Philippians 1: Remaining Steadfast

You are a work in progress. You are the marble slab in the hands of the Master sculptor. You are the canvas in front of the Master painter. The days, years, and events of your life may look and feel like random brush strokes, but when you take a look back, they are pieces of a mosaic that form a larger, grander picture.

The Apostle Paul understood that God is an artist when he wrote to the Philippian church, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, NKJV).

Did Paul write these words while on a successful missionary journey or when everything in his life was going great? No. Paul wrote these words from prison in Rome. I have never been to prison, but I cannot imagine the depths of despair people sink into as they are locked away from society. Or think about how the elderly and disabled are often discarded when society and their family deem them as no longer serving a purpose. Everyone has purpose. No matter your current station in life, God has a plan for you. The final chapter has not been written in your life’s story.

During our trials and tribulations, we can focus outwardly and reach others, as Paul did with the Philippians.

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11, NKJV).

As we go through difficult times, it is easy to pull out the victim card and cry “woe is me!” We always face the temptation of giving up. However, if we understand that God has allowed this trial in our life, we can ask, “How can I glorify God in this situation?”

“But I want you to know brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ, and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV, italics mine).

What a testimony Paul had in the midst of his circumstances. Everybody knew he was imprisoned for preaching Christ and it encouraged others to preach Christ without fear of the consequences. Of course, some were trying to cause more problems for Paul, but Christ is being preached. Think of how your testimony could empower someone else through their trials. What has God brought you through that you can pass on to the next generation?

Paul’s confidence and faith were in God alone, thus he was ready to accept his fate whether he would become a martyr or walk out of prison a free man. Paul was willing to be called home if the Lord desired it, but he was still willing to reach others.

“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death.” (Philippians 1:19-20, NKJV).

Paul gets to the heart of the matter: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:21-24, NKJV).

Paul’s heart was still directed toward his mission and if the Philippian church needed him to further develop them as disciples, Paul was willing to do that if it would bring rejoicing to their hearts by seeing him again (Philippians 1:25-26, my paraphrase).

Paul ends this section of his letter with a reminder of how the Philippians were to act whether he were to be present or absent: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27, NKJV).

Paul goes on to emphasize that our suffering for Christ is a privilege and proof of our salvation.

“And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” (Philippians 1:28-30, NKJV).

Brothers and sisters, we are in Christ and we are not of this world. We may live in different towns, cities, states, and countries, but our citizenship is in heaven. There is no external possession in this world that compares to the glory of Christ. During our struggles, let us focus on the eternal rewards and live for Christ. God bless you all.

 

 

Dealing with Offense

The possibility of becoming offended or encountering someone who is offended exist in our society. We can get upset about what is being reported on the news or what we see on social media. We can become offended at the actions of people in our lives or we can join in with other people who are offended.

Imagine for a moment you start your day at work. You are in a good mood when one of your co-workers comes in and complains about the job: “I can’t stand working here. This company is stupid. The bosses don’t know what they’re doing. Why can’t they see these problems?” At this point, you have a choice to make: stay silent and/or positive or join in and get upset. If you choose to join in with the offended co-worker, this will start a downward spiral of you getting upset about your job before the day starts, which will lead to having a bad attitude,  possible poor work performance, and being ungrateful for your job. Complaining and offense is contagious just like a virus. If one person gets “sick” with offense, then someone else will catch it.

Living in constant offense is a waste of time and energy. Yes, there are great causes and social injustices we can speak out against, but what good does it do our bodies and spirits if we go through life angry over petty things all the time?

In the Bible, offenses are synonymous with sins, but offenses are also viewed as stumbling blocks and traps. Just picture yourself tripping over a child’s toy or a pet.  When we get offended. We also become trapped because we take the bait of offense and stay trapped until we look for a way out. What can we do in order to minimize or even eliminate the possibility of being offended?

We must treat seriously the sin of offense

While He was on the earth, Jesus used many teaching methods to bring across His points and the message of the Gospel. One of Jesus’ methods was hyperbole, which is using an extreme example to make a point.

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30, NIV).

Of course, Jesus is talking about the seriousness of avoiding sin in our lives. Sin is serious to God, as Jesus died for our sins. Jesus is basically saying to get sin as far away from you as possible, which would include anything that causes us to fall.

We must realize Jesus’ message will be offensive to some

In Matthew 15:3-9, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for their religious hypocrisy of placing man’s traditions above the Word of God. “Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’” (Matthew 15:10-11, NIV).

With this statement coming on the heels of Jesus comments on the Pharisees’ practices, this caused further offense as the disciples told Jesus.

“Then the disciples came to Him and said, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’ He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12-14, NIV).

When we show and share the love of Christ with those in our lives, we cannot control their response. If someone is offended, that is their response, that is their judgment, do not let it pollute your spirit.

Being offended will stop the work of God

After Jesus established His ministry, He came back to His hometown of Nazareth and encountered an offended crowd:

“’Where did this man get these things?’ they asked, ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given Him? What are these remarkable miracles He is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:2-6, NIV, emphasis mine).

Being offended will disrupt our fellowship with God

In the Parable of the Four Soils, Jesus explains the four different ways people will respond to the preaching of God’s Word. Regarding the soil that falls on the rocky path, Jesus speaks as to how offense affects that person:

“The seed falling on the rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” (Matthew 13:20-21, NIV.

As Christians, we must be mindful of our behavior

People pay more attention to what you do as opposed to what you say. As we interact with believers and non-believers alike, we must be careful as not to cause a stumbling block or weaken another’s faith because of our behavior.

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause division and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” (Romans 16:17-18, NIV).

When offense presents itself, take the high road

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9, NIV).

“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11, NIV).

Brothers and sisters, remember that we will encounter people and situations that will offend us, as it is the way of the world. We have no control over neither what happens nor over the actions of others. Instead of spending hours, months, or years of our short lives being upset and grumbling, let us forgive and rejoice. If we have done the offending, let us seek God’s forgiveness and reach out to those we have hurt. God bless you all.

 

 

Toward a More Practical Faith

Everyone regardless of their spiritual background has faith. For example, a farmer who plants his seed has faith that his crops will grow. If I go to work, I have faith that I will receive a paycheck at the end of the week. People put money in various stocks, bonds, and funds believing they will have money to live comfortably after they retire. A coach believes that his or her game plan will win the game. These are oversimplified examples of “worldly faith,” where principles are applied and put into practice. We can at times, however, view our Christian faith as something more abstract. We have the “saving faith” to accept what Jesus did on the cross, but we may be confused on how to apply it to everyday life.

The Apostle Paul’s influence on Christianity is undeniable, as he is the author of thirteen of the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament. Paul’s multiple missionary journeys touched countless people all around the world of his time. Though Paul was a very learned man and spoke with kings, governors, and religious leaders, his epistles to the churches were written for everyday people who were trying to live out their everyday lives. I believe Paul’s letters give us insight on how to live a practical Christian faith in our daily interactions with our families, friends, and coworkers. Just as Paul instructed the Philippian church: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, NIV).

The following list is far from comprehensive, but I believe this will give us a foundation upon which we can apply biblical principles to our daily lives.

We must live our faith

 “…Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’” (Philippians 2:12-15a, NIV).

How do we live out our faith according to Paul?

Value everyone as God values them

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV).

We must remember our lives before Christ

“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh-who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13, NKJV).

Remember that we are one church

 One of Satan’s best strategies is to divide and conquer. If he can keep the church at odds with ourselves, how can we stand together to defeat him.

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1-7, NKJV).

We must continue to grow in the Spirit

 “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4, NKJV).

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Ephesians 3:16-17a, NKJV).

Don’t get caught up in petty arguments

   “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes. Knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NKJV).

Change your thinking

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, NKJV).

Put your time to good use

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NKJV).

Accept what comes our way

Because we are in Christ, that does not mean that our lives will be free from hardship and difficulty, but God can use our stories to reach someone else. The Apostle Paul spoke of such an event during his first imprisonment:

“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV).

Seek the higher peace

Finally, if we come to understand that God allows for everything that happens in our lives, we can live through the most difficult circumstances with a peace of mind that would baffle other people.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV).

May the Lord be with you and bless you.

Resolve to be Joyful

As 2016 began, millions of people made “New Year’s resolutions,” which may have included resolving to lose weight, get into shape, quit smoking, go back to school, etc., which are all fine and admirable goals. However, the struggle begins the moment the resolution becomes work and our wills struggle against our “flesh man” and what the enemy and the world are saying to us. Our flesh alone will never be strong enough to overcome any obstacles that we face. Rather, we must depend upon the Lord, the guidance of His Holy Spirit, and His Word. Dwelling in God’s presence does not guarantee us a life free from struggle, but we will be better equipped to handle anything that comes our way.

God’s Word assures us that we can live a joyful life. Please keep in mind that being joyful is not being blissfully ignorant of the world around us or being in denial about the problems we face. To be joyful is to take the opportunity to rejoice and praise God for who He is in spite of what we face. If we allow ourselves to be driven by our circumstances, we will not be joyful, but we will go through life depressed and beaten down. Even when God allows circumstances, He is still worthy to be praised because we as believers in Christ can rest assured God’s hand is upon us. Even for non-believers, God is using circumstances to draw you to Him and to come to Christ.

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you; they sing the praises of your name. Come and see what God has done, His awesome deeds for mankind!”(Psalm 66:1-5, NIV).

Nehemiah 8:10 is a verse cited frequently for joy, as people will quote, “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” for the verse says that. However, if we look at the verse in its full context, there is even more to it.

“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV).

During this passage of Scripture, Ezra had just read the Law of Moses to the people and the people were sorrowful because of how far they fell from God. If Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, you know that all of your sins-past, present, and future- have been forgiven. There is no need for a forgiven Christian to live in condemnation and sorrow, because the blood of Christ has restored you to God. Going back to Nehemiah, there are principles to living a joyful life that we can extract from this Scripture:

*God wants us to enjoy our lives.

*God wants us to use our blessings to help others.

*God has given us this day and He wants us to make the most of it.

*We do not need to grieve over the past or the present.

*Being joyful in God will give us the strength we need to overcome difficult times.

The cares of this world can steal our joy

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ parable of the four soils, which discuss how people’s hearts respond to God’s Word. The second and third soils where the farmer threw the seed were the rocky places and among the thorns. Jesus later explained the parable to His disciples.

“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:20-22, NIV).

Thus, if we allow our circumstances and difficulties to rule our lives, we will not be joyful in serving the Lord and we will not walk with Christ as we should walk.

To be in Christ is to be joyful

Jesus had just finished teaching on the vine and the branches when He told His disciples:

“As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11, NIV).

As we seek to live a life of obedience, the joy of Christ will remain in us. Joy is also a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

To be joyful in trials is a sign of spiritual maturity

Not only is joy a by-product of being in Christ and a fruit of the Spirit, joy in the midst of a trial is also a sign of our spiritual maturation and the refinement of our faith.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NKJV).

The Bible, as it does with so many other subjects, is rich with illustrations and Scriptures concerning joy. I urge you to seek out the Word and find joy for yourselves. No matter what you have been through or are going through at this moment, you can have joy. If you have made a resolution, a vow, a promise, or a pledge, concerning your spiritual walk, trust in the Lord. Trade in condemnation, shame, guilt, hopelessness, and sin in for God’s joy. As we resolve to live a joyful life, we will walk in more of God’s presence in this upcoming year and in the years ahead. God bless you all.

Keep One Thing in Mind

I woke up this morning with the phrase “one thing” going through my mind. I began to think of a few well known Scriptures with the phrase “one thing” and began to search it out. When we are looking for answers, God’s Word should be the first place we turn. The Bible tells us about such deep theological things as the origin of man, sin and man’s fall, man’s need for redemption and his redemption via the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, while at the same time showing us how to live out our everyday lives. There are multiple instances when God’s Word wants us to “keep one thing in mind” as we read Scripture.

One Thing #1-As He did with the Israelites, God will keep His promises 

“And behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.” (Joshua 23:14, KJV, emphasis mine).

One Thing #2- We should seek to dwell in God’s presence

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:4-5, KJV, emphasis mine).

One Thing #3- The same fate awaits us all

“For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast: for all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19, KJV, emphasis mine).

One Thing #4- We must let go of worldly things holding us back 

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the story about a young, rich ruler who sought Jesus to find out what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. The rich young ruler informed Jesus that he had kept all of God’s commandments from his youth. However, Jesus addressed the “one thing” holding back the rich young ruler.

“Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, ‘One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ And he was said at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:21-22, KJV, emphasis mine).

One Thing #5- We need to stop being busy and just listen to Jesus

Luke tells the story of Jesus at the house of Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters. Martha was busy preparing a large meal while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His teaching. Martha became frustrated and basically asked Jesus “Don’t you care that my sister isn’t helping me?”

“And Jesus answered and said unto her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41-42, NKJV, emphasis mine).

One Thing #6- No matter what the world says, testify about Jesus

John chapter 9 tells the story of Jesus healing a man who was blind from birth. As word spread around town about the man’s healing, the formerly blind man and his parents were brought in before the Pharisees, who questioned them about Jesus. The Pharisees tried to make the claim that Jesus was a sinner and tried to discount the man’s healing.

“So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, ‘Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.’ He answered and said, ‘Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.’” (John 9:24-25, NKJV, emphasis mine).

One Thing #7- In order to go forward with Christ, let go of the past  

“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14, KJV, emphasis mine).

One Thing #8- God is patient and desires all to repent

“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9, KJV, emphasis mine).

As we live out our Christian walks, let us always try to keep at least one thing in mind when we go through trials. The Lord may be trying to teach us patience, give us perspective, reveal truth to us, show us how to be compassionate and merciful to others, or simply wanting us to draw closer to Him. May the Lord bless you.

Christ Our Solid Foundation

My wife and I last summer took our dogs to the park for some exercise. There is a shallow creek that runs through the middle of the park. This was our pup’s first trip to the park and he took to the water. As we walked down the creek, we came across a section I never saw before. The water was a little deeper in this section of the creek, but manageable. However, the sand beneath my feet shifted and I was stuck.  Of course at the time it was embarrassing, but I did manage to call my wife, who was walking our other dog to come over. My wife took the pup and I freed myself.  I became stuck because I did not pay attention to my surroundings and left the more solid footing of the shallow end of the creek. How many times in our spiritual lives have we left the solid foundation of Christ for the shifting sands of the world?

As Christians, we live in this world, but we are not part of this world. We are in Christ and the Bible assures us that the Holy Spirit lives in us. Our spiritual foundation must be in Christ and His Word and not the fickle doctrines of this present world.

“For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:18-22, NKJV).

Our standing in Christ is not an excuse to live a lifestyle of sin

Of course, we will struggle with sin as long as our “flesh man” reigns in place of the “Spirit man,” but, we cannot cheapen the grace of God nor weaken our foundation by living a lifestyle of willful and habitual sin.

 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13, NKJV).

 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1, NKJV).

“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27, NKJV).

We must build on God’s Word and not the doctrines of men

 We live in a vast consumer culture, where billions of dollars are spent on advertising new products, fads, and trends. No more than one trend or fad is established, the newest, greatest, and latest product trend or fad comes along. Unfortunately, churches can fall into this trap as they seek ways to be more “seeker friendly” and try to boost attendance. What often happens in these cases is that the Gospel of Christ becomes watered down and has no lasting effect in the lives of church members. However, I believe what it says in Hebrews that “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8, KJV). As the Church, we must preach the simple truth of the Gospel and allow the Lord to do the work in the lives of believers.

 “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, NKJV).

 “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NKJV).

We must stand fast in the hope of Christ

Once we have secured our foundation is Christ, we must continue to stand in the hope of our faith to a world looking for hope.

 “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13, NKJV).

 “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27, NKJV).

 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2, NKJV).

May the Lord bless all of you richly and abundantly.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah- Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part series on Leadership Principles from Nehemiah. To read part 1, click here https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2015/10/10/leadership-lessons-from-nehemiah-part-1/ or go to the “October 2015 archives.”

Leadership Principle #5- Expect to have critics

Whether it is in our personal lives, our jobs, inside the church, we will run into people who seem to criticize our every move, try to make us second guess our work and to discourage us. Though Nehemiah had obtained favor with the king to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, he encountered opposition from two men, Sanballat and Tobiah, who opposed Nehemiah at every turn.

“When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, [rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls] they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.” (Nehemiah 2:10, NIV). Brackets mine.

“But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. ‘What is this you are doing?’ they asked. ‘Are you rebelling against the king?’” (Nehemiah 2:19, NIV).

“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall” Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble- burned as they are?’ Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, ‘What are they building- even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!’” (Nehemiah 4:1-3, NIV).

Leadership Principle #6- Don’t argue with critics- stay focused on the Lord and the work

Nehemiah and those rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem faced constant opposition from Sanballat and Tobiah, yet Nehemiah did not waste time getting into useless debates and arguments with his critics, instead he spoke the Word of God over the situation, focused on the work at hand and prayed for those who were ridiculed him.

“I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (Nehemiah 2:20, NIV).

“’Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.’ So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” (Nehemiah 4:4-6, NIV).

Leadership Principle #7- Deal with problems decisively

Besides the opposition he faced in rebuilding the walls, Nehemiah also had to deal with rumors of armies trying to invade and plots to kill him. In these cases, Nehemiah acted quickly to arm the people working on the wall and discerned when people wanted to harm him. Nehemiah also acted decisively when he found out when Israelites were charging interest to their fellow Jews- which was forbidden in the Law. Because of the interest charged, people had to mortgage their homes, fields, and vineyards just to buy the necessities and to pay the required taxes, which placed hardships on people and their families.

“When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, ‘You are charging your own people interest!’ So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: ‘As far as possible, we have brought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!’ They kept quiet because they had nothing to say. So I continued, ‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?’” (Nehemiah 4:6-9, NIV).

Nehemiah held demanded that they stop charging interest and made the nobles and priests swear an oath to God. The nobles declared they would give back the money, which they did. Leaders must make difficult decisions daily and must take action when a problem arises because it can create larger problems down the road.

Leadership Principle #8- Don’t demand of your position, be a servant

Nehemiah was appointed governor of Judah and was entitled to an allotment of food. However, Nehemiah new that his allotment of food would cause a hardship on the people to provide, so Nehemiah refused his allotment of food as governor (Nehemiah 5:18). Here, Nehemiah demonstrates the principle of servant leadership in that one should never demand from their position of leadership. Just as Jesus stated that He came to serve and not to be served. As Christians and as leaders, we must live out our leadership responsibilities as servants of Christ.

The Bible tells us that Nehemiah and his people completed rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in fifty-two days. Nehemiah did not allow opposition and obstacles to stand in his way of completing the task the Lord called him to complete. We must remember that God will be with us and guide us during the rebuilding times of our lives as He did with Nehemiah.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah- Part 1

The term “rebuilding” is often associated with professional sports, when a formerly great team has to go through losing seasons with younger players due to star players retiring or moving on to different teams. In ancient times, cities were rebuilt upon the foundations of previous civilizations. In modern times, one building is demolished to make way for a new, usually bigger building. However, rebuilding is not exclusive to the worlds of professional sports or architecture. All of us at one point or another may find ourselves in a state of rebuilding- whether it be from the death of a loved one, a divorce, a financial bankruptcy, illness, addiction, job loss, or anything else that may come our way. Surviving those times will require faith and strength along with God’s grace. In addition to faith, strength, and grace, there are biblical leadership skills we can apply to our situations.

The Old Testament Book of Nehemiah is a prime example of leadership in action during a time of rebuilding. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, which included the destruction of the first Temple and the city walls being destroyed. Eventually, the Medo-Persian Empire supplanted the Babylonians as the dominant world power and the Persian king Cyrus issued a decree for the exiled Jews to return to Israel. Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes and received devastating news about Jerusalem.

“In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:1-3, NIV).

Leadership Principle #1- A problem is a perfect time for prayer

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4, NIV).

 Nehemiah goes on to intercede for the nation of Israel, asking God to forgive them of their sins. Throughout Nehemiah, Nehemiah’s first response to a crisis is prayer. When we are faced with a crisis, we must not cower in fear, but we should come boldly to God’s throne of grace. It is through prayer and fasting, that God will give us the direction we need in a situation.

Leadership Principle #2- God will give us the resources we need

Nehemiah was still very distraught over the state of Jerusalem when he went before the king. The king sensed Nehemiah’s distress and asked him what was wrong. (Keep in mind that anyone who was sad in front of the king could be executed).

 “I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’” The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so I can rebuild it.’” (Nehemiah 2:2b-5, NIV).

I believe the Lord placed Nehemiah in such a position of trust and prominence to the king for the sole purpose of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. Nehemiah chapter two goes on to state that the king granted Nehemiah’s request and gave him letters to grant him safe passage, all of the timber he needed, and also sent a military escort to accompany him.

 It is important to remember that we cannot overlook the way in which God provides for our needs. For example, say someone wants to go to college and they do not have the personal means to do so. Someone may get discouraged if they do not receive a miracle check in the mail, but they overlook financial aid, scholarships, grants, and other ways to raise money. If the Lord has placed a task on your heart, He will provide you with everything you need to complete it.

Leadership Principle #3- Give God the glory

If we are not careful, pride can sneak in our hearts and we will believe that our abilities accomplished the task. Just as Nehemiah gave the glory to God, so must we give Him the all of the glory.

“And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my request.” (Nehemiah 2:8b, NIV).

  “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:16, NIV).

Leadership Principle #4- Be an encourager

When the Lord calls us to complete a task, He does not call us to go at it alone, but will send people around us. Just as Jesus had his disciples and Paul mentored Timothy, so too did the Lord call people around Nehemiah to help him rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Though leadership of any kind can be a difficult task, the best leaders will try their best to encourage those around them. As a leader encouragement involves others “buying into” the vision God has laid out before you.

 “Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.’ I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18, NIV).

  “After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember, the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’” (Nehemiah 4:14, NIV).

            The remaining principles will be shared in the next post.

A Christian’s Civic Duty

As the United States has entered into another presidential election cycle, there will be numerous debates and even more numerous polls about how the candidates rank with potential voters. The last 35-40 years in the U.S. has seen the rise of a voting bloc known as “Evangelical Christians,” that has played crucial roles in elections. Many leaders of the Evangelical Christian movement have been prominent televangelists, pastors, and other leaders who have spoken out against such issues as abortion, same sex marriage, and reclaiming America’s Christian heritage. The purpose of this post is not to debate political issues, but will examine a Christian’s civic duty in a political culture hostile to Christianity.

An Understanding of Authority

Everyone is under some kind of authority. Of course, for Christians, God is our ultimate authority. As a child, you were under the authority of your parents and teachers. If you have a job, you are under the authority of your supervisor. As citizens of the respective countries we live in, we are under the laws that govern our nations. To rebel against any kind of authority can bring serious short-term and long-term consequences. The Bible makes it very clear that all authority comes from God and serves His purposes.

 “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men- as free, yet not using your liberty as a cloak for vice, but as servants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:13-17, NKJV).

The Apostle Paul goes even further to explain the importance of submitting to authority.

  “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’s sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.” (Romans 13:1-6, NKJV).

Jesus was asked about whether or not people should pay taxes to Rome. Jesus’ response was: “’Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have? They answered and said, Caesar’s.  And He said to them, Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’” (Luke 20:24-25, NKJV).

At this point you may be asking, “Well, yes, I understand, but what if my government is corrupt and promotes evil?” Consider the context in which the New Testament was written. All of the books in the New Testament were written approximately mid-to-late First Century, the time of the Roman Empire. Rome, according to secular history, was morally corrupt and its citizens and emperors engaged of lifestyles of hedonism and decadence. Where Christians ran afoul with the Roman government was in their refusal to worship the emperor as God because we serve the one and only God. If a government forces you to personally renounce your faith in Christ and pledge allegiance to an idol or leader, then yes, stand up and declare the word, just as Peter and John did when they were brought before the Council and forbidden from preaching in Jesus’s name (see Acts 4:1-31).

History is in God’s hands

God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:9), so we will never fully understand His purposes, which includes who is appointed or elected to political office.  As Christians, we must remind ourselves of God’s sovereignty and that He is directing the events of history and the affairs of man. Though you may disagree with a political leader or a ruling of a court, remember God has appointed these leaders for His higher purposes.

 “Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.’”(Daniel 2:20-21, NKJV).

“But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another.” (Psalm 75:7, NKJV).

“He leads counselors away plundered, and makes fools of the judges. He loosens the bonds of kings, and binds their waist with a belt. He leads princes away plundered, and overthrows the mighty…He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them.” (Job 12:17-19, 23, NKJV).

Christians must stop fighting the culture wars

As we are living in the End Times, the Bible reminds us that society will grow more and more evil and corrupt (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-5). The Church and Christians will face persecution in this world as Jesus taught because we are not of the world. Our home and citizenship is in heaven and we are pilgrims and nomads passing through this life. Jesus stated that we are sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Our purpose as Christians is to declare the Word of God and to make disciples. If we are to declare the Word, we must not engage in senseless debates with the culture, which only brings further division, but we must proclaim Christ.

 “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7, NIV).

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NIV).

We must live our lives as an example of Christ. Jesus faced opposition from both the Roman government and the religious leaders of His day, yet on the cross forgave His enemies and died for them the same as He died for you and me. The Church must not take sides in a political debate, but we must show the love of Christ. We must pray for our political leaders and for all of those in our lives who do not know Christ. The sins of the world are no different than our sins. We must not speak judgment and condemnation atop from our self-righteous perches, but we must step down and walk beside those who do not know Christ to show them the way of salvation.

Going All In for the Journey

When the Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico in 1519, history states Cortes instructed his men to “burn the ships.” Imagine for a moment what must have gone through the minds of Cortes’ crew. The crew was thousands of miles from home in a hostile land with no escape plan. There was no turning back; there would be no retreat. At that moment, Cortes’ crew was forced to go “all in” on the journey.

The apostles Andrew, Peter, James, and John did not burn their ships, they simply left them to follow Jesus.

“As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fisherman. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow him.” (Mark 1:16-20, NASB).

These four men, who were fisherman by trade, walked away from their livelihoods and immediately followed Jesus. Of course, the Bible commands us to work and to take care of our families. However, how much does your job consume you? Do material possessions have more of a hold on us than we have a hold of Christ? Are we like the rich young ruler, who followed all of the commandments and wanted to follow Jesus, but was too attached to his possessions?

If we can shed our material attachment, our journey with God can still come with its share of difficulties as we try to live as Christians in a world growing more hostile to the things of God. There may come a time where we may consider the cost of following Christ and look back with pain, but God will always give us back so much more than we could every give up.

“The Peter said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.’” (Matthew 19:27-29, NASB).

Once we have decided to fully follow Christ, there is no going back to our old way of life because it will simply not work and be unfruitful. Consider the actions of Peter in John chapter 21. Jesus has risen from the dead and had appeared to His disciples multiple times. However, Peter decides to go fishing, along with Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other disciples. The experienced fishermen do not catch any fish after what must have been a long night. Jesus then appears on the beach and tells the disciples where to catch the fish, and they catch multitudes of fish. Jesus and Peter have a conversation, where Jesus reiterates for Peter to follow Him. Jesus also tells Peter that he will one day die for his testimony. This is the point where Peter’s journey changed. Just weeks after this discussion, Peter stood up at Pentecost, full of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the Gospel and 3,000 souls were saved (Acts 2:14-41).

Just as God did an amazing work in the life of the Apostle Peter, so too He wants to do a work in you. This journey may be long and difficult, but the Lord will be with you each step of the way. God has given us all that we need- His Son, His Holy Spirit, and His Word. We must seek out the Lord and allow Him to prepare us for the work ahead. We must be willing and obedient in order to hear from the Lord. We must remember that our sufficiency is not in anything the world has to offer or even in our own abilities. Our sufficiency is found in Christ and in Christ alone.