Painted Lion

“Identification, Please!” You sit sheepishly sunken into your driver’s seat shadowed by the towering police officer waiting stoically behind his sunglasses for you to produce your driver’s license. Why does he need that, you ask? Well, he needs to know WHO YOU ARE (and, incidentally, to whom he should give the ticket).

So, what does this mean, “who you are”? What is on your “identification”? Your picture, height, weight, skin/eye/hair color, address, name, birthday, whether you are an organ donor, driver license #, etc.

All of this helps to identify you. But, somehow, do you not feel that there is more to “you” than these things? What are some other things that identify us? Clothes, money, hobbies, sports, social media, family/friends, personality, health/lack thereof, education level, job/achievements/skills, religion… The reality of all these identifiers is that they can all change, even disappear, in an instant.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying these are bad. Obviously, you need some of them. I am very glad that you are – hopefully -- wearing clothes right now! On some level, it is obvious that we identify with these things. But if and when these identifiers change or disappear, then WHO are you? What are you left with? Obviously, there is more to “who you are.”

What if we could find something about ourselves that does not change? What if our identity could be grounded in that unchanging thing? Good news! According to the Bible, you are created in the image of an unchanging God (Hebrews 13:8 & Genesis 1:27). Let the weight of that statement settle into your mind, nay your heart. We are created in God’s image! This is a very heavy statement, the explanation of which is a bit beyond this blog. Suffice it to say that since He created the universe, God has a touch of power and a dab of creativity. I have a hunch that He used some of those when He created you!

Unfortunately, we undermine His purposes with our own. The good news stands, however, that there is still time to seek His higher calling.

Illustration…Let’s pretend I catch a lion (just go with it) and heavily sedate him. Then I shave off his mane and put makeup on him, paint his claws purple and dress him in a clown outfit and top it off with a sparkling curly rainbow wig on his head. Funny huh? Now I want you to imagine standing next to this sleeping clown laughing at how ridiculous he looks. -- Suddenly his eyes dart open and all 800 pounds of this beast makes a growling attempt to stand as the effects of the sedation wear off! -- What are you gonna do? RUUUUUNNNNN! Why?

Because he is still a lion.

Many of us have been sedated by the world. We sleep and feel numb to the power that God wants for us. God wants you to be completely sold out to Him, to trust Him with all that you are and have. Why? Because He designed you to be a lion, and God knows how to train lions. But we so often choose to wallow around in a clown suit pleasing man, chasing money and captive to pride.

Let us shake off the sedation and strip ourselves of the lesser pursuits. God designed us to march forth a strong lion with a royal mane…ready to protect and serve those around you, roaring with the power of God against the defeated Evil in this world.

Imagine the inventor and designer of the Lamborghini watching people use it as a bumper car at the county fair, power untapped, potential squelched, joy and exhilaration severely diluted. Likewise, the Lord wants much more for our lives. God, our loving Father, calls to us “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being…to know the love of Christ…that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19) 

We have all rebelled against God, our creator. This broken relationship is a “violation” that can only be overlooked once the ticket has been paid. God loves us so much that He paid the ticket price for us when He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross. God tells us through His Word that when we are restored through a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ, we become:

A New Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)

A Child of God (John 1:12)

Chosen, Holy and Blameless before God (Ephesians 1:4)

Adopted as Sons of God (Ephesians 1:4)

Loved by God (1 Thessalonians 1:4)

God’s workmanship/masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)

Forgiven and purified (1 John 1:9)

A Part of the Body of Jesus Christ (1Corinthians 12:27)

Temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Wow! Now, what does it look like to walk in this unchanging, powerful identity and purpose? There are many directives from the Bible to help us answer this and we should study His Word to learn more. But, for brevity, after dying on the cross and rising from the grave, the last thing Jesus said to his disciples before returning to heaven was this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

Are you going, making disciples, baptizing and teaching with strength, power and love in the fullness of God?

Next time you get pulled over and the police officer approaches your vehicle requesting “Identification, please,” you tell him “Yes Sir, I am a Child of the Most High God, that is my Identity!” (You will probably still get a ticket, and he may ask you to do a breathalyzer test, but it is worth a try.)

 

Forgiveness (A free resource for encouraging forgiveness in youth)

(NOTE: For this talk, we had a 3 ft wooden stained 2x4 cross, a couple hammers, nails, a stack of notecards, pens and a fire going nearby.)  

When I was about 16 my best friend kissed one of my ex-girlfriends that I had dated for a couple of years without talking to me about it first. Now, that is not a technical offense, but that is definitely not cool. Man, that messed with me. I told him it was not cool, and he eventually came to me and apologized. I forgave him. We are still friends to this day. But until we talked about it, things were not the same.  

What is very sad about this story is that as bad as that hurt me, my friend kissing my ex-girlfriend, I turned around and did it to another friend of mine. I did! I started messing around with his ex-girlfriend. After that, I couldn’t even look him in the eyes. I avoided him in the halls at school. It destroyed our friendship. Years after Highschool, we unintentionally got together with some mutual friends one night. We had superficial awkward conversation but mostly avoided one another. At the end of the evening, as I was leaving, he followed me out the door and told me that he forgave me for what I had done. Even after all those years, I could not believe the relief I felt! How odd that whether I was the one who gave forgiveness or needed forgiveness, the relationship was not good again until forgiveness was given and received. 

Read Luke 15: 11-24 aloud. Note the fact that even though it is not mentioned explicitly in the text the prodigal son greatly offended his father by asking for his inheritance. The son basically told his father that he wished he was dead so he could have his money. (NOTE: Allow the youth to answer the following questions aloud.)

Was the runaway son forgiven by the Father?

When? (I would suggest that he was forgiven before he was born)

What was the result of that forgiveness? (PARTY!!!, do you think God likes to have fun?!)

What if the son had never returned?

What would his life have looked like?

How would his Father have felt?

Did the son forgive himself? At what point? 

GOSPEL PRESENTATION (1 John 1:9) “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is able to forgive our sins because He loved us enough to send His Son Jesus to die on the cross and pay the price for everything wrong we could ever do. 

So, if you have questions about that, talk to someone here. And whether you have come to Jesus and received his forgiveness or not, many of us have people we have not forgiven or things we have done that we cannot forgive ourselves for. we will talk more about that in a minute. 

SO… What does life look like when we don’t forgive?

Now read Luke 15: 25-32 aloud. (NOTE: Allow the youth to answer the following questions aloud.)

Was the runaway son forgiven by his brother, the “good” son?

What was the result of that? 

(NOTE: If possible, this might be a good time for some soft music)

I don’t want you to answer this out loud, but is there someone who has hurt you that you have not forgiven? Have you ever had a hard time forgiving yourself about something?

(Pass out a card and pen to each youth AND adult.) On these cards I want you to write down who you need to forgive. You may need to forgive someone else who hurt you. You may need to forgive yourself. This is for the youth and for the adults. Many of us adults have things we need to deal with here today.

When we don’t forgive, we feel angry and resentful, we hold a debt over someone’s head, like they owe us something. (NOTE: Allow the youth to answer the following question aloud.)

What does that accomplish, Not forgiving someone… including yourself?

Be thinking or writing as I talk a little bit more about forgiveness. Because it is simple but there are several ways that we make it complicated. Is it better to forgive or not to forgive?  Which is easier?

Why is it harder to forgive?

·         Sometimes we feel that forgiving someone means that we are saying what they did was ok. But that is not true. All we are saying is that we recognize they are not perfect, just like we are not perfect. We are choosing love instead of hate, life instead of destruction. Their offense still carries penalties. A murderer does not walk free just because you forgive them. Someone who stole from you still needs to earn their trust back. But you are simply saying that you are not going to let the other person’s offense against you hold you captive in resentment and anger.

·         Sometimes it is hard to forgive because of our pride. We may not be used to dealing with these problems like a real man. We may have grown up in a home where you were told to just “get over it”. Well, that is a very unhealthy way to move forward in life. Because honestly, you don’t just “get over it”. When you avoid the situation, you get stuck. A real man learns to face the problem head on and with love in their heart.

Now, why is it hard to forgive ourselves, to ask for forgiveness?

·         Eeeww! Here is that pride thing again! As a man it is difficult to admit that we made a mistake. But if we can talk to a trusted friend or safe adult, we will often see that we indeed have messed up. Remember my story about messing around with my friend’s ex-girlfriend? Years went by and I was stuck in fear of talking to my friend. I should have been a real man. And a real man is able to admit when he is wrong.

·         Now, sometimes there is simply a misunderstanding and you may have only caused half of the problem. And you won’t admit to your part in it until the other person admits their part in it. Well, let me give you a secret… The more mature man will be the one to apologize first. Here is the catch. You have to apologize knowing full well that the other person may not admit their part in it. Don’t mention it. Just be the bigger man.

·         We need to make right what we can. The second part of apologizing is to make right whatever we can. This is not always possible but often it is. About three years ago, the Lord started dealing with me to go and make right things I had done wrong. Some of these were stores I had stolen from 20 years earlier! Others were people I had lied to or stolen from within the last ten years… I realized I had carried around the guilt of my mistakes for a long time. What was amazing is that none of the people I apologized were mad! Every single one of them thanked me for coming clean. What a release of guilt from my life! 

So, If you haven’t finished I want you to take a minute to write down whatever the Lord has laid on your heart that you need to let go of, someone you need to forgive, or something you need to forgive yourself for. If there is something standing between you giving yourself over to the Lord. Write it down. Take care of it today. As you finish, we are going to get rid of these things today. Come up here and nail it to this cross. Say, “Lord I let it go! I will not let this thing rob me of joy any longer. I will not let this thing keep me from giving my life to you so that I can be the man you designed me to be!”

(Music…)

Don’t you dare worry about anyone seeing what you wrote down. No one is looking at your stuff. Fold the card in half if you want. And if someone else sees what you wrote down, who cares? Do this for yourself. This is your life and it is the only one you get. Don’t walk around carrying the burden of guilt or anger and holding a grudge.

(Music…)

When Jesus was nailed to the cross, all your mistakes and other peoples’ mistakes and my mistakes were nailed to the cross too. Because He forgave us, we must forgive others and we must forgive ourselves.

Remember the father in the story. He gave his son a robe, a party, a ring, new shoes…He was overjoyed that his son decided to make it right with his father. God is waiting to throw a party with the angels in heaven if you will give your guilt to him, give your anger to him. There may still be a long process of removing the anger from your life after you forgive. Sometimes that happens especially if you have carried it around for a long time. You can find Christian counseling or trusted friends to help you walk through that. But sometimes the Lord will simply remove that anger and guilt instantly!

(Music…)

Don’t let pride keep you stuck in a life of resentment, stealing your happiness and joy. In just a minute we will get rid of this guilt and anger forever. We are going to tear these off the cross and toss them into the fire to be destroyed once and for all. So, if you have not written down that thing or that name that you know is holding you back from living the life that the Lord has in store for you, now is the time. We can wait.  Remember the Father looking for his son to come home. The father ran to his son when he came over that hill. The father is watching for you to come home, to get rid of this thing that has pulled you down for too long.

I am going to take a minute to write mine down. Please be praying for me and for the others in the room who may be dealing with some very tough situations. Remember, forgiveness is for yourself more than it is for others. Jesus has already done all He could to forgive us and all we need to do is receive that forgiveness. Once we receive that forgiveness we are called to forgive others.

Last call for cards before we tear these off and burn them in the fire forever.

(Have an adult volunteer begin tearing off the cards and throwing them in the fire. As they begin to burst into flames, begin to cheer and clap, saying “Let’s Praise the Lord Jesus together today for taking away our sins!” Pray a benediction over the youth and adults.)

A Missing Wheel and Incest: A Word on Dope and Booze

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to own a ’56 cherry red Chevy Bel Air with whitewall tires. I saw one at a car show and knew God designed that car for me! On my 7th birthday I received a car model kit of my coveted Chevy. The picture on the box portrayed the exact image I knew I would be driving one day. With great excitement, I could barely wait until the birthday party was over before I cleared off a workspace on Mom’s kitchen table and began carefully following instructions to build my masterpiece. I glued and snapped axles, engine, seats and body panels together with precision until all that remained was to attach the wheels. To my deep chagrin, I only found three wheels in the box! Sadly, I pressed the wheels in place. Turning the one-wheeled side toward the wall, I placed the car on display in my room. No one could tell that this bright red dream of mine was missing something. But I knew.

This model car reminds me of a terrible story I read in the Bible. There were two daughters living in a cave with their Father, Lot. The recent destruction of their city, family and home had left them in a state of confusion and despair. The daughters began to fear that, in this cave, they would never marry and have children. So, they devised a plan to get their Dad drunk and rape him. The oldest daughter went first. Her plan succeeded and the next morning she convinced the younger daughter to do the same. So, the next night they got their Father drunk and the younger daughter raped her father also. The Bible says Lot was so drunk each night that he did not know when the girls came to bed or when they left. Both daughters became pregnant with baby boys. Now, Lot was a nephew of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. The sons of Lot’s two daughters grew to become the founders of two tribes that were constant enemies of the Jewish people for generations to come.

Whoa! Ok! So, what does a ’56 Chevy Bel Air model have to do with drunken incestuous rape? Answer: misguided search for redemption.

Allow me to explain. Just like us, the model car was not designed to be incomplete. A full set of perfectly designed parts existed. A perfect plan for packaging them and flawless instructions were provided. God lovingly made mankind in His image with no flaws and gave us clear instructions on how to thrive, become all that He designed us to be by seeking God’s heart and God’s ways. (Genesis 1:26-27 & Acts 17:26-27). Unfortunately, something went wrong at the model car factory causing that 4th wheel to not be inserted in the packaging. Similarly, mankind chose to go the wrong way, the key word here is “chose.” We have all chosen to go our way instead of God’s way. Because of this, like my model car kit, there is something missing from our lives (Isaiah 64:3 & Romans 3:10-11). 

Lot and his daughters were designed to seek the Lord and His ways, the car model was designed to roll and look nice. These are both good pursuits. I tried replacing the missing wheel with a roll of tape, a wheel from another model and other things. No matter what I tried, it did not look right or roll correctly. Similarly, Lot’s daughters placed their significance in their ability to have children instead of seeking the Lord. Trying to find significance in the wrong thing led them to terrible decisions which affected their family for generations. Likewise, Lot should have been leading his daughters to seek the Lord for answers and purpose. Instead he chose to escape his difficult situation by drowning himself in booze.

Our misguided quest to find this lost purpose, this “missing piece”, often leads us to many poor choices. In good times we praise the wrongs things, in idle times we engage in detrimental entertainment, in difficult times we choose wrong answers. There are many directions we could go with this discussion, but we want to specifically and briefly highlight the role of dope and booze in these poor choices (please contact us for a more in-depth discussion document on a Biblical perspective of drugs and alcohol).

Rebellion, avoiding pain, over-celebration, peer pressure, curiosity and addiction cover most of the reasons people choose to abuse drugs and alcohol. The key word here is abuse. The Latin prefix “ab” meaning wrongly. So, to abuse something is to wrongly use it (think of the word ab-normal). Trying to find purpose in life or avoid pain by abusing these substances always fails to deliver lasting purpose and peace; additionally, these substances are destructive.

Certainly, there are appropriate ways to use legal prescription drugs. And we grant that there are instances where the Bible speaks favorably of alcohol. But let us not stray from the point. The Lord looks at the heart. If the use of these substances is pushing you further from the Lord then it is abuse, and it is destructive for you socially, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. How many people do you know that have ruined their lives, families, friendships, jobs and marriages because of abusing drugs and alcohol? This is obviously not what God desires for us!

We must understand the Lord desires our best life. The model car manufacturer did not design their ’56 Chevy Bel Air model hoping it would be missing a piece. God did not design Lot and his daughters hoping they would make those awful choices. No! And God designed us to be more than just good people. He designed us to be powerful, wise, peaceful, righteous, heirs of God and much more! The only way that we can get back on the right path, God’s path, is to regain righteousness. But our bad choices have made that impossible to do by our own strength. 

Thankfully, God is merciful and loving. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to walk out this life perfectly, willingly limiting Himself to a human body. Jesus never strayed from His Father’s path and this made him the only human candidate qualified to pay the price that none of us could pay. Our rebellion carries with it the penalty of death (Genesis 2:16-17, Romans 6:23). Jesus paid our debt when He died on the cross and then rose from the grave three days later, proving He was God. Believing in this truth is the only way to return to the path God desires for you. Trusting in this truth is the only way to actually walk the path.

So, do not let your potential be sucked dry by abusing drugs and alcohol. As we stray from purity, we stray from the power God wants us to have. Don’t be like Lot and his daughters, looking to the wrong things to find purpose or numb your pain. Don’t be like me trying to fit a roll of tape on that beautiful ’56 Chevy model instead of a wheel. Jesus willingly gave up His life so you could choose redemption if you want it. He wants you to be a light for others, to fill your life and others’ lives with Joy, love, strength, courage and adventure. You can be the leader who changes your family, friends, classmates, teammates or others for the better. You can influence those around you to investigate this Jesus, the one who gave everything so that we could be with Him the rest of this life and the next.

Call the model car factory, call the Creator! Tell Him you need the only piece that fits, the only piece that will give you peace. Tell Him you want Jesus! Tell Him you want His instructions and love. Tell Him to send the fourth wheel in the mail, you are tired of that three-wheeled car just looking good on the shelf. Tell Him you want to see that ’56 Chevy roll, baby, roll! Tell Him you choose the only redemption that lasts so you can be the person He created you to be!

(Written by Jeremy Collins, pulling strongly from talks given by John Coonley and Dr. Lucas Butler at our 2019 April Day Camp)

What does it mean to be a real Man?

Materials/Prep.-Whiteboard, markers, eraser, 2 Bibles (Ahead of time, identify 2 youth. Give each a Bible and ask their Adult Buddy to help one youth find Proverbs 25:28 and the other youth Proverbs 16:32. Tell them each to read it over a few times, think about the verse, discuss the meaning with their Buddy and be prepared to read it aloud when asked.)

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The world, TV, the internet, magazines and movies are full of lies about what it means to be a man. We will not spend much time on the world’s lies. Instead, I want to hear honestly from you, and don’t give me the church answers. (Ask the group of youth,)“What words come to your mind when I ask what it means to be a MAN? Raise your hands, one at a time.” (Have someone draw a line on the board and write the words below it.) 

Tell the story of Titus- He was a disciple of Paul’s. Paul carefully shared the truths about Jesus with Titus. Titus trusted His life to Jesus. Paul trained Titus how to be a leader and servant of others. Eventually Titus became such a dedicated leader and teacher that Paul asked Titus to take on the responsibility of organizing all the new churches in one of the most criminal places of the day, the island of Crete. The people of Crete were known for being untrustworthy and difficult. What we now know as the book of Titus was a letter from Paul giving instructions to Titus on how to lead and teach the people. Paul’s advice to Titus specifically about teaching young men was to teach the young men to be… Self-controlled. (Titus 2:6)

That sounds boring! Shouldn’t he be teaching them about how to hunt, and fix things, athletics, art, music, how to treat women, etc.? I want to convince you today that self-control is at the root of what it means to be a real man.

Remember the Cretans are liars, lazy, thieves, evil people. But are you and I so different?…Jesus says that from out of our hearts comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery/cheating, sexual sin, stealing, telling lies and hating on other people. (Matt 15:19)

So, if all this is in our heart we must ask the question Can anybody truly control themselves? Is it even possible?”

Paul tells us that “ALL have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that the price of our sin is death…BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (6:23) Raise your hand here if you have never lied…stolen…killed someone in your heart!

Just being blunt, because our time is short here, we all are destroying one another and deserve to go to eternal Hell with the Devil. Thankfully, Jesus loves us very much. He is the perfect example of what it means to be a man. He never went against His father God in any way. Because He lived perfectly, He was the only acceptable substitutionary death that could pay the price for our sins. He died to pay that death price in our place so that instead of destroying one another, we could learn to love one another, instead of weakness, we could experience power and instead of Hell we could spend our eternal life with the one who created us and died in our place. However, that payment is a gift, and you must receive it. It has been offered to ALL, but it has not been accepted by all. Have you accepted this gift?

It would be like if you were in a courtroom and you were found guilty of a serious crime and sentenced to death. Then the judge, with a slow and heavy heart, with tears in His eyes, stands and tells you that He loves you. He then tells you that He has a Son who also loves you. They do not want to see you executed. At this point you would be confused. The Judge then announces to you that He and His Son knew you would be found guilty. They did not want you to have to pay the death penalty. But the death price still had to be paid. So…in order to give you the chance to go free, His Son willingly allowed Himself to be executed on the electric chair that morning to pay for your freedom. The Judge is standing there begging you to accept this gift…of His Son’s death… or… you can refuse it and you can die too. Either way your freedom has already been payed for.

I tried for a long time to deny that I needed someone to pay for my sins. But I finally saw that I could never pay. I chose to accept this gift and as soon as I did, something marvelous happened. I saw that God wants only good for me! That He truly loves me! I put myself under the Authority of God and dedicated my life to living as best as I can to honor the loving Judge and his forgiving Son. But on top of that!!! The Judge then offered to move in with me and Mentor me for the rest of my life! That is the Holy Spirit. God living inside you for the rest of eternity guiding you to walk in an abundant life!

There are many characteristics that develop in us as we walk with the Holy Spirit living inside us... Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and…guess what…Self-Control!

So, back to our question Can I even control my greedy self? Is it possible?” The answer is NO, Not without the Holy Spirit. Not without Jesus Christ. Many people try hard to look like they have control, but ultimately, God is clear…without trusting in His forgiveness and putting ourselves under His Authority even our very best efforts are like nasty rags & our sins will take us to Hell. (Isaiah 64:6)

God loves you very much and has done all He can do to keep you from Hell. What a loving God! Accept his Gift of forgiveness and put yourself under His loving authority, protection and guidance.

Only then can we truly understand what it means to be a real man and exercise Self-Control.

At first, a life without control over us sounds amazing! Junk Food all day…Play video games all weekend…Buy whatever you see and want…Say whatever I want to say…

But we don’t need to think very far ahead before we see that such a life would is terrible. (Ask youth what happens in each scenario of lack of control) Junk Food= Health problems…Binge Video Gaming= dying of blood clots…Uncontrolled spending= debt, broke and disappointed by purchases…Uncontrolled words= cause a lot of unnecessary drama/hurt.

A football game without boundaries is no fun.

Random people walking into your house to grab some food or money without asking…no fun!

There are consequences to lack of self-control.

So, either we control ourselves or other people and circumstances will do it for us. Which one sounds like more fun? Self-Control or Controlled by others?

As Paul is talking to Titus, He also gives us a list of how an older man should walk (Titus 2:2) As we go through this list, think about the opposite of each of these. What kind of man would you want in your life as a father or a mentor? What kind of man do you want to be?

(Have someone write these on the board above the line)-

SOBER-MINDED- Nephalios- Free from intoxication/drunkenness, being alert as to what might pull you away from clear thinking. Opposite? Which do you want to be?

DIGNIFIED- Semnos- Respected for your character.  Opposite?

SELF CONTROLLED- Sophron- Of a sound mind, curbing your desires and impulses, temperate (words, thoughts, actions, eyes/ears…)  Opposite?

SOUND IN (Hygiaino- Strong, healthy and whole in…):

·         FAITH- Pistis- Trusting belief (very much tied to the idea of truth)

·         LOVE- Agape- Exceptionally good will and love toward others regardless of their flaws

·         PATIENCE- Hypomone- Actively, intentionally enduring in hope. Opposite?

Now look at the Board to see how your original thoughts about being a real man compare with God’s thoughts. Which ones line up? Which ones are different?

Throughout this year we will address specific topics like drugs, alcohol, sex, women, identity roles in marriage, and you may be surprised at what the Bible has to say about these things! I want you to feel free to challenge the ideas we present. We have nothing to hide. We only want to bring you Truth so that you can be set free to be the powerful man God designed you to be!

Now, as we end, I want us to consider these two illustrations. (Ask the prepared youth to read the verses) Lack of self-control = Destruction (Proverbs 25:28) Vs. Self Control = Power (Proverbs 16:32) Would you rather your life be like a destroyed city or more powerful than a mighty man who controls the city? Would you rather be a man that no one trusts like a Cretan or a man who can be trusted to lead and teach others, like Titus?

One Hundred Eighty Degrees- Fear and Comfort

These are my notes from a sermon I preached in February. It is long but I hope it is a blessing to you! 

I have been slowly reading through the book of Acts in my quiet times lately. As most of you know, Saul was a prominent Jew and one of the chief persecutors of the new Christian Church. Well he is hot and heavy on the persecution road hunting Christians down in another city called Damascus and on his way there, he gets his tail handed to him by the Lord and has a literal, as we call it here in the South, “Come to Jesus meeting.” He has a complete conversion and is now a Jesus Freak proclaiming Jesus so vehemently that the Jewish Leaders in Damascus try to kill him and the Christian disciples that Saul was going to kill have to save Saul’s life for preaching Jesus! They say hey Buddy, you need to get out of here and Saul goes and communes with Jesus for three years in Arabia (3 year break between Acts 9:25 and 26, you can read about it in Galatians 1:11-18) Then he comes back into the scene full force in Jerusalem. He is preaching Jesus so hard that his life is immediately threatened again by the Jews and the Christians have to pull him out of the picture a second time and send him to Tarsus (355.7 miles away!!!) 

We see a true 180 degree turn in his actions. It was obvious that He had been saved. How did this happen? 

Act 9:31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” 

Bridging the Gap b/t those who know Christ and those who don’t is a noble mission to be sure.

This requires building relationships. 

Jehova is a God of many characteristics, names & titles. Who can know them all? One thing we can know for sure is that He is a God of relationships. We know this on many levels.  

God IS a relationship within Himself as God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit all in one. We see this displayed clearly in the New Testament at the Baptism of Jesus. The Father’s voice from Heaven, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as a Dove are all present. (Luke 3:21-22)

All His creation from the tiniest atoms to the farthest galaxy show this idea of holy relationships. Gravitational pull. The earth’s exact yet unfettered distance from the Sun, allowing life. The Moon and the Tides of the ocean. We also see relationships demonstrated in the animal kingdom, the plants, microbiology. We see relationships displayed in His creation of spiritual beings, angels. We know that Humans do not thrive except in healthy relationships with one another. Babies can literally die from not being touched. Even if provided nutrition and hydration. In order to make true change in the lives round us, we must learn to build relationships. 

I want to circle back to that idea but first I want to discuss bridging the gap personally inside each of us from being someone who does not know Christ into being someone that does. 

THREE PARTS OF THE BRIDGE- Fear of the Lord, trusting Christ, Comfort of the Holy Spirit 

So, it is an understatement to say that the triune God is interested in a relationship with you and I. He travelled from beyond the stars to do so. He is pursuing you this moment. 

It is not sufficient anymore in the USA to ask someone if they are a Christian. They may say “yes”, followed by something like my Grandmomma went to the Methodist church on the corner or they may even tell you what church they attend.  In many countries asking someone if they are a Christian is a very good way to identify the true believers because you can lose your life over the answer. And perhaps that day is coming to our nation. But in the USA, especially in the South, we still enjoy some semblance of cultural normality by saying we are a Christian.  

Now, if you ask someone what they think about Jesus Christ, then you will quickly see the shades pulled up on their heart. Most true believers will begin right out of the gates with something about how Jesus is THEIR’S..their savior, their Lord, their everything. If, however, they begin to tell you about their grandma or where they go to church or that Jesus is a great guy… to avoid diving into a real answer… then you may assume this person is not a Christian and has not Salvation. 

This person may be you. 

It is often said that there are three types of Believers, Non-believers, Believers and make-believers. I consider it my duty as I share the word of God to always assume that there is a mixed crowd of all three present. Why? Because although there are three types of people on earth, there are only two types on Judgment Day (Matthew 7:21-23). 

You see, we place a great deal of emphasis on this idea of having a relationship with Jesus.  That Jesus is God and He loves you, died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave to prove He is God and if you believe that you can go to Heaven when you die. And you need to know all that. All of that is true. But all of that is only one side of the coin. See, we have made Christianity like a coin in a collector’s box. We look at it. We wipe the dust off the glass case and say, look at that! Nice coin! I am a Christian! 

What we need to do is take that coin out of the dusty old box and flip it over. Allow me to make parallel illustrations of Christianity here, one of the coin and the other of a bridge.  

FIRST FOOTING OF THE BRIDGE---THE FEAR OF THE LORD

Saul feared the Lord. The other side of the coin is the law of God, the 10 commandments. And when you disobey at any one of these points, you are guilty of disobeying the Law of God. Have you stolen, lied, etc?

When you disobey the Law you are bound for Hell. A permanent place of condemnation and suffering! Goodness that sounds awful! You may say, oh no, he is getting Old Testament on us! That’s right I am, but you know what? Jesus says in the sermon on the Mount… the Law is only meant to expose your heart. The Law may say “Do not murder” But I say when you are angry with your brother, you commit murder. The Law says, do not commit adultery, I say when you look lustfully at a woman, you commit adultery” 

“The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom” Proverbs 9:10

What did Jesus first start preaching in Matthew and Mark? “Repent for the Kingdom is at hand!” 

I always feel awkward bringing this up until I remember, hey, I am just passing along what God said (I did not make up the rules). I believe it is hard for us to truly understand the gospel until we understand our state of ugliness. Most of us believe we are a good person. Very few people readily admit that they are in a state of brokenness. Much less that we are deserving of eternal pain and suffering. Do we understand that from which we were saved, why we needed to be saved from it and the price which was paid in our place to keep us from it? 

 “I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the Law. The Law is the needle, and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart unless you first send the needle of the Law to make way for it.”-Charles Spurgeon 

THE BRIDGE

Saul trusted Christ. It may seem obvious but the reason that a bridge is needed is because there is a chasm that cannot be crossed. We cannot move from the fear of the Lord to the Comfort of the Holy Spirit without a bridge. 

After understanding our need for forgiveness and our bondage to sin, we must understand that Jesus has paid our debt, and if we call on Him and trust in Him, we are forgiven, we are seen as righteous in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, we are freed from the bonds of sin. We will be with Him forever in Heaven. Sadly, many Christians at this point think “Well, I am good!” and they huff on the coin, shine it up well and put the coin back in the box. (Jesus side up) 

THE OTHER FOOTING OF THE BRIDGE---THE COMFORT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Saul walked in the Comfort of the Spirit. A bridge must have a second footing. Or it is a bridge to nowhere. Jesus says, go and steward the value of that coin! Throw away the box!  Go invest the coin! Try to double, triple, quadruple your money! Or, as He says in the parable of the sower in Matthew (13:23), some 100 fold, some 60 fold and some 30 fold. 

“Most Christians go to Calvary for forgiveness and never go to Pentecost for their power.”-Unknown 

READ--Acts 1:5-8 

John 10:10 “The Thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I have come so that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus is not necessarily talking about material abundance. Jesus tells us that there is power to be had and Paul tells us that there is fruit to be grown IN US, as Christians, through the work of the Holy Spirit on Earth. Yes, there is much wonder to be had and seen in heaven, Yes, much treasure and crowns to be built up for each of us in heaven. But Jesus is talking about now, in this life! We are freed from the bonds of sin through Christ. (John 8:31-36) 

Jesus told His disciples that it was to their advantage that He leaves, so the Holy Spirit could come. (John 16:7) 

It is interesting to look at the names and actions that Jesus attributes to The Holy Spirit in John 14 & 16….Helper (or Advocate or Counselor)… Dwells with you… Is in you... Teach you all things... Bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you… Come to you... Convict the world (concerning sin and righteousness and judgement)… Spirit of truth… Guide you into all the truth… Speak, declare to you the things that are to come… Glorify Jesus… Take what is Jesus’ and declare it to you. WHOA! 

Jesus says that the world cannot receive him because it does not see or know the Holy spirit. But He says that you (talking to His disciples) know Him. How do they know the Holy spirit? Because He dwells with them and in them. (John 14:17) 

Receiving the Holy Spirit is obviously something that happens after one has trusted in the sin atoning life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then you are “sealed”, bought and paid for in full (Ephesians 1:13) with the Holy Spirit. Only then can one begin to walk in the Spirit. 

We receive the Holy Spirit when we trust in Christ. But something that is noteworthy in scripture about receiving the Holy Spirit is that it is always described as a very obvious experience. It should have been a point of visible change in trajectory in your life. 

What sort of things does the Bible describe happening as one “receives the Spirit?”

In scripture we see, people speaking tongues, prophesying, being bold & fruitful preaching (Paul Acts 9:17 & 22), exhortation (Barnabus, Acts 11:23-24) and obedience to the Lord (Acts 5:32). I am certainly not going to put the Holy Spirit in a box as if these were the ONLY things that can happen when receiving the Spirit. My point is simply this…Something so obvious happens when someone receives the Spirit that they know it without a doubt and everyone around them knows it too. Remember the story of Saul we started out with? 180 degree turn! 

If you cannot remember receiving the Holy Spirit, then you may not have trusted in Christ. 

What does Walking in the Spirit “look like”? This is different than receiving the Spirit, or trusting in Christ. 

Picture an axle with a tire on each side. Walking in the fear of the Lord is one tire. Walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit is the other tire. The axle is trusting in Jesus Christ. If the axle is broken, you are going nowhere. If the tires are flat or low, you can still go but not as well as God intended you to move. We must constantly examine whether our tires are filled to the correct pressure with Fear of the Lord and Comfort of the Holy Spirit. 

We clearly see the fruit of the Spirit described…Examine the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) 

How do you get more of the Holy Spirit?? Answers:

-“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:13

-Choosing to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) Daily!!!

-The trifecta of Prayer, Fasting and Giving prescribed by Jesus in the sermon on the mount. (Matthew 6) 

We have many decisions to make as we walk this journey out and I pray that each one is led by the Holy Spirit. Recently, I have begun saying that Walking in the Spirit is 1,000 decisions a day. Do I bite my tongue or say what I am really thinking, complain about my difficulties or listen empathetically to someone else’s, give my wife the bowl with more ice cream or keep it for myself? Well, according to research, it is estimated that the average adult makes around 35,000 conscious decisions each day! I knew I felt tired at the end of the day and now I know why!!! We can all feel a bit better about being tired at the end of a long day now. 

When considering a situation, before acting on your decision, ask…is this lifegiving? 

All that to circle back to Acts 9:31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” This is not so much a novel idea as it is the very epitome of what the Lord desires for us, and it is what Jesus made possible for us.

-If the Lord, our Father, is God creator of us – we must fear Him

-and The Son, Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us,-- We must trust Him,

-then the Holy Spirit is God in us—We must Walk with Him, in His Comfort 

Only once the gap has been bridged within ourselves can we begin to bridge the gap with others. 

IN CLOSING, many of us start and stop at Jesus coming to us, we do not walk in a healthy fear of the Lord and never let Him work though us. When the grace of the Lord only comes to us and we do not let it go through us, I call that Mudhole Christianity. Things can live in a mudhole but it is nothing that people want in their life. Walking in the Spirit is God loving others through us. I call that Fountain Christianity (“Fountain of Life” is a common description of God in the OT). Think about the seed dying and multiplying (John 12:24). Think about the sap moving through the vine into the branch to bear fruit (John 15:5) 

BUT TOO OFTEN WE…

-Don’t let the fountain flow

-Won’t let ourselves (the seed) die

-Focus so much on the fruit that we become disconnected from the vine (our job is not to bear fruit) 

Too often the Church building gathering becomes our focus. Do we need it? “Yes!” Is it important? “Yes!” But the church really has one main function for the Believer and one main function for the nonbeliever…

For the believer, the church building is mainly a place to build relationships with the Coach (Pastor) and other believers. Think of it as a time-out during a game. Everyone should be weary from playing on the field. Need to regroup. “Coach, what were the plays again. I forgot what you said about this part of the playbook.” Huddle. Then….BREAK! And back to the Mission Field of life.

For the nonbeliever, the church building is mainly a place to meet God, hear the gospel, experience a glimpse of Jesus’ love through His people (Notice, I said glimpse)

Being engaged in a local church should be an integral piece of your walk within the Body of Christ. But being engaged in a local church should never be the ONLY piece of your walk with the Body of Christ!

Non-Believers and make believers—Our time on earth is not indefinite, The Spirit is drawing you near today. If you have been playing church or running from it completely, today is the day of salvation. Recognize the Awesome might and power of the Lord, Fear Him! See your wicked heart for what it is. Stop running from The Lord and give up your right to continue doing things your way. It may look good on the outside but you know it is rotten on the inside. Trust in the covering mercy and grace of Jesus. Receive the Holy Spirit as your comfort today.

Christians- Our time on earth is precious, Jesus knew this, He spent much of his time with “the least of these” in society. So, outside of the few hours each week we are in church, instead of wasting our time on things that will not last into eternity, we are called to invest in relationships with the people around us…These investments will last eternally…

But relationships are tricky, they can be difficult…In order to do them well…we must Walk in the Fear of the Lord and the Comfort of the Holy Spirit!

If we will continue to strive for this then the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against us!

Champions and Heroes, Gratitude at the Nursing Home

We were getting the teenage group ready for caroling at the nursing home. I asked the young men “What do you want? What do you want in life, in 10 years, in 1 year, for Christmas?”

The boys proclaimed their dreams and aspirations. “A Bugatti! A million dollars! Graduate Highschool!” Etc., etc.  

Being thankful, or having an attitude of gratitude, does many things for us but here are a couple of noteworthy benefits. Thankfulness helps us consider:

1) what we have (instead of focusing on what we do not have) and

2) the perspective of other people, look at life through someone else’s shoes. 

I passed around a picture of a young black boxer on the cover of Sports Illustrated with his red-gloved fists held high and asked “What do you see in this picture?”

Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in 1942, was an American professional boxer. To this day he is widely considered one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Clay was a rising star during unfortunate times of racial tension and discrimination. With his keen athletic ability and unique personality he persevered through the challenges of the times to be a World Champion Heavyweight boxer several times over.

Ali is the only boxer to be named The Ring magazine Fighter of the Year six times. He has been ranked the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. He was also ranked as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC, and the third greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN SportsCentury. (Source Wikipedia) 

Then I passed around a second picture of a handsome, young, black soldier and asked “What do you see in this picture?”

Vernon Baker was born in 1919. Both of his parents were killed in a car accident when he was 4. So, he and his 2 sisters were raised by their grandparents. His Grandfather taught him how to shoot a rifle and hunt food for the family. Unfortunately his wheelchair-bound Grandmother had severe anger issues leading to such high tensions that Vernon ended up in an orphanage.

He graduated High School and worked on the railroad for awhile, afterward working several other small jobs. Eventually he decided to try to join the Army, again, in an age of tragic racial discrimination. The first time he tried, he was told they didn’t need any more blacks in the Army. So, he tried again at a different recruiting station and was accepted.   

Baker rose through the ranks due to his determination, intellect and leadership abilities. Eventually shipped to Italy during WWII, 2nd Lieutenant Baker led a platoon in a suicidal assault (1945) that helped drive the German Army out of northern Italy. During the assault, Baker single-handedly took out three machine gun nests, two observation posts and two bunkers in addition to helping take other enemy positions. He also discovered and destroyed a network of telephone lines that connected the German positions. The fighting was fierce though and Baker called for reinforcements. Tragically, his white commander deserted him and his men during that battle and reported that Baker was dead. However, Baker eventually made his way back to base to report that 19 out of the 25 men in his platoon died in the assault. He was then given a second all white platoon which he led back into battle to win a decisive and monumental victory in Northern Italy. Germany surrendered a month later. 

Baker received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s 2nd highest honor for courage on the battlefield. He deserved more. 

Thankfully, in the early 1990’s, the Army commissioned a study to learn why no black soldiers received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest commendation for battlefield valor, in WW2. The deeds of a dozen black World War II veterans were forwarded to an independent Army review board after the study was completed. The panel affirmed the Medal of Honor for seven black soldiers in 1996. By then, Baker was the only survivor. 

Baker captured the nation’s heart in 1997 when President Bill Clinton draped the Medal of Honor around the tearful soldier’s neck. Baker is the only living black WWII veteran to receive the Medal of Honor.  This recognition finally came 52 years after Baker led the famous suicidal assault in Northern Italy.

 Baker became a symbol of the selfless sacrifice and courage of all soldiers but especially black soldiers. 

He was invited to return to Italy in April 1997 by the Italian government. In village after village, people turned out to honor Baker and celebrate the soldiers who freed them from the brutal Nazi occupation. (Source “World War II hero Vernon Baker dies” by Ken Olsen, Spokesman-Review, July 14, 2010)

 Regardless of your perspective, these are lives that helped shape world history! I choose to be thankful for them.

 We should realize the love that God has for us and be thankful. But I want to be clear about the difference between being thankful for a gift and actually receiving a gift. For example I can be thankful for a gift but leave it wrapped, unopened with my name on it and therefore, not truly receive it. The word thanksgiving in Greek is eucharistias. The Eucharist is a Christian ceremony where we drink some grape juice and eat some bread. The grape juice represents Jesus’ blood and the bread represents His broken body from when He died on the cross to pay for our sins. The Eucharist is not necessarily for people who are only thankful for what Christ did, but The Eucharist is for people who have truly received the gift of salvation by trusting in Jesus, that his life, death and resurrection have paid for our sins.   

What you see is not always what is actually there. You can see the church buildings around you, maybe have Christian family and friends and say you are thankful for Jesus. But that is not salvation. Salvation is trusting Jesus as the Truth, the Way and the Life, the one who gave it all for you to be freed and redeemed from sin. Only by having a relationship with Christ can you truly be thankful for Him. My prayer is that you will be thankful and receive this gift. 

Now back to our stories of Ali and Baker. What you see is not always what is actually there. For example, again, you see the adults here right now around you. But what you have around you is actually the very Jesus Christ who died to pay for your sins and mine.  

I passed around a close-up picture of the wrinkled face of an old black man with hazy, lost eyes. I asked the boys what they see. Mohammed Ali died in 2016 at the age of 74. You see an old man. But what you have is a champion. Literally nicknamed “The Greatest.” 

I passed around a picture of a grey-haired, smiling elderly black man wearing a beanie and a thick jacket to stay warm. I asked the boys what they saw. Vernon Baker died in 2010 at the age of 90. You see an old man. But what you have is a warrior. He started off with everything against him, no parents and dark skin in a sad time of racism. But he defended freedom, met the President, was awarded the highest military honor for bravery in battle. Baker’s creed is worth repeating “Give respect before you expect it. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Remember the mission. Set the example. Keep going.” 

I encouraged the group “So, tonight as we go caroling for the residents at the nursing home, let’s be thankful for the life God has given us. Remember your dreams and desires you listed earlier? These people in the nursing home are no different.”

Remember thankfulness helps us consider:

1) what (or who) we have around us and

2) the perspective of other people, look at life through someone else’s shoes.

I told the boys “Be thankful tonight for an opportunity to bring some cheer to an elderly person who may have saved your great grandfather in battle, who may have taught your mother in school. They are champions and warriors who deserve love and attention just like you and me. When they see you coming to show them love.... may they see Jesus.”

 

Gotta Love that!

Today, we are talking about Love. This is the last in a series of talks studying 2 Peter 1:3-9. The last characteristic Peter tells us to add to our faith is love. Love is like water. It brings life. It flows to you and you must decide whether you want to keep it for yourself or share it with others. If you don’t share it with others then you act like a dam and you create a pond that will have life but will eventually become stagnant and dirty. If you allow God’s love to flow through you into the lives of others then the water will be like a river flowing from God to you and then through you to give refreshing life to others. 

What is this word LOVE all about? What does it mean? We hear this word all the time don’t we? I love going to the movies, I love chocolate, I love my girlfriend, I love my XBox, I love God.

Do all of those words mean the same thing?

Let’s see what this word in this passage (2 Peter 1:3-9) means in the original Greek. The Greek word for love here agape-love, affection, benevolence, social or moral love, a love feast! 

So, obviously we are overusing or misusing the word love. We ENJOY chocolate, we ENJOY going to the movies, we ENJOY our Xbox. For these things, ENJOY is a more accurate term than LOVE.

So, from where does love come? Our heart? Our emotions?

1 John 4:7-21 tells us much about love. Love comes from God. We love Him because He first loved us.

Romans 5:8 says that whiile we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Just like water flowing to us in a river, God’s love is not something we earned or deserved. 

So, how much does God love us?

John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

This is not just big talk. Jesus is foreshadowing his own death on the cross. He loves us and takes on the penalty for our sins, death.

John 14:21 “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

This is the Word of God, which we can hold as truth. So if we take this idea and reverse it then it means that if we are not keeping the commandments of God, then we do not love Him. 

God has already proven His love. It is like a river running from the heart of God straight TO US and you must decide what you are going to do with it. I hope you will choose to let God’s love run THROUGH YOU to bless the people around you. To bring life and not to become dirty and stagnant like a dammed pond. And, just because God is good, He promises you will be blessed in the process. Don’t take my word for it. Jesus says in Luke 6:38 “…give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Don’t you LOVE that!?!

Building Philadelphia... (A free resource)

Note: It is not necessary, but having a small community service project ready for the youth to tackle after this talk is recommended to enhance the illustration and build relationships. Also, have a volunteer discreetly ready with a chair, a small towel and a large bowl of warm water.

What do the Eagles, Phillies, 76’ers and Flyers all have in common? PHILADELPHIA! Did you know that Philadelphia is called “The City of Brotherly Love?”  Do you know why? Because that is what it means in Greek! It is made of two greek words philos (fondness or love) and adelphos (brother).

Over the last seven months we have studied a letter written by a guy named Peter (specifically 2 Peter 1:3-9). Peter is one of Jesus’ closest followers/disciples. He wants us to be productive in our faith as a Christian. In order to do that, He suggests seven qualities or characteristics we should add to our faith. Today, we talk about the sixth characteristic, brotherly kindness or brotherly love…

In his letter, Peter is specifically talking about Christians loving other Christians. It is worth noting Jesus’ words about Christians loving other Christians (READ John 13:34-35). Are you, am I loving other believers in a way that lets the world know I am a disciple of Jesus?

Then Jesus takes this idea and expands it to say that we should show love to ALL people. (The Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37)

But why are Jesus and Peter telling this to us? Are they just trying to be Hippies? Love everyone, Man! Why do we need someone to tell us this? Doesn’t it seem obvious that we should love one another?

So… why don’t we? Why are we surrounded by turmoil? What are reasons that we see all the hate and destruction?

LISTEN TO THE YOUTH’S ANSWERS (Perhaps you could write them on a whiteboard)

The root of most of these problems is what? That we are all selfish. And that is the whole reason that we can’t easily act in brotherly love isn’t it?  Selfishness.

Well, we all know what selfishness is. But I often find it helpful to consider the opposite of an idea to further understand it. So, what is humility? To love your brother is to consider him to be more important than you. (READ Philippians 2:3-4) Jesus did not simply TELL us to love others, He LIVED this way in His own life. Jesus never did anything for himself. You see, in spite of all the disaster caused by selfishness in the world, there is good news, there is hope.

Even Jesus, the Creator of the Universe, did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45) Even when He was dying on the cross, he prayed for the soldiers who beat Him, nailed Him to the cross and were making fun of Him “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34) Everything He did was out of Love for His Father, God, and other people…even to the point of giving His own life. (READ John 15:12-14). He paid for our sins and allowed us to be once again in right standing with God.

Without that, Man, without that…I have no hope of being able to truly show brotherly love to anyone.

The Bible gives us descriptions of brotherly love (ASK A VOLUNTEER TO BEGIN TAKING THEIR SHOES OFF)

Outdo one another in showing honor, Bless those who persecute you, Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, Live in harmony, Don’t be haughty, but associate with the lowly, As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Don’t try to pay someone back who hurt you. If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty give him water. Do not be overcome by evil, but Overcome evil with good. (Exerpts from Romans 12:10-21) 

Do not be sexually immoral, but control your body so you do not wrong your brother. God has not called us act in an impure way, but He has called us to Holiness. When we ignore this and commit sexual sins, we are not only dishonoring our brother, but God Himself. (Excerpts from 1Thess 4:2-9) Love one another earnestly from a pure heart. (1 Peter 1:22b)

Jesus did not simply TELL us to love others, He LIVED this way in His own life. Jesus never did anything for himself. Before Jesus went to the cross, he was having dinner with his disciples and He wanted to give them an example of brotherly Love. The Lord and Creator of all the universe, Jesus got down and… (WASH THE VOLUNTEERS FEET. DO NOT SPEAK DURING THIS SOLEMN MOMENT)

Then He said “I have given you this example that you also should do just as I have done for you”

We are now going to go out and literally help others in our community. This is why we call our community service projects…Footwashings! We can begin by building our own city of Philadelphia, our own city of Brotherly Love here, today.

Jesus wants to start this city by living in your heart.

God, help me make the team!

Many of you play sports. If not you understand the idea of being on a team, right? What does it take to be on the team?

1)      Try out

2)      Show up for practice and try hard

3)      Stay in shape, learn the plays & at game time…BRING IT!!

What about off the field, when you are not at practice or in a game? Does the rest of your life have anything to do with being on the team?

1)      diet?

2)      dating life?

3)      friends you go out with?

4)      What you do for fun in your free time, hobbies?

5)      The way you drive?

Consider the following examples.

Micheal Vick , QB for the Atlanta Falcons spent 23 months in prison for dog fighting. RESULT on the fieldà34 game suspension.

Adam “Pacman” Jones, Cornerback for the TN Titans attacked a stripper and threatened the life of security guard. RESULT on the fieldàentire 2007 season suspension.

Donte Stallworth, Wide receiver for Cleveland Browns, crashed into and killed a pedestrian while driving under the influence. RESULT on the fieldàEntire 2009 season suspension.

Ray Rice, Running Back for the Baltimore Ravens was convicted of 3rd deg. Aggravated assault of his girlfriend. RESULT on the fieldàindefinite suspension from league (eventually repealed).

 Now, I am not picking on these guys. We all make mistakes. I am no better than them. I am simply asking the question. Does what you do OFF the field have anything to do with what you do ON the field? Why were these men punished by the NFL? These crimes were not at practice or a game!

When you are drafted into the NFL, there is an extensive list of responsibilities and rules put upon you. Do you think these NFL rules are designed to limit or hold back the players? No. The rules are set in the best interest of the players and the NFL as a whole, to make the game better for everyone!

COACH knows, YES, what you do OFF the field affects what you do ON the field!

So often I put what I want before what the COACH wants.

God wants you to be in drafted onto His team, His kingdom. And even more so than the NFL, He requires that you give Him every part of your life! The magazines you read, the words you use, the music you listen to, the girls you are interested in, the friends you hang out with…Your heart, mind, soul and strength.

We have been studying 2Peter 1:5-9. In this scripture, Peter is describing qualities that a Christian should be developing. Today I am focusing on “Godliness.” The Greek word is eusebeia which means piety, well-reverent, holiness.

To be godly means we Love God so much that we desire to learn and then honor what God wants for our lives. Just like the NFL player. If the player truly loves their NFL Coach and team (and their multi-million $ paycheck) they will make sure they understand the rules & live in a way that honors the NFL Coach and team.

Many NFL players understand this and live it out. Tim Tebow, RG3, Colt McCoy, Russell Wilson, Ray Lewis are a few who are outwardly professing Christians. Check out this quote from Prince Amakumara.

"I am a virgin. I'm not ashamed to say that. (...) I grew up Catholic, so it just started out as one of those things. I’d think, 'If I do this, maybe I can get to heaven,' so I said no drinks, no sex, all the big things. As I grew up, I realized that’s not what it’s about. It’s about having a relationship with Jesus. It’s not about “Don’t do this. Don’t do that.”- Prince Amukamara (NY Giants Cornerback)

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that only Christian NFL players are good teammates. A Christian can make a mistake and use poor judgement like anyone else. I am simply making an analogy between being in the NFL and being on God’s team!

The Bible is not a list of rules made to hold you back from enjoying life. God’s desires for us are designed to be beneficial for us and everyone around us so that we may live a truly FULL life (John 10:10). We must hold God’s desires as more important than our desires or the world’s desires. God says HE will take care of our needs (Matt 6:33).

The main difference between joining a sports team and joining God’s team is that there is no try-out for God’s team. In fact, you are already offered a spot on the team with a full salary. You just have to sign the contract. Jesus gave His own life to make sure we had the opportunity to enter His kingdom, to be on His team.

It still takes practice to live on God’s team. That is what we are talking about here. Godliness is work, but it is nothing unreasonable. Things like prayer, reading God’s Word, using our bodies, time and money wisely to honor God and love others move us toward God’s desires for our lives. Anything worth doing takes a little work.

Check out the following two lists of qualities from Galatians 5:19-23. Listen and see which list best describes you.

19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;

20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions

21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I want to be CLEAR about something. God does not want us to simply go to church or “be good”. He wants us to know that we are sinners and that we need Him to forgive us and trust that His Son, Jesus Christ, died to pay for our sins and then rose from the dead 3 days later. That will lead to godliness. In other words, godliness doesn’t lead you to Jesus, but Jesus will lead you to godliness...

Then you can live the life that Coach wants you and the rest of the team to live!

 

Lord, give me patience, right now!

I want you to think of olympic athletes, eventing horses, brain surgeons, aircraft mechanics, NAVY SEALs, military working dogs, people and animals that are at the top of their profession. How do you think they got there?

God designed each of us with perfection in mind. Excellence. That includes you. But how do we get there?

Years ago, I was training a Horse to “give to pressure”. When you try to lead a young or untrained horse they pull and jerk and can be very dangerous. You may want to yell and hit him and force him to give to pressure. But when you do that with a horse they become even more belligerent. This colt was 1 and ½ yrs old. So he was very strong at this point. When I tied his chest to a pole, I watched him pull and rear up. Flipping and hurting himself. All his efforts were in vain. When I worked him in the round pen, he would try to flee. All he had to do was to take one step toward the post or one turn towards me and see that he was not tied tightly and that I wanted him to come to me. I had to stand and patiently wait for this colt to learn. Waiting. Hoping he would do the right thing. I had to have hupomone.

Patience in Greek is hupomone (Strongs 5281-Cheerful or hopeful endurance or constancy- enduring patient continuance, waiting). The word literally means to “stay under” something as in staying under the weight of something.

This word has almost contrasting characteristics. It indicates a state of waiting which at first notion seems to be a rather mundane, easy task. But it also indicates an active endurance which requires much fortitude. The word Esperar in Spanish means both “to wait” and “to hope”. When we think of patience we must realize that this is an active endeavor which has a purpose. 

Consider the absence of patience. Impatience means that you cannot wait. You are ready to be out of your situation, whatever it may be, instantly! This is the way of the world. Give it to me now! Perhaps impatience also indicates a lack of hope.

Do you like being around impatient people? So, do you think people like being around you when you are impatient?

One way to look at this difference between patience and impatience: credit cards and investing.

Credit is a way to get money NOW! However, you will end up paying back more money than you borrowed in the first place over a longer period of time than is desirable.

Investing actually requires you to do WITHOUT money now in hopes of having more later.

This is how God tends to work. He wants to see you invest yourself in the joy of building His kingdom not destroy yourself by indulging in this world.

We will talk a bit later about what that means to build God’s kingdom…

Some of you are in foster care or some other living situation that is not what you desire. I know you feel that weight of your situation. See how the Greek word hupomone applies to you? You feel that you are staying under something. There are two ways to handle the situation:

1) Patience, hoping, waiting-behaving well, controlling yourself, learning more about your situation (Investing in other people, your relationship with God)

2) Impatience, hopelessness, not waiting-run away, fly off the handle at your foster parents/house parents (Swiping a credit card that may feel like it gets you what you want now but will make it harder on you later)

What about girls? You meet a hot chick and you fall hard for her. She is all you can think about. She wants to get hot and heavy very fast. You have two choices:

1) Patience, waiting- this girl might be crazy, I might get her pregnant, we don’t even know each other, I want to wait and honor her, myself, God and her family (Investing your time to learn who she is, don’t have sex and don’t get STDs/pregnant, honor her and God and family)

2) Impatience, not waiting- Get crazy hot with her, have sex, move in with her (Swiping that credit card to feel good in the moment but end up with emotional troubles, get STDs, pregnant, stuck in a situation you weren’t ready for. Dishonor abounds, making it hard on yourself, her and the kids later.)

So, why should we be patient? Because God is patient with us. How is God patient?

We have all chosen to sin against God. That sin separates us from a right standing with God. It means the world is broken, we are broken and our relationship with God is broken.

Our way VS. God’s way. We all chose OUR way! It is similar to being on Probation. Walk around like you are free. But you have a debt of guilt to pay. The problem is… we can’t pay it!

He told us in the very beginning of time that the payment for our sins is death (Genesis 2:16-17). God’s Rule, not mine! God is a just and fair God. He will not let the guilty go free or the innocent be condemned (Proverbs 17:15).  And if we die while we are guilty, we go to a place of everlasting torment called Hell (Revelation 20:10 & 15).

But I have Good News friends! God loves us and He does not want us to go to Hell. He is like the judge that delivers a GUILTY sentence to the criminal then gets down from the bench and pays the fine for the criminal.

That criminal is you. It is me! Who here has never sinned? It is all of US!

How does He pay this debt? After all, God said the payment for sin is death! Does He follow His own rule? Yes.

God paid our debt by coming to earth in the form of Jesus Christ and giving His own life on a wooden cross. Then after three days in the grave, He rose again and was seen by hundreds of people.

He paid the debt with his own life!!! That is the kind of God I serve!

All we have to do is believe that this happened. If you truly believe this you will spend the rest of this life building His kingdom (from earlier) by sharing this great news with others and living free from the chains of sin. AND as a sweet bonus we will spend eternity in heaven with Him instead of in Hell apart from Him. 

You would think that after learning this everyone would say “Thank you! Thank you, Lord, for loving us so much!” But most people haven’t. Most people reject God even though He died for us. They get distracted by the shiny things of this life and would rather swipe a credit card that they can never pay back instead of investing in an eternal Kingdom.

Can you imagine the sorrow that brings God? What if you had given your son’s life for someone else’s sin and they said “No thanks, I’d rather just die myself and pay for my own sins”?

So you see, God has been very patient with us. But the Bible says there is a time of judgment coming.

If you have given your life to Jesus then this coming judgement is GREAT news b/c your sins are paid for and you will be judged as innocent!!! However, if you haven’t then that is terrible news b/c you will have to pay for your own sins.

All we have to do is repent of (turn away from) our sins and accept His gift of love and trust our lives to Him as our Lord and Savior. Sadly, most people will never do this. They would rather go on living their own way, like that colt pulling on the rope, instead of taking one step toward God’s way.

Are you that colt? God has plans to train you to be a powerful eventing horse!

God loves you. He is patient and does not destroy us all for our sins immediately. He would be justified if He did. But He is giving you time to make the decision that will change 2 things:

-How you live your life here on earth (like we talked about earlier). Will you allow God to train you to be everything He designed you to be? To excel spiritually like the olympic athletes, eventing horses, brain surgeons, aircraft mechanics, NAVY SEALs and military working dogs excel in their field?  

-and, where you spend eternity.

But we never know how much time we have. Do not take advantage of God’s hupomone. He will only hold back His judgement so long. He loves you so much and desires for you to choose the right way! His way!

I tell you as Paul did in 2nd Corinthians, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

 

Questions? Talk to one of us here at Three Circles (Jeremy, Alan, Richie, Ashley and others). We are here to connect, hear your story and build you up.

Free Resource- A story about self-control: David vs. Saul

The following is a couple of Bible stories re-told in vernacular language. In case you are about to send me a letter telling me how I am going to hell for changing the Bible, please don’t. Many stories can be read straight out of the Bible and I often do just that. In this case the stories are coalesced to cover a theme of SELF CONTROL.

So consider this a free resource to use as a primer with your children, youth group, grandchildren or any other situation where you would like to discuss self-control. The story ends with a cliff hanger in hopes that the group will read the Bible for themselves or set you up for the next story time!

TIP #1- I always incorporate the clear gospel message of Jesus Christ and leave you to seek the Spirit on how to do that here.

TIP # 2- Prepare some discussion questions appropriate to the group to whom you are speaking.

TIP # 3- Read this several times (out loud) before presenting this to your group. Be dramatic in your reading! A good friend once told me that it is a sin to make the Bible boring!

*************************** 

A little over 1,000 years before Jesus came to earth, God gave Israel their first king. His name was Saul. He was tall, handsome, strong and skilled in battle. The people loved Saul. But as Saul became powerful he began to disobey the commands of the Lord. He became more concerned with pleasing the people.  So God sent a prophet to tell Saul that “The Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” (1 Sam 15:26)

The Lord then sent the same prophet to anoint a young shepherd boy named David to be the next king.  So Saul was in a very odd situation. He was still the legal king but he knew that he did not have the Lord’s blessing any longer. Saul knew that David now had the blessings of the Lord.

PAUSE- What would you do if you were Saul?

Soon David came to fight for Saul in his Army and became a hero when he saved Israel by killing the giant, Goliath. After that David fought many battles and became even more successful than Saul ever was and the people loved David. Saul was proud to have a strong warrior in his army. David eventually became best friends with Saul’s son. David was welcomed in to the King’s family and served in the palace.

As time went on, David became more and more victorious in battle. One day, David was returning from battle and all the people were singing and celebrating. The women were dancing in the streets and Saul heard them singing this song “Saul killed his thousands and David killed his ten thousands!” So, Saul began to pout. He realized the people were saying that David was 10 time more successful than he ever was. The people loved David 10 times more than they loved him. Saul became very jealous of David. Quietly his anger began to grow.

Eventually Saul became so angry that he tried to kill David many times. Saul tried to run him through with a spear three different times and each time David escaped. Saul sent David into impossible battles, but David always won the battle…which made him even more famous! In spite of the attempts on his life David continued to serve Saul loyally.

Soon the jealousy made Saul lose his mind. The tension between Saul and David become so high that David had to flee for his life. He escaped into the wilderness to hide from Saul. Saul was so crazy about wanting to kill David at this point that instead of running his kingdom he gathered an army of 3,000 highly trained soldiers and went to hunt David down. David had done nothing but obey Saul as his King and serve him well. He did not understand why Saul was trying to kill him. A few hundred men who were unhappy with Saul went to join David in the wilderness.

Saul and his highly trained army were marching through the wilderness trying to find David. The land was very hot and rocky. They came across a cave and Saul and his tired men went in to rest and get some shade. While they were in there, Saul went to the back of the cave to use the bathroom.

What Saul did not know is that David and his men were hiding in the back of this very cave. They silently watched as Saul half undressed himself and squatted down to do his thing. Under the cover of the noise of Saul’s army, David’s men whispered “David, now is your chance. The Lord has delivered your enemy into your hand! Do to him as you see fit.” (1 Samuel 24:4)

PAUSE- What would you do if you were David?

Well, David thought about this. Then he quietly crawled to where Saul had left his clothes and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Then he snuck back to his hiding place.  David’s men were ready to attack Saul. But David told them that he would not allow them to attack the King of Israel.  And Saul got up, got dressed, left the cave and went on his way unharmed.

David let Saul and his men march away a short distance. Then David ran out of the cave and yelled “Saul!”

Saul spun around and saw David. David bowed down to honor Saul as the King. Then he shouted to Saul “Why are you hunting me, my King? Why are you trying to kill me? What have I done to you? Look at your robe. Is there not a corner of it cut off? See what I have here in my hand! If I wanted to kill you I would have done so in the cave!”

Saul cried out “You are more righteous than I am! You had the chance to kill me, but you did not! You will make a great king!” And Saul took his men and marched home.

*

David stayed out in the wilderness with his small group of men. Every now and then David’s band of men was sighted and one tribe came to Saul and told him where David was hiding. Saul was still not in his right mind and full of jealousy. So, he gathered up his Special Operations Army of 3,000 soldiers and went hunting David again. (1 Samuel 26:2)

David’s men heard that Saul was looking for them again. So, David sent out spies who reported to David that yes, Saul was camped on a hill near the road. David waited until nighttime and he and a few of his men snuck up on the King’s sleeping army. From across the road David could see that Saul was asleep next to his Army Commander with the whole army of 3,000 deadly soldiers sleeping around them.

David turned and asked his men “Who will go with me down into the camp to Saul?”

The men all knew that going on this mission was a death wish.

One man named Abishai whispered “I will go down with you.”

So David and Abishai very slowly and very quietly snuck their way down the hill and across the road. Trying to control their breathing, they silently tiptoed their way between the sleeping soldiers until they were standing at the head of Saul and his Commander. There stuck in the dirt next to Saul ‘s sleeping head was his battle spear…

And if you want to know what happens you can read 1 Samuel Ch 26!

To know or not to know? That is the question.

The day was fresh, different and exciting. The old guard of volunteers and youth darted about, smiling, welcoming and exuberant. But today there were unfamiliar souls present, new volunteers and youth, reserved and watchful, some cautiously engaging, others stonewalling the new experience. The call to “circle up” was made. The veterans began to happily move toward the old horse round pen. The newcomer faces questioned the sudden movement but were welcomed and encouraged into the grassy, open-air circular wall of weather-beaten boards.

A long red rope with the ends tied together in a knot lay on the grass. All present were encouraged to grab the rope naturally bringing the group into a shoulder to shoulder circle. Some stepped away, unprepared for the intimacy. Others were excited. The group was instructed to find the knot. Whoever had the knot was to share their name and their favorite thing to do in the Summer. Then the group would collectively pass the knot to the next person in the circle. Surprisingly, each person chose to share, some loudly and overly detailed, others mumbled and kept their answer brief.  

I say surprisingly because these are no ordinary youth. They have each come from single and no-parent homes, some from a fairly stable home. Others have experienced unimaginable tragedy. I am glad they each chose to find their voice in that moment.

“Do you feel like you know each other, now?” I asked. Many of the youth now perched on the top boards around the round pen. No’s and yes’s mixed together in the morning air. What does it mean to know?

There are two types of knowledge. Peter encourages us to add knowledge to our faith in 2 Peter 1:3-7. In verses 5 and 6, Peter uses the greek word gnosis (knowledge, knowing, science) which can be translated “to know or learn about.” In short, Peter is saying we should learn more about God.

“Knowledge is power” right? Even the world recognizes the importance of having knowledge. If a surgeon is about to cut on you, would it be a good thing for them to have some knowledge of anatomy, anesthesia and such?

When you are in love with that special person, you want to know everything about them don’t you? It is no different when you are in love with God, you will want to know more about HIM!

Interestingly, Peter uses a different word for knowledge in verses 2,3& 8. It is the greek word epignosis (to recognize, full discernment, acknowledgement) which can be translated “to intimately know”. To know about someone is very different from intimately knowing them.

For example, think of your favorite superstar musical artist. Pretend you study all about them, you learn about their childhood, their family and their hobbies. You spend years learning all their lyrics, going to all their concerts, buying all their t-shirts and albums, etc. Now you might feel like you KNOW them!

So, what is going to happen if you try to go backstage to one of their concerts without backstage passes? You can tell the security guards you know the musician. But when the musician comes to see who you are, what are they going to say?

See, you thought you knew them, but you only KNEW ABOUT them. Why the long illustration? Because this is an eternally significant differentiation.

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says that at the end many people will be trying to get into heaven as they tell Him all about the great things they did for Him (He is talking about religious people). Unfortunately, Jesus says He will tell them to go away because He never knew them. How sad!

So, how does anyone come to know God? You must meet Him. When you meet Holy God you must be ready to truly understand yourself as well. You must accept your place under His loving authority. We are a creation. He is the Creator… a creator that wants a relationship with you.

You see, we live in a world where we have all chosen to step out from under God’s design for our lives. We try to do it our own way. Living our way instead of God’s way is called sin. God tells us that sin leads to destruction, death and eternal separation from God in Hell. He does not want that for us! In fact He has done everything He can to prevent it! God loves us so much that He sent his son, Jesus Christ to make the way back to a right relationship with God, His Father. Jesus never strayed from the will of His Father. He was sentenced to death even though he never did one thing wrong. He died in our place, to pay the penalty for our sin. Then He arose again to prove that He was truly God.

The only way to a right relationship with God is to trust that Jesus died in your place and in mine. To try and approach God in any other way will not work. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

It is great to learn more and know about Jesus. But like the Superstar musician, if you only know about them without meeting them there is no actual relationship there. God deeply desires a relationship with you. And trusting that Jesus’ death on the cross is the only way to heaven is how you come to intimately know Jesus. Then you can spend the rest of this life and eternity learning more about the one true God, His love, His humility, His wisdom, His creativity, His justice, goodness, power etc, etc, etc!

He has made a few cool things like galaxies, the duck-billed patypus, sunrises and you! He made each one of you with a plan in mind. God wants you to come to intimately know Him so that He can help you become the amazing person that He designed you to be!

 

Looking Good?

Every few years we walk our youth through the qualities that Peter encourages us to add to our faith in 2 Peter 1:5-7. We looked at faith last month. The first thing Peter says to add to our faith is goodness or virtue. The Greek word is arete (ar-et’-ay) which has a connotation of moral excellence.

Let’s break it down… What does that mean, “moral”?  Conforming to a standard of good and right behavior.

Now what does “excellence” mean? First-class, best (or as we said in the 80’s, “Jam-up!”)

So, why would the best and most right and good  (and jam-up) type of behavior be the first thing that Peter suggests we add to our faith? Because that reflects who God is! “For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.” Psalms 11:7 (and I am pretty sure “jam-up” is somewhere in the Bible)

Now I want to differentiate here between two deceptively similar ideas, looking good versus being good.

Let's look at a story to communicate these two ideas, a story about a husband and wife named Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). This story takes place a couple of months after Jesus was killed on the cross and, more notably, arose from the dead. People are beginning to trust in Jesus by the thousands. A vibrant community of passionate Christians is growing. However, many of them are very poor so the richer people are sharing their money so that no one is in need or hungry. Suddenly, it is the “cool” thing to give to the poor.

Now read the story in Acts 5:1-11 (Yes, you have to open your Bible!) and think your way through each question below.

Whoa!! What happened here? God just killed two folks who gave money to the church!!!

1) What did they lie about? (Vs 1&2)

2) Who were they lying to? (Vs 3, 4 & 9)

3) Could they have simply given part of the money and told the truth? (Vs 4)

4) How did Peter know they were lying? (The same way your Momma knew you were lying!)

5) So, ultimately, WHY did they lie? (If God had not killed them what would their lie gain for them? Would they look like “good people” for giving their money to the poor? Were they more interested in looking good or being good?)

 

Now at first glance does it seem “good and right” for God to kill Ananias and Sapphira over a simple lie? Though they lied we must acknowledge that they did actually give some money to the poor. I believe God wanted the early church to know how serious He is about sin. This seems like an extremely high and impossible standard. If God is so good, why would He set a standard so high that no one could meet it?

Because He wanted to show His love. I can already hear you saying “Hmmm. Well, Jeremy, you are going to have to explain that one!”

The scary truth is that we ALL deserve what Ananias and Sapphira got! Even the best people on earth are sinners against Holy God. (Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3, Eccl 7:20, Romans 3:10-12,23) I wince as I make the following analogy, but do so only to connect with today’s techno-youth. This would be like the cell phone company “blocking God” on your phone before they ever sold it to you, a broken relationship. We receive no input from God, so everything we do is driven by our own selfish, sinful nature. (Yes, even if it makes us “look good” to others). Apart from God our selfishness moves us toward our own destruction in this life and in the next.

Since God is fair and just, He must maintain the standard of paying for our wrongdoings. But instead of demanding that we pay for our own sins, God payed the price for us. Let me repeat that, because some of us have heard it so many times that the powerful love of God is missed. HE PAYED FOR OUR SINS!!!

You see, God set the standard high for us, but then He met the high standard in our place.

He is delaying justice for the majority of humans out of love. He wants to give us a chance to choose to receive the forgiveness provided by Jesus (2 Peter 3:9). Only once we receive faith in Jesus Christ’s payment for our sins can we see our true need and helplessness. Once we “unblock” Jesus from our phones and put ourselves completely under His loving authority, then and only then can His moral excellence flow through us.

God chooses to love the world through us if we will let Him. He wants to give us His very nature so that we can glorify Him, love other people and be filled with true joy (John 14:20; 15:7-11).

POINT to the nonbeliever***Apart from trusting in Jesus, you and I cannot “be good” in the eyes of God because our hearts are broken and selfish and sinful. If we turn from our sins and receive faith in Jesus Christ’s pardon of our sin, then we can be in a right relationship with Him as our Lord. Then God can express HIS goodness through us.

POINT to the believer***If you are a Christian and claiming to be one publicly, then you should hold yourself to a high standard of courageous, God-honoring, excellent, selfless goodness. Others are watching and depending on you and you are representing Jesus Christ in all that you do. Strive to become more like Him every day!

SELF CHECK to the believer!***If you have given your life to Jesus Christ, are you portraying an excellent level of goodness and right deeds (for which you do not necessarily need to get credit)? Does your life glorify God and overflow with love for other people? Is your life full of joy? Or are you still trying to make it all about you? True faith in Jesus Christ will change your actions, thoughts and words. If that has not happened, you should re-examine your faith (James 2:14-19)

SELF CHECK to the nonbeliever!*** If you have never given your life over to Jesus Christ, what is keeping you from it?  God does not want you to go another day in a broken relationship apart from Him in this life or to be permanently apart from Him in Hell in the next life. No amount of effort on your part to be good will save you. He wants to help you be everything that he created you to be, a good, excellent person that glorifies God in all you do, that loves other people and that is full of joy. He wants all that so badly for you that He died to give you the opportunity to choose it. But you must choose it. If you have not trusted your life to Jesus Christ, what is keeping you from it? 

Are you being good or are you just looking good?

Gotta have faith, Man!

Do you ever look around at the superabundant injustice, violence, hatred and, well let’s just be honest, stupidity and wonder how you could ever make a difference in the world? Is there any hope, really? Millions of refugees in camps, torn from their homelands by murdering terrorists, tens of thousands of children dying of starvation and countless young girls and boys being hooked on drugs and sold into slavery for sex… God where are you?!

I recently came across an author to whom I can wholeheartedly relate. His name is Habakkuk (Gotta love that name, Man!) and he wrote a book called Habakkuk. Do you see the originality oozing from this guy already? Seriously, though, in the beginning of his book he cries out “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?... Violence….Destruction…justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous…the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he…mercilessly killing nations forever?”

We understand this, don’t we? Habakkuk is exasperated and (I love this…) says he will climb up into a watchtower and wait on God to answer all of his grievances. I can see him standing there, arms folded, staring into the sky. How often do we actually stop to listen, expecting an answer, after griping to God? Maybe we should do that more often, because God decides to answer Habakkuk!

Among many other things, God says about the wicked man “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

What?! I understand the part about the wicked man not having an upright soul. But “the righteous shall live by his faith.” What does thaaat mean, honestly?! I have always heard that, you just gotta have faith, Man! Please explain that. Where does one get faith? How do I know if I have it, much less live by it? What is faith in the first place?

Let’s do what I always do when I am confused…find an ant bed, poke a few sticks in it and watch the ants clamber over each other. (It is actually therapeutic. Just be sure not to sit too close) Ok, after that does not help one bit, I do the next best thing, look up the original Hebrew and Greek for faith. This leads us to words like trustworthiness, security, persuasion, trust, faith, belief, conviction and, my personal favorite (because I am going to use it to make a point here) TRUTH!

So why do we need faith? And what does this mean, the righteous LIVE by faith.

At the core, faith is about truth. No one wants to believe a lie, or do they? Do you?

What does it mean when you say you trust in something or someone? That they will be true, not deceive us or fail us. I trust this bridge to get me across the river. I trust this money to keep me comfortable. I trust this girl not to break my heart. I trust in my abilities to get me what I want. I trust my friend not to steal or lie to me.

Why this obsession with Truth? What is so bad about being deceived? Lied to? How does this make you feel?

Jesus said something very profound about this. In John 8:31-32 Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

The people said “We are already free, we are not slaves. What are you talking about, Jesus?”

Then listen, Jesus said this (John 8:34) “Truly truly I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

Who here has ever practiced sin? Raise your hand. Remember, there is a camera on your phone or computer. I can see you. (Creepy, I know) ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

The Truth that Jesus was talking about is what we call the gospel, or good news that God is a just God, (Remember Habakkuk wondering about justice?) who demands payment for any sin or wrongdoing. None of us can make that payment. Because the payment is one’s very life. 

Sin is simply going our own way instead of God’s way. God’s way leads to peace and joy. Our way leads to destruction. But God loves us and does not want us to be punished. So, He came to earth as a man, Jesus Christ, to give His life for ours. He deserved no punishment, but took ours so that we may have a right relationship with God once again. 

He came to purchase any and every slave (That means every person. That includes you!) out of sin.

So how does this tie in to Faith???

Well, there is a lie out there that God does not exist (a whole other topic!), just do what you want, or try to be good if that makes you feel better.

But the truth is that one day we will all have to stand in front of a Holy God and be judged for all that we have done and even said. He will ask for an accounting of our life. If you know Him, then you will say “I am a sinner. If it was not for your Son, Jesus Christ, paying for my sins then I would be guilty, but He has washed me clean”. And God will exclaim a hearty “Welcome”.  But…and it is a BIG BUT (Get it, big butt!!! Sorry I could not help it! I have a bad habit of making lame jokes at serious moments.) Ahem, but…If you do not know Him, He will command you to leave his presence and you will be sent to a place called Hell. In other words, we cannot save ourselves.

This is the Truth that Jesus proclaims. And the Truth will set you free.

This ties back to our friend, Habakkuk. God tells him that the righteous LIVES by his faith. That means that our actions, thoughts and words are determined by what we trust to be true.

Turn away from your sin. Confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is your Savior. Then live in faith that you have been set free.

So you see, it is the object of your faith that is important. Not the intensity of your faith.

It doesn’t matter how intensely you trust in a rotten log. It will not get you safely across the river. Money comes and goes, girlfriends and friends can let you down, our own abilities can fail. I will even tell you this, I trust in God more than I trust in my wife. Because only then can I be the husband that she needs. I want the same for her. I want her trust to be in Jesus more than me, because I am going to mess up and I want her to be stable in God when I fail.

Faith is like the roots of a tree. You can’t see them. But if they are true and strong roots we WILL bear fruit in our lives as a tree bears fruit. Fruit of love, patience, gentleness, self-control, kindness, just to name a few...But if the root rots away, if we have trusted in the wrong things then our lives will also rot. (God talks about this in Habakkuk chapter 2)

Bearing fruit is evidence of a strong root. Bearing fruit is natural and good. But sometimes something comes along in life and cuts you down so low that you think it is all over. This is when you find out whether you have trusted in truth. THERE IS A WALNUT STUMP IN THE FRONT YARD AT THREE CIRCLES. I cut this tree down two years ago. The fruit, the branches, the trunk are all gone and it is still trying to send up shoots. WHY?

Faith in Jesus is not a feeling. It is like the stars. You cannot see them during the day, you may even feel like they are not there. But when darkness of life comes, they shine.

Faith is not a way to get what you want. It is a way to have joy through anything that happens, trusting in the one true God, who loves you deeply. So deeply that He died for you.

Why would you have faith in anything else?

Now go read the last few sentences of Habakkuk’s book (3:17-19). Yes, you have to open your Bible.

The Bigger Scoop (A word on generosity)

“I will just put it in the offering plate.” The pimple-faced teen held out the five dollar bill.  I told him that was a great idea, but to do whatever he wanted with the money. He had just done a small bit of manual labor for me and I gave him the ole' Abe Lincoln for spending. What he was actually saying was “I just enjoyed hanging out with you, whether we were working or not. I would rather give this money back to God where it came from than keep it.” This was a kid who was being raised by his grandparents and often was unable to attend events because they couldn’t afford the gas money to get him there.  The same kid is now 20 years old with a full-time job and recently gave a complete game system and flat screen TV to a younger friend for no reason other than “because he had never been able to afford a good gift before.” Wow!

I will pull up at a gas pump with a van full of foster boys eager to run in and spend their last dime on junk food and energy drinks. (…after which they proceed to tell me about the Corvette they want to buy. Great time for another money management talk!) I cannot list the number of times they return with extra items they have bought for me or for the kid on the van that has no money. It is truly amazing and heartwarming.  

Don’t misunderstand me, lest they receive undue accolades, I see plenty of examples of selfishness in these teenagers.  They can get downright childish and violent over the smallest of issues. But they are children. They are expected to behave this way. That is why we must be involved in their lives to guide them. Adults don’t behave selfishly. Right?

Drips of shame fall from my brow as I type this. I recall a time when my brother was moving out after living with me for one year. As we were going through the items in the kitchen, we came across two small boxes of baking soda (these cost about 99 cents mind you). One was used and opened, the other was new and unopened. He proceeded to pack the new one in his moving box. I became indignant, demanding that he leave it and take the opened one because I had paid for the new one! He laughed, thinking I was surely joking. But I proceeded to put my foot down. I had to stand up for my rights after all. He humbly shrugged his shoulders and corrected his “dastardly” mistake. What a jerk I was! It’s no wonder he moved out! (Hmmm, I think I still need to apologize to him for that.)

Do you do this too? You are serving up ice cream for you and someone else. As you decide which bowl to give the other person, you quickly assess which one has more in it and slyly keep it for yourself. Maybe I am alone on this, but methinks not.

What lies at the heart of generosity? Why are we so slow to give freely to others? The answer is sad. It is because we do not believe that God will provide. This leads to a sadder but deeper reality. We don’t believe that God CAN provide for us. It seems more difficult for adults then children to believe that God is who He says He is.

Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
    and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
    and weighed the mountains in scales
    and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
    or what man shows him his counsel?
14 Whom did he consult,
    and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
    and taught him knowledge,
    and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
    and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
    behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
    nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
    they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
    or what likeness compare with him?

Isaiah 40:10-18 (ESV)

Wow! Is that who God is? Is it? Let’s spell this out concisely (concisely means that you take a lot of words that you are using to explain a concept or concepts and consolidate them down to as few ideas and, thus few words, as possible to make them clearer and more simple to grasp or understand, more purely exhibited in their quintessential form, than if you had used the originally much larger number of words and more complex and possibly overlapping ideas to communicate that which you had originally intended to be understood by the person or general audience to whom you were attempting to convey your broader but less distilled thoughts…Ha haa! Just a joke…get it? Consicely?! Hehe…Ahem… ok, Sorry…we were talking about something very serious here. Moving on…). God created us. We rebelled, which is punishable by death and eternal separation from Him. He died in our place to pay for our punishment which allows us to be with Him again if we choose in this life and eternally. Talk about generosity!!!

To be blunt, our hesitancy to be generous is nothing more than evidence of our distrust of God. Join me in learning more about who God is and how able and willing He is to provide for us. As you read your Bible daily, look for the generosity of God. After you close your Bible, look around you at the generosity of God.

Often we mistake God’s blessings (grace, money, forgiveness, our time, the very gospel message and more) as being only for us. But most often they are meant to be given to others through us. How could God trust us with such as these? Humbling, is it not?

You will rarely hear me say this, but let’s take a lesson from some teenagers. Be generous. Get to know God by reading His Word, praying and fasting then trust Him. It has been asked and today I ask you, how generous are you? And, also, how are you generous? (We don’t need those extra calories in that ice cream bowl anyway!)

Oh, yeah. The next Sunday at Church I saw the kid drop the five dollar bill in the offering plate.

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

Proverbs 11:25 (NIV)

Gratitude, Dude!

We have had the challenging but rewarding privilege of spending the last 8 years ministering to teenagers from hard places. Out of the many admirable traits they possess, one unfortunate trend I have noticed about this generation is their sense of entitlement, and corresponding lack of gratitude. It colors almost every facet of their lives as if it were woven into their DNA. The list of “rights” they claim is endless. Animal rights. Women’s rights. LGBTQ rights. Civil rights. Racial rights. Religious rights. Rights to a government paycheck. Rights to air conditioning, video games, energy drinks and smartphones. The right to be heard. The right to not listen. The right to be respected. The right to show disrespect. The list is truly endless. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying all the rights listed are necessarily good or bad (yes, some are!). This next generation has a strong sense of justice. But there sure seems to be a whole lot of different ideas about what that means.

[Interesting side note: the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2016 was “post-truth”. They define it as 'relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief'. Wow! As I was saying…]

As a young boy I recall musing about whether there existed a universal Right and Wrong. I naively envisioned a huge book in the cosmos that had all the Right actions written in one column and all the Wrong actions written in the other column. That made it easy for me to move forward in my thinking. Until, well, until it didn’t work anymore. Was it wrong to smoke weed? God made it grow on the earth, right? (It’s natural, man!) But it was, at least at that time, illegal. But should you always obey the law? The government could be wrong. After all, the government once condoned slavery. And that is wrong. So, surely it was ok to smoke weed. What about sex? Alcohol? Stealing from big corporations that would never feel the loss? What is truth?  Well, apparently we are post-truth.

The clear waters of justice grew steadily murkier as the years, desires and experiences of life presented themselves. It wasn’t long before I found myself in a complex web of excuses, ignorance, drugs, lies, betrayal and downright confusion. Enter one of my favorite phrases in the Bible…”But God!”

Oh, yes, but God drew me in by His Holy Spirit to saving faith in Jesus Christ. I grew up "in church" but prior to my salvation I couldn’t have given a decent explanation of who He was. Suddenly, I understood that my ways were paving a solid and straight road to eternal death and separation from the God that created me and loved me. I saw that the only way that I could return to a right relationship with this merciful God was to accept the blood of Jesus Christ which was shed to pay for my sins.

The night I trusted in Christ I began to read the Bible and for the first time, I could see! I could see that my ways were not pleasing to God. In fact, I could finally see that my actions were not good for me. They were not good for the people around me either. 

Slowly, God revealed that my concept of the “Right and Wrong book” in outer space was real. But it was not a book; it was a tree. Huh? Yes, it was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You can read about it for yourself in the first three chapters of the Bible.

I began to understand very clearly the concept of sin. Simply stated, sin is when I go MY way instead of GOD’S way. That is what Adam and Eve did. That is what I did. And that is what you did. We have all attempted to decide for ourselves what is Right versus Wrong, Good versus Evil. God never wanted us to bear the responsibility of deciding this. But He knew we would try; He knew we would not accept His ways, His authority. And He loved us too much to trap us in Paradise. He allowed us to wander. But He did not let us go without a loving warning. He told us that choosing OUR way instead of HIS way would lead to death and destruction. We did it anyway.

Why all the ranting and preaching? Let me put the pop in the corn here. My point is that, based on our actions, what we are actually entitled to is…stay with me…death and destruction. Wha? See, apart from God paying for our sins, we are left to pay for them. And the only thing we have to offer in payment for our sins is our very life. Our life is but a mist says my boy, Jesus' half brother, James. (see James 4:14)

So, when I hear teenagers, or adults, or myself for that matter, talking about what we deserve, what we are entitled to, our rights. I am reminded to humble myself and know that all I deserve is death and destruction.

Realizing this makes me very grateful for what Jesus did for me, and you, by the way, on the cross. Gratitude is the cure for the entitlement disease. How will this generation know that if they don’t see it in you? We may have times where we feel like there is nothing to be thankful for. But if you will count to 10 then think about it, I bet you can come up with something. Jesus did not die on the cross simply to keep us out of Hell. He also did it so that we can have an abundant life (please don’t do the shallow American thing here and automatically think of cars, houses and money). We should all move forward in our jobs, lives, ministries and families with an attitude of gratitude, Dude.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Honoring Women (A Word on Courtship)

Honoring women also honors yourself, others and God in the process! What do you think of when you think of honor?

Historically speaking, across most cultures, women have been marginalized, disrespected and mistreated. But do you know who was one of the first great leaders to stand up for women’s honor?

Jesus Christ.

Jesus, in his actions and teachings, showed great love and respect for women. Let’s take a quick glance at some examples. (Feel free to breeze through this list as it is only meant to prove a point):

·         His Mother:

o   He obeyed her (Luke 2:51), he accommodated her wishes (John 2:3-11) and provided for her care even as he was dying (John 19:25-27)

o   One of the 10 commandments is to “honor your Father and your Mother.” This is the only commandment that has a promise attached to it if it is followed.

o   ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.’ (Deuteronomy 5:16)

·         Women who had done many things wrong:

o   Luke 7:36-50 This woman was known around town as a sinner. She was crying at Jesus feet and the religious people around are judging her but Jesus stands up for her

o   John 8:1-11 There is a crowd of religious people who want to stone a woman for adultery. Jesus stands up for her and says “let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”

o   John 4:1-42 The woman at the well

·         Poor and/or Sick Women 

o   Mark 5:25-34 The woman with chronic bleeding who touched his garment

o   Matthew 9:18-26 (and Mark 5:35-43) raised a girl from the dead

o   Luke 13:10-17 healed the bent/crippled woman on the Sabbath Day. Then defended his decision to do so when all the religious people tried to get upset with him for breaking the Jewish law instead of being glad for the woman!

·         Women of a different race/culture

o   Matthew 15:21–28 (& Mark 7:24–30) Canaanite woman who asked to have her daughter healed

o   Again, the Samaritan woman at the well

·         Jesus chose to reveal himself first to women after He was raised from the dead (Matthew 28:1-10)

So, we can clearly see that ALL women should be treated with honor. But I want to talk to you, young men, about how to treat girls you are interested in romantically.  I find it interesting that there is not much in the Bible about dating. I think God is telling us something by his silence. Honestly, dating is a bad idea. I am much more a proponent of courting.

Wow! Courting is an old word and many young men are not sure what this means! So, let’s talk about it. This is how I approached my wife and I know other people who courted their wives as well. I am not describing some fantastic ideal.

The first step to courting is what? Let’s be honest, you have to be attracted to her! Many things can attract us to a girl, her looks, her personality, her sense of humor, the way she laughs, etc…. But what should attract us to a girl is her love for Jesus Christ. If she doesn’t have that, you should remain friends only. Things may change in the future. You do not need to court every girl that is pretty or that you are attracted to!

The second step to courting is actually pretty simple. Be her friend! Dating promotes a false front, putting on your best self. In dating, you are not your “real” self and, no surprise here, neither is the girl! All the less desirable tendencies and past mistakes are hidden. In contrast, friendship, true friendship, promotes being yourself, honesty. A friend is a friend no matter what comes. You are there for each other without judgement.  If you cannot be great friends with a girl then there is no reason to try and go any further romantically. Worth mentioning is the fact that once you go past being friends, you cannot go back. So, before you consider moving things along further, ask yourself “Are you ready to lose a friend if things don't work out?”

Step number three to courting is the true test. You put on your big boy britches and ask for permission from her parent or guardian to court her. Awkward? You bet! And I will tell you (listen up all you two year old boys out there!) If you want to date my daughter, you will come talk to me first. BIG HINT here, young men: This honors the girl and her family and will show her that you care about her more than you can understand right now. An added benefit of this is that you can get to know her parents/guardian which may help you understand your girl even better. You are going to need all the help you can get with understanding women (I love you, Honey!).

If you get past step three without a shotgun shoved up your nose, then you proceed to step four of courting. In the words of a good friend of mine, this is where you “Act like somebody.” Your behavior at this point is aimed at treating this young lady with the highest degree of honor. Honoring a girl includes honoring her family and God and yourself! So, the same is true of dishonor! Don’t be in a situation that could lead others to think that you are dishonoring her. Think guard rails! These keep your car from flying off the interstate if you are going too fast and lose control. So, determine ahead of time what physical/sexual limits you and your girl will have and talk about them and commit to them. Believe me, you will not make a good decision in the heat of the moment when you are going too fast and lose control. (This is where I would normally stop and talk about STD’s, but that is beyond the scope of this blog.)

Getting to know a girl is important but you should never go further physically than you go emotionally. A good rule of thumb here is to treat a girl the way you would want someone to treat your daughter. You don’t know that you are going to marry this girl so don’t do anything with her that you wouldn’t want your wife to have done with other guys in her past. On your wedding night, wouldn’t it be great if all the other guys your bride had ever known had honored her by not having sex with her? You were the very first one! It is a nasty lie that having sex with multiple people makes you better at it. It only destroys your soul and makes it hard to trust each other (This is a good place to discuss how God designed sex to be within the confines of marriage like a fire in a wood stove, warming the home. But what happens if you take that fire out and put it somewhere else? Destruction.). If things don’t work out between you two and you run into this girl later in life with her husband, wouldn’t it be great to be able to talk to them both without any shame or regret? After they walked away, wouldn’t it be great if the girl could say to her husband “That guy always treated me with so much respect.”

Somewhat of a phenomenon these days is sexually aggressive girls. It is a big turn on and an ego boost for you when a girl comes on strong to you. But here is the sad reality. She is doing that to all sorts of guys because she doesn’t know what it is like to be honored and loved in the right way. So, sex is all she knows about love, which will sadly lead to pain and regret for her. Big point here…it is NOT your job to help her, young man!  The best way to show respect and honor for a girl who is sexually aggressive is to flee. You can mention her privately to a mature Christian woman who may be able to talk to her but you need to go the other direction because the temptation is strong. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Proverbs 5 says about the sexually aggressive girl “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.” It goes on to say that otherwise you will lose your own honor, your years, your strength, the money you earn, and your own flesh and body.

For those of you who have messed up sexually or mistreated females in some other way, know that God forgives you of this through the atoning blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Despite this forgiveness, you will experience pain and some scarring from these mistakes. You should do your best to respectfully apologize, if you can, to anyone you have hurt.

We are not going to get into discussing marriage but there is some great advice about how to treat women that we can glean from the Bible’s advice on it. 1 Peter 3:7 says “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” From this verse we can gather many things:

1.       Try to learn about your girl and understand who they are

2.       Show honor to them

3.       Protect them. Women are not weaker mentally, but physically (with some obvious exceptions!).

         o   NEVER use your physical strength to intimidate a woman, the opposite of protection.

         o   Men and women are EQUALLY important to God and bear His image.

4.       Women inherit the grace of God just as equally as men

5.       NOT doing these things can actually turn God’s ear away from you!

In the end, the way we treat women is a reflection of who we are. Every girl is someone’s daughter. And every girl is God’s daughter. God cares about how His daughters are treated.

Honor. Respect. Dignity. Trustworthiness. Strong. Sensitive. Understanding. Self-controlled. Do these words describe who you are? Do you want to be known as a man of honor?

 

Slave Ants

What do you think of when I say “Polyergus breviceps”?  (I asked this last night as I was giving a devotion at a meeting. Someone responded “Oh, I had mine taken out last year.” Ha ha! That cracked me up!) Well, it is not an obscure body part. It is the scientific name of a species of Slave Maker ants. Hunh?

If you haven’t heard of these little creatures, draw near and marvel with me. They are a type of ant that raids other ant colonies and steals their eggs. They bring the eggs back to their own ant bed and after they hatch the unaware babies are literally turned into slaves. These poor slave ants gather food, take care of the Queen, dig tunnels, etc.

These unfortunate insects remind me of the Israelites in Exodus Chapter 2. Their people had been slaves to the Egyptians for so long, 430 yrs (Exodus 12:40), that generations were born into this lifestyle accepting it as normal.  

I understand that the Jews are a real part of history but the story of the Jews is too much like my own story. I have to believe that God intends for us to see the Israelites this way, as a representation of how God wants to be in relation to us.

God knows that we are all born into slavery suffering under immense pressures of the world. In Exodus 2:23-25 the people are groaning and crying out to God. Then the Bible says “God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” God sees enslaved people today and He knows. What do I mean? Well, sadly human sex slavery is all too common today. But, also, can we be slaves to things other than people? Sure, just think…can we not be a slave to our job, sexual relationships, cell phones, drugs, cravings for food, alcohol, gangs, TV, Video games…

Get deeper…can we not be slaves to other peoples’ opinions, our appearance, pride, anger problems, jealousy, etc. In short, we are slaves to sin. And, for the sake of brevity, sin is going our own way instead of God’s way.

All this talk of slavery brings me to consider the question, what is salvation? What I usually hear from the Church is that Jesus died for our sins so we can be with him forever and not go to Hell.  But, as a wise man asked me once, what did salvation look like to the Israelites?

It is a long drawn out story involving reluctant Jewish leaders, hard-hearted Pharoah and plagues. But in the end the Israelites not only walked away from their slavery but left with abundance of bread dough, livestock, silver and gold jewelry and clothing!!! (Exodus 12:34-36)

It is a bit long to add here, but for a great picture of the nature of salvation, read Psalm 65. Read it out loud! I love the image of God's wagon tracks filled with abundance.

Yes, part of salvation is about spending eternity with Jesus in heaven and not going to Hell. But it is also about experiencing God’s loving salvation from selfishness and sin today, in this life.  This concept always reminds me of 2 Corinthians 6:2 where Paul exclaims “now is the day of salvation.” This verse gets the carnival lights put around it. But if we read on through verse 10 we are led to my third point.

The walking out of a life after salvation is full of blessings, wonders and mountain views but it is surely wrought with difficulty, temptations and dark, dark valleys, the things which enslaved us in the beginning. Paul discusses this extensively in 2 Corinthians 6:2-10. And, as Christians, we have to be ready to walk this road.

After Israel walked away from their longstanding enslavement to Egypt, what happened at the first sign of difficulty? They saw the dust clouds of the Egyptian army pursuing them and THEY WANTED TO GO BACK INTO SLAVERY THINKING IT WOULD BE BETTER THAN GOD’S PLAN FOR THEM! We cannot be surprised by this. And we are not immune from it ourselves!

To recap, as ministers (and if you are a Christian then you are one), we must be:

1)      Aware that we are BORN into slavery to sin.

2)      Aware of what salvation means not only for the next life but also in THIS life.

3)      Aware of the difficulties for one who is saved…this includes US.

Now, revisit with me our insect friends. What if you could become and ant yourself and go down to one of those slave-ants and tell him he was designed to be something so much better, to be free, he did not have to be a slave anymore? What would you hope he would do? Experience salvation! But surely this road home would be a difficult road for such a little ant.

That is exactly what Jesus did for us. He became a little ant like us and paid our way back home to our true Father. And Jesus chooses to continue this loving work through you and I.

So, all of our planning, church methods, ministry and program development, etc. is not bad at all. But these things are not the height of Christianity. If we are to endure the ups and downs of ministry, the blessings and disappointments, to help those who have been saved, we must maintain righteousness.

We cannot maintain righteousness in any other way than by reaching the height of Christianity. The pinnacle of Christianity is not working hard for God but simply knowing Christ is with us now. Here I defer to the words of Oswald Chambers in his classic work My Utmost For His Highest.

What He desires for me is that I see “Him walking on the sea” with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see “Him walking on the sea” (Mark 6:49)-Oswald Chambers

A Bandage over a Broken Heart

Jeremy Collins

We need to get high on Jesus and drunk on the Holy Spirit!

Families suffering from brokenness seem to be the rule instead of the exception these days. In keeping with our effort to confront real-life issues faced by youth this year, the topic of discussion for one of our camps was “Drugs and Alcohol”. According to the U. S. Dept. of Justice, over half of the inmates in prison are there for drug related charges. We must remember that behind this statistic is a vast ocean of shattered families. The Church must stand behind those in prison and their hurting family members outside of prison. There are multiple societal reasons for these issues which are far beyond the scope of this blog. Addressing the problem as a society boils down to the concepts of intervention and hopefully prevention. We got very real with our campers sharing our own experiences with substance abuse and incarceration. Instead of repeating banner type jargon, we looked at what scripture actually says about these things.

However, addressing the problem as the Church of Jesus Christ boils down to addressing a heart problem. Scripture is abundantly clear and repetitive about the true reason for our brokenness, which can take many different forms. It is simply that we have all chosen to go OUR way instead of GOD’S way (Genesis 2:15-17, Deuteronomy 30:11-20 and Matthew 7:13-14 just to list a few). Therefore the only fix for a broken relationship with God is to trust that Jesus Christ lovingly died on the cross ONLY to pay for our sins. Through trusting in that redemptive work we will be seen as whole and blameless once again in the eyes of God (Romans 3:21-26). Without Jesus Christ, we might be able to prevent or intervene in drug and alcohol related problems. But in the end we have only placed a band-aid over a broken heart. 

I had a dream last night where God asked me to write down what was on my heart. In misspelled words written in odd looking, contorted “dreamy” letters I wrote something like this: I want to better understand the long term effects, good or bad, on people raised in a broken home so that we can better serve them while they are young.

Three Circles Foundation is dedicated to the idea, quoted from Frederick Douglass, that “it is easier to build strong boys than to repair broken men”. We hope to do just that, however, once a mother, a father or both are missing from the picture, there is no simple solution. We understand that there is a gamut of needs that go unmet when the family breaks apart, regardless of the reason. That is why we strive to serve and partner with other organizations to collectively minister to the needs of our community. Please be in prayer for us as we continually seek God’s direction in fulfilling our mission. For now we will continue to teach them about the best drug out there, Jesus, and the best booze ever, The Holy Spirit!

I want to take a moment to deeply thank those of you who have so faithfully supported what God is doing through Three Circles. God has used your commitments for continual improvement and plans to grow in the near future. If you have not supported Three Circles before, I encourage you to contact us and discuss ways to do so! Thank you.

Stewards & Consumers

Jeremy Collins

My family moved to a different home recently. Yes, they let me come too. The volume of “stuff” seemingly birthed by this venture is overwhelming. Cardboard boxes that haven’t been opened for years, plastic bags stuffed with clothes, questionably reusable but definitely obsolete items (mint condition VHS tape of the movie Wayne’s World, anybody?) and helpless pink, stuffed animals all bulge around the ratchet straps and bungee cords straining to contain the mess in the bed of my little pickup truck, trip number 11.

My wife and I try to be responsible with the disastrous pile, diligently allocating unwanted items to charities, recycling facilities, thrift stores and, if we must, dumpsters. It is there at the row of stinking metal dumpsters that I take pause. The big receptacles appear to have choked and coughed up their contents onto the surrounding gravel. Very much is recyclable, even reusable!  Hey, at least someone brought it to the dumpsite instead of throwing it out of the car window.  At camp we often pick up litter on the sides of the road. Beer cans, liquor bottles, fast food bags, tobacco product packaging, energy drink cans, soft drink bottles and lottery tickets comprise 90% of the roadside litter. What is going on here? Lest you think I am going on a tree-hugging tirade, let me get to the point. Something deeper than environmental concerns are tugging at my brain, nay, at my very soul.  

Could our relationship with the environment affect the way we view our relationships with God and our community? When I say environment, think resources like money, food, land, animals, trees, water, buildings, air, roads, vehicles, etc. If my relationship with these things is broken but considered “normal and acceptable” then could that lead me to think that a broken relationship with God or other people (community) is actually “normal and acceptable”?  I propose that it very much does.   

For example many people have a similar relationship with food as they do with God.

  1. Pull up to the drive-through window.

  2. Get cheap food handed to me.

  3. Eat food.

  4. Throw packaging out of the window (or, if not totally bereft of decency, in a garbage can).

This is a consumer, short-sighted, stagnant way of thinking. We treat food like its only purpose is to fill our empty bellies. Food is designed for so much more. Food should be of a quality that nourishes our bodies, giving us sharp minds and physical strength. Meals should be shared with others to provide a time of relationship building. Who has time for a healthy, family dinner anymore?

Don’t many of us view God with the same consumer, short-sighted, stagnant mindset?

  1. Go to church (maybe, if I feel like it).

  2. Hear the sermon (get fidgety and start hint-coughing if lasts more than 30 minutes).

  3. Eat the part that I like.

  4. Throw the rest out the window (maybe not in public, but at home it surely goes in the trash).

We treat God like He is there to fulfill a cultural obligation so we can check the made-it-to-church box or any other religious-looking-thing-we-do box. God wants so much more for us. He died on that cross in order to purchase our freedom from slavery, slavery to sin. Salvation! He wants us to have peace that surpasses understanding, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control and so much more! What are we going to do with that kind of love??? We can either consume it in a self-centered way or exude it in a God-and-others-centered way.

Envision a stagnant pond compared to a fountain. When we are a dead-end for water that comes to us, we tend to get pretty scummy. But when we allow the water that comes to us to fill us up and overflow into others there is only life giving water amply supplied to those around us. We should think with a giving, eternal and dynamic mindset!

Be good stewards of your resources. Eat healthy food with other people as often as you can. Spend money wisely. Recycle what you can. Turn from your sin. Receive the love of Christ. Give your life to Him. Invest in time with Him and His people. Love others (including the lost) as yourself. Love God with all that you have and are!

Today, ask the Lord to reveal areas of your life where you are being a self-centered consumer. Consider your three circles (relationships) with the environment, with others and with God. Hmmm, maybe I’ll ask a friend to help me with trip number 12, so we can, umm, build a better relationship. Yeah, that’s it.