The Culture of Jesus – Safe

Why did so many flock to Jesus when they had so many other teachers to which they could turn?

The other teachers (Pharisees and Saduccees) were all about themselves and frankly they were not safe. Look at the “culture” (collective mindset and approach) they created. They were self-righteous, hyper-critical and did not see the hurting and outcasts as Jesus saw them.

With Jesus the people were safe:

  • Safe to learn
  • Safe to question
  • Safe to be wrong
  • Safe in storms
  • Safe to heal
  • Safe to be different
  • Safe to work
  • Safe to step out
  • Safe to come home

We will further explore the concepts above in the next few days. For today, meditate upon the safety we have in Jesus and how that safety should be felt by others around us if we are in Jesus.

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

What is Jealousy?

What is jealousy anyway?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines jealous as “Hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage.” It also adds that jealousy is “intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness,” and “disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness.”

There are a couple of things to note from that definition: Hostile toward a rival and hostile toward one believed to enjoy an advantage. How do you handle a rival? What if someone comes along and threatens your authority? How do you respond when others around you just seem way more talented, positive and popular? When others have things (not just possessions) that you do not have, how does that make you feel? Does it affect how you view others, how you treat them and how you talk about them?

Yesterday we looked at the fact that jealousy is behind a lot of strife in all kinds of relationships. How was jealousy part of the equation?

  • What did Paul and his companions have that the Jews in Galatia / Thessalonica didn’t? The people, both Jews and Gentiles, were flocking to hear Paul preach the gospel. Many were hanging on every word and begging to hear those same words again the next week (Acts 13,17).
  • What did Jesus have that the Jewish leaders didn’t? Again, it was that the people (from nobility to the harlots) ran to Jesus en masse to hear His teachings, be healed by Him, and to find forgiveness and grace. The Jewish leaders just couldn’t stand it that Jesus had that much popularity (Luke 15:1-2).
  • What did Abel have that Cain didn’t? Abel’s works were righteous, Cain’s works were evil. Cain saw Abel as a rival and a threat, not as a brother and an inspiration to draw closer to God (1 John 3:12).
  • What did Joseph have that his brothers did not have? Joseph was the favorite of their father, Jacob. He enjoyed advantages and privileges that the others did not (Genesis 37).

We’ll develop this more tomorrow, Lord willing, but for now think about this. If jealousy is at the root of a lot of relationship problems, shouldn’t you and I be open to the possibility that we might be jealous of others? We might not want to think of ourselves as jealous people, but God is saying that we are and it is the building block for fights. Let’s get at the root of this problem.

But As For You

In Paul’s letters to Timothy, the apostle warns and instructs the young evangelist about many things regarding the church, including those in the church who are behaving badly. As he teaches Timothy about those things, he repeatedly turned to Timothy, and said something like, “But as for you…”

Timothy, people around you who claim to be followers of Jesus are going to behave in ungodly ways, but as for you, this is how you are to speak, think and act. Below are just a few examples of how Paul turns the attention to encourage Timothy to watch his own behavior.

Timothy people are going to love money and it is going to destroy them. But you flee these things and follow righteousness and other godly qualities!

1 Timothy 6:10-11
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Timothy, some will bring great trouble upon the church, and eventually their folly will be known to all. But you keep following my teaching and my conduct.

2 Timothy 3:9-10
But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,

Timothy, you will be persecuted because you want to live for God in Christ. Others around you will go from bad to worse. But as for you…keep doing what you have learned.

2 Timothy 3:12-14
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it

Timothy, times are coming when it will be hard to find folks who want to listen to the truth. But as for you, be clear-minded and do your job, even if you have to suffer.

2 Timothy 4:3-5
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Let’s ask ourselves…how many times have we allowed the bad behavior of others to influence how we think, speak and behave? Be honest.

How often do we excuse our own poor behavior on how others are acting? It happens all the time, doesn’t it. We say things like, “Well, if they wouldn’t have done this, then I wouldn’t have said what I did.” As if God is going to give us a grace pass for behaving sinfully just because others are being sinful. Cussing out someone because they treated you badly is not how it works – at least that’s what Paul is telling Timothy.

If Paul were talking to us today, I believe he would be saying the same things to us. But as for you…this is how you behave. It doesn’t matter how others are talking…this is how you talk. If others are treating you in a sinful way…this is how you behave. When others go down the wide path of loose living…you have your own path to follow. If others are being a bad example, you be a good example.

But as for you…

Abigail didn’t cover for Nabal

I was studying with someone this week about 1 Samuel 25 which covers the account of David, Abigail and Nabal. Abigail was a woman of beauty and wisdom, but her husband was a complete jerk. The Bible literally calls him “worthless.” He was harsh. He was badly behaved. He caused trouble for a lot of people, and it is clear from the text that everyone knew who would have to fix Nabal’s messes. Abigail.

1 Samuel 25:17 – “Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.”

Even the servants were comfortable coming to their master’s wife about him. That says this event with David wasn’t the first time Nabal had wreaked havoc.

What we see though in Abigail is that she did not cover for her husband’s wickedness. In her attempts to save her household from certain destruction, she exposed and clearly admitted that Nabal was the problem, not David.

1 Samuel 25:25-26 – Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.

Did you see what Abigail just said about her husband? She admitted he was wrong, and that he was the problem. His name means “fool” and Abigail agreed that his parents named him well! She also agreed with others’ assessment that he was “worthless” (literally a “son of Belial”). Abigail did not cover for her husband’s sins. Family did not come first, truth did. Family did not come first, God did. While she pleaded with David to do what was right in not taking vengeance, she did not excuse or dismiss her husband’s wicked behavior.

What about you? Does family come first, or does God? Does family come first, or does truth come first? Loyalty to family sometimes gets so pressed into people’s psyche that they can’t see the obvious truth that everyone around them sees. They find themselves defending the indefensible. Because of that misplaced loyalty, gossip about others is believed as gospel. That shows our loyalty is to family first, not to God and truth first. This just doesn’t happen in families, it happens with our friends, too. Just because someone is a close family member or a best friend, doesn’t mean we blindly take their side. Our misplaced loyalty will blind us and distort our judgment.

Listen to what Jesus said…

Matthew 10:36-37 – And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Abigail did not cover for Nabal, nor did she make excuses for his ungodly behavior, and he was her husband! She also did not try to blame David for being part of the problem, that somehow he was guilty of stirring Nabal up. Nope. She knew exactly where the problem was…right at home with her husband.

Our loyalty must first be to God.

Abigail did not only recognize where the problem was, she also knew clearly where to turn to find the solution…God. Look at what she says about God as she talks to David:

1 Samuel 25:26 – Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.

Abigail turned her attention and David’s attention to the Lord for the solution. Read the rest of that section later (1 Samuel 25:28-34,38-39) and see how many times Abigail and David referred to God as being the Source of the solution. It’s one thing to recognize that her husband was the problem, but far more important that she knew where to go for answers and wisdom to deal with the problem.

God’s Anger in the Psalms, My Anger in the Proverbs

Today’s MDB is a follow-up of yesterday’s article about fierce anger. My friend, Geoff, sent me a great note reflecting on the “why” of anger, meaning “why am I angry?” He also pointed out that when Jesus was angry, it was mainly because of how others were being hurt, not how He himself was being hurt. At the same time, I was listening to a sermon where the speaker was saying pretty much the same thing about Jesus’ anger. So we are going to dive deeper into the anger of God.

God’s Anger in the Psalms, My Anger in the Proverbs

In preparation for this, I started searching the word “anger” and started looking through the references. It was interesting that in the Psalms, a large majority of the references were in connection to God and His anger. The same search in the book of Proverbs revealed that most of the instances of the word “anger” is connected to man and his anger.

It’s as if God wants us to reflect on His anger first, and then consider our own anger in comparison.

God’s anger in the Psalms

  • Psalms 6:1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.
  • Psalm 30:5For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
  • Psalm 77:9 – Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah. (The answer to that is in the Psalm, no…God has not forgotten to be gracious, and no He did not shut up His compassion in the midst of his anger.)
  • Psalm 78:38Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. (You can see in Psalm 78 that God was rightly angry for their sins, see verses 21,31,49,50,58. However all of that “anger” of God was couched in atonement, restraint and compassion).
  • Psalm 85:3 – You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
  • Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
  • Psalm 103:8-14The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
  • Psalms 106:37-40 – They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds. Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage;

So, what have we observed about God’s anger? Here are some things I saw, and I know you all will see others.

  • God’s anger is for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime. Man’s anger is for a lifetime, while our favor is for a moment.
  • God is slow to anger. Man has a hair trigger for his anger.
  • God knows we are but dust. We with our anger blast other people into dust.
  • God’s anger is often focused on how others are treated. Our anger is often focused on how we are treated.
  • In God’s anger, he was compassionate, and did the atoning for our sin. He often restrained His anger/wrath, and refused to keep stirring it up. How about us? Are we seeking for others’ sins to be covered? Do we put a seat belt on our anger, or do we let it loose? Do we keep a “anger spoon” in our hands at all times, stirring the pot of our anger?
  • God does not deal with us according to our sins. He punished us far less than our iniquity deserved. We, on the other hand, are like James and John who want to bring fire down from heaven on the person who cuts in front of us in traffic.

There’s a lot more to consider on this. We’ll continue on Monday, Lord willing, and consider our anger as taught in the Proverbs.

Remember that the “wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20).

You Are Free to Be Misunderstood

I heard someone say this week that “You are free to be misunderstood.” He followed that statement with something like this, “If you are free, then others are free too, and they will misunderstand you at times. If you go around obsessed with correcting everyone’s misunderstandings then you become enslaved.”

That’s pretty good stuff.

We are free. And with that freedom comes the reality that not everyone will like us, not everyone will understand us, and that others will have a complete misunderstanding of our thoughts and motives. We can’t chase that around and make it our obsession to right every wrong, because then we are truly enslaved. Enslaved to how others view us. Enslaved to what others are saying about us. Enslaved to correcting every misunderstanding.

Here is a great scriptural example of this concept. Nehemiah had led a group of captives from Persia to Jerusalem for the express purpose of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. As he led the people in this great work for God, he faced every opposition imaginable. One form of this opposition came in chapter 6 when people were making up stories about Nehemiah to get him off the wall and do him harm. Read what the text says.

Nehemiah 6:1-9 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands. 

Did you see that Nehemiah recognized the great work of God he was doing? He could not come off the wall to come down with those who were just trying to cause problems. He also knew that the stories others were telling were just fabricated in their own minds. Nehemiah had the focus, strength and wisdom to keep on the work when lesser men would have come off that wall to defend themselves.

You are free to be misunderstood. There are times to clear up misunderstandings, but then there are times you realize that you will just enslave yourself going around trying to change everybody’s misconceptions. Even Job got caught in this trap, he got lost in justifying himself instead of defending God (Job 32:2; 40:8), so if it happened to Job, it can happen to us.

11 Days or 40 Years?

Happy New Year! Hard to believe it is the year 2020!

Deuteronomy 1:2-3 It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the LORD had given him in commandment to them…

Moses just had to be tired when he wrote the above passage. Think about the above words. The journey for the Israelites to get from Mount Sinai (Horeb) to the land of Canaan was 11 days. That 11 day trip took 40 years. Can’t you see Moses as he wrote this? Just slapping his forehead with his hand. 40 years!!!! It should have taken 11 days!!!

We can all think of things that took longer than they should have. That song that could have been over in a minute and a half, but they repeated the chorus a gazillion times. Or it was that story that someone was telling you that could have taken a few sentences, but you got the exhaustive version. That person probably said, “To make a long story short” several times while telling the long story. Maybe it was an explanation of how to do something that could have taken thirty seconds…but on and on and on it went. We could have done the job ten times over by the time it took them to explain how to do it. Or how about the sermon that could have taken 15 minutes, but felt like it lasted 40 years?

But why did this journey from Egypt to the Promised Land take so long? Because the people flat out rejected God and did not believe Him. They rebelled against Him and did not trust His promises. With everything they had seen of God, all of the miracles, all of the love, all of the power, all of the deliverance, they simply chose to follow themselves instead of God. They in every way were ungrateful and stubborn. So, God said they would not enter His rest (see Numbers 14).

They were right at the edge of the Promised Land, and God said, “Okay, everybody out of the pool.” You can hear the beeping of the Israelite moving van as it backed up and turned to go back into the wilderness for a long 40 year spin around the same desolate ground.

Let’s reflect upon this concept together as we begin the New Year. How many 11 day journeys have we started in life with God that sadly turned into 40 year endless circles around the same ground? How many of our relationship problems are 11 day problems that we have allowed to turn into 40 year problems? Is our faith and attitude like the Israelites? God is trying to bless us richly and take us into the Promised Land, but we choose the 40 year whirl in the wilderness?

Think about it this way…do some simple math. 40 years times 365 days is 14,600 days! 11 days or 14,600 days. Do we want to be circling around in the hot desolate wilderness for 11 days or 14,600 days? Here’s another simple math problem, take 14,600 days and divide it by 11 days. What you will find is that the Israelites’ journey took 1,327 times longer than it should have!

Why suffer going around the same mountain when we can face our attitude and relationship issues head on and move on to the Promised Land? Here’s the simple fact that you and I need to understand: God will let us stay in the wilderness. If that’s where we want to stay and die, then that’s our choice. He will allow us to keep circling the same mountain of problems until we deal with our own issues and stop blaming others. It’s our choice. 11 days or 40 years.

No one had the strength to subdue him

“He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” Mark 5:3-5

No one could bind him…No one had the strength to subdue him. This man wasn’t fit to live among people. Only Jesus could heal what was wrong with this demon-possessed man. People of the village were trying to use their own strength to harness, control and stop this man, but it was the spirit inside that was giving the man this strength and destructive power.

The man didn’t need chains and shackles, they were useless. He needed Jesus. Look in Mark 5:1-20 to see how Jesus got inside of this man and changed him from the inside out. Once the man’s insides changed, then the outside reflected that spiritual transformation. This formerly demon-possessed man became a powerful evangelist for Jesus! But that didn’t happen until the demons within were cast out.

Again, it is Jesus that makes you and me fit to live among people. We may try to harness, manage or control the behavior and words of others, but it is Jesus that really has the power to release the “demon” within. Those “demons” can be things like guilt, past abuse, shame, addictions, etc. If we find ourselves breaking chains and shackles, going around in a rage, and cutting ourselves with stones, then the real problem is what is going on deep down inside of us. Until we truly get at peace with ourselves and with Jesus, then we will be like this man living in a cave howling at the moon.

In our relationships, we must focus more on root causes and not symptoms.

What does it mean to trust? Part 2

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:7)

I will refer you back to Monday’s article for part 1 of “What does it mean to trust?” My daughter learned a lesson in trust when we were at the farm store the other day.  She saw the stock tanks that hold the baby chicks but did not trust me that the chicks were not in there. It wasn’t until she put her ear to the side of the tank that she “confirmed” that the chicks weren’t there.

What she was looking for was not there. It was an empty tank. I’ve been thinking about this even more in a lot of applications to our lives. What I’m looking for may end up being an empty tank. The tank promised to deliver something, but I didn’t trust my Father and in the end the tank was empty.

Pleasure. It may be that you think you are going to find relief, satisfaction and pleasure in excessive entertainment, immoral sexual behavior, or in substances like alcohol and other drugs. But in the end, God told you to trust Him, and you didn’t. You found an empty tank. What you were looking for wasn’t to be found. All of us can think of things that promised to make us happy and we ended up empty. Notice the following two passages from letters to Timothy. What was Timothy to “pursue”? From what was he to “flee”?

But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
(1 Timothy 6:8-11)

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
(2 Timothy 2:22)

Knowledge. Some of us try so hard to find new ways to think about things. We really work hard to find things that our spiritual ancestors didn’t discover before. So much energy is exhausted to find new interpretations that “nobody has thought of before” (see Acts 17:21). In fact, we become so arrogant and smug in our pursuit of new ways to think that we spit on those who labored for years in study of God’s word to arrive at their conclusions. It might be that we have convinced ourselves that we are “testing all things,” but I believe we can be looking for something that God says isn’t there. We end up coming to an empty tank. The irony is that many times we arrive at the same conclusions our fathers did because those conclusions were solidly based on the word of God combined with years of experience.

Certainly, “test all things” as God tells you (1 Thessalonians 5:21). But have some humility, young men and women (1 Peter 5:5). You might be running toward an empty tank. What you thought was promising to be a wealth of overflowing knowledge may end up being a disappointing vacuous hole. Before you disregard the wisdom and wealth of study done by those who preceded you, trust that they may have some great insight to share.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.
(1 Corinthians 8:1-2)

Are you trusting the Father? Or are you running toward an empty tank?

Overcoming Our Ego, Part 1

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
(James 4:1)

Here are a few questions about what we call the ego. This article is not intended to answer all these questions fully. 

  • What is the “ego”? (It is not a pre-made waffle that you put in the toaster, that’s spelled EGGO).
  • What is a biblical way of describing the ego?
  • How does my “ego” and the need to care for and tend it affect my marriage?

When do we see our egos raise their ugly heads and cause problems?

When we feel insecure or not good enough. Your wife is complimenting someone else in an area where you are not as strong or talented. How you deal with that? Her father is really good at something that you’re not very good at, and it isn’t that your wife is reminding you of that, it’s just that you are having a hard time with your own insecurity.

When we are criticized or corrected. Certainly criticism and correction can be done in a way that really hurts and stings, but what if the correction is done in love, do you receive it well? Do you have to remind the one correcting you of his or her faults so that you can feel better (or so that we can all feel equally awful/guilty)? Is always being right or always looking good more important than our spiritual growth and having healthy relationships?

When someone else gets credit for your idea/work. If our egos are in the way, we can really let this destroy us. Because of our pride, we are driven to be noticed and credited for our good ideas, designs and accomplishments. But can we be okay if we do not receive the kind of accolades we long for? Jesus said if we are looking for men’s praise, then we have the reward we are seeking (Matthew 6). It is not a good thing, though, because like any addiction we will keep seeking that praise and the good feelings it brings, but it never truly satisfies.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
(Philippians 2:3-5)

More to come next week, Lord willing.