Paul used this phrase and when he used it, he followed it with:

  • I am noise – My gifted words for Jesus are just noise.
  • I am nothing – My gifts, including my mountain-moving faith that I may hold in such high esteem are of no value at all.
  •  All my sacrifice and works are nothing. I can heap up acts of service and godly deeds to the sky, but if I am not loving, then it amounts to a pile of dung. In fact, the pile of dung is of more value because it can at least be spread out for fertilizer.

Doesn’t that impress upon you and me how important and valuable love is?

We are going to look further into 1 Corinthians 13 over the next few days and seek with God’s help to glean as much as we can from this timeless and priceless passage on love.

The Barnabas Touch: How to Be An Encourager

Gentlemen, we have considered this week the importance of being a humble servant as we follow the example given to us by Jesus (John 13:1-17).  I came across an article (written by Jason Moore) I was provided many years back and in reading it I wanted to share it with you today as we wrap up our week.  I hope you find it encouraging and invite you to take today and the weekend to consider the importance of our encouragement to our Brethren and the impact this style of living will have on those we encounter in the world.  Have a blessed day!

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Barnabas was conspicuous for his encouragement of others. An examination of his life teaches us the skills of an encourager, the job of every believer. The apostle commands, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).  Barnabas illustrates the commandment:

  1. Get off your island. Barnabas was born on the isle of Cyprus, but left Cyprus for Jerusalem (4:36), Jerusalem for Antioch, the third largest city in Roman world (11:22), and Antioch for the world (13:2). Encouragers are not just naturally gregarious people—that’s a myth. The essential qualification is unselfishness. Encouragers leave their comfort zone to go help. It’s the best cure for self-pity and any “self”-ish tendency.
  2. Build a bridge. Barnabas believed in men like Saul and John Mark even when others didn’t (9:26-27; 15:37-39). He risked his own reputation in reaching out to them. Bridge building is hard work and there is always the risk of falling. But encouragers run the risk of seeking, finding and enfolding folks whom others have isolated or who have isolated themselves.
  3. Spread good gossip. Barnabas told Saul’s story to the apostles (9:27), Antioch’s story to Saul (11:25-26), and the Gentiles’ story to an assembly in Jerusalem (15:12). A gossip likes to tell the bad he knows about others while an encourager likes to tell the good. An encourager can’t keep the story of others’ growth or progress to himself. He broadens their influence by telling something good on them.
  4. Lead the line to lend a hand. Barnabas led the file to relieve needy saints on at least two occasions (4:36-37; 11:30). It’s not that the encourager is always the first on the scene when a need arises, but he is always out of breath when he gets there. The promptness of an encourager says that his service is a privilege and not a burden.
  5. Acknowledge an effort. The word of God commends Barnabas as a “good man” because of his encouragement of the church in Antioch (11:23). The Holy Spirit acknowledges him for his acknowledgment of the efforts of others. At least three steps are involved in mastering this skill.
    1. Be watchful. An encourager is observant of the progress of others, however slight.
    2. Be thoughtful. He finds new ways to say, “Good job” and “I appreciate you.”
    3. Be impartial. The encourager never reserves his encouragement for just his circle.
  6. Go out of your way to involve another. Barnabas went looking for Saul in Tarsus in order to bring him to Antioch (11:25-26). Seeking someone’s partnership in a project says, “I need you,” or, “I believe in you.” Both of those are encouraging sentiments. The essential element in this skill is the nonverbal message sent by going out of one’s way to solicit another’s help or participation.
  7. Keep your commitments. Barnabas built a reputation for dependability (11:22, 30) and for fulfilling his mission (12:25). He always got the job done and often exceeded expectations. Over-commitment and empty promises encourage no one; quite the opposite. They cool enthusiasm. Encouragers honor their commitments in a timely, unimpeachable fashion.
  8. Don’t forget your family. John Mark was Barnabas’ kinsman (15:39; Col. 4:10). That surely was not the only reason for his peculiar encouragement of him, but it also wasn’t a reason to ignore him. Family members frequently air their complaints and criticisms, but neglect the custom of encouragement. Happy is the home where mutual encouragement is a habit. Miserable is any abode in its absence.
  9. Be a sympathetic ally of the leadership. The apostles gave Barnabas his nickname (4:36). He was their A Peter and Paul need encouragement as much as a John Mark. And a Barnabas needs it too. Leadership is far more resilient and confident when others stand with them. Leaders are also far more willing to hear the criticism of the encourager than the whine of the complainer.
  10. Always leave people better than you found them. The apostles, the poor saints in Jerusalem, Saul of Tarsus, John Mark, the church in Antioch and many churches abroad were bettered by the Barnabas’ touch. Midas was the fabled king of Phrygia to whom Dionysius gave the power of turning all that he touched to gold. Encouragers have a golden touch too. But they invest themselves in people, not trinkets. And they enrich others and not themselves.

The GOD of the Towel–Day 3

The verses under consideration this week, John 13:1-17, concern a physical demonstration of the humble service of Jesus and a practical lesson for all of us as men. Today we are thinking about our kids…and they might be our own children/grandchildren, or nieces/nephews, or children at church, or many other circumstances we are in a position of influence in their lives.

The bottom line for today is does our “demonstrated behavior over time” match what we are called to be as humble servants in Christ? Our words matter for sure, however, if young eyes are watching and our actions are not consistent with our words or change over time, doesn’t that have a profound effect? The kids in our lives know who we are in terms of the position we hold in their lives. For the most part, kids who are taught properly know their position in relation to those older than them and the respect and attention they ought to provide. They have expectations of us. They want to see what right looks like. They are going to assume what you are doing is what right looks like. So we ought to be careful to ensure we are not only talking about being humble servants in Christ Jesus but acting that way too. Again, they are watching!

Jesus taught extensively using the spoken word. What Jesus also did was amplify and solidify His lessons in His actions. We see that in this passage. In verses 4-5, Jesus gets up to serve and in doing so to teach. This action was not inconsistent with His teaching and was not inconsistent with the other actions He took in His ministry. It is a beautiful scene and is a continuance of what He had already done in Heaven…it is what Peter wasn’t yet going to understand…but when Peter had matured and grown up spiritually, the lesson would be profound. Just as Jesus rose up, laid aside His physical clothes, took a towel, girded Himself and went forth to cleanse their feet…He had rose from His kingly throne in Heaven, laid aside His royal garment, took on the towel of humanity, and ultimately poured out His precious blood making it possible for us to be cleansed! Jesus consistently demonstrated humble service and though not everyone understood this, they were not going to be able to find fault in it and/or any version of His words/actions that didn’t match or wasn’t consistent.

Also notice Peter’s words. “Lord, are You…”. Peter knew who Jesus was. “…washing my feet?”. Peter knew who he was…and as we know from the passage didn’t think it appropriate that Jesus be doing what He was about to do. Peter’s pride dictates the terms…but Jesus’ humble attitude and mission of service remained the same and He wasn’t going to alter that because of misplaced ego or pride. Jesus works for us…He serves us because He loves us and chooses us. Christ is saying to Peter and to each of us “Me for you”.

So why these two points?

1.  We have to be humble, we have to serve, and we have to be consistent for our kids. We have to love our wives in a way God has called us to so our boys will love/honor their mom and might one day love their wives that way…or so that our girls will know what a Godly husband looks like and seek out her own man who loves God before he loves her. These are two of many scenarios that apply. And we can be honest with ourselves and easily see if something is amiss in our behavior. If I see one of my boys quickly losing their temper or yelling at their siblings…I might want to consider if they learned that from me? Am I setting a bad example with how I control my temper or am I modeling patience and meekness? You get the picture. Think about it. How are you doing?

2.  Our children are little people and they develop their own personalities and their ego, hard-headedness, know-it-all, selfishness, etc. can keep them from seeing the service or leadership you are providing in humility and love…just like Peter didn’t quite understand what Jesus was doing. Does that mean we get mad and stop? No. We can be angry and disappointed…for sure…but we should strive to be righteous in that and remember that we are giving a little bit of ourselves…for them…because we love them and we want them to be safe…to be ok…to learn…to develop into what God calls them to be. And I have been told…when they get older and more mature…they will come to understand what we are doing just as Peter came to understand what Jesus was doing and how that shaped his life and ultimately the lives of others…for the sake of the Gospel.

So think about this. Think about your “demonstrated behavior over time”. Think about what might derail you from providing the kids in your life the modeled humble service they so very much need. Pray about it. Talk to brothers be vulnerable. We are in this together and we don’t always get it right…but we are called all the same to humble ourselves and serve…we could make the case our children need it the most…and we have an awesome example of all of this in Jesus.