Maintain Unity

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A man stranded by himself on an island was finally discovered. His rescuers asked him about the three huts they saw there. He pointed and said, “This one is my home and that one is my church.” He then pointed to the third hut: “That was my former church.” Though we may laugh at the silliness of this story, it does highlight a concern about unity among believers.

The church of Ephesus during the time of the apostle Paul was comprised of both rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, masters and slaves. And where differences exist, so does friction. One concern Paul wrote about was the issue of unity. But observe what Paul said about this issue in Ephesians 4:3. He didn’t tell them to be “eager to produce or to organize unity.” He told them to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Unity already exists because believers share one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all (vv.4-6).

How do we “keep the unity”? By expressing our different opinions and convictions with lowliness, gentleness, and patience (v.2). The Spirit will give us the power to react in love toward those with whom we disagree.

Unity among believers comes from our union with Christ.

Who’s That Hero?

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Reading the book of Judges, with its battles and mighty warriors, can sometimes feel like reading about comic book superheroes. We have Deborah, Barak, Gideon, and Samson. However, in the line of judges (or deliverers), we also find Othniel.

The account of his life is brief and straightforward (Judges 3:7-11). No drama. No display of prowess. But what we do see is what God did through Othniel: “The Lordraised up a deliverer” (v.9), “the Spirit of theLord came upon him” (v.10), and “the Lorddelivered Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand” (v.10).

The Othniel account helps us focus on what is most important—the activity of God. Interesting stories and fascinating people can obscure that. We end up concentrating on those and fail to see what the Lord is doing.

When I was young, I wished I could be more talented so that I could point more people to Christ. But I was looking at the wrong thing. God often uses ordinary people for His extraordinary work. It is His light shining through our lives that glorifies God and draws others to Him (Matt. 5:16).

When others look at our life, it is more important that they see God—not us.

Our limited ability highlights God’s limitless power.

The Telltale Heart

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Recently I read about a private investigator in the US who would knock on a door, show his badge to whoever answered, and say, “I guess we don’t have to tell you why we’re here.” Many times, the person would look stunned and say, “How did you find out?” then go on to describe an undiscovered criminal act committed long ago. Writing inSmithsonian magazine, Ron Rosenbaum described the reaction as “an opening for the primal force of conscience, the telltale heart’s internal monologue.”

We all know things about ourselves that no one else knows—failures, faults, sins—that although confessed to God and forgiven by Him may come back to accuse us again and again. John, one of Jesus’ close followers, wrote about God’s love for us and the call to follow His commands, saying: “By this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:19-20).

Our confidence toward God grows out of His love and forgiveness in Christ, not our performance in life. “We know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (v.24).

God, who knows everything about us, is greater than our self-condemnation.

The one who receives Christ will never receive God’s condemnation.

Guidance Needed

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St. Nicholas Church in Galway, Ireland, has both a long history and an active present. It’s the oldest church in Ireland, and it provides guidance in a very practical way. The church towers over the town, and its steeple is used by ships’ captains as a guide for navigating their way safely into Galway Bay. For centuries, this church has reliably pointed the way home for sailors.

We can all certainly identify with the need for guidance. In fact, Jesus addressed this very need during His Upper Room Discourse. He said that after His departure the Holy Spirit would play a crucial role in the lives of believers. As part of that role, Jesus promised, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

What a marvelous provision! In a world of confusion and fear, guidance is often needed. We can easily be misdirected by the culture around us or by the brokenness within us (1 John 2:15-17). God’s Spirit, however, is here to help, to direct, and to guide. How thankful we can be that the Spirit of truth has come to give us the guidance that we often so desperately need. Set your course by His life, and you will reach safe harbor.

The Spirit is a reliable guide in all of life’s seas.

Buyer’s Remorse

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Have you ever experienced buyer’s remorse? I have. Just prior to making a purchase, I feel the surge of excitement that comes with getting something new. After buying the item, however, a wave of remorse sometimes crashes over me. Did I really need this? Should I have spent the money?

In Genesis 3, we find the first record of a buyer’s remorse. The whole thing began with the crafty serpent and his sales pitch. He persuaded Eve to doubt God’s Word (v.1). He then capitalized on her uncertainty by casting doubt on God’s character (vv.4-5). He promised that her eyes would “be opened” and she would become “like God” (v.5).

So Eve ate. Adam ate. And sin entered the world. But the first man and woman got more than they bargained for. Their eyes were opened all right, but they didn’t become like God. In fact, their first act was to hide from God (vv.7-8).

Sin has dire consequences. It always keeps us from God’s best. But God in His mercy and grace clothed Adam and Eve in garments made from animal skins (v.21)—foreshadowing what Jesus Christ would do for us by dying on the cross for our sins. His blood was shed so that we might be clothed with His righteousness—with no remorse!

The cross, which reveals the righteousness of God, provides that righteousness for mankind.

Me And Dad

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A friend once spent a day installing large stone steps in his backyard. When his 5-year-old daughter begged to help, he suggested she just sing to encourage him in his work. She said no. She wanted to help. Carefully, when it would not endanger her, he let her place her hands on the rocks as he moved them.

He could have built the steps in less time without her. At the end of the day, though, he not only had new steps but also a daughter bursting with pride. “Me and Dad made steps,” she announced at dinner that night.

From the beginning, God has relied on people to advance His work. After equipping Adam to cultivate the land and supervise the animals, God left the work of the garden in his hands (Gen. 2:15-20).

The pattern has continued. When God wanted a dwelling place on earth, a tabernacle and temple did not descend from the sky; thousands of artists and craftsmen worked to fashion them (Ex. 35–38; 1 Kings 6). When Jesus proclaimed the new reign of God’s kingdom on earth, He invited human beings to help. He told His disciples, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38).

As a father does with his children, so does God welcome us as His kingdom partners.

God uses humble servants to accomplish His great work.

No More Prejudice

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A 2010 survey byNewsweekcontained some startling statistics: 57 percent of hiring managers believe an unattractive (but qualified) job candidate would have a harder time getting hired; 84 percent of managers said their bosses would hesitate before hiring a qualified older candidate; 64 percent of hiring managers said they believe companies should be allowed to hire people based on appearance. All are clear examples of unacceptable prejudice.

Prejudice is not new. It had crept into the early church, and James confronted it head-on. With prophetic grit and a pastor’s heart, he wrote: “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality” (James 2:1). James gave an example of this type of prejudice—favoring the rich and ignoring the poor (vv.2-4). This was inconsistent with holding faith in Jesus without partiality (v.1), betrayed the grace of God (vv.5-7), violated the law of love (v.8), and was sinful (v.9). The answer to partiality is following the example of Jesus: loving your neighbor as yourself.

We fight the sin of prejudice when we let God’s love for us find full expression in the way we love and treat each other.

Looking up to Jesus prevents us from looking down on others.

Instant Gratification

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When the Polaroid SX-70 camera was introduced in 1972, it revolutionized photography. An article by Owen Edward inSmithsonianmagazine described the camera as “a miracle of physics, optics and electronics.” When a photo was snapped, “a blank square would emerge from the front of the camera and develop before our eyes.” People were sold on speedy, immediate results.

Oswald Chambers saw a strong connection between our desire for the immediate and lust: “Lust simply means, ‘I must have this at once’; it may be a bodily appetite or a spiritual possession. . . . I cannot wait for God’s time, God is too indifferent; that is the way lust works.”

In Psalm 27, David wrote of his waiting on God during a time of great trouble when there was no solution in sight. Instead of giving in to despair, he maintained his confidence that he would “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (v.13).

We live in a world that worships the immediate. When it seems there is no sign of our deepest longings being fulfilled, the psalmist urges us to cling to the eternal God. “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (v.14).

The answer to our craving for the immediate is to focus on the eternal.

Sunrise

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There was a magnificent sunrise this morning, but I was too busy to enjoy it. I turned away and became preoccupied with other things. I thought about that sunrise a few moments ago, and I realize I lost an opportunity for worship this morning.

In the midst of the busyness and stresses of our days, there are patches of beauty all around us, glimpses of God’s goodness that we catch here and there along the way. These are the places in the walls of the universe where heaven is breaking through—if only we will take the time to stop and to reflect upon God’s love for us.

What if Moses had taken only a fleeting glance at the bush that was burning but “was not consumed”? (Ex. 3:2). What if he had ignored it and hurried on to other things? (He had those sheep to take care of, you know, and important work to do.) He would have missed an epic, life-changing encounter with the living God (vv.4-12).

Sometimes in life we must hurry. But overall, life should be less hurrying and more noticing. Life is the present. Life is being aware; it is seeing God’s love breaking through. It is turning aside to the miracle of something like a sunrise. Something transitory, yet symbolic of the eternity that awaits us.

Turning Back or Walking with Jesus?

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Do you also want to go away? — John 6:67

What a penetrating question! Our Lord’s words often hit home for us when He speaks in the simplest way. In spite of the fact that we know who Jesus is, He asks, “Do you also want to go away?” We must continually maintain an adventurous attitude toward Him, despite any potential personal risk.

“From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66). They turned back from walking with Jesus; not into sin, but away from Him. Many people today are pouring their lives out and working for Jesus Christ, but are not really walking with Him. One thing God constantly requires of us is a oneness with Jesus Christ. After being set apart through sanctification, we should discipline our lives spiritually to maintain this intimate oneness. When God gives you a clear determination of His will for you, all your striving to maintain that relationship by some particular method is completely unnecessary. All that is required is to live a natural life of absolute dependence on Jesus Christ. Never try to live your life with God in any other way than His way. And His way means absolute devotion to Him. Showing no concern for the uncertainties that lie ahead is the secret of walking with Jesus.

Peter saw in Jesus only someone who could minister salvation to him and to the world. But our Lord wants us to be fellow laborers with Him.

In John 6:70 Jesus lovingly reminded Peter that he was chosen to go with Him. And each of us must answer this question for ourselves and no one else: “Do you also want to go away?”