Accepting Conflict

conflict 2

2 Corinthians 4:5-10 (NIV)

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Contrary to popular but poor theological teaching, salvation does not guarantee an easy life.  It is tempting to present Christianity as a safe haven from which to watch the world swirl past.  Then we could open the door to allow in joy and blessing, but hardship could not squeeze through.  That brand of religion might sell well in the world marketplace, but it isn’t real.

The truth is, Christians cannot escape conflict or ridicule.  The biblical principles we hold dear often seem like foolishness to non believers.  What’s more, defending our faith and sharing the gospel will frequently draw criticism or anger from listeners.  But Scripture counsels against keeping quiet and blending in.  In fact, as we ready here in Matthew, we are to welcome disagreement as a way to grow in our faith.

Matthew 5:14-15 (NIV)

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

Take a moment to consider this: Our belief system is named for a man who so thoroughly challenged the status quo that religious leaders called for His death.  Jesus Christ was at the center of controversy during His entire ministry here on earth.  That’s why the biblical record so often shows Him slipping away for time alone with God.  He was seeking direction and receiving strength from Him.  We need to model this same behavior.  I mean if Jesus needed strength from God, we certainly do as well.  While Jesus was fully God, He was also fully human.  He knew the sting of rejection and the taste of fear, just as we do.  Jesus received every kind of temptation, yet he was able to keep from sinning.  He should be our role model in how we live our lives.

Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

As believers, we are called to be peacemakers, but that doesn’t mean isolating ourselves from all who oppose the church.  We need to accept conflict as inevitable and reach out to others anyway.  You can have a powerful impact simply by being the person God called you to be; His child.  And that is a very cool thing to be!

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Real Success Comes From Dependence

dependence

Job 6:13 (NIV)

13 Do I have any power to help myself,
    now that success has been driven from me?

 Job 42:1-6 (NIV)

42 Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

 

Job was winning at life.  He had it all- wealth and riches, family and friends, health and happiness.  He was living the dream.  Then he wasn’t.  Virtually overnight, nearly everything he had was ripped away from him and he was left to wallow in the ashes, a broken, angry, lonely, miserable, pain-stricken man.

Seemingly without hope, Job said, “What strength do I have that I should continue to hope? …Since I cannot help myself, the hope of success has been banished from me.”

Job had nothing left, including strength, and it looked like God had abandoned him too.  But it wasn’t all over for him.  The One who had given him success (and allowed it to be taken away) would restore Job’s fortunes, actually giving him double what he had before disaster struck.  You can read the rest of the story here:

Job 42:10-17 (NIV)

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silverand a gold ring.

12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters.14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.

A.W. Tozer once said, “God may allow His servant to succeed when He has disciplined him to a point where he does not need to succeed to be happy.  The man who is elated by success and is cast down by failure is still a carnal man.  At best his fruit will have a worm in it.”

Have you ever lived through a season when things seemed hopeless?  When I feel that way, it’s often because I feel helpless.  In my own strength, I can’t do it.  I can’t get through it.  I’m simply not enough.  And while that’s true, it fails to take God into account.  Through God, I can do anything.  We all can.

While Job wavered, he kept trusting God.  We see this is Job 13:15.

Job 13:15 (NIV)

15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
    I will surely defend my ways to his face.

Success depends on God’s grace.  The challenge for us is to keep depending on Him, no matter what season we find ourselves in.

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Happy Easter, I Mean…Merry Christmas

baby-jesus

Luke 2:8-15 (NIV)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 

You really can’t get a full picture of the whole meaning of Christmas without considering Easter as well.  We really need to appreciate seeing the manger and the cross side by side.  I believe, that’s the way God intended us to view Jesus’ birth and death.

When angels appeared to those shepherds in the Judean countryside on the first Christmas, one of them said, “This will be the sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Have you ever considered what an odd thing that is to say?  The angel had already announced that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem.  Why did the shepherds also need a sign?  And what did the sign mean?

It’s all wrapped up in that feeding trough-literally.  It’s a strange thing for a baby to be swaddled and placed in a manger, for what’s normally placed in a manger is food for sheep.  That odd sight was the sign.

Many years later, Jesus would break bread and say, “This is my Body given for you.”

Luke 22:19 (NIV)

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

On the cross, Jesus’ body was broken to become life-giving food for His sheep, and the first hint of this priceless sacrifice was given to the shepherds on that night He was born.

Without Christmas, there would have been no Easter, but without Easter, there would be little to celebrate at Christmas.

John Huss, an early church reformer said, “Rejoice that the immortal God is born, so that mortal man may live in eternity.  It goes to show how much we really should rejoice at the fact that Jesus was actually born.  God had no obligation to do this on our behalf.

As we near the day of Christmas this year, please consider these two questions:

What difference does it make to see Christmas in light of Easter?

How could you make Easter a part of your holiday celebration this Christmas?

There really is no point in trying to separate Christmas and Easter.  They are completely dependent on each other so maybe we need to celebrate the entire scope of what Jesus did for us.  When we can picture Jesus on the cross, it makes that baby in the manger look much more remarkable.

I wish you all a very Happy Easter, I mean…Merry Christmas!

 

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In His Hands

potter

Jeremiah 18:1-6 (NIV)

18 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

 

In this passage, God is teaching us about His relationship with His children.  He says that He will deal with us the way a potter works with clay and that we, like the clay, are in His hands.

God deals with believers in two ways.  First, He is molding every one of us into the image of His Son, Jesus.  Second, He is shaping us for a specific purpose, one that is individually designed so we will help build His kingdom.

Our part as the clay is to submit ourselves to His purpose.  As the Potter, He may subtract something from our lives similar to removing lumps from clay.  Another possibility is that He may speed up the pace until we feel as if we’re spinning.  Or, desiring a new shape for His “vessels,” He might dramatically rework our pattern of living in order to start us in a new direction.

If you are anything like me, you might not like change very well.  We get comfortable in our lifestyle and existence and any major changes to that are scary and can be really uncomfortable.  What we have to keep in mind is that God wants what is best for us and He is taking us to a much better place, even though we may not see that at the time.  The short-term can be difficult to endure, but once we come out on the other side, the place that we should have been all along, we see how much better it is and soon forget about our old life from before.

Our responsibility is to accept any changes from the Master Potter.  We can do this confidently because we are in God’s hands.  Scripture describes God’s hands as:

  • Creative hands whose skillful work is displayed in nature.
  • Hands filled with righteousness.
  • Hands that give life and take it away.
  • Mighty and powerful hands that rescued Israel from Egypt and us from slavery to sin.
  • Hands that protect us.
  • Hands that were pierced so we might be made new.

When we think about being clay in the Potter’s hands and the ways God deals with us, we can relax.  “In His hands” is exactly the place that we want to be.

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Having Courage in Our Loneliest Hours

courage 8

2 Timothy 4:6-18 (NIV)

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.

16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 

This passage from the book of 2 Timothy captures a painful time in the life of Paul the apostle.  As he sat in a prison cell, he knew that death was imminent.  He had devoted the last years of his life to teaching, training, and winning souls for Christ, but he now stood alone, unsupported during his trial and time in jail.  The loneliness must have seemed overwhelming to him.

Paul felt abandoned, yet he didn’t blame anyone or pity himself.  Instead, he met the suffering with courage.  I know that if I was in that same position, it would be very hard for me not to want to blame those, who I thought were my friends, for not supporting me.  I would almost certainly be feeling some self-pity.  How about you?  How would you feel if you were in that situation?  The point is that Paul didn’t feel those things.  What motivated him to stand with strength during this trying time?

For Paul, an awareness of Christ’s presence gave him comfort and motivated him to persevere.  Having a copy of Scripture in his cell was no doubt one way for him to find encouragement.  We know this from 2 Timothy 4:13.  Paul knew that God was right there with him in the current moment that he was in, but he also recalled earlier times when the Lord had intervened on his behalf.

An example of this occurred years before, when Paul had a vision from God telling him not to fear during a storm on the sea.  Even though the ship he was on ran aground, all the men on that ship survived.  Here is the account of that tale:

Acts 27:22-24 (NIV)

22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’

For those of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, strength is readily available to us in His intimate presence.  Our heavenly Father promises that he will never abandon His children, even when everyone else has.

Have your circumstances left you feeling lonely?  When you are feeling this way, try to remember times when God was evident to you- when He clearly revealed His hand in your life.  Also, take the time to read His Word (the Bible) so that the truth of His presence can comfort and encourage you.  As a believer, you are truly never alone.

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We Can All Get Preferential Treatment

psalm 30 5

Psalm 30:5 (NIV)

For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

 

Most of the time, we think, “Oh, God’s got bigger things to deal with than me and my little problems.  He’s not interested in what’s bothering me.”  That is simply not true.  You are God’s biggest deal.  He wants to make you an example of His goodness.  When you keep God in first place in your heart, when you honor Him with your life, God puts something on you that causes you to stand out from the rest of the crowd.  God gives you something that give you an advantage.  It causes good breaks and opportunities to be attracted to you.  It’s called the favor of God!

The word favor means to assist, to provide with advantages, to receive preferential treatment.  The favor of God will cause you to be promoted even though you might not have been the most qualified.  God’s favor will cause your children to get the best teachers in school.  It will help you find the best deals at the mall.  God’s favor will put you at the right place at the right time.

God is saying to you what He said to Abraham, “I’m going to assist you.  I going to provide you with advantages.  I’m going to cause you to receive preferential treatment.”

All you have to do is believe it and receive it for today and for all the days of your life.

That does not mean that God is going to guarantee you an easy life.  No one is guaranteed that.  Everyone is going to go through seasons in the valley, but you have to know and believe that those tough times will not last.  If you have a relationship with God and have faith that He will bless your life, He will.  It is that simple and there is no reason to complicate that.

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What if Jesus Were You?

Jesus 7

What if, for 24 hours, Jesus wakes up in your bed, walks in your shoes, lives in your house, assumes your schedule?  Your boss becomes His boss, your mother becomes His mother, your pains become His pains?  With one exception, nothing about your life changes.  Your health doesn’t change.  Your circumstances don’t change.  Your schedule isn’t altered.  Your problems aren’t solved.  Only one change occurs.

What if, for one day and one night, Jesus live your life with His heart?  Your heart gets the day off, and your life is led by the heart of Christ.  His priorities govern your actions.  His passions drive your decisions.  His love directs your behavior.

What would you be like?  Would people notice a change?  Your family- would they see something new?  Your co-workers – would they sense a difference?  What about the less fortunate?

-excerpt taken from Max Lucado, Just Like Jesus

 

This really makes me think.  I like to think that I live my life in a way that somewhat resembles the way that Jesus lived His life, but do I really?  Do I treat my boss with the same love and respect that Jesus shows towards God, His boss?  Do I treat those around me the way Jesus would?  Do I love others as much as he would?  Am I able to forgive like He did?

Unfortunately, I think that if Jesus took my place for a whole day, people would really notice a difference.  They would see a me that is better than me on even my best days.  People would see me clearly living my life the way I was designed by God to live.  I think people would honestly wonder what had happened to me.  That makes me sad when I realize that.  I want to be more like Jesus, I just have some trouble executing it on a daily basis.

I think if people really look within themselves, they will see that we all fall short of living our lives as Jesus would if he were in our bodies for a day.

Trying to live a life like Jesus would is a goal that can’t be reached on this side of heaven.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t do it.  That can be depressing thought.  But that is not the point.  It is not important that we reach this goal during our lives here on earth.  What is important is that we actively pursue that goal and try to do it.  Over time and through many trials, we become better at it and get closer to the goal.  As a reward, when we die, we get new bodies and we get to be like Jesus.  I would say that is a pretty good reward.

Maybe the next time I see someone in need, I will take the time to stop and help them instead of just going on with my day.  When I do, I can smile knowing that there is a piece of Jesus in me.  Ultimately, that is the point isn’t it?

On this day of this great election, it is really easy for everyone to say that we have no good candidates for President.  Maybe there isn’t.  Everyone can say that our government has failed us.  Maybe they have.  Everyone can say that our country is falling apart.  Maybe it is.

We all want change and we are looking towards a magical President who can bring us that.  It doesn’t work that way.  Change comes from each one of us.  We all have to look within ourselves and see that we can do better, and then go do it.  If you believe in Jesus, then a part of Him is inside of you and goes wherever you go.  We just need to let that light shine out onto others.

I know who I am voting for today, but ultimately, it really doesn’t matter because I know that God has everything under His control.  He will ultimately allow things that are the best for us and I trust that He will protect us and always care for us, even through the very darkest days, which could very well be on the way.

When Jesus lived on earth, he was hated by many people.  If he were running for President today, I highly doubt He would get elected.  Jesus goes against many of the things that this world treats as idols.  Sometimes the more popular choice isn’t always the right choice.  That is something you can decide and that is what makes our country great.

So get out there and vote today, knowing that your voice does count.  Think of all those people who sacrificed so that you could have the right to do that.  Let’s have faith that God will protect us and let’s not be afraid to bring Him back into the public eye.  Lastly, let’s all resolve ourselves to act a little more like Jesus today.  Let’s love openly to all our brothers and sisters.  Let’s forgive others when they do mean and wrong things to us.  Let’s serve each other and help each other up when one of us falls.

If you really want to make America great again, this is what you need to do!  Now let’s go do it!

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