BE HOLY

Have you noticed when reading the Bible that it talks far more about what we are to BE than about what we are to DO? Yet, it seems in our thinking or even our preaching and teaching we tend to think more about what we are to DO rather than on what we are to BE. Look at one of the great illustrations of this point in I Peter 1:13-16. “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.”

What do you think of you when read that God is holy and that we are to be holy in our lives? I think most of us have some interesting visuals come to mind when we think of someone being holy. Many, I think, see some monk in the desert who lives as a hermit having little to no contact with the world as someone who is holy. I think others see holiness only in terms of moral purity. If one isn’t involved in some adulterous relationship then they must be holy or if one doesn’t watch pornography on their computer they are holy. I suspect it would be very interesting if we could get people generally to share with us what their mental image is of someone living a holy life. The word translated “holy” literally means to be separate. It is the same word that is translated “saint” or “sanctified.”

To ever grasp the concept of being holy in the world, we must start with the point that “God is holy.” It is vital to see that the command for us to be holy in life is so closely tied to God declaring, “As I am holy so you be holy.” God’s holiness is tied to His uniqueness. He is totally different and separate from the gods that so many set up for themselves in life. One of the most common sins talked about in Scripture and that still haunts us constantly is the sin of Idolatry. When the statement “Be holy as I am holy” was first uttered it is in Leviticus 11:44,45. It was in a time when it was common for people to mold their gods of gold, or even of wood, was formed into some kind of image, perhaps like the golden calf that the Israelites had made in the desert. The idols that people established or gods that so many worshiped were usually more like an over-stressed form of the people who made them. They had gods of all kinds from the goddess of sex to the gods of war. Remember when the story of one of the emeries of Israel came out to fight them and met on the hills around them for the battle. Israel was victorious in the battle and the enemy went away with the explanation that “their god is the god of the hills.” Their plan was then that they would plan a battle when they met them in the valley so their god wouldn’t be so powerful. God wants us to know that He is totally different and separate from any such god that people may come up with.

God made us to be people of worship so it is common for those who don’t know God at all to come up with some kind of god they can worship. Often, in our time the god we make to worship is MONEY. Paul declared that covetousness is idolatry. So, tons of people really worship the money, the property, the stocks and other investments that they make as the real god in their lives. I think that is the reason that God tells His people to give of their income to Him. He doesn’t need our money since everything belongs to Him. But if we remember that He is the giver of all blessings by taking the very first things that we make and giving them to Him then we keep ourselves from the idolatry of covetousness.

God is holy in that He doesn’t change from one day to the next. He is the same every time we approach him. He never leaves or forsakes us. He is always a God of amazing grace and compassion for His people. “His ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. As the heavens are higher than the earth so are his ways higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts.” His power is unlimited. “He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or even imagine by the power that works in us.” Unlike us or any of the gods that we come up with, God’s love is overwhelming. As Paul described in Romans 5 that we might be willing to die for a good person, “But God commends his love to us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Think of God’s demonstration of His heart with both Paul and Peter. With Paul, he took one that had blasphemed him, been injurious to his cause and tried to destroy Christianity, but turned him into a believer and the most determined follower, apostle, and preacher of his word one could imagine. He took Peter, the fishermen who seemed to always be up and down, saying things that were demonstrations of amazing faith and then in the next moment something that was horrendous. In one short segment of Scripture in Matthew 16, he goes from one being told by Jesus, “Blessed are you Simon, son of John. Flesh and blood didn’t reveal this to you but my Father who is in heaven.” He then promised to build the church on what he confessed and gave to Peter and the other apostles the keys to the kingdom of heaven. But then just a few verses later Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan. You have your mind set on the things of the world and not the things of God.” He denied his discipleship to Jesus three times in a row. Yet Jesus called him aside during the time between his resurrection and ascension to ask him three times, “Do you love me?” Each time when Peter answered that he did love him, Jesus responded with, “Feed my sheep” or “Tend my lambs.”

So, if God is holy in being the God who loves intensely and never forsakes us, the God who never changes and goes overboard in showing compassion, then if we are to be holy like Him it has special meaning to it. Our being holy isn’t about going off to the desert away from everyone. It’s not just about not being immoral in my lifestyle. It’s not really about what I don’t do as a follower of Jesus, but more about the kind of life I live in the world. Notice the things Peter was talking about when he challenged us to be holy like God is holy.

Being holy has to do with having a mindset that is alert and clear thinking. It’s about setting our hope on God’s grace that will be revealed completely when Jesus comes again. Think of this concept for a time. Most of my life I’ve thought of the second coming of Jesus in terms of judgment and pictures of people being lost eternally. What a different picture Peter paints for us about the return of Jesus. Instead of it being something to fear, it is about grace and hope being fully realized. It is something we should be anticipating with excitement that we will see Jesus our Lord and Savior. He didn’t just come the first time out of grace. His return as one filled with grace. Our hope rest upon that grace that we will only see completely when he comes again.

Being holy means we are obedient children of God and that we refuse to conform to the evil desires that used to be the standard for us before we came to know God. Holiness involves living a life for the Lord in the midst of people all the time. It certainly isn’t about isolation or hiding out somewhere. In Philippians 2:14-15 Paul was telling us how to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God is constantly working in us both to have the will or intent to do right and to actually live in a way to fulfill His good purpose. “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” He said if we did this we would shine as lights in the world. Notice it is in the warped and crooked world that we are to live this life that shines for God.

Being holy is living for God daily, in regular life, with God as our standard. We live in His presence and guidance all the time. So, be holy as He is holy.

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LET’S GO FOR A WALK

It amazing how many good things in life happen during a walk. Some of my favorite memories of life with people I love happened during a walk. I remember walking along with both my dad and my mother at different times and hearing them share things about life that I suspect would never have been said if we were sitting down and waiting for a conversation. Some of the greatest memories I have of life with my wife, Linda, have happened as we walked. Even when we were dating some of our favorite times happened as we walked along the road, by a stream or even through the woods. As years have passed the times we have walked and talked about every kind of thing you can imagine, our love has grown and we have even solved a few problems along the way as we walked. Wonderful and tearful memories are there about walks with our daughters often with them telling about their dreams and sometimes about a boy they were interested in. Sometimes it was all about my efforts to explain something to them that I thought was important. Strangely the ones I remember best aren’t the ones with me trying to get something across to them.

What makes going for a walk such a powerful thing? Have you noticed how many of the stories about Jesus and his ministry on this earth center around times when he was walking. He was walking by the sea side when he saw Matthew, the tax collector and called him to “Follow me.” Matthew left the tax booth, never to return and became one of the trusted apostles of Jesus. It was as he walked along the way that Jairus the Synagogue leader came to him in a rush pleading for him to come and lay his hands on his little daughter since she was very ill. As they walked toward his home to heal the daughter, the woman with an issue of blood came up behind him to touch the hem of his garment and be healed. It was so often the case that Jesus used those times walking to talk to the apostles about some life issue that was important for them to know. Think of the fact Jesus never had a pulpit to preach from. He used the roads, the paths as his pulpit and shared the message wtih multitudes in the process. By the way, his preaching and teaching on the roadside wasn’t like some madman shouting to the crowds as they passed by. It was carrying on a conversation with people who came to him and it changed their lives.

I wonder how many people in later years thought back to those days when they took a walk with Jesus. Do you suppose those two men who were on the road to Emmaus after the death of Jesus in Jerusalem ever forgot that walk when Jesus joined them and he set their hearts aflame as he talked with them and shared the real meaning of so much of the Old Testament they had never understood correctly. It wasn’t until they sat down to eat together that they recognized him in the breaking of bread. Jesus obviously loved to walk and talk and share with people. There is even one occasion as he walked along that Luke tells us he was praying privately to the Father in the middle of a bunch of people including the apostles. He knew well how to walk and pray at the same time.

I think, many of the problems of life could be solved if we took a good walk together. Not a march, and certainly not a riot, but a gentle, unhurried walk where we lovingly shared about life. Let’s go for a walk.

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WHAT WAS THAT AGAIN?

“Age doesn’t matter”, “It’s more a matter of mind than of years”, “Think young”, “Life is determined by the events we remember instead of the amount of days spent doing them.” I wish I could have thought to collect all the wise sayings I’ve either said to someone or heard said to someone through the years to try to encourage them as their birthday’s come and go. Isn’t is strange how something like a birthday can go from the most exciting event of the year, to “Oh no, I’m another year older?” As you likely have guessed by now, I am having another birthday tomorrow. I’ve had enough birthdays to pass that now, when I fill out one of those things online that ask for the year of your birth that it takes all day for the phone to roll back to 1946. It is odd when it goes from the day when you rushed to open the door for older people to the day when some young person opens the door for you and looks at you as though you were now that older person that needed help. Have you noticed that the steps to almost every place you enter have gotten taller and there are more of them than they used to be? It must be some kind of conspiracy or maybe it has to do with the Covid-19 virus.

As the youngest child in a large family, I think I just always thought I would be the young one and that getting older was just for my brothers and sisters. But I can tell you this the moment some young turk comes up and ask how it fills to be getting old, he had better duck or he will learn how it fills to be lying on the floor looking up to see what happened. The other thing that is so odd about this whole thing is that when I see pictures of those folks I grew up with on Facebook and they have aged so much it makes me wonder what happened to them. I’m sure glad I am not showing those signs of aging in my pictures. Of course, I did have some guys at a recent Preacher’s Luncheon giving me a hard time because on a new book I published recently that I had given each of them, they noticed I had the same picture on the back I had used for the last four books and they wondered why I didn’t get a new picture. Of course, I explained it was the publisher who chose the picture, not me.

I have noticed something else recently. I find myself singing the song more and more often, “In the land where we will never grow old.” Of course, I always liked that song. But for some reason it pops into my head more often now. If you have any idea why that is happening you can let me know. It is a mystery to me. Something else that just gets on my nerves is when these old people get on Facebook and post the pictures of things like outhouses and hand pumps to get water from the well or even one recently of someone drawing water from a well and pretend that was something out of ancient history, it is aggravating to me.

It seems so odd that in my mind I still feel young, energetic and ready to face the challenges of life. But the question that I get over and over again from people who know me well to those who have just met me is, “Have you retired yet?” I even had some jerk to asked me the other day, “You mean you are still working.” What in the world is wrong with these 50 year old kids? I’m still trying to decide what I want to do next. Well, I think James was right when he said, “Life is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Praise God, this life, no matter how many years it last is just the beginning, the training ground for the life that never ends and where we truly, never grow old. I read a book a few years ago about heaven in which the author argued that in heaven everyone would be 26 years old. I have no idea where he came up with that. Maybe that was just the best year he could remember in his life. What I know is that in heaven we will be able to drink and swim in the river of life, eat from the fruit that grows on the tree of life and wipe the juice from the leaves of the tree that are for the healing of the people, on our skin. In that land there will never be a pandemic, we won’t even need to keep a doctors appointment, because we will never be sick or hurt. There will be no quarantines and the fellowship will be amazing. Never will there be gossip that hurts when it gets back to the person about whom it was said. No one will be trying to undercut another and love will truly flow like a river through the city.

Would you sing with me now? Let’s sing about that land where we will never grow old. You sound really good. I think my bass voice is ripping it out without a single crack. Wow! Amazing!

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SEARCHING FOR A PATTERN

When was the last time you went searching for a pattern to either make something for yourself or for someone in the family? In our time it is far more likely that you would go to YouTube to see how a thing is built or put together. I am amazed that even when you puchase something now that it will often tell you to go to a YouTube video to see how to put it together. I decided to put a TV on the wall the other day and went to Walmart to purchase the kit to carry it out. When I got home and opened the thing it said to go to a YouTube video they had to explain how to do it. I tried, then called one of my grandsons to come and figure it out and put it up for me.

In spiritual matters where do you go for a pattern? I’ve heard tons of discussion about the pattern for the church and how we are to know exactly what we are to do and be as God’s people in the world. The problem is that most of the suggestions that are given on the pattern for the church or for the Christian don’t work out very well when they are tried. One person sees one thing as the pattern and another looks at the same Scripture and sees something entirely different. I think of how many groups of people have gone to Acts 2 to find the pattern for their church and how it will operate. One group goes to it and finds the tongue speaking as the main thing for them to follow. Even though the tongue speaking in Acts 2 made it possible for everyone to hear them in their own native language, the tongue speaking that people tend to be drawn to is more about something only God can understand. Another group goes to this text and sees baptism in the name of Jesus and determines that even though Jesus said to go and make disciples in all nations baptizing them into the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit, that baptism should actually be in the name of Jesus only. Others go to the same set of verses and determine that the church ought to have everything they own in common and live together in a community. Others look at these verses and see that baptism along with repentance if for the forgiveness of sins. While others only notice that those who are baptized receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and they tend to go in many directions with what that means for us.

So, what is the pattern? Let me make a plea from the same set of verses that I believe is the key verse to point us in the right direction. In verse 36 of Acts 2 Peter declared that “God has made this same Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” It was out of that statement that the people cried out, “men and brothers, what shall we do?” This declaration was the conclusion of what Peter had been preaching to them from the start. His whole sermon focused on what God had predetermined would happen in Christ. It didn’t surprise God that wicked people, who were deeply religious would reject Jesus as Lord and Savior and put him to death in hopes of maintaining their place as religious leaders in the world. Peter goes back to pick up the prophesies of what was happening that day and of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. He explained that David prophesied he would not be left in hades nor his flesh see corruption but he would be raised to sit down at the right hand of God. He told them that Jesus was that son of David to reign on David’s throne forever and that He had now taken his place to reign at the right hand of the Father and from the throne he had now sent the Holy Spirit on them.

Jesus, is now our Lord and Christ. He is the Savior of the world. Think for a moment what it means for Jesus to be our LORD and Christ. The word Christ means the anointed one. So he has been anointed by God for the work as our High priest and our king. The word lord means he is the ruler, the king, the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth. We live in a time when our focus seems to be on Jesus as our savior and the one who takes our sins away. But the focus doesn’t seem to move to Him as our Lord and king. If Jesus is our Lord, then He is the one in charge. His life, teaching and example are the pattern for us to follow. His word is the standard for us in everything.

It is amazing that Matthew in telling the story of Jesus life had his last words to the disciples before ascending to the Father as follows: “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And I will be with you always even to the end of the age.” Notice, Jesus ended his personal ministry declaring that He had ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH. If Jesus has all authority, tell me, how much authority does that leave for any of the rest of us? And if he has all authority, doesn’t that mean that what he says and does is the pattern for us to follow always. Besides that John tells that He came to show us the Father, to explain Him to us. He even said “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” So, my best way of knowing and understanding God is by looking at Jesus and His life on this earth. Finally, if Jesus has all authority and he is Lord of all, doesn’t that mean that I must obey him in what he tells me to do? And, since he gave His Spirit to the Apostles to guide them into all truth, shouldn’t I follow the teachings of those who like Paul or John or Matthew who wrote down the message from him?

What if we really looked to Jesus as the pattern and followed him? Do you suppose it might bring us together more?

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CROWD, 72, 12, 3

What if we could really make disciples today like Jesus did when he was on the earth? There is no question that was what He planned for in working with the people He taught and trained everyday of his three plus years of ministry. He started with choosing the twelve men that would be with him every day, watch him perform powerful miracles and lead people from all backgrounds to salvation. One of the things that stands out as Jesus called those twelve men as ambassadors for him was that it would began with a simple challenge, “Follow me”. With the fishermen he expanded it slightly by saying, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.’ But with Matthew the tax collector it was simply “Follow me.” We aren’t given the details of his calling most of the twelve. We simply assume he used the same method with them that he did with the ones we are told about.

Jesus often attracted huge crowds, even in the thousands to listen to him teach. Many would come for the whole day and on at least two occasions Jesus felt for them and told the disciples to have them sit down and he miraculously feed, 5,000 one time and 4,000 the next with just a few fish and loaves. Each time the disciples picked up far more after the thousands ate the meal than was there at the beginning from which Jesus multiplied the small meal to feed the multitudes. He taught great lessons, such as the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain that Luke records to these massive crowds. But He was never satisfied with working with the multitudes. At times it almost seemed that He was trying to drive away many in the crowds. In John 6 he taught them some hard lessons on what it required to be a disciple of his that led to many of the disciples turning back and no longer walking with him. Instead of Him trying to bring them back he turned to the twelve apostles and asked them if they also wanted to go away. It was in response to that question that Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Jesus after spending time with the twelve apostles or ambassadors or missionaries if you prefer, sent them out on a limited commission both to train them for the work they were being called to do and to show them what it would be like. They came back thrilled that the demons were subject to them. He told them not to rejoice about that but to rejoice because their names were written in heaven. Later he sent out 72 of the disciples on a similar commission demonstrating that his efforts to train people to be real disciples who made other disciples wasn’t limited to the twelve. I do wonder how many of the final 120 that remained true to him even after he was crucified and were with the eleven apostles to gather in prayer waiting in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended were from that group of 72. It would seem natural that the more involved people had been in the mission of reaching others for him the more likely they were to remain faithful and true even in the lowest times as when he was crucified on their behalf.

Jesus loved and worked with the twelve in powerful ways. He was constantly looking for ways and opportunities to take them aside from the crowds to have the private time to train them and prepare them for their future work. Yet it is amazing that among the twelve there were three that were in a closer relationship with him. Think of all the times he took Peter, James and John aside from the others to go with him. When he went up on the mount of transfiguration he took Peter, James and John. It was the same three that he took in for a closer stand on the night he was arrested.

A huge lesson stands out from all of this. It is fitting to work with the huge crowds to teach and help people learn the will of God and hopefully lead some to salvation. But it takes more than the crowds to really change people much. It takes time, training, personal relationships and working together. Just as a coach has to be with the team, spend special time with those who may lead the team and give them training assignments so they can learn and even critique them on what was done well and what needed improvement for anyone to succeed. Jesus is the master coach, trainer and teacher. He made disciples who became so devoted to Him they were ready to live and die for him.

Today, the church must imitate Jesus in making disciples. The gathering of the church for a great time of worship is vitally important. But it takes personal time with people to train them and work with them, to even say, “Follow me as I follow Christ” for people to become real disciples. Great disciples aren’t made in group classes for an hour or so a week. Discipleship demands involvement with others regularly in serving and sharing with others. God help us to be his disciples and to be able to make more disciples every day.

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WHO IS UP FRONT

People are funny. Yes, I know that I am one of those people that often say and do things that are funny, even though I didn’t intend for them to be. We like to have the best seats, to have recognition and to be given honor. In church it is pretty common to hear a discussion about who was up front during a church gathering. We put lots of weight on being up front or having others that are my age group, sex or race up front so that they have recognition as important.

This reminds me of Jesus in Luke 14:7-11. “When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the places of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Why is it so hard for us to step down and so easy to step up in life? Some time ago I read the story of when churches in Tennessee decided to rent the Grand Ole Opry House to have a series of meetings. It was to be a joint effort of many churches and was to be a huge effort to reach people in the Tennessee area. There was a lot of discussion about who would be invited to speak at the events. Several good people and great preachers were considered. But they finally chose N.B. Hardeman to be the speaker. Some in the group that made the decision were concerned about some well known brother in the Nashville area that he would be offended since they chose Hardeman instead of him. A group of them went to see him and explain why they had made the choice they did and were surprised at his response. He told them that he was ready to serve in any way, including being the janitor for the event to see it take place. He just wanted to make certain it happened and people had the chance to hear the good news of Jesus. I want to have that spirit all the time. I wish I could remember who the person was that said it. He is my hero even though I don’t remember his name.

In Acts 13 the church in Antioch had several strong leaders and great prophets working with them. As these men were gathered in prayer and fasting the Holy Spirit told them to separate Barnabas and Saul for the ministry that he had called them to do. Barnabas and Saul set out on their first missionary journey and John Mark, a cousin of Barnabas went along with them to be a helper. They arrived at the Island of Cyprus and traveled through the whole Island preaching Christ. When they arrived in Paphos they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus. The Proconsul, a man named Sergius Paulus was an intelligent man and he sent for Barnabas and Saul to come to him and share the message of Jesus. But Elymas the sorcerer (Bar-Jesus) opposed them and tried to turn the Proconsul against them. Suddenly, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit and looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is aginst you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately a mist and darkness came over him. He had to be led away but the proconsul saw what had happened and believed on the Lord.

Suddenly, there was a major change in the missionary team. It had been “Barnabas and Saul” from the time they left Antioch. But from here on it become “Paul and his companions.” Notice in Acts 13:13 what happened when the leadership of the group changed from Barnabas to Paul. John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. Barnabas seemed to have handled the change just fine. But his younger cousin couldn’t handle the change. If Barnabas wasn’t the leader he couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t handle the scene of Paul as leader and Barnabas and him being his companions. Later in Acts 15 Barnabas attempts to get Paul to accept Mark back as a helper. Paul couldn’t handle the thought. Their disagreement become so strong that they parted ways and Paul took Silas as his new companion and Barnabas and Mark set out as a new missionary team.

Interestingly, God used the separation or division between Barnabas and Paul to create a new missionary team and thus multiply their ability to reach people for Him. But this event demonstrates the fact that people haven’t changed a whole lot since that time. It isn’t just that we want the best seats for ourselves, but we want them for the ones we identify with. Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually believe what Jesus said on this whole thing? “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for man” (Mark 10:43-45).

I wonder if there could be some way in the church gatherings to eliminate the “Up Front” so that everyone is simply part of the assembly. Our whole goal is to elevate Jesus Christ and make ourselves his servants. Remember Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up, will draw all people to me.”

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NONE OF MY BUSINESS

When was the last time someone said to you that something you were asking about or trying to do wasn’t any of your business? Most of us have had it to happen and probably the vast majority have had it to happen multiple times. It is difficult to learn how to mind your own business. The truth is that it seems much easier to mind other people’s business instead of our own. Our own often has challenges to it that make us want to avoid it. But we normally don’t see the same difficulties or obstacles to other people’s business.

I was reading this morning in I Corinthians and was hit once again with Paul’s plea in chapter 5 and verse 12 in particular. “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you.” Think back to the situation that produced this challenge. In the beginning of the chapter he said, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?”

The church had a huge problem. Evidently this man was a leader in the church in some fashion. His conduct was shameful, but instead of the church confronting the sin and demanding that he either change his life or they would remove him from the fellowship, they seemed to be proud of how they were able to accept a person living such a life. I suppose they thought it was an act of grace that made them more acceptable to God and other people. My guess is that someone had pointed to Jesus charge for us not to judge one another and to take the plank out of our own eye before trying to get the speck from our brothers eye. Being judgmental is a bad thing. Failure to show mercy toward each other is horrible. But it is very easy to use the charge not to judge as an excuse not to confront a brother or sister who is living in sin to plead with them to change.

It would help us to always remember that Jesus also said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). We aren’t to be judgmental but we aren’t to close our eyes to reality. Often people get involved in a wrong action or attitude without realizing what they have done and need to have it pointed out so they can correct it. There are also times when the church must act to stand up to sin and sinners to protect the body as a whole. Sin and its influence tends to spread and if we refuse to confront open sin it destroys the influence of the church and the accepted sin grows stronger all the time.

In the church we are to care so much for each other that we willingly risks acceptance and even friendship to build up one another and to help one another stay right. If one is living in sin and refuses to turn from it the church must have the love for God and the person to act and put them out of the fellowship in hopes that they will repent and be faithful to God. That is our business.

But it isn’t our business to straighten out all the problems in the world or sins in the world. In verse 9 beginning he said, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.”

It is out of that charge that he said, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” Here is the interesting point. It is much easier to judge the sins of those outside than it is those on the inside. Today we hear and think a lot about the sin of racism and it is an awful sin. But we are often far more tuned to condemning racism in the world instead of focusing on the area that is our business and confronting racism in the church. It is in the church and among Christians that God said he had torn down the wall of separation so that we might be one. It is Christians who are charged to be ministers of reconciliation in the world carrying a message of reconciliation as we plead with people to be reconciled to God that leads to being reconciled to each other.

Let’s focus on our business!

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WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?

In the last few days I’ve been re-reading the Book of Acts trying to see its message as though it was my first time to read it. It is difficult to not read the Bible to re-learn the same things I’ve seen and known for years. In just about everything that I read, including the Bible, I mark it up, underlining, putting stars beside things that I want to focus on and writing notes in the margins to help me remember the things that stood out that time when I was reading it. While I believe that is effective in helping us remember and emphasize important things, it also has the negative effect of causing us to see the same things over again each time we are reading it. One of the reasons I read in different translations is to see things afresh as though it was being read for the first time. The truth is, when we read the Bible, what we are dealing with in our lives at that time will have a whole lot to do with what we see as we read. I’ve noticed that I see very different things based on how I feel at the time I’m reading or even the mood I’m in at the time.

David gives us a powerful testimony in the 119th Psalm when he prayed to God to “Open my eyes that I may see the wondrous things in your word.” I try to remember to pray that prayer when I pick up my Bible for my daily Bible reading.

I was reading today in Acts 22 as Paul was giving his defense to the Jews after they had tried to kill him in the temple. He asked the Roman commander for the chance to speak to the people and it was granted. Standing above them, he began speaking in Aramaic and that caught the attention of the people. They listened while he told the story of how he persecuted the church thinking he was doing God’s will as he savaged homes, arresting people, throwing them into prison and testifying against them as he tried to force them to reject faith in Jesus. He told of getting letters from the chief rulers among the people to go to Damascus in Syria to try to find disciples of Jesus there and bring them back for trial. On the road, as he neared Damascus a great light shinned around him and the people with him and he was knocked to the ground. Jesus spoke to him in Aramaic so that he understood but most of the people with him heard the voice but didn’t know what was being said. The voice said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked, “Who are you Lord?’ The voice answered, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” Notice Paul’s response: “What shall I do, Lord?”

I wonder if that would have been my response if I had been struck down on the road like that. I don’t know. I might have responded, “I’m sorry Lord. I thought I was doing the right thing by persecuting those who followed you.” I wonder if I would have tried to explain myself by telling the Lord that he just didn’t fit the mold that I had seen and read in the Old Testament or what I had learned from Gamaliel, my teacher.” I wonder if I would have launched into a speech to try to convince Jesus that I would make it up to him if he would just give me the chance. I don’t know. I hope I would have been so moved by the appearance and words of Jesus that I might have asked the same question he did.

It was very simple! “What shall I do, Lord?” It is the right question always. It intrigues me how Jesus answered him. He didn’t give him a list of things he needed to do. The truth is he didn’t get in any hurry to tell him anything. Instead he said, “Get up, and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.” He had to have help to get there. For three days he fasted and prayed without any other message from the Lord. I suspect he was thinking all the time the Lord would begin speaking to him again from heaven. But God chose to speak to him by means of a certain disciple in the area named Ananias. God gave Saul a dream of Ananias coming before he ever spoke to Ananias about going. When Ananias tried to convince God that it wasn’t safe for him to go, God’s answer was simply, “Go”

When Ananias got there he laid his hands on him, called him “Brother Saul” and he was able to see again. Listen to what he said to Saul: “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” Immediately he obeyed the charge and was baptized and started preaching and teaching the message of Christ to people who would listen. He even preached in Damascus to the shock of those who were expecting his persecution and went back to Jerusalem and preached to the people about Jesus who had sent him to persecute the disciples. What a shock it must have been!

The heart of Saul that would drive the rest of his life were stated in the simple question, “What shall I do, Lord?” It is a question we all need to ask often

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WHO CAN YOU TRUST

Have you had an account hacked yet? I say “Yet” because if you haven’t your time is most likely coming. It’s strange to have accounts hacked on almost every part of your life. Just thinking back over the last couple of years I’ve had accounts hacked on Facebook and Instagram. But I’ve also had multiple charges made to credit card accounts and bank accounts so that all kinds of information had to be changed to move forward. It has reached the point that our credit card issuers are suggesting using fake account numbers to keep the accounts from being stolen or hacked. It does make me wonder how long a society can last that you have to be on guard every moment in every thing you do to make certain someone isn’t stealing from you or trying to use your information to hurt or take advantage of someone else.

What has happened to integrity? Do you still hear anyone say that honesty is the best policy? I can remember when it was common to go to the bank and borrow money based on your integrity or reputation. Somehow I doubt that such can be done now.

It should stand out that when we take away teaching about God, the Bible and a true standard of right and wrong you leave all forms of integrity behind. If there is no God and the Bible is just another book then what difference does it make whether one tells the truth or is honest in their dealings with each other. Having grown up in an era where we were taught to trust others until they demonstrated they couldn’t be trusted it is a huge challenge to go about life wondering who you can really trust.

Solomon challenged us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” His challenge is one that would bless everyone if they followed it. But why should I trust the Lord? Because He is trustworthy. He is a God who cannot lie. His very nature is built on truth. I can trust the Lord and his word both when he says things that are good for me and when things don’t seem good at all. I can trust him because He made us in his own image and likeness. I can trust the Lord because He loves us more than we can even love ourselves or be loved by anyone else in the universe. Only of God can it be said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

If I truly trust God with all my being one result that will come is that I become more like him and more trustworthy myself. I have noticed in life generally that if I spend my time around people that are loving, caring, trustworthy and trusting of others, I tend to become more like that myself. But the more I’m around people who can’t be trusted and who look for a way to deceive others, the more I stop believing anything that others say and the harder it becomes even to trust the Lord.

Let’s start a new revolution in our part of the world. It will be a revolution of truth, honesty and trustworthiness in every part of our lives. It demands the pledge to be ones in our home life that live up to the commitments we make to each other and that our partner in marriage can trust us all the time as long as we live. But let’s teach the principles of trust, truth and integrity to our children. Unless it is based on God and the Bible this effort will be a total failure. But if we bring out children up to know the God who made them and loves them so much he would give his Son to die so they can be saved, we will form their lives around integrity and honesty. We in this revolution will stress things like: “Your word is your bond”, “Honesty is the best policy”, “A honest days work will bring an honest days pay” and “God will judge us based on our works in life.”

If we could get across to our children that trust is built on integrity and honesty that is demonstrated all through your life, we would do a tremendous service to them. Imagine the difference it would make if every young person understood that one wrong deed or dishonest endeavor will lead to many people distrusting you for the rest of your life. You can change and be forgiven for any wrong, but that won’t change the assessment people make of you when they remember wrong actions from earlier times. We can make the world better by standing firm on trustworthiness in life. But never forget that integrity is tied to faith in God who can always be trusted.

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HOW DID IT TURN OUT?

Have you ever started a project with a very clear vision of what the final result would be only to complete the project and realize it doesn’t look anything like the picture you had in your mind when you started? It didn’t take me long as an adult to realize that God’s calling in my life wasn’t in carpentry or anything of that nature. When our daughters were small I had the dream of building them a playhouse in our backyard. I remembered one I had seen before in a yard close to where Linda grew up in Vernon, Alabama and that was the vision I had for the one I was going to build. But when I completed the job, it didn’t have the slightest resemblance to the one in my dream.

In many ways, life is a lot like the building of that playhouse in that it is seldom the case that things turn out the way we imagined they would. The truth is they often turn out many times better or there are blessings that come from awful things that have taken place to the degree that we have a hard time thinking of the things that happened as being awful. No matter how well we plan the future, there will be surprises that we never would have expected. How many of us have been totally upended by the events of this year with the pandemic and all of the other problems that have arisen? I don’t think anyone expected this year to be one that was totally different from previous years. When I look at the calendar that I made at the beginning of the year of things I planned to do during the year, most of them never happened and the chances are slim that they will.

This all reminds me of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. He wrote as a prisoner in Rome having been arrested back in Jerusalem while there to give a large contribution to the poor among God’s family in that area. His arrest led to plots to kill him and him being carried to Caesarea where he would remain in jail for two years before having to appeal to Caesar for trial to keep from being sent back to Jerusalem for another assassination attempt. Then he was sent to Rome as a prisoner. Along the way the ship faced a massive storm and was destroyed so that Paul and the other prisoners spent the winter on an island before catching another ship to Rome. Now he was staying in a rented home where he was chained between Roman soldiers every day and couldn’t leave. If you have thought of Paul’s situation, how would you have felt about it? Would you have felt he was being mistreated, abused or rejected by God?

In Philippians 1:12-14 Paul offered his assessment of the whole situation. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” I suspect that the church in Philippi had heard of Paul’s situation and had been praying for God’s deliverance for him. They likely worried that he might be killed or misused in some way as a prisoner. I would guess they thought the gospel was suffering because Paul wasn’t out in the world preaching and starting new congregations for the Lord.

If that is true, they must have been shocked when they received his letter. Instead of him suffering with the “poor me’s” he actually said the whole thing had served to advance the gospel. Some were preaching Christ that wouldn’t have had he been out of jail. It was true that some preached from wrong motives seeking to add to Paul’s pain but he was thankful that even in those cases the gospel was still being preached and people were learning of God’s love and grace toward them. The Roman soldiers that guarded him each day soon realized it was for the gospel that he was there and at least some of them gave their lives to Christ as a result.

This makes me wonder how many of the things that happen to us that we believe are awful will actually result in the advance of the gospel of Christ. If something causes me personal pain but results in others hearing the gospel that might lead to their salvation then the personal pain is worth it. I believe that many of us will look back on this year and the whole pandemic and think of the wonderful blessings that came from it. Families were able to spend more time with each other, listen to each other and hopefully spent time learning more of God’s word and will for our lives. I believe there will be those who heard the gospel for the first time during this whole situation. Their world will turn over to sit up straight.

Consider how you look at the tough times of life and see if it may be the case that there are some amazing blessings that come even from the hard times. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”

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