Meekness Vs. Weakness

Many people believe that to be meek is to be weak. As children, we are told to stand up for ourselves. “You better not start a fight,” our parents warned, “but if someone starts a fight, then you better finish it.” Aaron Tippin sang, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”
 
Many have internalized this advice as gospel truth, but we have to ask… what is Jesus advice when you are wronged? The answer is not a comfortable one. He says, “but love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Then He adds, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35).
 
Did you catch that? Jesus said that there is great reward in meekness. He says that through showing mercy, loving your enemies, giving freely and doing good, you prove yourself to be “sons of the Most High.” By being kind even to the ungrateful and evil you demonstrate that the Lord is your Father and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
 
We have to consider the converse of Jesus’ advice to the wronged because the converse is the advice that we commonly receive. What reward is there in returning evil for evil? What blessing comes from seeking vengeance? What is edifying about taking the opportunity to tell somebody off? Jesus answered that very question in the sermon on the mount. “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (the worst sinners of all) do the same? Do not even the Gentiles (people outside of God’s covenant) do the same” (Matthew 5:46-47)?
 
Meekness and selflessness do not reveal a weakness in you. It reveals strength. When you show kindness to those who would do you harm, you demonstrate the selfless love of Christ and Christ’s love is the most powerful force in the universe. It points people to the Most High God rather than the little god of self. His love changes hearts and minds in some, in others it makes them more angry and hateful. Either way God’s mercy and justice are shown through the love of Christ demonstrated by His followers.
 
I would add one more piece of advice in support of meekness versus weakness. Whenever you allow another person’s actions or words control over your own actions and words, you forfeit the very thing that makes you uniquely human—the freedom to choose. We are not animals. Our choice is not to fight or flight. Humans have a third choice which is to reason with one another and talk things out. Whenever the other person insists on being unreasonable, you have a fourth choice—to forgive.
 
In his book, I’m Okay, You’re Okay, author Thomas Harris explains that every human is controlled by at least three different inner-voices. The first is the child. The child is selfish and insists on its own way. The second is the parent. The parent is formed by our perception of our parents and how they raised us. The parent is most concerned with punishing bad behavior. Finally, we have an inner adult. The adult mediates between the parent and the child and leads us to make mature decisions.
 
Remember this the next time you are engaged in a conflict or confrontation. You control which inner-personality is in control of you. Just because the inner-child is in control of the other person does not mean that your inner-adult cannot be in control of you. When the inner-child is speaking through the other person, resist the urge to let your inner-parent come through. Remember, you can be the adult. You chose how you respond.
 
Meekness is not weakness. Meekness is Christlikeness. Meekness is edifying. Meekness glorifies God for His mercy and His justice. To display meekness, show mercy, and forgive is to prove that you are a child of God and this world is not your home.
 
When you make the choice to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, lend expecting nothing in return, you lean into what makes you uniquely human. When you are kind and loving to your enemies, you actually display great strength. Reframe what it means to “stand up for yourself.” By not returning evil for evil you stand up for the person God created you to be.
 

Read more...

How does God visit the iniquities of the fathers on their children?

A phrase that appears four times in the Old Testament has caused many Christ followers, a great deal of consternation. What does the Holy Spirit mean when He speaks of God “punishing the iniquities of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7; see also Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 5:9, and Numbers 14:18)? I did not come to a plausible interpretation of this phrase until very recently. 

 

Here I have broken it down for you:
 
1. The phrase has to do with the fundamental role of the parents in the development of their children even into the fourth generation.
 
Parents would like to believe that the consequences of their sins will do no lasting harm to their children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God designed human beings so that that they learn by the example of their parents how to do life and family. Children learn from their parents how to be parents. They learn how to do marriage by observing the husbands and wives around them doing marriage. Children learn how to treat their siblings by watching how other adults manage sibling relationships. They learn how to properly (or improperly) worship God by attending to the way their parents worship God. In this way, the “iniquities of the fathers” are perpetuated into the future even to the third and fourth generation.
 
2. The phrase indicates that you are likely making the same mistakes as your parents.
 
That your parents were not perfect is an uncomfortable truth to admit. In general, want to believe the best about their parents. However, if you really want to be the parent, the husband, or the wife that God created you to be, then you must set aside all naivety and take an honest assessment of your upbringing. Resist the temptation to forget the past and just move forward. You cannot move forward and away from your parent’s mistakes unless you are willing to look back and acknowledge those mistakes in the first place. If you move blindly along the timeline of eternity without looking back then you are destined to have the iniquities of your fathers visited upon you, and upon your children and grandchildren. Look even deeper into the upbringing of your parents, and I’ll bet you’ll see similarities in their mistakes with you in the iniquities of their parents as well. 
 
3. This phrase indicates that it is likely that your children and grandchildren will make the same mistakes you are making.
 
I know this all sounds very fatalistic but bear with me. Look at the family of father Abraham in Genesis. Abraham showed favoritism to Ishmael over Isaac (cf. Genesis 21:11-13) which fueled a sibling rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael that persists to this day. Isaac showed favoritism to Esau (cf. Genesis 25:28) which fueled a sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau. Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph (Genesis 37:3) which fueled a sibling rivalry between him and his ten brothers. The iniquities of Abraham were visited in the generation of Isaac, and in the generation of Jacob, and in the generation of Joseph as the same mistakes were repeated over and over. 
 
What’s the good news?
 
The good news is that the same passages that speak of God’s visitation of the iniquities of the fathers on their children to the fourth generation also speaks of the grace of God. It says that the Lord is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7; see also Exodus 20:6, Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 5:10). We have so many reasons to be thankful that this phrase accompanies the one just discussed in its every occurrence in the Old Testament. It means that the curse of the fathers does not have to persist indefinitely into the future.
 

You can choose to lay down the baggage that was handed to you by your parents. You do not have to load it onto your own children’s backs. You can repent, place your hope in what Jesus did on the cross and His ability to forgive and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. You will never be the perfect parent, but by making the decision to lay down your family baggage, you will be the best parent you can be in Christ.


Read more...

Who Are You?

How would you answer this question, “Who are you?” Most people would say their name and tell where they live, where they grew up, who their parents are, where they went to college, and what they do for a living. Then they might go on to talk about what their interests are, who is their favorite sports team, singer, television show, and movie. None of these answers really answer the question. They tell about you, but they don’t tell who you are.
 
Careers change. Relocations happen. Memories fade. People pass away. Interests change. If your identity is found in these relationships, then your life is ripe for disappointment. You will wake up every day constantly having to find yourself over and over again. You will never have rest. 
 
Looking to the Lord to figure out who we are is much more helpful than looking within ourselves. To really understand a painting, you must interview the artist. To correctly interpret a poem, you must have access to the author. To operate a new appliance, you need to read a manual written by the manufacturer.  In the Bible, you find a guide to who you are, a letter from the author of creation, and a revelation of the Artist of artists.
 
Unless you believe the gospel and trust Christ as Savior and Lord, you will never know who you really are. Only in Him can we truly understand the person that God created us to be. He tells you who He formed you to be if you will only listen and you cannot listen unless you have the indwelling Holy Spirit and thus possess the ears to hear.
 
Also, you will never understand your true identity unless you make time to be quiet. When God called Jeremiah, He told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you… I consecrated you and appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Then, Jeremiah did what we often do; he started telling God who he was as if he knew better than God. “Ah Lord God,” he exclaimed, “I am only a youth…” To paraphrase God’s response, He replied, “Jeremiah, don’t sit there and try to tell me who you are. Only I get to say who you are.” (c.f. Jeremiah 1:4-10)
 
Friend, you can be confident in this—you are somebody.  Even before you were a thought in the mind of your parents, you were a thought in the mind of God. He knows you. He has directed the course of human history to form each and every person, including you, into who they are. He has a purpose for you on this earth. Colossians 1:16 tells that you, along with all the creatures in heaven and on earth, were created “for Him.”
 
Consider this, no one else on earth has the same life experiences as you. God has formed you into a unique person of His own design. You are special, consecrated, and appointed to His own good purpose for your life. If you have trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord, then you are “His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand” (Ephesians 2:10). You belong to a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). 
 
So, Christian, who are you? God says “you are light” (Ephesians 5:8). You are a “witness” (Acts 1:8). You are “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). You are “foreknown… predestined to be conformed into the image of His Son… justified” (Romans 8:29-30). In Him, you are “the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
 
You are the person He is forming you to be. Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow. And who you are the day after is not who you will be tomorrow. The task of the Christian life is to embrace this self-identity that, while not fully known by you, is known intimately by God. The person that God is forming out of the broken pieces of you is the real you– the best possible version of yourself.
 
That person that God is forming you to be is the person in whom He delights. Decide today to be that person, nothing more and nothing less. Nothing more, because there is nothing greater than you can be, and nothing less because to be anything less is to live a lie.

Read more...

Love for neighbor and for self

The command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” appears 8 times in the Scripture (Lev 19:18, Mt 19:19; 22:39, Mk 12:31, Lk 10:27, Rom 13:9, Gal 5:14, Ja 2:8). Additionally, The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” appears in two places (Mt 7:12, Luke 6:31). We drill the first half of these commands into our children, but neglect what I contend is the most important latter half.
 
The structure of the commands teaches us that in order to love our neighbor we must first love ourselves. In order to properly respect others, we must first have a healthy self-respect. Way too often well-meaning people do a great disservice to their neighbors by not taking care of themselves or establishing healthy boundaries.
 
Christians mistakenly believe that the flagellation and hatred of self are the same as denial of self. They think that to be like Christ they must degrade their personhood. Some consider their self-loathing a badge of righteousness. They practice negative self-talk which leads to a low self-esteem. Low self-esteem gives way to failure in loving and doing for others which only serves to reinforce the negative feedback loop.
 
We see in Romans 6:18-25 that Paul denied anything good in himself, but he stopped short of self-condemnation.  He wrote, “I know that nothing good dwells in me,” then clarified, “that is in my flesh.” To Paul, the heart and the flesh were two separate things. His heart, which he referred to as his “inner being,” delighted in “the law of God,” but he also recognized “another law waging war in [his] mind making [him] captive to the law of sin in [his] members.” He exclaimed in verse 24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” But then he went on, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 
 
We do no service to Christ or our loved ones by condemning ourselves of sins for which Jesus already died. While our flesh often fails us and holds us captive, our heart is set free to love our inner being and to love others because of what Christ did for us on the cross. Our faith in Christ has freed us from the law of sin and death. We can love who we are in Him, thus we can also love others as He loves us.
 
Furthermore, we must first do good to ourselves if we hope to also do good for others. Or should we forget that Jesus took care of Himself first? He nourished His body with food and drink. He nourished His spirit by feasting on the word of God, and He took time to rest. Jesus’ care for His physical health allowed Him to go the extra mile. His care for His spirit allowed Him to turn the other cheek. He conducted His ministry out of the overflow of His own physical and spiritual health. Where do we get off thinking that we could do otherwise?
 
A person who kills themselves doing for others is no martyr. Neglect of self leads to premature death and falls short of bringing honor to the Lord. If God cares for you so much that He sent His son to die for you, then shouldn’t you also care for yourself? He created you. He gave you life. He loved you even before you were formed in your mother’s womb. Who are you to neglect God’s beloved? 
 
If you never go the extra mile for yourself, then you will never be able to go the extra mile for someone else. You cannot give away what you have not received, and you cannot receive nourishment unless you ask for it from the Lord who provides. If you desire to be a help to others, then you must first treat yourself like a person who needs your help. 
 
If we love God, then we will also love those whom God created. We must assign the highest value to all who were made in His image. This means that we must also love and value our own life. The Bible teaches that we should not value our lives for the sake of ourselves (Acts 20:24) but for the sake of others. We have to love and take care of ourselves if we hope to finish the course of our ministry and testify of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Read more...

On My Professional Doctoral Candidacy at NOBTS

As most of you know, I recently applied for and was accepted into the Professional Doctoral Program (ProDoc) program at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). Two weeks ago, I completed the first workshop for the ProDoc program, and I am currently working to prepare for my first seminar which will meet late next month.
 
  Now that I have a good grasp on the details of the program, I feel comfortable answering many of the questions I have received from church members regarding my candidacy. My family and I covet your love, prayers, and support so your understanding of the process is very important to us. Here are my answers to the questions church members ask most frequently regarding my decision to pursue the Doctor of Ministry (DMin). If after reading this you still have questions, please feel free to contact me, and I will do my best to answer.  
 
1. Why do you want to get a doctorate degree?
 
A. I don’t. I want to be the very best pastor I can be for the people of First Baptist Church of Wiggins. The longer I serve in this office, the more aware I become of my deficiencies as a leader and my need to grow as a professional. The best way I know to get better is to work through a structured program that will force me to grow. This burning desire to grow into a better leader is what inspired me to apply for and enter the ProDoc program.
 
2. What is a DMin?
A. DMin is short for Doctor of Ministry. The difference between a DMin and a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is that the DMin is a professional doctorate whereas a PhD is a research doctorate. DMin candidates earn their degrees while serving in a ministry position. DMin students study the needs in their current ministry context, develop a plan to meet one or some of those needs, implement the plan, and then publish their results. I felt drawn to the DMin because, not only does it help me to grow for the future, it is also a great benefit to my ministry right here at FBC Wiggins.
 

3. What is your specialization?

A. NOBTS offers fourteen specializations for the DMin degree. I chose to specialize in Pastoral Counseling. I chose Pastoral Counseling because I believe it will most benefit my ministry to you. In all my years as a Christian and as a master’s student, I learned how to study and understand Scripture. However, ministry is not just about understanding scripture. To be good at ministry you have to be able to understand people. The pastoral counseling specialization, will certainly equip me with skills I need for counseling opportunities, and it will also teach me everyday skills that will help me relate better to my people, my staff, and the lay leaders in the church.
 

4. What will be required to complete your degree and how long will it take?

A. DMin students are required to attend three workshops, take six seminars (at least three of which must be taken within the chosen specialization), and to develop and implement a project in ministry. The workshops are generally two days long and the seminars are three or four days long. My general plan is to take one seminar per trimester and one workshop per year. It should take around three years to complete the program.
 

5. How will you manage your duties as pastor with your responsibilities as a student?

A. As I told you in my trial sermon in March of 2015, my calling to my family always comes first, second comes my calling as your pastor. For the next three years, I will add a third priority to this list, namely, my calling to grow as your pastor. If I see that my response to God’s call to grow impedes on my calling as Pastor of FBC Wiggins or my calling to my family, then I will adjust my timeline for completion of the DMin and plan to take fewer seminars per year. There is no penalty for my doing so. Also, keep in mind that the DMin is designed for ministry professionals, so NOBTS grants consideration for my busy schedule as a senior pastor. If a conflict arises, such as a death in the church, that prevents me from attending a seminar, the professor will assign extra work to make up for the “seat time” I miss in that seminar. Finally, I plan to use the days allotted to me in my church covenant for professional development to account for the days I will spend in class at NOBTS. I will use my vacation days in the rare instance that I go over my allotted days for professional development, and I should never have to miss a Sunday.
 

__________________________________

One question I have not been asked is “What can FBC Wiggins do to help you?”Here is my answer for those who are interested:

 

  1. Pray for us. It is going to be a challenge, but I have learned that growth is always challenging. It is going to take hard work and discipline. Pray that I can be faithful and that my family will remain supportive as we walk through this together. Pray that we’d be found faithful.

 

  1. In a couple of years, when I begin my project in ministry, I will need your help. My project has to be directly related to my current ministry context. I will not be able to finish the work without your help and participation. I will keep you updated on my progress by giving regular reports at the end of each trimester. Stay informed so that you can know how to help me through this process. In the end, I will be a better pastor and FBC will be an even stronger fellowship of believers.

Read more...

Try Listening

The greatest threat to human relationships in the 21st century is our inability to listen to one another. Today we possess a thousand different ways to talk to one another (phone, email, text, video chat, social media, blogging), but those methods of communication are useless when we lack the ability to listen. When we respond before making the effort and taking the time to listen, we end up talking at each other rather than to one another only leading to further division and miscommunication.
 
The Bible teaches us that it is important to listen, especially when involved in an emotional conflict. James writes, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (1:19). Proverbs 17:27 says, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”
 
Today, if you are embroiled in a conflict, having trouble with your spouse, at odds with a coworker, disputing with a neighbor, having a difference with a family member, or fighting with your children, then can I give you one small piece of advice? Try listening. You just might discover a path to reconciliation. If you can reconcile, then your relationship will be stronger on the other side of the conflict because you will have learned how to better communicate with one another.
 
The next time you have an opportunity to have a conversation with the person with whom you are fighting, try a different approach. Open the conversation with something like, “Listen, I know we are not seeing eye to eye, and I am unhappy with the way we have handled this so far. Since I know you are unhappy as well, I’d like us to try a different approach. I want to listen to you. Tell me how you are feeling about this issue, and I will not speak until I understand your side to your satisfaction.” Most people will not turn down a chance to be heard.
 
After your partner in conflict shares how she feels, then try to reflect what they have told you back to them. Say, “so what I hear you saying is that you feel (insert emotion) because (insert tangible cause of that emotion).” Here is what it would look like in a marriage conflict, “So what I hear you saying is that you feel angry when I repeatedly hit the snooze button because my alarm wakes you up and keeps you from getting rest.” Here is what it looks like in a workplace conflict, “What I hear you saying is that you are stressed, because I wait until the last minute to get my report done.”
 
Often, you will find that you have misinterpreted your partner’s words. For example, the spouse might reply, “No. That is not what I meant. I get angry when you hit the snooze and sleep late because it means I have to get the kids ready for school without your help.” The coworker might reply, “No. Your procrastination doesn’t merely ‘stress me out’ it infuriates me because it keeps me from meeting my own work deadlines.”
 
Keep restating what you hear them saying until they say, “Yes. You nailed it. That is how I feel and why I feel that way.” It is only then that you are ready to state your side. Use the same succinct formula. “I feel ______ (insert emotion) because ________ (insert tangible cause of that emotion).” Then, ask your conflict partner to reflect what they hear you saying back to you. Repeat these steps over and over until an amicable resolution surfaces.
 
Apply James 1:19-20 by refusing to speak until you have first heard. Apply Proverbs 17:27 by using the necessary minimum number of words. Avoid blame, keep a cool spirit, and refrain from raising your voice. If your partner cannot keep cool, then make an appointment to circle back and try the conflict resolution process again later.
 
Embrace the discomfort of vulnerability. Do not be too quick to apologize or to prematurely accept an apology. Saying or accepting an apology does not resolve a conflict if an apology is offered or accepted before all the emotions and causes for the conflict are on the table. You will end up having the same fight over and over.
 

Everyone should read Robert Bolton’s book, People Skills, for more tools on how to have tough conversations and resolve many different kinds of conflicts.


Read more...

Harmony in the Church

I will never forget the first time I heard and recognized what I now know as harmony. Our church hosted an up and coming gospel group named Point of Grace in the mid-’90s. I remember being mesmerized as four individual voices combined to become one single voice of praise to our Lord. The symmetry of the beats and the seemingly effortless blending of each individual note seemed to me a production from the realm of the supernatural directed by the Master of all creation. 
 

I’ve come to the realization that all beauty stems from harmony. The beauty of God’s creation is rooted in how He created and then brought harmony to 118 primary elements to form all that we see in nature. Likewise, He created 12 notes and blended them in an infinite number of chords to make all the sounds that we hear and the languages we speak. From three primary colors, He formed all the colors of the rainbow. 
 
 
God brings the highest level of harmony and creates the most beautiful masterpieces when He establishes harmony among His human beings. He establishes the nations by bringing harmony to a diversity of peoples in a certain geographical area. He creates every family on earth by bringing harmony to brides and grooms so that they become husbands and wives and then, mothers and fathers. In every human institution, God shows people how to get along and work together and live together.
 
 
God made the Church the most beautiful harmonic masterpiece of all time. How did he create the church? It started when He reconciled the Church to Himself by giving His son to die on the cross in payment for her sins. In this way, God harmonized sinful man to His holiness by taking away the sins of the believers. He sanctified them with and through His Holy Spirit. He worked in their hearts to enable them to do the two great commandments, to love God and to love others. Finally, He brought them together all from different backgrounds, races, and socioeconomic statuses and joined them to one another as one body so that they could praise to Him with one voice. 
 
 
The Psalmist observed the beauty of God’s people living in harmony in Psalm 133:1, “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Our Savior prayed that we would be one just as He and the Father are one (John 17:11). The Holy Spirit prayed through Apostle Paul, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6-7).
 
 
Along with these observations and prayers, the Bible gives us some directives concerning how we should make it our aim to preserve the harmony that God established. His people are directed to preserve with eagerness and urgency the unity wrought by Jesus’ death on the cross “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…” (Ephesians 4:2-3). Furthermore, the Bible directs believers to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed them (Romans 15:7). This is the example we have in Christ who sought the good of His brothers and sisters before Himself (Romans 15:2-3, Philippians 2:4).
 
 
The opposite of harmony is discord. Harmony is pleasing to the senses, but discord is off-putting. Too much discord gives way to repulsiveness. Harmony invites a “yes,” but discord produces a “no.” A mixture of harmony and discord is present in all man-made things, and the beauty or displeasure of all that we sense is relative to the amount of harmony versus discord that we perceive in a thing. 
 
 
We reveal God to the world by living in harmony with one another. John wrote, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). Let us make it our purpose to reveal God to the world by living out the love of God that is in us. Let us abide by the direction of the Holy Spirit who said through Paul, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 13:18) and in another place “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Read more...

How to be a Heavenly Citizen

Roman citizenship was a very cherished item in the ancient world. Most everyone wanted to have access to and protection from the most powerful nation in the world. Many citizens of conquered nations enlisted in the Roman military for this specific purpose. If they survived their 20-year tour of duty, then they could retire as full Roman citizens. Many of these military veterans ended up settling in places on the frontier around cities like Philippi. 
 
Don’t underestimate the historical context when Paul wrote to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” For Christians, the victory was won by Christ on the cross. We survived. We finished our tour of duty and our citizenship is firmly in hand. We now await our savior, our commanding general, and our king to come and finish the only task left, the transformation of our lowly bodies to be like His.
 
Is this all though? Should we really be just sitting around waiting for Him to return, just biding time? I think there is more to being a heavenly citizen than this. Just as Roman citizenship carried with it certain duties, so also there are duties that go along with heavenly citizenship.
 
First, Heavenly citizens have a duty to not entangle themselves in the things of the world. Hebrews 11 tells the stories of some heavenly citizens that were known to be strangers and aliens in the world. They were weird people who did strange things. Abel offered a peculiar sacrifice that was acceptable to God. Noah, who was probably judged as off his rocker for expecting the flood, built an ark, survived the flood and saved the human race. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah wandered the earth like nomads never really finding a home here as they looked for a homeland that was out of this world. 
 
We should be a strange people as well, strange because we are strangers. Remember what Paul said to the Philippians? We are citizens of a kingdom that is out of this world, so that means that the citizens of this world should see us doing more than just making a living, raising a family, and living the American dream. Not that those things are bad, but we should be about more than that. They should see us doing strange things like going to church, telling others about our King Jesus, and living in a way that is peculiar to them.
 
Second, heavenly citizens should be active in the work of their kingdom. Many Christian philosophers would have us believe that we should live totally separated from the world in communes, convents, and monasteries. However, Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16 that we are the salt and the light of the earth. Salt is made to give flavor. Light is made to shine. Both salt and light make an impact on the things that they touch.
 
As salt and light of the earth, we should preserve; we should shine. Just because we are strangers and exiles here does not mean that we should be unconcerned with the world. We should seek to make the world a better place. This is our duty as heavenly citizens and what good are we if our citizenship benefits only us?
 
Finally, as heavenly citizens we should share the good news. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. God has entrusted us with the message of reconciliation. Think about this. God did not choose to write the gospel in the skies. He chose to write it on our hearts. He didn’t choose to send angels. He chose to send us. 
 
What honor and glory has been bestowed upon us? Corinth, a city in Greece, regularly received ambassadors from Italy who brought the good news of victory from the farthest reaches of the Roman empire. These ambassadors were the most honorable and grittiest of Roman officials. We too, as ambassadors of Christ, are most honored, and we should seek to be the grittiest as we go about sharing the good news of our heavenly kingdom. Good citizens of heaven have a duty to ride out, set sail, run, and proclaim the news of Jesus victory over sin and death to all who inhabit this land.

Read more...

Paul in Athens

Last week, my daily Bible reading took me through Acts 17 and the story of Paul in Athens. I’ve always loved and been really interested in his sermon at the Areopagus where Paul used their altar ‘To the Unknown God’ to reason with them about Christ. What I had never looked deeply into, though, was what went into Paul receiving the opportunity to speak at the Areopagus. 
 
Did you realize that Paul was alone in Athens? He had no helpers, there were no churches and no fellow believers. He must have been tired having traveled halfway around the Roman world on his second missionary journey. This would have been a good time for him to rest while he waited on Timothy and Silas to join him.
 
Consider also that he was not only tired and alone, but he was also literally surrounded by idols. One historian satirically wrote that in Athens it was easier to find a god than to find a man. Athens was filled with temples to the Greek deities. There was the Great Temple of Athena that housed a grand ivory and gold statue of the Goddess. She stood almost 38 feet tall and sat atop a pedestal that was 12 by 24 feet. The statue was built out of 2400lbs of gold. But that was not the only temple. There was also the Erechtheion which was dedicated to the worship of numerous gods. It also featured a large central statue and a porch on the south side that with goddess statues for columns.
 
I would have wanted to hide. “What difference could one believer make in a city full of pagans?” That’s a question I would have asked as would, I think, most modern day western believers. Not Paul, though, for verse 16 says that when Paul saw all the idols, “his spirit was provoked within him.” I imagine Paul getting that look in his eyes, that look that said: “something has to be done.”
 
Luke reported that the provocation of his spirit moved him to enter the synagogues and begin reasoning with the Jews. Athens did have a strong Jewish presence, and there was also a lot of what Luke calls “devout persons,” that is Greeks who had converted to Judaism. Paul went to them one by one and began to reason with them about how Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.
 
Paul, not content to just speak with the Jews, also went into the Stoa. The Stoa were large colonnade walkways where the Philosophers met and exchanged ideas. He reasoned with the Epicureans and the Stoics, the two competing humanist Philosophies of the Roman empire. Both the Epicureans and the Stoics were seeking to become sages in their own right, the Epicurean by ridding themselves of desire and the Stoic by overcoming with dogged determination any challenge that came their way.
 
You can just imagine what these philosophers thought about Paul. Here they were trying to overcome the world by their own human faculties and become like the gods when Paul comes and tells them that living a good life is not about fulfilling a purpose that one defines on their own. It is about living out the purpose that the one true God has already defined for them. Then, imagine what they thought when he got around to speaking to them about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. It’s no wonder that in verse 18 he was labeled by the Epicureans and Stoics as a “babbler” and “preacher of foreign deities.”
 
It was in his debates with the Epicureans and Stoics that Paul got noticed by another group of interesting people. The Areopagites were a cult, a sort of secular monastery, who lived in Athens. They followed neither the Epicurean nor the Stoic school of Philosophy. Rather they were devoted to hearing and discovering new things and new ways of thinking. The place where they met was called the Areopagus, a rocky outcrop atop Mars Hill. It is from this place and to this group that Paul preached his first public sermon in Athens. 
 
What do we learn? When you are alone, tired, and in an evil place, the thing to do is to go and reason with people. Just go share what God has done in your life and the truth that you live by. God can do amazing things through one person if that one person is wholly submitted to Jesus. 

Read more...

Unpacking the King’s Secret to Success and Failure

Last week, my daily Bible reading plan took me through the middle chapters of 2 Chronicles that gave the account of the first few Kings of Judah. A striking pattern emerged for the kings’ successes and failures, one that is threaded throughout Scripture. 
 
The secret is this—whenever the kings humbled themselves and sought the Lord they were victorious no matter how dire the circumstances. Conversely, whenever they relied on their own devices or other earthly means they were miserably defeated. In Chapter 12, for example, the army of Egypt with its 1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen came against Rehoboam. The prophet Shemaiah told him that the Lord had brought this siege against him because he had “abandoned the Lord.” The Chronicler reported in the very next verse that upon hearing this, the king and the princes humbled themselves. The result? “The word of the Lord came to Shemaiah: ‘They have humbled themselves. I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem…’”
 
The next chapter Chronicles the reign of Abijah, son of Jeroboam. Abijah was the first of the great reformer kings. He was particularly concerned with reforming Judah’s priesthood. When a conflict broke out with the northern kingdom of Israel, he stood on Mt. Zimariam with his army of 400,000 outnumbered two to one against Israel’s 800,000 mighty men and spoke the following words in a scene that could be right out of the movie Braveheart: “’ “And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made you for gods… Behold, God is with us at our head, and his priests with their battle trumpets to sound the call to battle against you. O sons of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed.’” The result? The priests sounded the trumpets, and when the dust cleared, Abijah had wiped out 500,000 of Israel’s mighty men. 
 
Perhaps the greatest illustration of the King’s secret to success and failure comes in the life of the next King of Judah, King Asa. King Asa experienced both victory and defeat based on whether or not he was relying upon the Lord. His defeat of the Ethiopians made his father Abijah’s victory look like an exhibition match. With a 580,000 man army, he defeated a force as large as the entire U.S. active military. His success against the Ethiopians was attributed to this prayer that the Lord answered: “’O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.’”
 
Asa did something incredibly dumb, though, late in his reign. Instead of seeking the Lord when Israel came against him, he made an alliance with the king of Syria. This alliance granted him victory in the short run and much bloodshed was avoided. In the long run, though, this would lead to his condemnation. The prophet Hanani delivered the verdict in hopes Asa would turn and seek the Lord saying, “’Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you… For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” Asa refused to repent and as a result, would spend his last years in misery and die a horrible death. 
 
So what do we learn from these stories? In short, reliance on the Lord pleases Him and leads to glorious victory. Reliance on anything or anyone other than the Lord leads to defeat and misery. It is not the circumstances that matter. What matters is who or what you are trusting in as you face those circumstances. When the glory of the Lord is the victory you seek and the means by which you seek it, then you are guaranteed success. You can do all things through Christ, and only through Christ, who strengthens you. 

Read more...