values

Mercy and Faithfulness

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It use to be that you could easily tell the good guys from the bad ones. In older western movies, the good guys wore white hats.

But the public image is not always the private reality. Nowadays, image and branding have become an important industry. Much emphasis is put on projecting the right public persona.

No matter how a person appears on the outside, the heart of a person reveals their true self. God is far more concerned with the heart of a person than their image. If we're wise, we ought to be as well.

Scripture

For the choir director; by David, the Lord’s servant.

There is an inspired truth about the wicked person who has rebellion in the depths of his heart: He is not terrified of God.

He flatters himself and does not hate or ⌊even⌋ recognize his guilt. The words from his mouth are ⌊nothing but⌋ trouble and deception.

He has stopped doing what is wise and good. He invents trouble while lying on his bed and chooses to go the wrong direction. He does not reject evil. [vss 1-4]

O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, your judgments like the deep ocean. You save people and animals, O Lord.

Your mercy is so precious, O God, that Adam’s descendants take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They are refreshed with the rich foods in your house, and you make them drink from the river of your pleasure. 

Indeed, the fountain of life is with you. In your light we see light. [vss 5-9]

Continue to show your mercy to those who know you and your righteousness to those whose motives are decent.

Do not let the feet of arrogant people step on me or the hands of wicked people push me away.  Look at the troublemakers who have fallen. They have been pushed down and are unable to stand up again. [vss 10-12]

(Psalm 36:1-12 GW) [Context– Psalm 36]

Key phrase— O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies

[bctt tweet="O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How is the "wicked person" characterized? What does this person do and not do?

How do all these descriptions reveal the core problem of someone who is wicked?

How is the Lord described in contrast to the wicked? How do the images used make these descriptions more vivid and memorable?

What are the benefits for those who are not in rebellion, but trust in the Lord?

Reflection...

Most people have difficulty with faith in God, because He's not readily visible. We want to see Him to believe in Him. One of Jesus' followers, Thomas, was of the same mindset (John 20:25).

Yet, many things are accepted and believed in that aren't visible, such as thoughts or gravity. Thoughts are made known through words, and we all experience the effects and impact of the earth's gravity.

Faith in God is similar. We know about God through the words and experiences of others, but also the intelligent design of the natural world (creation).

In a similar way, a person's heart is revealed by their words and actions. This is true for each of us and in relation to one another.

When we find ourselves filled with pride and deception without a sense of guilt, it's time to change the direction of our life. This often requires God helping us change our heart to make wiser choices.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

What is your typical response to flattery (of any kind), deception, and wrong-doing?

How do you handle guilt? Do you learn from it or ignore it?

Are you aware of and appreciate God's great mercy and faithfulness?

Do you have a healthy respect for God's power and righteousness?


Here's a link to a favorite song of ours taken from Psalm 36– Your Love Oh Lord (but skip the ad ;-)


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

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Opposites Attract

Photo credit: lightstock.com Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be arrogant, but be friendly to humble people. Don’t think that you are smarter than you really are. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭14-16‬ (GW)


Life in the Kingdom of God is different from the kingdom of this world. The world around us is governed by selfish values and priorities, while Jesus calls His followers to deny themselves.

Often, our expectations of others are unrealistic. As Christian believers, we can't expect the world around us—people, companies, governments, and so on—to have the same values and worldview we do.

This sets up paradoxical situations in life, things that seem at odds with one another. This clash of values should be expected. And yet, when we live our lives in contradiction to what surrounds us each day, it creates an attractiveness to our way of life.

When we bless instead of curse others, we reflect the very nature of Jesus. When we choose humility over arrogance, it disarms people.

Expressing joy rather than jealousy when others are blessed makes us a joy to be around. Showing compassion for people at times of grief builds trust and valued relationships.

The key to harmony in life with others is often as simple as compassion, graciousness, and humility on our part. ©Word-Strong_2016

Authenticity

Photo credit: lightstock.com Love sincerely. Hate evil. Hold on to what is good. Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other. Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord.

Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable.

Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be arrogant, but be friendly to humble people. Don’t think that you are smarter than you really are. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭9-16‬ (GW)


At present, authenticity is highly valued in our culture. It's become a popular value connected to relationships, experiences, even to sell products.

As with so many things, words take on different meanings as culture changes. Current American culture tends to view things through an individualistic and relativistic lens. In other words, we frame things the way we want to see them.

Paul enumerates several ways Christian believers are to be authentic—real, genuine, reliable, true, and trustworthy. He begins with love for others, moral honesty, and true commitment to whatever we do, regardless of our circumstances.

The last few admonitions describe godly tolerance—tolerance from God's point of view. This includes blessing, not cursing, those who oppose us and humility instead of arrogance. All of these reflect the nature of Jesus.

Paul reminds us to not lose our focus on who we are within a world in rebellion towards God. We are to reflect the very nature of Jesus whom we claim to follow. He is gentle, humble, and full of grace and truth (Matt 11:29; John 1:14). ©Word-Strong_2016

A Cry Answered

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Our sense of identity is important. Every person needs a sense of significance—a sense of value and purpose. It is built into us, not at birth, but at conception.

Humanity was created in the image of God, but are often at odds with Him. Some of us are in various states of rebellion towards Him, while others are lost in the maelstrom of our culture.

How does one gain or pursue significance? Success? Psychology? Religion? Soul searching? Social media? Branding? Israel's King David knows a thing or two about significance. Let's see what he has to say.

Scripture

O Lord, look how my enemies have increased! Many are attacking me. Many are saying about me, “Even with God ⌊on his side⌋, he won’t be victorious.” Selah [vss 1-2]

But you, O Lord, are a shield that surrounds me. You are my glory. You hold my head high. I call aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah [vss 3-4]

I lie down and sleep. I wake up again because the Lord continues to support me. I am not afraid of the tens of thousands who have taken positions against me on all sides. Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! You have slapped all my enemies in the face. You have smashed the teeth of wicked people. Victory belongs to the Lord! May your blessing rest on your people. Selah [vss 5-8]

(Psalm 3:1-8 GW) [Context– Psalm 3]

Key phrase— I call aloud to the Lord, and he answers me

[bctt tweet="I call aloud to the Lord, and he answers me"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What seems to be King David's situation at the opening of this psalm?

How does he answer those who oppose him? Where does King David find his identity and significance?

Where does he place his confidence and how does it benefit him?

Why does he have this confidence in God?

Reflection...

Today's culture, as world culture always has, places great importance on external things. A sense of identity and value is often invested in what a person owns, their status among others, who they know, or what they're known for.

But these are fleeting and fickle values.

Did you notice the word selah repeated three times? It's not an easy word to explain or translate, but is believed to be a literary marker to remind the reader (or listener) to pause and consider what's just been said.

Each selah is intended to reflect on what's said, but also to helps us see the progression of thought expressed.

King David realized his situation was dire, but kept things in perspective by reaffirming his trust and sense of identity in his relationship with God. The result is a confidence and assurance in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Where do you find your sense of significance—your value and purpose in life?

Do you have a similar trust and confidence in God as King David did?

How have you seen God answer your prayers and when you call out to Him?

What are present situations or difficulties that you need to entrust to God?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

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A Culture Conflict

Photo credit: Unsplash.com_TLefebvre A culture shifts and changes with time. It often changes when there is some conflict with established cultural norms. This was seen in the 1960's.

But many cultural changes are less obvious, they are more like subtle shifts than an abrupt turns in direction. Perhaps the 1990's are the most recent example of that.

Not all changes in culture are the result of external forces or conflicting trends. Cultures can also change when one person's values change and their internal change influences others. 

A basic call to all

The basic call of discipleship is quite opposite from what our culture expects. The same was true for the disciples then. It is true for any people, anywhere, and at any time. All people are born with an innate selfish nature.

In Christian terms, it is the sin nature or the flesh. Whatever term is used, it’s true. A simple observation of toddlers and two-year olds will confirm it. What word is expressed early on? “No!”—the first expression of the selfish, self-centered nature of every human being.

Jesus tells those who want to follow Him three things that are needed—

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)

Another way to express this is to deny our selfish nature, die to our selfishness, and surrender our self-will to Jesus.

But this is easier said than done. Why? Because it goes against all we know and experience in life within this world. Is it even possible?

Surrender is not defeat

Jesus goes on to clarify it—

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:25, 26 NLT)

Here Jesus gives an explanation of His original call of, “Come follow Me.” He’s says, “If you want to continue trusting and following Me, you need to exchange your self-centered way of life for a life centered on Me, then you will be transformed.”

The key is surrendering the self-will to Jesus. This is the difficult part. An honest question would be, “How can this be done?” The answer is more about what not to do. Denial of self—the selfish nature and self-centeredness—is an internal action, not external.

[bctt tweet="Self-denial is an internal action, not an external one"]

Internal not external

Most efforts at self-denial are focused on external changes in behavior, the self-effort of trying to lead a pleasing life for God.

The season leading up to the observance of Good Friday and Easter is called Lent. Many observe this season by denying themselves some pleasure or usual part of life, offering it to the Lord as a form of fasting.

This form of self-denial is not bad, and may bring about some good realizations and insights. A person may find they are too dependent on something in life, or can do without certain things.

Unfortunately, focusing on outward efforts of being good, as a means of denying the selfish nature, leads to a performance-based Christianity—something akin to Buddhism.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines Buddhism this way: “a religion of eastern and central Asia growing out of the teaching of Gautama Buddha that suffering is inherent in life and that one can be liberated from it by mental and moral self-purification.”

When good isn't good enough

Many people live good lives, at least outwardly. One of the best-known examples in the past century is Mahatma Gandhi, who grew up in a Hindu family, but later followed his own mixture of Buddhism and Christianity. He was known for his non-violent example and influence for world peace.

Self-denial goes deeper than what is done outwardly—it must go to the core of who we are. How? By surrendering the self-will to the Lord daily, even moment by moment.

[bctt tweet="Self-denial goes deep to the core of who we are, that's why it's hard"]

Jesus shows us how

Jesus shows the way in the Garden of Gethsemane. Though He knows the Father sent Him to die on the cross, He asks the Father if it can be avoided. A spiritual battle ensues and Jesus asks His closest disciples to come pray with Him.

Three times He lays His request before the Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Each time Jesus returns from prayer, He finds the disciples asleep.

At one point Jesus admonishes them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). Another version says, ”Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!" (NLT).

Why it's not so easy

This speaks to the heart of the matter. What we may intend and want to do is difficult because of our natural weakness—the weakness of self. Our natural disposition is to put self first above all else and everyone else.

Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually.

[bctt tweet="Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually"]

This is why Jesus calls each believer to follow Him with a personal call—to surrender our free will to Him, and put Him first in our lives.

It is a call to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. It involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

Impossible, and yet doable

This is difficult. No, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally.

When we surrender to Jesus it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus does this. But He chooses to do it through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly, and dying to a life fixated on this world.

[bctt tweet="Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts"]

What is your greatest internal challenge to surrendering to Jesus?


This post is an excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here's the link to the previous excerpt before this one— Who Jesus Is

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

The Wrong Kind of Encouragement

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Because people did those [evil] things, God left them and let them do the shameful things they wanted to do. Women stopped having natural sex with men and started having sex with other women. In the same way, men stopped having natural sex with women and began wanting each other all the time. Men did shameful things with other men, and in their bodies they received the punishment for those wrongs.

People did not think it was important to have a true knowledge of God. So God left them and allowed them to have their own worthless thinking. And so they do what they should not do.

They are filled with every kind of sin, evil, greed, and hatred. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, lying, and thinking the worst things about each other. They gossip and say evil things about each other. They hate God. They are rude, proud, and brag about themselves. They invent ways of doing evil. They don’t obey their parents, they are foolish, they don’t keep their promises, and they show no kindness or mercy to others.

They know God’s law says that anyone who lives like that should die. But they not only continue to do these things themselves, but they also encourage others who do them. (‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭26-32‬ ERV)


The Bible is politically incorrect. It contains the truth, but it doesn't square with popular culture. This poses a dilemma. It poses a dilemma for those who want to believe in God and the truth of His written Word (the Scriptures), but want to embrace the wind of popular cultural values.

A lot of posturing takes place today, when it comes to what the Bible says and what many people want it to mean. The problem with God's truth is that it is inconvenient and politically incorrect. It doesn't change with the shifting tide of popular opinion, culture, or social norms. It doesn't change because it contains the truth revealed by God who is unchanging in His nature. This has been true for millennia, not just the past few decades.

Reading the history within the Bible reveals the unchanging nature of God, and the ever-changing behavior of man. Human nature is also pretty consistent. Consistently bad. Even the Bible's heroes are shown to have some major character flaws, wrong behavior, and questionable judgement. And yet, God consistently provides a way for them to be rescued and restored. How? He rescues us because of His mercy and restores us by His loving kindness.

This portion of the Book of Romans was written nearly 2000 years ago, yet it describes the current behavior and attitude of humanity. Things like—jealousy, murder, lying, gossip, rudeness, pride, bragging about themselves, disobedience to parents, not keeping promises, showing no kindness or mercy—are descriptive of our current world. Sadly, these things are encouraged through public and social media, both out of ignorance and intent.

And yet, God continues to extend His mercy and grace towards anyone who would trust in Him, and His truth prevails. He and the truth will outlast all human culture, all governments, and all challenges in rebellion towards Him. It's up to each person to choose the truth or what seems right for the moment. ©Word-Strong_2015

Don't Waste Your Strength

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Growing up, I realized certain things were expected of me. Some of these expectations were spoken, and many others were not. All parents have expectations for their children. It's built into us. We know it inherently.

Not all expectations are good and beneficial. We all tend to replicate or reject what we know from experience. Children growing up in difficult or dysfunctional homes may become strict or harsh parents. On the other hand, their own household may have little structure or discipline.

Each of us choose the way we will go. Either we choose something similar by default, or consciously choose a better or different way. This choice has consequences. We either make wise and beneficial choices, or squander our opportunity in self-destructive behavior.

Scripture

These are the words of King Lemuel, the message his mother taught him: “My son, I gave birth to you. You are the son I prayed for. Don’t waste your strength on women or your time on those who ruin kings. “Kings should not drink wine, Lemuel, and rulers should not desire beer. [vss 1-4]

If they drink, they might forget the law and keep the needy from getting their rights. Give beer to people who are dying and wine to those who are sad. Let them drink and forget their need and remember their misery no more. [vss 5-7]

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; defend the rights of all those who have nothing. Speak up and judge fairly, and defend the rights of the poor and needy.” [vss 8-9]

(Proverbs 31:1-9 NCV) [Context– Proverbs 31]

Key phrase— If they drink, they might forget the law

[bctt tweet="If they drink, they might forget the law"]

Digging Deeper...

What is the wise advice this mother speaks to her son?

Do you think this is an anti-alcohol message, or is there more to it than that?

Why is this son (the king) encouraged not to indulge in excessive drinking?

What is this son (the king) encouraged to do? How is it expressed as a choice?

Reflection...

It was said of King Solomon that he was the wisest man in the world. Even the queen of Sheba traveled to Israel from Ethiopia to hear this great king's wisdom. But at the end of his life, King Solomon strayed from the wisdom he wrote and expressed to others.

These verses are a reminder to remember the higher calling God has for each of us. We are not to "waste our strength" or give ourselves to what ruins our life. It isn't just intoxication, it's settling for less than what is the best God intends.

There are much higher purposes in life than indulging in what occupies the lives of others. When we lose sight of the truth—the truth of God—we neglect what is right, true, and good. We become like everyone else who is adrift in life.

You and I may not be kings and queens, but if we know what is just and true, we are responsible to uphold these virtues, even on behalf of others who have no voice.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What gifts and skills has God given you? Are you utilizing those gifts and skills as God intended?

Do you follow along with the crowd, or stand up for what is right, true, and just?

Do you cave in to the expectations of those around you, or live by a higher code of life?

In what way do you speak up for the weak, help protect their rights, and defend those who have no voice or strength?

The Importance of a Heart Examination

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Scientific study and research reports are a staple of news media. It could be the latest indicators of climate change, or some new insight for a healthy life.

One report tells of the danger of certain foods that drive cholesterol up, then another report seems to contradict the first one.

As noted by many, the health and fitness industry is a popular and lucrative one. We're also reminded that heart disease continues to be a top health problem.

But what about the heart issues spoken of in the Bible? They're not related to cholesterol, diet, or exercise, but they are important.

Scripture

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the lordhe guides it wherever he pleases. People may be right in their own eyes, but the lord examines their heart. The lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices. Haughty eyes, a proud heart, and evil actions are all sin. [vss 1-4]

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. Wealth created by a lying tongue is a vanishing mist and a deadly trap. The violence of the wicked sweeps them away, because they refuse to do what is just. The guilty walk a crooked path; the innocent travel a straight road. It’s better to live alone in the corner of an attic than with a quarrelsome wife in a lovely home. Evil people desire evil; their neighbors get no mercy from them. [vss 5-10]

If you punish a mocker, the simpleminded become wise; if you instruct the wise, they will be all the wiser. The Righteous One knows what is going on in the homes of the wicked; he will bring disaster on them. Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need. [vss 11-13]

(Proverbs 21:1-13 NLT) [Context– Proverbs 21]

Key phrase— The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than...sacrifices

[bctt tweet="The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than...sacrifices"]

Digging Deeper...

Which verses speak of the heart, and what is said about it?

What contrasts do you see in these verses, and how are they related ton one another?

What descriptive picture language stands out to you in these verses?

Which of these verses describe attitudes and motives that move a person to certain actions, or prevent them from doing what is right and just?

Reflection...

You've probably heard expressions like, "Good health is everything, " or "...priceless," or "...better than wealth." But is this true? I believe it's a blessing to have good health, and I'm conscious of that.

But, if I'm just healthy on the outside (my body and physical heart), and not on the inside (my mind and inner heart), how is that good?

Physical health is valuable while I'm physically alive, but my soul will outlast my body. More than that, our internal, spiritual health has a direct impact on our physical health, as well as our attitude and behavior.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

Do you ever take time to examine your heart, your motives, and attitudes?

Do you ever find yourself struggling to do what you know is right to do?

How do you determine what is valuable and important in your life, and what are these priorities based on?

Are you willing to evaluate what fills up your life and time, and what your actual priorities are?

A Trustworthy Man

Photo credit: lightstock.com President Obama and his family are in Hawaii for the holidays. No white Christmas for them! Last year, Susan and I celebrated Christmas and New Years in the Philippines, so we're familiar with a tropical Christmas.

However, when we travel and the president travels, it's very different. We pass through various security checks. He and his family have a security team to protect them.

Why all the security? We live in a time when trust is scarce.

Not so special?

Can you imagine what it would be like if a newborn was in the First Family? Look at the attention given to the British Royal family and the Queen's grandchild! I imagine it would be pretty similar, if not more intense.

And yet, a remarkable facet of the Christmas story is how the birth of Jesus took place.

No special attention was given until two years after His birth. Okay, there was an awesome angelic announcement (Luke 2:8:14), but who heard it? A bunch of nomadic, not-so-clean nor trustworthy shepherds were the audience. They were the equivalent of the old range cowboys of America—not exactly who you'd want your daughter to marry.

[Tweet "A remarkable facet of the Christmas story is how the birth of Jesus took place"]

Not an ordinary man

One of the fascinating parts of the story to me is the father of the Savior of the world. Actually, Joseph was the stepfather, if you will. This is made clear by his initial plan when he heard his bride-to-be was pregnant. He knew it wasn't his child. But here's where the story takes an unexpected turn.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was engaged to marry Joseph, but before they married, she learned she was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because Mary’s husband, Joseph, was a good man, he did not want to disgrace her in public, so he planned to divorce her secretly.  Matt 1:18-19 NCV

Joseph was not an ordinary man. He may appear ordinary, as a carpenter from a small town in northern Palestine (Israel). What makes Joseph extraordinary is the trust God places in him. Joseph was a trustworthy man.

What we can see in Joseph

The first thing I notice is Joseph's character. He was "a good man." Other Bible versions use the words just, righteous, upright, and honorable to describe Joseph.

[Tweet "What stands out about Joseph is his character"]

I also see a compassionate and humble man. When he finds out Mary, the woman he is legally promised to marry, is pregnant, he doesn't want to publicly disgrace her. Though he would be humiliated, he wasn't vindictive. He still loved his wife-to-be.

[Tweet "Joseph was a compassionate, humble, and spiritually perceptive man"]

Joseph was spiritually perceptive. His plan to quietly divorce Mary is interrupted by a dream. In the dream, an angel of the Lord informs Joseph what's taking place.

While Joseph thought about these things, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, descendant of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened to bring about what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel,” which means “God is with us.” Matt 1:20-23 NCV

This message is remarkable—

  • Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, not another man
  • Joseph is to go forward with the marriage
  • The child will be a son, to be named Jesus, because He will be a Savior
  • This was planned by God long ago—He will be "God with us"

A final insight to Joseph's trustworthiness is his response to all of this. Joseph responded in faith to the message of the angel from God.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the Lord’s angel had told him to do. Joseph took Mary as his wife, but he did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to the son. And Joseph named him Jesus. Matt 1:24-25 NCV

  • Joseph takes Mary as his wife
  • He accepts and bears the scandalous appearance of illegitimacy
  • He abstains from sexual relations with Mary until after the child's birth
  • He names the child Jesus

[Tweet "Joseph was a faithful and responsible man"]

More to the story

There is more to the story, of course, but you can read it yourself. Joseph's qualities as a man—good character, compassion and humility, spiritual perception, and faithfulness—add up to a trustworthy man.

These are qualities to be admired in any man. God is still looking for men like Joseph. Men who are trustworthy to bring the message of God's redemption to a dark, insecure and untrusting world.

[Tweet "God is still looking for men like Joseph who are trustworthy"]

This Christmas, think about the man to whom God entrusted His Son—the Savior of the world. The Savior—crucified and risen, and seated in power in heaven—will transform any man who puts their trust in Him above all.

Are you willing to become a person like Joseph?

Character and Work Are Rewarded

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Poverty is a controversial and sometimes contentious subject. Some see it as the result of laziness or lack of motivation. Others think it is a cultural blight that can be erased. But, as typical, extreme views overlook reality.

My experience living overseas gave me a broader view of the condition of poverty. I found that many who are poor work hard and live on next to nothing.

Another major factor with poverty is political oppression and lack of economic opportunity. And yet, an overlooked issue is character—what a person values and what they do with what they have.

Scripture

Better to be an ordinary person with a servant than to be self-important but have no food. The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel. A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense. Thieves are jealous of each other’s loot, but the godly are well rooted and bear their own fruit. The wicked are trapped by their own words, but the godly escape such trouble. Wise words bring many benefits, and hard work brings rewards. [vss 9-14]

Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave. Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up. The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray. Lazy people don’t even cook the game they catch, but the diligent make use of everything they find. The way of the godly leads to life; that path does not lead to death. [vss 24-28]

(Proverbs 12:9-14; 24-28 GW) [Context– Proverbs 12]

Key phrase

Wise words bring many benefits, and hard work brings rewards.

Digging Deeper...

  1. What are the contrasts expressed in the first few verses? How are these contrasting persons characterized?
  2. What good qualities and benefits do you see related to work and good character?
  3. What are the contrasting actions and words in the last few verses?
  4. What are the good traits and benefits connected to the godly and those who work hard?

Reflection...

Good character is not limited by economics. It's not hindered nor weakened by poverty or riches. It's not based on circumstances. Godly character is rooted in the wisdom of God and a respect for God.

This respect is based on a genuine trust in God. A trust not only in God's existence, but confidence that God rewards those who trust in Him. True godly character elevates a person above their circumstances, whether poverty or wealth.

Make it personal...

How much do your circumstances affect what you value in life?

Do worry and anxieties in life outweigh your trust in God?

Do you take pride in doing your work well in whatever you do?

How confident are you that God rewards hard work and doing what is right?

Have We've Become Too Results Oriented?

Photo credit: weknowmemes.com "What's the bottom line?" This was the classic question of the 80's. Similar clichés abound today—the most bang for your bucktrading time for dollarsetc.

On one hand, I expect this in the business world, even though many leaders tell us it shouldn't be that way (Ex– Good to Great).

During our small group men's study last week, I saw how much this attitude permeates the Christian realm. I don't see this as a good trend for the Christian faith. But how can we change it?

How many followers do you have?

As an author and blogger, I hear a lot about building my platform, increasing my email list, and getting more subscriptions. All important things in this day and age. Why? So the message will get out to more people, and to sell more product (books, courses, etc.).

I understand the reasoning and incentive, I'm just not so sure it's what is most important.

If the goal is success, a better lifestyle, fame or money, then I guess those things are really important. But those things aren't so important to me now.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against such things or see them as wrong. I just think there's more important things than focusing on results.

What's most important?

What could be more important than results? Relationships!

In our discussion last Friday, we talked about sharing our faith and helping others grow in their faith. We talked about online devotionals and studies, book and pamphlets, and different local ministries.

It's subtle, but we realized this is part of the getting results mind-set. Do you see it?

[bctt tweet="Are results more important than relationships?"]

All these are great ideas, but they all move in a common direction. Each are a suggestion that replaces spending time with whomever we want to share our faith.

Where did we get so off track in our commitment to share our faith or encourage others in faith matters? Does it matter...really?

What matters is getting back to what is centrally important—building relationships.

[bctt tweet="What matters is building relationships"]

WDJD?

Remember the WWJD fad? Let's be honest, it became another marketing trend than a means of sharing faith. I posted an article that addressed this by looking at what Jesus didWDJD.

Reading through all four Gospels, it's not too hard to see what Jesus' priority was. It was people.

When people brought children for Him to bless, or asked Him to heal a child or deliver someone from demonic power, He didn't suggest some alternative to taking time to personally deal with the request. In fact, He insisted on personally taking care of the need.

Was Jesus result oriented?

Was Jesus result oriented? I suppose you could make a case for that, but it seems He was more concerned about the people themselves, not just caring for their need.

How did Jesus disciple those closest to Him? He spent time with them. He used real life situations to teach them. And the closer He got to His main mission (the cross), He intensified the time spent with His apostles.

[bctt tweet=" When Jesus discipled those closest to Him, He spent time with them."]

Whether we consider the approach of Jesus and His apostles to evangelism, discipleship, leadership, or extending God's kingdom (i.e. church growth), it most often started with one or a few persons. The goal wasn't numbers, but relationship. Bringing people into relationship with God, and guiding them in their relationship with God.

Can we do better? I don't see how.

[bctt tweet="Consider the approach of Jesus—it most often started with one or a few persons"]

Results or relationship?

Do we need to choose between results or relationship? I don't think there's a need to choose one in exclusion of the other. Based on what we see in the Gospels and Acts, it seems that results naturally follow building relationships.

I would rather have ten to twenty personal friends than hundreds of Facebook friends. I'd rather see more followers of Jesus than followers on Twitter.

What about you? What's more important to you—results or relationships?

It's a matter of time and priorities. Wherever we make the greatest investment of those two, reveals what we value most.

[bctt tweet="Whatever we invest in the most reveals what we value most."]

Honor and Shame—Good and Evil

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Most cultures throughout the world are concerned more with honor and shame than right and wrong. Western cultures tend to focus on right and wrong.

This different view of what's more important often causes a culture clash. It's like comparing apples and oranges. These values appear similar, but are different.

Both of these cultural views are found in the Book of Proverbs, and for good reason.

Scripture

To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction. The Lord approves of those who are good, but he condemns those who plan wickedness. 

Wickedness never brings stability, but the godly have deep roots. A worthy wife is a crown for her husband, but a disgraceful woman is like cancer in his bones.  [vss 1-4]

The plans of the godly are just; the advice of the wicked is treacherous. The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush, but the words of the godly save lives.

The wicked die and disappear, but the family of the godly stands firm. A sensible person wins admiration, but a warped mind is despised. [vss 5-8]

(Proverbs 12:1-8 NLT) [Context– Proverbs 12]

Key phrase

the godly have deep roots

Digging Deeper...

  1. What are we told is necessary for learning? What else seems to be a part of the learning process to gain knowledge?
  2. Who are those who have God's approval and those who don't? What seems to be the strength of those who are godly?
  3. What are other contrasting characteristics of the godly and wicked? What is a common trait of the godly?
  4. Where do you see the values of honor and shame compared? Are these linked with good and evil in any way?

Reflection...

Honor and shame are generally attached to a person's character and identity. Whereas, right and wrong have more to do with behavior. Culture clashes come when we value one over the other, or worse, when no distinction is made between them.

In general, good character results in good behavior. What is the basis or foundation of your character? Do your roots go deep into God's truth and wisdom? If so, you will be blessed and secure.

Make it personal...

How do you handle being corrected or disciplined in your life?

How have you built and developed discipline into your daily life?

Do you see the values of honor and shame, along with right and wrong, at work in your life?

What are the foundations of your faith and character?

A Good Course of Life

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Integrity is a life choice. It's not complicated, but requires honesty of heart.

God alone is the source for true integrity of heart.

Its benefits far outweigh the cost of pursuing integrity.

Scripture Text

My [child],
if you take my words [to heart] and treasure my commands within you,
if you pay close attention to wisdom, and let your mind reach for understanding,
if indeed you call out for insight, if you ask aloud for understanding,
if you search for wisdom as if it were money and hunt for it as if it were hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord and you will find the knowledge of God.
The Lord gives wisdom. From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He has reserved priceless wisdom for decent people.
He is a shield for those who walk in integrity in order to guard those on paths of justice and to watch over the way of his godly ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good course [in life]. (Proverbs 2:1-9 GW)

Key phrase — The Lord gives wisdom.

Digging Deeper...

  1. What are the conditional—if— statements? What is the primary directive of these statements?
  2. What is the result of gaining this wisdom? [hint– look for what follows "then"]
  3. What assurances are given of pursuing and gaining this wisdom?
  4. How will this wise insight benefit a person?

Make it personal...

How do you go about seeking wisdom or wise counsel? Are the priorities and values of your life external things or internal in nature?

How will you choose what is right and just and fair when circumstances are difficult?

What will guide you when you're stuck in a compromising situation?

Reflection

Pursuing and gaining true wisdom and a right fear of God brings blessing upon a person's life.

Integrity of heart becomes a shield and protects our very soul, and enables a person to be a blessing in the life of others.

Misspelled or Misunderstood

Photo credit: Amazon.com Most spell checkers, in different programs I use, don't recognize the word discipleship. They know disciple, but not discipleship. Even some definitions in dictionaries refer to disciple, but not discipleship. Is this a sign of the times?

Older dictionaries show discipleship as something you do. But things have changed. Language is dynamic. It changes. These changes reflect current culture. Culture indicates what is valued and believed.

Who influences who?

I'm not so concerned about popular culture itself, but its influence on followers of Jesus. (Click to Tweet) Why? Followers of Jesus are to be leaders. People who influence culture, not the other way around. (Click to Tweet)

The first-century believers who followed Jesus lived in a demeaning and oppressive culture. Most of these early believers were slaves of varying degree. Their time was not their own, nor their life on earth.

You would not expect them to have much impact on the pagan-Roman culture around them. But they did impact it. Their influence was perceived as a threat, and they were persecuted because of it.

They were considered cannibals for their practice of communion, and atheists because they didn't hold Caesar as their god. They were persecuted for such things.

Did persecution accomplish its intended purpose? No! It didn't snuff out this maligned and misunderstood following, but spread it throughout the world.

Persecution helped this fledgling spiritual movement to expand throughout the Roman Empire, but what caused it to flourish?

It's been said the common trade language of Greek and the road system developed by the Romans were key factors. True, but there was more to it than persecution, language, and roads.

What would keep a seemingly unorganized group of people, following a martyred and resurrected Jewish carpenter turned rabbi (teacher), true to their faith?

Essentials

If you only look at easy to observe elements, you might miss what's essential.

These believers weren't unorganized. They had leadership. Human leaders under the influence of God's Spirit.

If you study methodologies, in order to replicate this movement, you'd still miss it.

In the days of the early Jesus Movement (late 1960's and early 70's), groups of leaders and seminary students showed up with clipboards and notebooks in hand to study this spiritual phenomenon.

They went to churches experiencing a huge surge of young people responding to the gospel to follow Jesus. Intent on discovering the special dynamics of this movement, they looked past the obvious.

First of all, it was a move of God, not man. It's origin and source of leadership rested in this one man, Jesus. I'm not only talking about the Jesus Movement, but every revival that preceded it, and the early church, as well.

This wasn't a soppy, sentimental reverence for an innocent man who was unjustly executed. Indeed, He was innocent and His was an unjust death. But it was something deeper, and at the same time more simple.

Essence

Spell-checkers aren't the only ones who have trouble with understanding discipleship. (Click to Tweet) Its essence eludes qualitative analysis.

Discipleship is not a social science project, nor about disciplined methods. It's a way of life. (Click to Tweet) A life consistent with an invisible and apolitical kingdom. (Click to Tweet)

There are discoverable elements to discipleship, but they defy clinical observations. (Click to Tweet)

Want a hint?

Jesus spoke of these elements (Luke 9:23-27; 57-62), as did Paul (2 Tim. 2:1-2).

Next week I'll explore a few of these elements that are key to this way of life. Until then...

How would you define or describe discipleship in your own words? (Click to Tweet)

Leave a comment (on topic please!)... get some discussion going. We just might learn something together!

The Core of the Gospel

MJ_sharing
MJ_sharing

Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions. Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion. Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly, and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity, and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture  is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel, but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance is overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling the Mystery

Footnotes for this excerpt are below

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc