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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

A Bulletproof Faith – Accelerating Tempo

Central - Sanctuary - South 5-Lancet Stained Glass WindowKey Bible Verse: “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away.” Psalm 39:4

Bonus Reading: Psalm 39:5-7, 11-12

The death of a parent not only confronts us with the truth about death, but also with the truth about life. We mutter, “Where did the years go?” “It seems like just yesterday,” and other telling phrases.

The idea of a “long life” touches on a misconception of youth about the length of a year, a decade, or a life. For a child, a year seems very long; for an adult, it seems like an instant. That’s because as a person ages, a year represents an increasingly smaller portion of his life. If a junior-high history teacher says, “That happened only ten years ago,” the students think, Only ten years? That’s more than two thirds of my lifetime! But adults, especially those older than 50, feel as though the events of a decade ago occurred just yesterday.

As a child, you may have thought something like this: Let’s see, in 2010, I’ll be ___ years old, and in 2020, I’ll be ____. Most young children have trouble imagining themselves older than 25 or 30. And 40 seems ancient.

Well, you’re there now. It didn’t take very long did it?

—Dave Veerman & Bruce Barton in When Your Father Dies

My Response: How has grieving the loss of a loved one adjusted my perspective on life?

Thought to Apply: After 60 years, the stern sentence of the burial service seems to have a meaning that one did not notice in former years. There begins to be something personal about it. —Oliver Wendell Holmes (physician and author)

Adapted from When Your Father Dies (Nelson, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

 

 

A Bulletproof Faith – Rich Mullins’s Mortality Awareness

Central - Sanctuary - South 5-Lancet Stained Glass WindowKey Bible Verse: Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  – 2 Corinthians 4:16

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Singer/songwriter Rich Mullins spoke and sang so much about death that some of us thought he had a morbid streak. I once asked, of all the songs he wrote, which was his favorite. Without hesitation he replied, “Elijah”—a song about his own death.

Rich understood death not as something to be feared but as something to be mindful of as we live.

He said, “Once you come to understand that life is unbelievably brief, and that we really can’t do anything that’s gonna change anything, that we don’t really amount to a hill of beans—then all of a sudden you go, ‘So it doesn’t really matter if I’m not that great. And if I don’t have to be great, that means I can fail. And if I can fail, that means I can try. And if I can try, that means I’m gonna have a good time.'”

Rich believed that death isn’t the end, but the beginning of life. In one of his songs he wrote, “Live like you’ll die tomorrow; die knowin’ you’ll live forever.”

He demonstrated how to live well by making the most of one’s time—living hard, laughing hard, and departing this world, as predicted [see Thought to Apply] in his favorite song.

—James Bryan Smith in HomeLife

My Response: How does being mindful of death “teach us to make the most of our time” (Psalm 90:121)?

Thought to Apply: But when I leave, I want to go out like Elijah, with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire. —Rich Mullins (in “Elijah”)

Adapted from HomeLife (8/00)

Prayer for the Week:  Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

 

 

A Bulletproof Faith – The Big One

Central - Sanctuary - South 5-Lancet Stained Glass WindowKey Bible Verse: “I am the First and the Last … and I hold the keys of death and the grave” – Revelation 1:17-18

Bonus Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 11:6

For the twentieth anniversary of the Larry King Live television talk show in 2005, the well-known host sat in the guest chair, while Barbara Walters interviewed him. She hit Larry with her usual barrage of blunt questions. “Are you very rich?” “What living person do you most admire?” Eventually she arrived at “What is your greatest fear?”

Larry King’s prompt, serious one-word answer: “Death.” He didn’t say, “That my show might get canceled,” “That my ratings might drop,” or “That my broker might embezzle all my money.” No, to Larry, the thought of dying was worse than any of these.

Barbara quickly moved to the next question. “Do you be-lieve in God?”

Larry’s forthright answer: “Not sure. I’m an agnostic.”

As soon as I heard that, I thought, The two answers fit together, don’t they? To be uncertain about the reality of God leaves a big problem when it comes to death. It means being cast out into a void, unsure of what or whom to grasp. But if you know there’s a God, and you’ve come to terms with him by accepting his offer of forgiveness and salvation, you know what eternity holds. You know God is there already to welcome you as one of his family.

—Jeff Streucker in The Road to Unafraid

My Response: How has my God-confidence diminished my death-fear? To what extent?

Adapted from The Road to Unafraid (W Publishing, 2006)

Prayer for the Week:  Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

 

 

A Bulletproof Faith – Just in Case

Central - Sanctuary - South 5-Lancet Stained Glass WindowKey Bible Verse: No man can live forever; all will die. No one can escape the power of the grave.  – Psalm 89:48

Bonus Reading: Psalm 90:3-6, 10

I was on an airplane and the flight attendant started going through the pre-flight spiel, instructing us on what to do “in case of a water landing.”

I looked around. We were on a 747 jet. This plane isn’t equipped with pontoons. A 747 doesn’t “land” on the water. It explodes on impact into pieces the size of my toenail.

The proper way to prepare for an event like this is not to stick your head between your knees (as if there were room to do that anyway) but to scream until your throat bleeds and pray in six languages at once.

I arrived home (without experiencing a water landing, thankfully) and turned on the TV, and a commercial came on for life insurance. This guy walks onto the set all somber-looking and explains the benefits of their policy. Then he says I should sign up so my family will be taken care of “in case the unthinkable should happen.” Of course, by “the unthinkable,” he means “In case you die.”

But the thing is, death isn’t unthinkable; it’s inevitable.

What kind of culture calls things that are inevitable un-thinkable? What kind of world refuses to think about what is certain but instead spends its time worrying about things that aren’t?

—Steven James in Sailing Between the Stars

My Response: Why does our culture consider this inevitable event unthinkable?

Adapted from Sailing Between the Stars (Revell, 2006)

Prayer for the Week:  Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

 

 

A Bulletproof Faith – Sober Reflection

Central - Sanctuary - South 5-Lancet Stained Glass WindowWho Said It … Max Lucado

Max’s beer-drinking, girl-chasing lifestyle was as barren as the West Texas land he grew up in. Then he encountered Jesus through a required Bible course at Abilene Christian University. He abruptly shifted from law studies to missions preparation.

After five years in Brazil with his wife, Denalyn, he returned to pastor in the U.S. A collection of storytelling columns written for a church newsletter formed his first book in a long string of best-sellers. Max is pulpit minister of the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio.

What He Said … Sober Reflection

On a dull, drizzly day I visited the wailing wall of a generation: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. With the Washington Monument to my left and the Lincoln Memorial to my back, it stretched before me. Black marble tablets carved with names that read like the roster of a high school football team more than a list of dead soldiers—Walter Faith, Richard Sala, Michael Andrews, Roy Burris, Emmet Stanton. Each name a young life. Behind each name a bereaved widow … an anguished mother … a fatherless child.

It was then that I stopped looking at the names and stared at the monument. I relaxed my focus from the lettering and looked at the tablet. What I saw was sobering. I saw myself, my own reflection. My face looked at me from the shiny marble.

It reminded me that I, too, have been dying as long as I’ve been living. I, too, will someday have my name carved in a granite stone. Someday I, too, will face death.

Adapted from Six Hours One Friday (Multnomah, 1989)

Prayer for the Week:  Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

 

 

An Analysis of Three Covid-19 Outbreaks

 

Here is a link to a very concise analysis of how COVID-19 spread in three outbreaks:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Study: This Is How Americans Are Feeling About In-Person Worship

As the debate continues about what COVID-19 precautions people should feel compelled to take, a recent survey from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has found that most Americans say they would be uncomfortable attending in-person religious services.

There is one religious group more comfortable with in-person worship than others, however—white evangelical Protestants.

“We’re seeing among lay people a significant amount of discomfort in going back to formal in-person religious practices,” said Daniel Cox, according to Religion News Service (RNS). Cox is the AEI research fellow who led the study for the Washington D.C.-based think tank. He said, “People are equivocating and uncertain about whether they feel comfortable attending.”

AEI’s survey interviewed 3,504 adults from May 21 through June 5 evaluating American responses to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to how people feel about in-person worship, the study explored topics such as support for the economy re-opening, how well the government has handled the crisis, and whether the worst is yet to come.

Researchers took a random sample of adults living in urban, suburban, and rural environments in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interviews were self-administered online or (when participants did not have internet access) by phone through professional interviewers with NORC at the University of Chicago.

Are Americans Willing to Attend Religious Services?

AEI’s study explored various aspects of American perspectives on religious services. Questions evaluated people’s attendance habits during “normal” times, whether or not participants identified as “born-again,” and how their religious affiliation (or lack thereof) impacted their comfort with attending an in-person service.

Sixty-eight percent of the survey’s participants identified as Christian in some sense, with 30 percent identifying as Protestant, 19 percent as Roman Catholic, and 19 percent choosing the category “Just Christian.” Thirty-eight percent of the respondents said they would describe themselves as a “born-again” or “evangelical” Christians, while 61 percent said they would not describe themselves that way.

The majority (64 percent) of the respondents said they would feel either “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” attending religious services in person right now. In contrast, 36 percent said they would feel either “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” doing so.

AEI also found that 34 percent of white evangelical Protestants would be “very comfortable” attending an in-person worship service and 27 percent would be “somewhat comfortable.” In contrast, only 16 percent of white mainline Protestants and nine percent of black Protestants said they would be “very comfortable,” while 20 percent of the former and 23 percent of the latter would be “somewhat comfortable.”

  • But how often do the respondents attend religious services under normal circumstances—that is, when a global pandemic is not occurring and apart from weddings and funerals?

Eight percent answered that they normally attend religious services more than once a week, whereas 20 percent attend once a week, and seven percent attend once or twice a month. Thirteen percent said they attend services a few times a year, and half of the respondents attend “seldom” or “never.”

When asked if they had attended a worship service “in the past week,” eight percent said they had and 91 percent said they had not.

Religious Services from March to June

There were some interesting answers to a question exploring the types of religious services American congregations were offering at the end of March compared to the beginning of June. The question asked, “Is your congregation or place of worship currently offering religious services as usual, offering services online only or is it not currently offering formal religious services?”

The survey asked participants to answer the question only if they were members of a congregation, regardless of whether they attend services, and to answer for two different dates: March 30, 2020, and June 5, 2020. Forty-two percent of the survey’s respondents said they were members of a congregation.

As of the end of March, 12 percent of those members said their congregations were still offering in-person worship services, 57 percent had access to online services only, and 30 percent said their congregations were offering no services at all.

As of the beginning of June, 15 percent of congregations were offering in-person worship services, but online-only services had increased as well, rising to 63 percent. The percentage of congregations not offering any services decreased to 21 percent.

So while the percentage of in-person worship services increased slightly, the percentage of online-only services increased as well, even as states began to loosen their restrictions. It seems, therefore, that as many churches resume in-person worship, Americans in general remain cautious of gathering again.


At Central Church, in-person worship has resumed each Sunday at 11 am with appropriate precautions, including wearing masks and physical distancing of household groups around the Sanctuary.

 

For those who may not feel comfortable with returning to in-person worship for the present, tune in at 10:30 A.M. on Sundays to hear this week’s message from Central Church by Pastor Jan!

Here’s where to tune in:

 

 

Otherworldly Window – Glimpse of Deity, Foretaste of Glory

glimpses-of-the-divineKey Bible Verse: Christ appeared in the flesh and was shown to be righteous by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and was announced to the nations. He was believed on in the world and was taken up into heaven.  1 Timothy 3:16

Bonus Reading: John 13:31-14:6

The time between the resurrection and the ascension was, in the words of McGill University professor Douglas Farrow in Ascension and Ecclesia, “a new coming of Jesus himself with his humanity intact and his divinity no longer veiled. It was the time in which God was clearly seen and known to live as this man, and this man as God.”

What do we actually know about the ascension? We know where Jesus went, for he told us that he was going to the Father from whom he had come (John 16:5-11). We know why he went: to prepare a place for us with his Father, to which he will bring us. How he went is through the entire route of the incarnation, culminating in the cross and the resurrection. “And the consequence of his going,” writes Farrow “is a mission of the Spirit aimed at the proclamation of the Father’s open house.”

Because Jesus ascended, Christians live in a unique place of both “waiting eagerly” and “groaning.” We are “the prophetic sign to the world” that at Jesus’ ascension God enthroned him at his right hand, at the center of all existence throughout space and time.

—Marva Dawn in Talking the Walk

My Response: I’ll thank Christ that he “has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again” (1 Cor. 15:20).

Thought to Apply: The one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.    —Frederick Buechner

Adapted from Talking the Walk (Brazos, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Jesus, for glimpses of your divinity, with markers of your humanity retained, that preview life eternal for us.

 

Otherworldly Window – Departing in Broad Daylight

glimpses-of-the-divineKey Bible Verse: He was taken up into the sky while they were watching, and he disappeared into a cloud.  Acts 1:9

Bonus Reading: Acts 1:9-11

Attempts to discredit the literal, historical ascension of Jesus should be rejected for two main reasons.

First, Luke relies heavily on the testimony of eyewitnesses. Jesus was taken up “while they were watching” until a cloud hid him from their sight. As they “were straining their eyes to see him,” the two angels spoke of their having seen him go.

Second, the visible ascension had an easily understand-able purpose. In the transition from his earthly to his heavenly state, Jesus could have vanished, as on other occasions, and gone to the Father secretly and invisibly. The reason for a public, visible ascension is surely that he wanted the disciples to know that he was gone for good. During the 40 days, he’d kept appearing, disappearing, and reappearing. But now the interim period was over. This time his departure was final. So they weren’t to wait around for his next resurrection appearance. Instead, they were to wait for the Holy Spirit.

As the two white-robed messengers pointed out, prolonged gazing into the sky was out of place when they’d been commissioned to go to the ends of the earth. Their calling was to be witnesses, not stargazers.

—John Stott in Through the Bible Through the Year

My Response: How can I “eagerly look forward to his glorious return” (2 Timothy 4:8) without becoming a star-gazer?

Thought to Apply: At his ascension our Lord entered heaven, and he keeps the door open for humanity to enter. —Oswald Chambers (British teacher & chaplain)

Adapted from Through the Bible Through the Year (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Jesus, for glimpses of your divinity, with markers of your humanity retained, that preview life eternal for us.

 

 

Otherworldly Window – Turning Point

glimpses-of-the-divineKey Bible Verse: “I have been given complete authority … Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations.”  – Matthew 28:19-20

Bonus Reading: Philippians 2:9-11

In the Old Testament, Johannes Blauw pointed out in his book The Missionary Nature of the Church, the prophets’ vision of the last days was of a pilgrimage of the nations to Jerusalem. Mount Zion would be exalted above all mountains, and all nations would flow into it like a river. In the New Testament, however, the direction is reversed. The prophets’ “centripetal missionary consciousness” is now replaced by a “centrifugal missionary activity.” Instead of the nations flowing into the church, the church now goes out to the nations.

And what was the turning point? It was the resurrection. Only after Jesus had risen could he claim universal authority, and only then could he exercise that authority by sending his disciples into the world. “Mission,” Blauw concludes, “is the summons of the lordship of Christ.”

In [today’s Bonus Reading], we’re told that God has super-exalted Jesus and given him a rank above every other rank so that every knee should bow to him and every tongue confess him Lord. If God wants universal homage to be given to the risen Lord, we must want it too. So the Great Commission stems from the resurrection.

—John Stott in Through the Bible Through the Year

My Response: To seriously acknowledge the authority of the resurrected Son, I need to …

Thought to Apply: Who God means to invite to the feast isn’t ours to define. We’re not put in charge of the guest list. —Don Skinner (author)

Adapted from Through the Bible Through the Year (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Jesus, for glimpses of your divinity, with markers of your humanity retained, that preview life eternal for us.

 

 

Why I’m Wearing a Mask to Church Next Sunday

This article by Ken Braddy Jr. about wearing a mask to church originally appeared here:  https://kenbraddy.com/2020/05/25/why-im-wearing-a-mask-to-church-next-sunday/

wearing a maskWell, it’s finally here. My church reopens in just under a week. May 31 will be our first time to reopen for worship since the initial physical distancing orders were put in place by state officials about ten weeks ago.

Since that time I have watched with bewilderment as well-meaning people polarized over wearing masks. “To wear a mask or to not wear a mask, that is the question.”

There is a cacophony of voices sharing their sentiments about the viability or absurdity of wearing masks. Some insist this whole COVID-19 thing is a hoax, a move by the government to grab our freedom. Others blame it on China who they say released the virus on purpose. And still others blame the president or one of the two major political parties.

People have posted passionate rantings on Facebook about their right not to wear a mask. Others have taken a different position and plan to wear a mask. I’m in that latter group. When the church reopens next Sunday, you’ll find me wearing a mask.

Here’s why I’m wearing a mask to church.

1. I will relinquish my “rights” in order to serve others. Theologians have labeled Philippians 2:5-8 as “the great kenosis” passage. It is a Greek word that describes the self-emptying of Jesus in order to live among us on His way to the cross.   “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus chose to serve us by humbling himself. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he wanted the mind of Christ to reign in their hearts. Laying aside my preferences, rights, and position for the sake of someone else means that I have matured to the point of placing the other person’s needs before my own. It is one way that I mimic my Lord. He served us first, died, and calls us to serve others today. I must decrease and He must increase.

2. Jesus has called me to love my neighbor. Jesus boiled the law and prophets down to just two verses. Two. We are told to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are then told to love our neighbors. I choose to wear a mask as a visible sign of my love for the members of my church family. My mask may hide my face and my smile, but it communicates volumes. My mask says, “I love you enough to inconvenience myself for one hour.” It says, “I don’t want to accidentally transmit a virus to you.” You may not see my entire face, but my mask will say it all. I love yo

3. There are vulnerable people in my congregation. There are some wonderful senior adult members of my congregation. They have wisdom, life experience, and are just great to be around. They are the “Builder” generation who sacrificed so much and built many of the churches we’ll worship in next weekend. I could not forgive myself if I did not do everything I can to provide as safe a place for them to worship as possible. I do not want to attend one of their funerals, and I certainly don’t want to preside over one. There are also people who have underlying health issues who are more vulnerable to catching COVID-19. For the sake of these more vulnerable people, I’ll wear a mask.

4. It’s just temporary. It’s not like this is going to be “the new normal” (I sure hope not!). I may wear a mask for a month. Maybe two. It could be three. Who knows? But in the grand scheme of life, what is a few months?? Nothing at all. Just an hour a week. It’s a small price to pay, and it’s not forever.

5. Because my governor says so. Scripture tells us to submit to our authorities.  Romans 13:1-5 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” 

Remember that first-century Christians who first read this had Emperor Nero to deal with, and he wasn’t the most pro-Christian leader the world has ever seen. Quite the opposite.

Whether or not you believe our government has done a good job or a bad job managing COVID-19, our calling as believers is to submit to our authorities. If my state’s governor says he and his team of experts highly recommend wearing masks (and they do), then I will.

If my governor asks me to live by certain guidelines he and his team have put in place for houses of worship, so be it.  If the CDC strongly encourages wearing masks in public, then I can do that.

I will submit to my authorities so long as they do not ask me to do something  that is opposed to Scripture. So far my state’s governor has not done this. Neither has the CDC. I also want to be a good witness, not one known for rebelling against my state and national leaders.

6. The virus is real and it is dangerous. You must acknowledge that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. Some predict it will make a comeback in the cooler weather of fall and winter. We’ll see. It’s true that people are dying from it daily. And yes, the majority of people do recover, but that doesn’t mean it is not harmful and/or deadly. Young adults, children, older adults, and everyone in between are susceptible.

7. If I’m wrong, there’s no harm. If you’re wrong, people will get sick and possibly die. If I have misread everything and I’m wrong in my belief that wearing a mask is helpful to you, then there’s no damage. I’ll be hot, slightly uncomfortable, but you won’t die, and I won’t transmit anything to you. But if you are wrong and choose not to wear a mask, you may pass COVID-19 along to me, or to a senior adult, or to a child. Then what? They may recover, but they may not.

Next Sunday I choose to wear a mask as a way to serve, as a way to love, and as a way to do my part to protect the most vulnerable people in our congregation. It is my way to place the needs of others above my own. Am I looking forward to wearing a mask? No. Will it be hot and uncomfortable? Yes – for about an hour. I’m convinced I can persevere.

Wearing a mask is not a sign that a person has no faith. Nor is it a sign that a person is fearful (yes, members of my congregation have leveled those accusations at me on Facebook this past weekend). It certainly is neither! As I had to remind one female member of my church, wearing a mask is about loving the other person. It’s about leading and pastoring the church. It is about being a good shepherd (the last time I checked, shepherds love and protect their sheep). That’s all that is happening here. I am not afraid of COVID-19, nor do I lack faith. Quite the opposite.

No matter what you decide to do as your church reopens, next Sunday you’ll find me wearing a mask. I hope you’ll consider wearing one, too. For the sake of others.

 

Otherworldly Window – Fantastic Fish-Fry

Key Bible Verse: No one dared ask him if he really was the Lord because they were sure of it.  – John 21:12

Bonus Reading: John 21:1-14

Imagine you and your friends going on a pre-dawn fishing outing to the lake. You cast for hours by starlight, but catch nothing. Gradually the surrounding hills and woods become distinguishable as daybreak approaches. Then, as sun rays burst over the eastern horizon, you make out a man standing on the shore about 100 yards away. “Have you caught anything?” he shouts.

“Nothing!” you yell back in unison.

“Cast your lines near that stump and see what happens!” You do, and start hauling in one trophy-size fish after another, until your boat is in danger of sinking! Amazed, you realize it is Jesus standing on the shore. You start your motor and quickly come ashore to see him standing over a Weber grill with glowing charcoals. He’s grilling fish, with loaves of bread nearby.

“Come get some breakfast, and bring some fish so I can cook more.” Imagine the joy and exhilaration of sharing an early-morning breakfast with Jesus—God himself—on the water’s edge with a breeze coming off the lake.

Today’s Bonus Reading describes something like this happening to the disciples during Jesus’ third recorded post-resurrection appearance. For me, it’s a moving depiction of life with him now and forever.

—James Hilt in Wisconsin

My Response: I’ll picture myself as included in this encounter with the God-man.

Thought to Apply: Jesus is God with the skin on. —Source Unknown

 

 

Otherworldly Window – Wound Probe

glimpses-of-the-divineKey Bible Verse: “The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the beauty of the earthly bodies”  1 Corinthians 15:40

Bonus Reading: Isaiah 53:1-12

Paul explains about the earthly and heavenly forms of embodied humanity in today’s Key Bible Verse without dispelling the mystery. In both, we know from the “doubting Thomas” account, Jesus carried the scars of crucifixion and spearing.

Thomas had a broken heart from Jesus’ execution, but wouldn’t give himself to an illusion. “I won’t believe it,” he said, “unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side” (John 20:25). Eight days later Jesus met his demand.

The Italian Renaissance artist Caravaggio captured the meaning of this encounter in his The Incredulity of St. Thomas. Theologian Walter Hansen describes this painting: “Jesus places his hand on the arm of Thomas and gently, firmly guides that dirty hand into himself … The other two disciples … are looking with utter amazement [as] the hand of the risen Lord guides the search.”

To piously ignore his wounds is to neglect our own. Jesus invites us to thrust our hands into them. As we accept his dare, we experience his overwhelming love and grace. For, as Isaiah proclaimed, “by his wounds we are healed.”

—Dan Russ in Flesh-and-Blood Jesus

My Response: Why does a Lamb bearing the marks of slaughter figure prominently in John’s vision of heaven?

Adapted from Flesh-and-Blood Jesus (Baker, 2008)

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Jesus, for glimpses of your divinity, with markers of your humanity retained, that preview life eternal for us.

 

 

This Fathers’ Day – Be a Better Man!

All of us, men and women know we aren’t all we want to be in our Christian lives.

To help us along, here are some links to a variety of resources to help men grow in their spiritual lives.  Such contemplation might not be a cuddly, upbeat way to celebrate Father’s Day, but it might have an eternal impact that is far more important.

Be a better man

Explore or start a personal relationship with Jesus

http://www.whoisjesus-really.com/

http://www.needhim.org/who-is-jesus

http://goingfarther.jesus.net/

 

Grow in the Basics of Christianity

http://christianity.about.com/od/newchristians/p/christianbasics.htm

http://bible.org/

http://www.keepbelieving.org/resources.htm

http://goingfarther.jesus.net/

http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/dr-ray-pritchard/five-excellent-bible-study-websites-11633090.html

 

 Start or become involved with a Men’s Ministry

http://www.menoftheword.org/starting_mens_minist.html

http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/161203-yvon_prehn_dont_kill_your_mens_ministry_before_it_starts.html

Learn to defend the Christian faith

Two great sites that will answer your questions and prepare you to answer others

http://www.str.org/

http://www.equip.org/

Recover from an addiction

Alcoholics Anonymous

http://www.aa.org/lang/en/subpage.cfm?page=1

Celebrate Recovery

Celebrate Recovery is a biblical and balanced program that helps us overcome our hurts, hang-ups, and habits, please note that the current website status is not reflective of the quality of the ministry.

http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

Overall resources for recovery, good explanation of Celebrate Recovery

http://www.drug-rehab-center-hotline.com/celebraterecovery.html

 

Pornography, sexual addition, related issues

http://www.pureintimacy.org/pornographyaddiction/

 

Download an ap with daily Bible encouragements and other resources

http://www.join1millionmen.org/resourcesorder-today/

 

Help with internet filters, accountability, online help

http://www.mensministry.info/pornography.html

http://www.menofintegrity.org/porn.html

 

 

 

 

Otherworldly Window – Smoltification

glimpses-of-the-divineWho Said It … Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey grew up in a strict, fundamentalist church in the Deep South. At one point he jettisoned his faith but then warily returned to it.

Now one of America’s most popular Christian authors, he cut his journalistic teeth onIgnite Your Faith (then Campus Life) magazine. He served on its staff for 19 years, 5 of them as its editor. Philip still writes regularly for Christianity Today.

What He Said … Smoltification

We occupy bodies of skin, bone, fat, and muscle on a material planet. But the apostle Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

Standing by a series of concrete fish ladders in Seattle one raw day, I learned a new word, smoltification, from a placard describing the life stages of a young river salmon.

After several months of solitary contentment as a bottom-dweller and jealous patroller of its modest territory, the fish takes a sudden interest in the larger world. One day it embarks on a journey far downstream, where a vast new world awaits it—the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists are just beginning to understand a whole complex of bodily changes that accompany this strange behavior. The fish becomes more streamlined, the color of its scales changes to silver, endocrine activity increases, and its gills adjust to allow for a greater tolerance of sodium and potassium. The salmon, a freshwater creature, is preparing to do something exceedingly rare: switch to a saltwater environment.

Adapted from Rumors of Another World (Zondervan, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Jesus, for glimpses of your divinity, with markers of your humanity retained, that preview life eternal for us.

 

 

Happy Fathers’ Day – Lessons from Joseph

Detail of stained glass window of St. Joseph and Jesus from Church Sainte Marguerite in Le Vesinet in the Departement Yvelines, Ile-de-France.

Detail of stained glass window of St. Joseph and Jesus from Church Sainte Marguerite in Le Vesinet in the Departement Yvelines, Ile-de-France.

Little boys clamor to play the wise men in the Christmas pageant before agreeing to play him.  In a typical Nativity set, he can be easy to mistake for a shepherd.

No question: The reserved, unobtrusive Joseph tends to hover in the background in our retellings of Christ’s birth.

But Joseph gets his due in the Gospel passage Matthew 1:18-24.  This is Joseph’s big scene, and the example he sets still offers lessons for Jesus’ disciples — and fathers — today, say scholars and pastors.

“Like others in our salvation story, God turned Joseph’s life over, but Joseph always had a choice to follow or not,” said the Rev. Jarrod Johnston, an avowed “liturgy nerd and associate pastor of communications and young adult ministries at First United Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas.

Johnston wrote about Joseph in the sermon series Hope is on the Way, which the United Methodist Board of Discipleship shared in Advent last year.  “(Joseph) chose to take a risk for God, and that’s an example we can all follow.”

‘A righteous man’

The Holy Family’s beginnings were anything but Christmas-card perfect.

The Gospel of Matthew makes clear that Mary’s pregnancy was a scandal.  Sure, she was with child by the Holy Spirit, but Joseph either did not know or did not believe Mary’s story.

So, the couple’s engagement was falling apart, and the Virgin Mary faced the strong likelihood of becoming an unwed mother.  In first-century Galilee, such a broken home could have dire — even deadly — consequences.

Matthew also says Joseph was “a righteous man.”  That means he was obedient to the Torah, the law of Moses, say biblical scholars.

“You need to understand that betrothal in his culture is the first act of marriage,” said Ben Witherington III, a New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.  “So it really is a matter of divorcing Mary, and there must be a sufficient cause, in this case, assumed adultery.”

Witherington, who is also an ordained United Methodist elder, has written more than 30 books on the New Testament, including a commentary on Matthew.

He points out that it was significant that whatever sense of betrayal Joseph might have felt, he wanted to part ways from Mary “quietly.”  The alternative would be to press charges against her before the local religious elders, not only publicly humiliating Mary but also putting her at the same risk of stoning faced by the adulterous woman Jesus later encounters.

“But still she will have been shamed and seen as damaged goods thereafter,” Witherington said, “probably impossible for her to marry in that locale thereafter.”

A heeder of dreams

Nativity FigurinesNevertheless, as Matthew shows, Joseph was open to heeding fresh guidance from God.  In a dream, an angel tells Joseph that the child his betrothed is carrying was indeed conceived by the Holy Spirit and will be the Immanuel promised in Isaiah.

“Dreams in the ancient world were understood (for the most part) as means of divine communication,” said Derek S. Dodson, the author of “Reading Dreams: An Audience-Critical Approach to the Dreams in the Gospel of Matthew.”  “The Matthean dreams are not symbolic nor in need of interpretation.  They are visitant dreams that give directives to Joseph, who simply obeys.”

That openness to God is one of his key attributes worth following.

“(He) is open to doing what the heavenly vision suggests, even though now it may cost him his reputation as a righteous man,” Witherington said. “This says something about his courage and faith in God.”

Joseph’s attention to his dreams continues to save Jesus’ life.  In Matthew 2:13, he follows a dream’s warning to flee with his family to Egypt and escape the murderous Herod.  When Herod dies, Joseph receives a dream to return.  Finally, he obeys a fourth dream to settle in Nazareth and avoid Herod’s successor, Archelaus.

An adoptive father

In short, Joseph acted as a very loving father to his young and vulnerable son.  And make no mistake: Joseph was more than Christianity’s first “stepdad.”

By taking Mary as his wife and naming the child Jesus (the name given to him in the dream), Joseph was claiming the divinely born child as his own, Dodson said.  In other words, Joseph adopted Jesus.

That’s one reason Jesus — through Joseph — could trace his genealogy through King David’s line, Witherington said.

Joseph’s act of adoption particularly resonates with Johnston, the Arlington pastor. He and his wife are looking into the process to foster a child with plans to ultimately adopt.

“There is as great a need here in our home country as there is anywhere in the world,” Johnston said. “But this idea of adoption isn’t just something that has to do with taking children that aren’t necessarily of your flesh and blood into your home.  In a sense, through Jesus Christ coming to earth, taking on our flesh, going through the process of birth, death and resurrection, we’re all adopted siblings of Christ.”

Joseph provided one of the first biblical testimonies to the power of adoption into the family of Christ.

Faithful to God

Statue of St. Joseph in St. Henry Catholic Church, Nashville, Tenn.

Statue of St. Joseph in St. Henry Catholic Church, Nashville, Tenn.

But the Bible only mentions Joseph in passing once Jesus begins his adult ministry.   In Matthew 13:55, Jesus’ hometown neighbors initially dismiss him as the carpenter’s son.  The Bible makes no mention of Joseph during such important moments in Jesus’ ministry as the wedding at Cana or his way to the Cross.

The implication, of course, is that Joseph had died long before these events.   Perhaps for this reason, the tradition has arisen that Joseph was considerably older than Mary when the two wed.  Many crèches show him with a gray beard.  In any case, it makes sense that Christians would associate Joseph with home and family given his role in providing the Christ child with a safe and loving place to grow up.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Joseph and Mary is that God chose them for their sacred role in Christ’s life.

“God picked him and Mary for this solemn responsibility in parenting Jesus, and they both accepted the challenge,” Johnston said. “For Joseph, it’s a big leap, but in the example of other saints, he believes and says ‘Yes’ to God.”

K.K. Yeo, New Testament professor at United Methodist-related Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary near Chicago, like so many others, sees Joseph as an exemplar of faith.

“Faith is honoring God and people; faith is also integrity and responsibility,” the biblical scholar said. “At the end of the story, faith for Joseph is obedience of trust in God.”

What’s to Confess – Confession of Sin

confession-of-sinDuncan Campbell wrote, “Do not expect God to cover what you are not willing to uncover.”

God wants to forgive sinners. But he can only forgive confessed sins.

To confess my sin is to agree with God, acknowledging that he is right to declare that what I’ve done is sinful and that I am wrong to desire to do it.

To confess is to affirm my intention of forsaking that sin in order to follow God more faithfully.

Interact with God’s Word:  Psalm 32:1-5

  1. 1. In verses 3 and 4, David describes the misery of a violated conscience and a futile attempt to conceal a sin. Have you had a similar experience? What was it?
  2. 2. What does David call his refusal to confess his sin (v. 5)?
  3. 3. What does David say broke his stubborn resistance to confessing his sin (v. 4)?
  4. 4. What actions by God provided the basis for David’s sense of relief (vv. 1-2 & 5)?
  5. 5. What emotion flooded David as soon as he confessed his sin (vv. 1-2)?
  6. 6.  Have you ever felt elated just knowing that you slate has been wiped clean?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you stop ration-alizing sinful thought patterns and actions, and to accept God’s evaluation of them. Ask that you would experience the release the that comes from forsaking sin, the joy of forgiveness, and restored fellowship.

Psalm 32:1-5:

1 Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
2 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
Interlude

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
Interlude

Prayer for the Week: My need to confess sin and be cleansed is as great as ever. Don’t let me to pretend otherwise.

 

 

What’s to Confess – Make Things Right

confession-of-sinKey Bible Verse: If any of the people … betray the Lord by doing wrong to another person … they must confess their sin and make full restitution for what they have done. Numbers 5:6-7

Bonus Reading: Leviticus 6:1-7

When I first heard about the link between restitution and repentance,” a man in my church wrote to me, “God immediately brought four situations to mind that I needed to make right. Driving home from church, I felt a burden to get this work done as soon as I could, but it was too late to call people. I determined to contact them first thing in the morning and fell asleep figuring out what I needed to say. I was excited with hope that these broken or strained relationships would be restored.

“But as I drove in to work next morning, thinking through all I needed to accomplish that day, from nowhere crept this thought, Why was I feeling so urgent about these four phone calls? Do it another day when you’re not so busy. Gasp!

“I knew that thought didn’t come from God. I couldn’t get to my desk and to my phone calls fast enough. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t nearly as dreadful as I’d feared. Restitution was made, bringing amazing peace, release, and joy.

“Don’t put off the hard and humbling work of restitution or you might never do it—blocking you from receiving all God has for you.”

—James MacDonald in Downpour

My Response: An unresolved issue I need to clear up is …

Thought to Apply: You cannot build a bridge by starting in the middle. Bridge-builders begin from the side they are on. —John Paul Lederach (conflict resolution expert)

Adapted from Downpour (Broadman & Holman, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: My need to confess sin and be cleansed is as great as ever. Don’t let me to pretend otherwise.

 

 

Racism Overview: Phil Vischer’s 17-Minute History Lesson Is Worth Every Second of Your Time

In a 17-minute video, Phil Vischer, one of the creators of VeggieTales and the voice of Bob the Tomato, takes viewers through a U.S. history lesson that is uncomfortable at times.

Seeking to explain why people feel the need to protest, are angry, and why the conversation around racial reconciliation has come up again following the death of George Floyd, Vischer says that even in 2020, there exists a massive and unjust disparity between African Americans and white Americans. What’s more, this disparity “didn’t happen by accident; it happened by policy.”

Vischer admits he doesn’t have a solution to offer for this disparity. But he’s asking viewers to do one thing:  Care.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

What’s to Confess – Grappling with Guilt

confession-of-sinKey Bible Verse: Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. … And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.  – Psalm 32:5

Bonus Reading: Psalm 32:1-5

I cheated. Eighteen, a new believer, and assigned to prepare 300 library research note cards for a final exam project, I’d turned in cards copied from someone else’s work.

Back at my frat house, I couldn’t eat, sleep, or pray. My dilemma was that I loved wrestling, and this godless professor was also my coach. After I gave my life to Jesus, obvious change in me led him to say, “Paul, why don’t you tell the other wrestlers what happened to you? Maybe it’ll help those rowdies too.” So my reputation was on the line. Finally the Spirit’s convicting prevailed. I asked God for forgiveness, then went to see my prof. “Coach, I cheated. Those cards we turned in I copied from another student.”

“Paul,” he replied, smirking, “I thought you were a Christian. How could you do this?”

“That’s why I became a Christian, Coach. I’m such a mess I need a Savior.” Taken aback by my honesty, he gave me a chance to save my grade. I spent a couple of days in the library and got a B. But for the rest of my college days that tough coach could hardly look me in the eyes. My repenting caused him to fear both me and the One who’d changed me that much.

—Paul Thorson in Painting in the Dark

My Response: I experienced the misery of the Spirit’s conviction when …

Thought to Apply: Forgiveness is always free. But that doesn’t mean that confession is always easy. Sometimes it is incredibly painful to admit our sins. —Erwin Lutzer

Adapted from Painting in the Dark (Integrity, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: My need to confess sin and be cleansed is as great as ever. Don’t let me to pretend otherwise.

 

 

“The 12 Rules of Church from the CDC”

As United Methodist congregations return to their sanctuaries for worship, most attendees need to remember new rules for gathering, greeting and giving. To remind church-goers of the new expectations, First United Methodist Church in Covington, Tennessee, posted a video of its Pandemic Praise Team singing new lyrics to a familiar Christmas tune. “The 12 Rules of Church from the CDC” is quickly becoming an internet hit, with 123,000 views and 2,426 shares, as of June 15.

As the church began preparing to regather, Catherine Phelps, a nurse practitioner by profession and lead soprano at Covington First, used guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to compile the rules for returning to the building.

The song was conceived after service one Sunday, says Carole Mathis, associate pastor of worship and teaching. The Pandemic Praise Team, three family groups who agreed to sing together for the church’s online worship services, “came up with the idea of using humor, in song form, to teach our congregants the expectations.

“In 15 minutes or less, a few of us wrote the lyrics to this familiar, yet obnoxious, tune. We agreed to meet the following Wednesday where we recorded the audio, as well as the overlaying video clips to accompany. Our guitarist and computer expert, Molly Glass, edited the video that evening on her Macbook Pro, using iMovie.”

The children in the video are Mathis’ grandchildren “who had to be present for the recording, because my daughter (Amy Shrum) is the soloist for the #2 rule, and my son-in-law (Mark Shrum), their father, is our sound technician!”

“The entire project was spontaneous, fun and took less than two hours to complete,” Matthis says. “What was meant to be a delightful, instructive video for our congregation was shared and seen worldwide in less than 48 hours. We are grateful and humbled to use the gifts that God has given us, to shed his light in this seemingly dark time.”

Those 123,000-plus viewers have posted hundreds of positive comments. Mathis’ favorite came from Terry Walton in the North Georgia Conference: “This is the spirit that turns lemons into lemonade.”

What’s to Confess – Covered

confession-of-sinKey Bible Verse: “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8

Bonus Reading: Romans 5:6-11

The bank sent me an overdraft notice on the checking account of one of my daughters. I encourage my college-age girls to monitor their accounts. Even so, they sometimes overspend.

What should I do? Send her an angry letter? Admonition might help her later, but it won’t satisfy the bank. Phone and tell her to make a deposit? Might as well tell a fish to fly. I know her liquidity. Zero. Transfer the money from my account to hers? Seemed to be the best option. After all, I had $25.37. I could replenish her account and pay the overdraft fee as well. Since she calls me Dad, I did what dads do. I covered my daughter’s mistake.

When I told her she was overdrawn, she said she was sorry. Still, she offered no deposit. She was broke. She had one option. “Dad, could you … ” “Honey,” I interrupted, “I already have.” I met her need before she knew she had one.

Long before you knew you needed grace, your Father did the same. He made an ample deposit (see today’s Key Bible Verse). Before you knew you needed a Savior, you had one. And when you ask him for mercy, he answers, “Dear child. I’ve already given it.”

—Max Lucado in Cure for the Common Life

My Response: I’ll thank God for sending Christ to die for me before I asked for his forgiveness.

Thought to Apply: In confession … we open our lives to the healing, reconciling, restoring, uplifting grace of him who loves us in spite of what we are. —Louis Cassels

Adapted from Cure for the Common Life (W Publishing, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: My need to confess sin and be cleansed is as great as ever. Don’t let me to pretend otherwise.

 

 

What’s to Confess – Repent!

confession-of-sinKey Bible Verse: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” Matthew 3:8

Bonus Reading: Luke 3:10-14

Contrary to the popular imagination, the word repent stands for a very healthy idea. To repent means to change one’s mind, to turn around and go in a different direction, to start thinking and living differently.

“The first step toward God is a step away from the lies of the world,” says Eugene Peterson in his classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. “It is a renunciation of the lies we have been told about ourselves and our neighbors and our universe.” The biblical word to describe this process is repentance. “It is always and everywhere the first word in the Christian life.”

Repentance isn’t so much an emotion or feeling sorry, though it does include that. Instead, as Peterson puts it, “it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself. And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts.”

So one of the first lies we must renounce is that repentance is outdated or irrelevant.

—Mark Galli in Jesus Mean and Wild

My Response: A “same old” thought or action I need to abandon is …

Thought to Apply: Repentance means to change your way of living. It means to change your mind. You are going in one direction in your life, but then you turn and go in another direction. —Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from Jesus Mean and Wild (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: My need to confess sin and be cleansed is as great as ever. Don’t let me to pretend otherwise.

 

 

What’s to Confess – Spiritual Roadblocks

confession-of-sinKey Bible Verse: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 1 Timothy 1:15

Bonus Reading: Luke 18:9-14

Invited to speak at a church men’s dinner, I settled on a talk-show format with two coworkers at our inner-city mission. Tom, a late-in-life convert to faith, grew up in the sixties listening to the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. He brought to us his carpenter’s ability to fix anything … and ended up mentoring my other guest. Sugar Will, a son of the inner city, was 30 years Tom’s junior and loved rap music. But the two connected.  Tom played pool with Sugar Will and helped him get his life on track.

I led off with Sugar Will, “What’s Tom really like?”

“Well,” Sugar Will replied, “he doesn’t pretend to be perfect like other Christians. I guess it’s because he’s made mistakes.”

After the audience laughter subsided, I followed up: “What do you mean?”

“Most Christians I know walk around like they never done nothin’ bad, like they’re perfect. But I can talk to Tom, ’cause he’s done bad stuff too.” Sugar Will had innocently indicted all of us who inadvertently project an alienating I’ve-got-it-all-together-How-about-you? message. People like Sugar Will will never open up to those they feel judged by. And that prevents them from approaching the God they desperately need.

—Bruce Main in Spotting the Sacred

My Response: I’d be more credible if I opened up about my struggles with …

Adapted from Spotting the Sacred (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: My need to confess sin and be cleansed is as great as ever. Don’t let me to pretend otherwise.

 

 

What’s to Confess – How Do You Plead?

confession-of-sinWho Said It … Mark Galli

Mark Galli is a pastor turned editor. His pastoring occurred in Mexico City and Sacramento, California.

He came to Christianity Today International 20 years ago, first editing Leadership then Christian History & Biography. Since 2000 he’s been managing editor of Christianity Today.

Mark plays golf and loves fly-fishing with his son Luke, now graduated from college. And in good weather, he rides his motorcycle to work.

What He Said … How Do You Plead?

I wish I could foist this repentance business off to the beginning of the Christian walk, as if pagans are the only people who need to repent. I wish I could say that after becoming a Christian as a teenager, I suddenly began thinking clearly and living righteously.

But in our most honest moments, we know that Paul took the words right out of our mouths: “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. … I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. … Oh what a miserable person I am!” (Romans 7:19, 22-24).

The fact that some days I can hardly imagine my need to repent just shows how shallow my faith has become—as if it’s mostly about religious and social graces and the occasional act of mercy. And though we are right to avoid false guilt and debilitating shame, there remains plenty of true guilt and healthy shame that we need to deal with all our lives.

Adapted from Jesus Mean and Wild (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: My need to confess sin and be cleansed is as great as ever. Don’t let me to pretend otherwise.

 

 

The Genuine Article – Christian Humility

christian-humilityI’m so proud of you!” we tell our loved ones and friends when they’ve performed successfully in some area.

But what about us? Is personal pride always a bad thing?

In the middle of warning the swaggering power elite of Judah about their impending judgment, the prophet Jeremiah acknowledged that there is a legitimate ground for boasting.

Interact with God’s Word:  Jeremiah 9:23-24

  1. How do intellectuals boast about their knowledge today? How do celebrities flaunt their power? How do the prosperous display their wealth?
  2. What do you want people to admire most about you?
  3. Since this passage is surrounded by predictions of judgment, what is implied about how durable these grounds for pride are?
  4. By contrast, what accomplishment and satisfaction (v. 24) is of enduring value?
  5. Do we deserve God’s “unfailing love”? So how should we respond to his passionate loyalty to all who submit to him? How can we reflect that love?
  6. How does God bring justice and righteousness? How can we reflect his priority of dealing with people on an ethical, moral level in every situation?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you find satisfaction in a deepening relationship with him and in commitment to those qualities in which he delights.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

23 This is what the Lord says:
“Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom,
or the powerful boast in their power,
or the rich boast in their riches.
24 But those who wish to boast
should boast in this alone:
that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord
who demonstrates unfailing love
and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth,
and that I delight in these things.
I, the Lord, have spoken!

Prayer for the Week:  Shape me, Lord, into a genuine Christ-follower: confident and secure but not self-promoting or arrogant; unassuming but no pushover.

 

 

The Genuine Article – One of the Guys

christian-humilityKey Bible Verse: Don’t call attention to yourself; let others do that for you.  Proverbs 27:2 The Message

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 10:12, 17-18

I have known Guy for less than two years but liked him immediately. He’s laid back, not a fancy dresser, and shows a real interest in others. He doesn’t talk much about himself, yet knows how to be appropriately transparent and vulnerable. He doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve, but comes across as real and genuine.

Eventually I learned that Guy is an attorney who owns one of the most successful law firms in his discipline. No one facing him either professionally or outside the courtroom would mistake him for anything less than a man’s man. He also owns a restaurant and expensive real estate.

Among a group, however, he’s just one of the guys. Guy will be the first to tell you he’s not perfect and be honest about what that means. He doesn’t hide behind false humility; and I marvel at how readily he fits in without pretension.

I’ve learned from others that Guy has been behind some of the most successful ministries in this country, is legendary in his generosity, and gives more that isn’t tax deductible than is acknowledged with receipts.

Active in missions, he wants the backseat support position and views his role as making others successful, not himself. Guy demonstrates that solid success doesn’t need to advertise.

—Jeff Jernigan in The Power of a Loving Man

My Response: I form a favorable opinion of someone when  …

Thought to Apply: He who takes his rank lightly raises his own dignity. —Hebrew proverb

Adapted from The Power of a Loving Man (B&H Publishing, 2006)

Prayer for the Week:  Shape me, Lord, into a genuine Christ-follower: confident and secure but not self-promoting or arrogant; unassuming but no pushover.

 

 

The Genuine Article – Comeuppance for Cockiness

christian-humilityKey Bible Verse: Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.  – Proverbs 16:18

Bonus Reading: Luke 14:7-11

My worst day in the NFL came in 1989 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I was playing the game of my life. In fact, I’d already knocked a guy out cold. That was actually a little scary. I didn’t care how big the other guy was. I told my teammate Richard Dent, “No one has ever run over me. Never!” It was true, and I was outright prideful about it.

‘Toward the end of the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay was behind, but the Buccaneers drove down the field, ready to score and win the game. James Wilder, Tampa’s running back, caught a pass from Vinny Testaverde and ran toward the side. He wanted to get out of bounds to stop the clock and give the Bucs enough time to score.

I told myself, Don’t let him run out of bounds. When you tackle him, lie on him and let the clock run out.

Instead of running toward Wilder to hit him, I ran up to grab him. I was on my heels when Wilder turned up field and put his head down. Bam! He knocked me flat on my back.

That play gave Tampa Bay the momentum to win. I kept my mouth closed after that embarrassing moment—the only time I was ever run over. The bigger the ego, the harder the fall.

—Mike Singletary in Mike Singletary: One-on-One

My Response: The difference I see between confidence and cockiness is …

Thought to Apply: He who sings his own praise is usually off-key. —source unknown

Adapted from Mike Singletary: One-on-One (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Shape me, Lord, into a genuine Christ-follower: confident and secure but not self-promoting or arrogant; unassuming but no pushover.

 

 

The Genuine Article – Cure for a Case of Nerves

christian-humilityKey Bible Verse: “Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it!”  Jeremiah 45:5

Bonus Reading: Psalm 131:1-3

When I do public speaking, I am working with notes from familiar material. But the morning of my first program taping for Focus on the Family—heard by millions—the thought hit me, What if I get asked an unexpected question and freeze?

Taking refuge from a bad case of nerves in the restroom outside the studio, I started pacing in front of the sinks. Finally God’s voice broke through: “This is so not about you.”

As I listened to God’s voice—inaudible, but unmistakable—I realized that my nerves came from my pride. I wanted to make a good impression, to be the thought-provoking, entertaining type of guest Focus would want to ask back. But God wasn’t as concerned about me that day as he was about reaching families with the message contained in my book, Sacred Marriage. I heard a clear call to focus on those struggling because of a faulty understanding of Christian marriage. Once I did, the nervousness dissipated like my daughter’s beloved soap bubbles. It was just gone.

God’s words, “This is so not about you,” remain one of the most precious gifts my heavenly Father has ever given me.

—Gary Thomas in The Beautiful Fight

My Response: I’ll ask God to help me focus on being his servant rather than on making an impression.

Thought to Apply: He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. —John the Baptist

Adapted from The Beautiful Fight (Zondervan, 2007)

Prayer of the Week:  Shape me, Lord, into a genuine Christ-follower: confident and secure but not self-promoting or arrogant; unassuming but no pushover.

 

 

The Genuine Article – Now What Went Wrong?

christian-humilityKey Bible Verse: Humility precedes honor.  – Proverbs 15:33

Bonus Reading: Psalm 138:6; Prov. 18:12; 22:4; 1 Peter 5:5

As soon as our medical products company placed a sale, we’d contact the involved distributors from our network to ship their supplies immediately. It’s bad news when vital products such as anesthesia or surgical supplies are unavailable.

One day I placed my order with a distributor, who, instead of filling it, back-ordered the product. Since the order didn’t arrive when promised, an upset hospital administrator called me. Explaining that I’d done all I was supposed to, I deflected blame to the distributor. “Cut the crap!” the administrator shot back. “This is your fault. Come in with your manager next week.” Just then [today’s Key Bible Verse] sprang to mind. “I’ll take full responsibility for this problem,” I told him.

When we met with the administrator, he told my manager everything he thought I was doing wrong. “Thanks for your feedback,” I replied. “It’s a privilege to serve you and your hospital. This incident will make me a better sales representative. From now on I’ll double-check that critical orders are properly expedited.”

A week later, the administrator called me again. Aw, man, I thought, now what went wrong? But to my shock, he gave me a huge volume of business that normally would have taken months to cultivate.

—David Stoddard in The Heart of Mentoring

My Response: I observed humility precede honor when …

Thought to Apply: The truly humble person walks with absolute confidence, knowing he is simply a vessel through whom God accomplishes his work. —Andrew Murray

Adapted from The Heart of Mentoring (NavPress, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Shape me, Lord, into a genuine Christ-follower: confident and secure but not self-promoting or arrogant; unassuming but no pushover.

 

 

The Genuine Article – Updrafts and Downfalls

christian-humilityKey Bible Verse: Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.  – Proverbs 29:23

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 11:2; Matthew 23:12

When I was 17, the Air Force sent me and 11 other Civil Air Patrol cadets to a program for learning to fly a sailplane (glider). Early in the course, the four instructor pilots placed bets on who would have the first student fly solo. In his haste to win, my instructor jumped out of my glider, early in my training, slammed down the canopy, and signaled the tow plane to take me into the air for my first solo flight.

Knowing I wasn’t ready, I executed each stage of the flight with extreme care. It was a success, and my instructor won the wager.

Later that day, after most of the students had soloed, there was time for one more flight. I quickly jumped into the glider, thinking I was now ready for anything. Initially, the flight went well—I navigated the thermals (rising columns of air) for nearly 45 minutes on a flight that should have lasted only 15.

But in my arrogance, I flew too far from the airfield and became lost and disoriented. Because gliders have no engine, you go down when the thermals disappear. I came down more than a mile from the field and was humiliated by my instructor in front of the entire corps of cadets.

—Steven Scott in The Richest Man Who Ever Lived

My Response: When has pride swelled my head or blurred my vision?

Adapted from The Richest Man Who Ever Lived (WaterBrook, 2006)

Prayer for the Week:  Shape me, Lord, into a genuine Christ-follower: confident and secure but not self-promoting or arrogant; unassuming but no pushover.

 

 

The Genuine Article – Second Guessing the Ref

christian-humilityStephen Altrogge is a pastoral intern at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he heads up the college ministry and leads worship.

He has written several worship songs for musical projects produced by Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Stephen enjoys playing and watching sports and is borderline fanatical over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He and his wife have one daughter.

What He Said … Second Guessing the Ref

A proud athlete is quick to disagree with questionable calls made by the referee. He feels he’s the final authority on what really took place on the playing field and doesn’t hesitate to voice (usually very loudly) his opinion to the official.

But I’ve also often found myself quietly, and pridefully, disagreeing with a call. I may not be shouting or talking back to the ref, but my quiet disagreement is just as sinful. In my pride I believe that I alone saw the play correctly and that anyone who disagrees is a fool. In reality, I’m the fool.

If I were humble I’d realize that my perspective is limited and that I could easily be wrong. To believe that I’m always right is not only arrogant, it’s absurd. I’d also understand that referees make mistakes, just like I do. God has forgiven me of far more than a simple officiating mistake.

The humble athlete refuses to argue with the referees. I can honor God by overlooking their relatively insignificant mistakes.

Adapted from Game Day for the Glory of God (Crossway, 2008)

Prayer for the Week:  Shape me, Lord, into a genuine Christ-follower: confident and secure but not self-promoting or arrogant; unassuming but no pushover.

 

 

Central Church – Online Worship Service – Sunday, June 7, 2020

On this Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost), when the coronavirus prevents us from gathering in Central Church’s Sanctuary to worship in body, let us join together in spirit for with our online worship experience!

 

 

 

To begin, simply click on the photo below to join with the folks who have already made their way into our digital Sanctuary:

 

 

 

Take the Divine Dare – Listening for God

listenThe Book of Joshua records how Israel conquered and occupied Canaan.

But entering the Promised Land across the Jordan River came first. It was spring, when this river barrier was at its highest, overflowing its banks.

Now a generation whose parents had crossed the Red Sea needed to exercise faith and experience God’s power for themselves.

Interact with God’s Word:  Joshua 3:5-16

  1. Why (v. 5) must you make sure your motives are pure and your sins dealt with before expecting God to demonstrate his power?
  2.   What (v. 9) did Joshua gather the people for on the day of the crossing?
  3.   Before rushing into your day to serve God, do you make time to hear what he is saying to you?
  4.   What would have happened (v. 13) if the priests had been afraid to take that first step into the water?
  5. Should you expect God to provide a solution to your problem before you trust him and move ahead with what you know you should do?
  6. How would the parting of the waters (v. 16) have impacted all those who crossed the riverbed?
  7.   What would have been the psychological impact on the Canaanites when the entire Israelite nation crossed the Jordan at flood stage?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to make clear to you what step of obedience he is asking you to take so that he can demonstrate his power in and through your life.

Joshua 3:5-1

5 Then Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”

6 In the morning Joshua said to the priests, “Lift up the Ark of the Covenant and lead the people across the river.” And so they started out and went ahead of the people.

7 The Lord told Joshua, “Today I will begin to make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites. They will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses. 8 Give this command to the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant: ‘When you reach the banks of the Jordan River, take a few steps into the river and stop there.'”

9 So Joshua told the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the Lord your God says. 10 Today you will know that the living God is among you. He will surely drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites ahead of you. 11 Look, the Ark of the Covenant, which belongs to the Lord of the whole earth, will lead you across the Jordan River! 12 Now choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 The priests will carry the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. As soon as their feet touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will stand up like a wall.”

14 So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. 15 It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, 16 the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.

 

Prayer for the Week: I want to live for something bigger than myself, Lord. Give me courage to take the risks that go with the rush of having a significant impact for your kingdom.

 

 

Take the Divine Dare – A Field of Dreams Moment

listenKey Bible Verse: They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the Word with signs following. Mark 16:20 21st Century KJV

Bonus Reading: Joshua 3:5-16

Most of us want God to part the river before we get our feet wet. Sometimes God does provide a sign that will give you just enough faith to take the first step in pursuit of your passion. But most often, in my experience, faith doesn’t follow signs; signs follow decisions.

You overcome spiritual inertia and produce spiritual momentum by making tough decisions. The tougher the decision, the more potential momentum. If you want to see God moving, you need to make a move!

I learned this lesson during our first year at [Washington DC’s] National Community Church. We’d been praying for a drummer to join our worship team for months. But I felt I needed to put some feet on my faith. So I went out and bought a $400 drum set. I bought it on a Thursday. Our first drummer showed up the next Sunday. And he was good! He was actually part of the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.

I can’t promise that signs will follow your step of faith in three minutes, three hours, or three days. But they will follow. God will sanctify your expectations, and you won’t be able to wait to see what God is going to do next.

—Mark Batterson in Wild Goose Chase

My Response: A way I’ll pray about putting feet to my faith is …

Thought to Apply: Attempt something so impossible that unless God is in it, it’s doomed to failure. —John Haggai

Adapted from Wild Goose Chase (Multnomah, 2008)

Prayer for the Week: I want to live for something bigger than myself, Lord. Give me courage to take the risks that go with the rush of having a significant impact for your kingdom.

 

 

Central Church – Online Worship Service

For reasons unknown, Facebook has been unable to receive the upload of our May 24 online worship service during the past two weeks.

 

Tonight, the upload was finally processed, and can now be viewed on our Facebook page.

 

 

Take the Divine Dare – Cleared for Takeoff

listenKey Bible Verse: Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat …  Matthew 14:28-29

Bonus Reading: Matthew 14:25-32

A house we rented in Los Angeles had a small window that opened from the second-story bathroom onto the roof. One evening Kim and I were in the front yard when we heard a voice from the roof calling, “Mom, Dad, look!” It was Aaron, our 8-year-old, on the ledge.

Kim ordered him back inside. But looking past his mom, he asked, “Dad, can I jump?”

I asked Aaron, “Are you going to jump sometime?”

He said, “Yeah, I think so.”

I said, “Okay, I’d rather have you jump now so if you jump and break your legs, we can take you to the hospital.”

He responded, “Dad, do you think I’ll make it?”

“I said, “You’ll make it. But try to clear the concrete and land on the grass. It’s softer.”

He stepped as far back as he could on the roof, yelled,  “Dad, catch me,” began running, and jumped.

We’ve been telling followers of Christ, “You climb back in that window. Stay in a safe place.” But we have a Father who invites us to follow him with reckless abandon. He knows when this is a jump you need to take.

—Erwin McManus in The Barbarian Way

My Response: A jump I sense the Spirit prompting me to take is …

Thought to Apply: if the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever. —Thomas Aquinas (Italian theologian & philosopher)

Adapted from The Barbarian Way (Nelson, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: I want to live for something bigger than myself, Lord. Give me courage to take the risks that go with the rush of having a significant impact for your kingdom.

 

 

Take the Divine Dare – The First Risk Was God’s

listenKey Bible Verse: Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”  – Matthew 16:24

Bonus Reading: Matt. 7:12; 10:37-39; John 15:12-13

My natural reaction to instructions like today’s Key Bible Verse and Bonus Readings is Whoa, now! That kind of faith requires one whopping big risk!

But I find the risks inherent in some of the Bible’s hardest teachings a lot more acceptable when I realize that my personal relationship with God came at great risk to him as well. God took the initial risk at creation by granting humankind free will to choose to believe and obey—or not. Then he took an even bigger risk in sending his own Son to earth to live and die to give us a clearer idea of how we could have a personal relationship with him and what that relationship could be like.

Whether I consider taking up my cross an acceptable risk is a matter of experience and perspective. Looking back over my life, I’m aware of some short-term costs. Have there been inconveniences? Of course. Have there been things I might have liked to do but didn’t because of my faith values? Absolutely. Did I wonder if I was missing out on some things? Sure. But I will tell you this: I honestly don’t regret a single time that I ever took a risk for my faith.

—Ben Carson in Take the Risk!

My Response: I can best express my gratitude for divine risk-taking by …

Thought to Apply: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot loose. —Jim Elliot (slain missionary to Ecuador)

Adapted from Take the Risk! (Zondervan, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: I want to live for something bigger than myself, Lord. Give me courage to take the risks that go with the rush of having a significant impact for your kingdom.

 

 

Take the Divine Dare – Rediscover Amazement

listenKey Bible Verse: Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.  – Isaiah 40:26

Dig Deeper: Isaiah 40:26-31

We live in an art gallery of divine creativity and yet are content to gaze only at the carpet. Or what is pathetically worse, we demand more. More signs. More proof. More hat tricks. As if God were some vaudeville magician we could summon for a dollar.

How have we grown so deaf? How have we grown so immune to awesomeness? Why are we so reluctant to be staggered or thunder-struck?

Perhaps the frequency of the miracles blinds us to their beauty. After all, what [excitement] is there in springtime or a tree blossom? Don’t the seasons come every year? Aren’t there countless seashells just like this one?

Bored, we say ho hum and replace the remarkable with the regular, the unbelievable with the anticipated. Science and statistics wave their unmagic wand across the face of life, squelching the oohs and aahs and replacing them with formulas and figures.

Would you like to see Jesus? Do you dare be an eyewitness of His Majesty? Then rediscover amazement.

The next time you hear a baby laugh or see an ocean wave, take note. Pause and listen as His Majesty whispers ever so gently, “I’m here.”

—Max Lucado in The Lucado Inspirational Reader

My Response: I will listen carefully for ways God “whispers ever so gently, ‘I’m here.'”

Thought to Apply: You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own.—Paulo Coelho (Brazilian writer)

Adapted from The Lucado Inspirational Reader (Thomas Nelson, 2011)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Creator, I praise you for everyday miracles that proclaim your glory and reveal your majesty; awaken my soul to your presence that breaks through “in the most common of earth’s corners.”

 

 

Take the Divine Dare – Weird Dorm Dialogue

listenKey Bible Verse: He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life … will live for Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:15

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:13-17

Transferring to Wheaton College as a junior made forming new friendships difficult. But one day I met a couple of students who lived on my floor and said they’d stop by my room that evening. I thought they might want to play some basketball or make an ice cream run. But when they knocked, one said, “Greg, we’re wondering what role God would have you play in what he’s doing in the world.”

 What kind of nuts are these? I thought. But I replied, “Well, uh, I haven’t really nailed that down.”

“What?” they said, with obvious astonishment. “Don’t you know that when we become followers of Jesus, we no longer live for ourselves but for him? So again, Greg, what role are you going to play in what he’s doing in the world?”

Their abrupt challenge proved a life-changing moment in my life. Those two young men took me to interview for the Student Missionary Project. And that led to short-term ministry in Japan.

In everything I’ve done with my life since—working at a recording ministry, pastoring a church, and now presiding over Trinity International University—I repeat their question: “What role would God have me play in what he’s doing in the world?”

—Gregory Waybright in College Faith

My Response: If asked this question, how would I answer?

Adapted from College Faith (Andrews Univ. Press, 2002)

Prayer for the Week: I want to live for something bigger than myself, Lord. Give me courage to take the risks that go with the rush of having a significant impact for your kingdom.

 

 

Pentecost Service – Beaver Falls Ministerium – 5-31-2020

Central Church joins today with other churches in the Beaver Falls Ministerium to celebrate Pentecost Sunday in this combined online worship service:

Take the Divine Dare – Too Risky?

listenWho Said It … Ben Carson

Ben Carson had a childhood dream of becoming a physician. Growing up in a single-parent home with dire poverty, poor grades, and low self-esteem appeared to rule out that dream. But his mother, with only a third-grade education, challenged her sons to strive for excellence.

As a brain surgeon, Dr. Carson has gained worldwide recognition for successfully separating several Siamese twins, and for refining techniques for radical brain surgery to stop intractable seizures.

What He Said … Too Risky?

We can’t remove all risk from faith. The idea of pursuing a personal relationship with a God we can’t see or touch, whose existence can’t be proven scientifically, seems a risky proposition in itself to many people.

Making that relationship the central motivation of your life, the foundation of your most basic values, and the inspiration of your life goals may seem an unreasonable, terrifying, even paralyzing risk.

Some people of faith pay a terribly high toll for taking a stand. Because I’m out in public doing a lot of speaking, I hear from other scientists who tell me they share my Christian beliefs but don’t feel they can be public about them. It’s just too risky to go against the politically correct conventions of the scientific community.

I can’t help wishing more of them would take heart and remember the rallying cry of the apostle Paul in the eighth chapter of Romans, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Adapted from Take the Risk! (Zondervan, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: I want to live for something bigger than myself, Lord. Give me courage to take the risks that go with the rush of having a significant impact for your kingdom.

 

 

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Living in the World

living-in-an-unholy-worldJude devotes his short letter to warning Christians everywhere about those who live in opposition to God and his followers.

They twist God’s words, he says, seeking to deceive and destroy the unwary.

But since God’s Word and the gift of eternal life have infinite value and have been entrusted to us, he urges us to work at grasping his truth and faithfully defending it.

Interact with God’s Word:  Jude 1:12-13,17-21

  1. How are people whose interpretations veer from balanced biblical teaching like reefs? … like irresponsible shepherds? … like clouds that produce no rain? … like fruitless trees? … like ocean breakers? … like planets?
  2. To what apostolic warnings (v. 17) might Jude have been referring? (See Acts 20:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5.)
  3. Why did Jude (v. 18) consider him and his readers already in “the last times”?
  4. How (v. 19) do people who “follow their natural instincts” instead of relying on the Holy Spirit create divisions in the church?
  5. What defenses against error (v. 20) does Jude mention? What is the doctrinal and ethical core that comprises our “most holy faith?”

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for a balanced understanding of his Word that helps you confidently navigate complex situations based on your grasp of the basic principles he has revealed.

Jude 1:12-13,17-21

12 When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.

17 But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ said. 18 They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. 19 These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

20 But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, 21 and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

 

 

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Deceptive Spirits

living-in-an-unholy-worldKey Bible Verse: Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teaching that come from demons.  – 1 Timothy 4:1

Bonus Reading: Jude 1:12-13

The Greek word translated as “deceptive” in [today’s Key Bible verse] is planos, the word from which our English word “planet” is derived. The ancient Greeks called those bright orbs deceivers. Why?

In ancient times, the navigators of ships knew that they could, with reliability, sight in on most stars to accurately determine their location and thereby sail the right course to their destination. They also learned that the “deceivers” (planoi)—the wandering stars—would only lead them to confusion or destruction if they tried to determine their position by them. They, of course, didn’t know that those “stars” were actually planets that revolved around the sun.

It isn’t difficult to see why the Holy Spirit stirred the apostle Paul to use this word to warn us about the demonic enterprises of these last days. We dare not take our directions from the no-such-thing-as-absolute-truth relativism of our culture’s attitudes toward almost everything. And we would be wise to see the profound analogy between the erratic movement of a non-light-producing planet and the deceiving spirits of this world.

—Jack Hayford in The Anatomy of Seduction

My Response: Why is succumbing to deception often followed by moral compromise?

Thought to Apply: We are oftener deceived by being told some truth than none. —Fulke Greville (English courtier)

Adapted from The Anatomy of Seduction (Regal, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

 

 

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – A Godsend?

living-in-an-unholy-worldKey Bible Verse: “But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?'”  – Deuteronomy 18:21

Bonus Readings: Deuteronomy 18:22; 13:1-3; Jeremiah 14:14; Galatians 1:8

Phil told my wife and me about attending a meeting of two or three thousand people where a priest said, “A young man is here fighting leukemia.” Phil was fighting leukemia but thought that in such a crowd there probably were several fighting leukemia.

But the priest continued, “This man is also going through a divorce.” Phil thought, Well, that’s two for two.”

Then the leader predicted that this young man would have chemo treatments and return “next September to testify to answered prayer.” That’s what happened: Phil returned to testify to his perfect healing.

Was this priest a true prophet of God? I don’t think so. Though an inaccurate prediction disqualifies a prophet, a correct prediction doesn’t automatically prove that the man or woman is to be followed.

I asked Phil, “How would this man answer this question: What does a person have to do to enter heaven?” Phil answered, “He’d say that you have to follow God and be a good person.” That, of course is “another gospel.”

—Erwin Lutzer in Who Are You to Judge?

My Response: How does a spokesperson’s lifestyle bear on the validity of his message?

Thought to Apply: The gift of discernment has been neglected in charismatic circles, but is the gift that most needs to be sought and cultivated, because its exercise is the key to the right use of all the rest.—Tom Smail

Adapted from Who Are You to Judge? (Moody, 2002)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

 

 

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Religious Campus Tour

living-in-an-unholy-worldKey Bible Verse: They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!  – 2 Timothy 3:5

Bonus Reading: Psalm 119:160, Luke 22:70; John 10:30; 14:6; Acts 4:12

Let’s listen in on a few classes at a so-called Christian college.

  • An Old Testament Studies classroom: Professor Rationalist says, “These legends—the creation account, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus’ miracles—are symbolic stories to teach principles. Scientists offer no verification that any of these events really happened.”
  • A New Testament Studies classroom: Professor Skeptic says, “Jesus was a popular teacher in his day, but we have no evidence that divinity should be ascribed to him.”
  • A Religion 101 classroom: Professor Universalist says, “There are many religious roads, but they all lead to God. All sincere people of faith—Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, New Age—will arrive at the same glorified place. It’s bigoted to believe otherwise.”

If anything, deceptive teaching is harder to discern when professors mix their own non-literal views of Scripture and religious humanism beliefs with biblical Christianity. Don’t think that Satan considers colleges with a Christian heritage off limits. He’s prepared to use any tactic to distract and deceive you from being on that narrow way that leads to life.

—David Wheaton in University of Destruction

My Response: One clue that a professing Christian may not be a possessing one is …

Thought to Apply: God never meant for man to scale the heavens by strides of human wisdom.—William Cowper

Adapted from University of Destruction (Bethany, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

 

 

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Secular Campus Tour

living-in-an-unholy-worldKey Bible Verse: There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. Proverbs 14:12

Bonus Reading: Genesis 1:1, 27; Romans 3:10-12; John 17:17

Poke your head into a few university classrooms to sample what the professors are saying.

  • A biology classroom: “As a result of a cataclysmic explosion, the universe came into existence ten billion years ago. The fossil record shows that invertebrates made the leap from water to land two million years before humans.”

If you believe Professor Evolutionist’s claim that you are the product of random chance and evolution, what degree of purpose and meaning could your life possibly have?

  • A sociology classroom: “Humans are inherently good. If everyone were given enough education and financial resources, the result would be a united utopian world.”

If you believe Professor Humanist’s thesis, how do you explain the never-ending cycle of sin in the world—crime, violence, greed, pride, rape, lust, etc.?

  • A values and ethics classroom: “What’s wrong for you may be right for someone else in the same situation. Who are you to judge someone else? Divisive religion-based concepts of right and wrong only foster guilt and hate rather than tolerance.”

If you believe Professor Relativist’s assertion, on what basis will you make your moral choices?

Now contrast their trendy groupthink with God’s Word in today’s Bonus Readings.

—David Wheaton in University of Destruction

My Response: Is my worldview shaped by current experts or scriptural perspectives?

Thought to Apply: Intelligence and education can ascertain facts. Wisdom can discover the truth.—Max De Pree

Adapted from University of Destruction (Bethany, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

 

 

Memorial Day: For What Shall We Live?

Here on Memorial Day, below please find an insightful reflection by Roger Brady, retired as a general from the United States Air Force,that appears in today’s issue of Christianity Today online:


Whether we wear a uniform or not, we all have sacrificial service to offer.

Memorial Day: For What Shall We Live?

Image: Ken Holmes / Lightstock

Memorial Day likely conjures up memories for all of us. Mine start from when I was too young to know what the day meant.

When I was a young boy, it was a family time, a holiday from school or other obligations, and a time for picnics, multi-generational baseball games in an open field, and reunions with seldom-seen relatives.

Over the years I have gained a much greater appreciation for this day and what it means. From my first assignment in Vietnam to my last in Germany, I was continually reminded of the extraordinary sense of commitment and service in the young men and women with whom I was privileged to serve.

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

During my last assignment, as 33rd commander of the US Air Forces in Europe, I routinely received invitations to speak at memorial events at one or more of the many cemeteries in Europe where young Americans are interred. I was particularly moved by an event in Paris at the Arc de Triomphe.

The heavy traffic that normally circles that beautiful edifice at a frantic pace had been stopped, and a crowd had gathered to remember and honor French and American men and women who had given their lives in the horrible wars of the 20th century. Many living veterans of those conflicts wore the uniform they had first donned at a much earlier age, and some of them still bore the scars of war. It was humbling to be in their company that day.

For four decades, I was honored to serve with thousands of dedicated young men and women. Some of them would die in service to their country. We were extremely sad at their loss as we comforted their loved ones and each other. They gave their very best, and we were reminded that we must do the same. They died serving something bigger than themselves—the transcendent ideals that make America the country we cherish.

For us as Christians, this day should have an even more poignant meaning. Many of the same values that our nation hopes to nurture and the traits military members are challenged to embody are consistent with those perfectly modeled for us by our Savior. He was the quintessential example of service and sacrifice.

In his letter to the Roman church, the apostle Paul said, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7–8).

But before he died, he lived. Boy, did he live! To the consternation of those watching him, he invited himself to the home of a hated tax collector named Zacchaeus, he challenged the hypocrisy of religious leaders by coming to the rescue of a prostitute, he exposed the meaninglessness of their religiosity by healing the sick on the Sabbath, and he challenged bigotry and insensitivity by publicly engaging in conversation with a Samaritan woman that his society said was unworthy of his time.

As Christians, this example is our heritage also, regardless of our earthly citizenship. Citizenship in his kingdom, after all, is the one that counts. Do not mistake what I am saying. I am grateful every day for that I am a citizen of America, and there is no other place on earth I would rather call home. Like most Americans, I am here by virtue of circumstances over which I had no control. I cannot explain it. I can just be thankful for it.

Patriotism and Piety

As I now view life in America as a private citizen, I am struck by the similarity of our expressions of patriotism and faith. Occasionally I wonder if we get the cross and the flag confused. As American Christians, we are indeed twice-blessed, but we should not get the two confused. America is an imperfect place, an unfinished project, an ideal we hope to make a reality.

Our citizenship in the kingdom of God is a gift extended to us freely by God’s grace. Paul told the Ephesian Christians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8–10).

The society in which Jesus lived also had many problems. There was hypocrisy, bigotry, poverty, and oppression of the weak by the strong, and he condemned all of that. America is probably a better place than that for even the most marginalized of our citizens, but it is not always what it should be for all of us. As Christians, regardless of our earthly citizenship, this is part of the work he left us to do. Is it our duty as Americans? Yes, it is—but even more so as citizens of his kingdom.

I do not always understand how God’s providence works. I cannot explain why those extraordinary individuals we now call our “founding fathers” came together when they did. They created a country based on their belief that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” Their belief in these universal, eternal truths—however imperfect their understanding and expression of those truths—yielded a society in which people of faith can function with more freedom than anywhere else in the world.

Does this mean that God favors America? I often hear people express that belief, but what I read in his Word is that he favors people who rely on him, who place their trust in him, and who proclaim him as their God, regardless of their earthly citizenship. Does that ensure their health and wealth and a life of ease? No, it ensures us of the opportunity to be his sons and daughters, to tell others of the salvation that was freely given to us, to share in his suffering, and to live with him eternally.

The American writer Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, once said we should give loyalty to our country always and to the government when it deserves it. I believe he meant that our only true loyalty is to those eternal principles to which governments aspire but do not always demonstrate. There may well come times when our government takes a path we cannot in good conscience follow, and we must stand where God stands. But it is right that we devote time to remember and honor those fellow citizens who gave their all for us—we are forever in their debt.

Living a Life of Service

Most Americans will never serve in the military—actually less than one percent of our population do so.  And even among those of us who do, very, very few of us are asked to give that last full measure of devotion.  So what is the question for us on this day as we remember those Americans who died on our behalf?

I believe that question is —for what shall we live?  Whether or not we wear the uniform of our country, we all have a service to offer, a service to those ideals that reflect God’s universal truths and that our American ancestors captured in the formation of this country.

When Jesus left this earth to take his place at the right hand of the Father, he left us, his bride, the church, to carry on his work.  So when evil strikes in the form of a school shooting or when nature unleashes its fury and devastates property and lives, when children suffer, when people are hungry or homeless and ask “Where is God?!” we must be there and have them see him in us.

We must bring his comfort and his healing to this world. When we live lives of service to those around us, we honor the God who saved us and we honor all those who gave that last full measure to secure for us all the things we enjoy in this nation.  Someday we will find ourselves at the end of our lives looking back, and we will ask ourselves what it was all for.

At that moment, we will all want to recall a life of service to something larger than ourselves, to children who needed our teaching and our example of service, to people whom we gave a hand up in time of need, to friends and colleagues whom we comforted in times of sorrow, lives with whom we shared the many physical and spiritual blessings that have been bestowed on us.

If we live that life of service, we will have fulfilled the challenge of the Savior when he said, “Whatever you did for one of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).

So on Memorial Day, and every day, we need to ask ourselves, for what shall we live? How are we doing at fulfilling not just the ideals of our American forefathers but those universal values set in place by the one who made us in his image, who sent his only begotten son to secure our salvation, the one who “created us in him to do good works?”

Roger Brady retired as a general from the United States Air Force. He speaks and writes on principled leadership and serves as minister of adult education in his local congregation. His books include Forget Success!! and Nothing Has Changed.

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – In vs. Of

living-in-an-unholy-worldKey Bible Verse: Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind.  – 1 Corinthians 14:20

Bonus Reading: 1 Cor. 5:9-13

I know a man who desperately needed to buy a warehouse, but when a liquor company offered to sell him one, he balked. He asked me if he should buy it.

“There’s no sin in purchasing real estate from the sinful,” I told him, “unless you cheat someone else or use it sinfully yourself.”

“Yes,” he objected. “But what about using my money to prosper them.”

“Look,” I explained. “We live in a complicated world. You buy groceries at stores that sell liquor, fly on airplanes that give it away in first class, and stay in hotels that have bars. In the world isn’t the same as of it.”

On the other hand, a deep, close bond in business or a relationship with an unsaved partner is rife with danger. Unbelievers, sensing they’ll also be blessed for the sake of the righteous, often want to partner with Christians. Potiphar and Pharaoh saw that hope in Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar saw it in Daniel.

The biblical admonition, “don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14) is ignored at great risk. Ahab was spared because he was with Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 18:1-27), but Jehoshaphat nearly died because he was with Ahab. Don’t link your destiny with another uncommitted to the God you serve.

—Mark Rutland in God of the Valleys

My Response: To function in the world without becoming aligned with it, I need to …

Adapted from God of the Valleys (Servant, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Steep Learning Curve

living-in-an-unholy-worldWho Said It … John Ensor

John Ensor is Executive Director of the Urban Initiative Program of Heartbeat Inter-national. H.I. trains Christian communities in providing life-saving, life-changing assistance to women and couples unprepared for pregnancy. J

ohn is completing a two-year effort to establish ultrasound-equipped Pregnancy Help Clinics in needy neighborhoods of Miami, a city with nearly 40 abortion facilities. John previously served as a pastor and founded a network of six clinics in the Boston area.

What He Said … Steep Learning Curve

Because I wanted it badly, I looked right past the red flags. I ended up back where I started, but poorer, embarrassed, and feeling used and stupid. I’m talking about a used car. I went online and was defrauded out of $4,000. Proverbs 14:15 had me fingered: “Only simpletons believe everything they’re told! The prudent carefully consider their steps.”

The webmaster knew about people at their predatory worst who feed on the gullible. So right there on the website, in a section about online fraud, he spelled out the sure signs to look for. He also provided straightforward guidelines for doing things right when buying a used car online. But never dreaming I’d be a victim of fraud, I failed to read the link before barging ahead.

One Proverb (14:12) warns about the path that seems right but ends in death. I think this refers to our tendency to follow our own judgment without informing it with the wisdom of others or instructing it with a sense of right and wrong, wise and foolish.

Adapted from Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart (Crossway, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.