ANOTHER ONE, ALREADY!

Have you noticed how birthdays come so much sooner as the years pass by? I can remember when it seemed like it took two or three years for a birthday to arrive. But, now, it is totally different. It just seems like I’m having another one every six months or more often than that. What is even more shocking is the number that goes with it these days. On Thursday, if I make it until then, I will hit the magic number of 75. But it just doesn’t seem right. How in the world can I have been in this world for 75 years? Now, I will admit the body doesn’t work as well as it once did and that the mind doesn’t remember things as easily as it once did. I sure admit that it is far more difficult to remember people’s names than it was in the past. I even admit that when I look in the mirror that sometimes I’m shocked at who is looking back at me. That guy in the mirror looks older than I think he should. Still, there is something deep inside the mind that shouts that I am still much younger than that. When people started coming up to me and asking if I was retired yet, I have to admit that I was terribly offended. Why in the world would anyone think that a person of my age would be retired? The truth is, it still bothers me. It just doesn’t fit either the sense of knowing I’ve been called to preach and teach the word of God or the knowledge of the great need in the world for the good news of Jesus.

Think about it for a moment. If we think of retirement as a time to stop the job we’ve been doing so that we can do lots of other meaningful things that we have always wanted to do or to serve someone that is in great need, then it makes all kinds of sense. But if our view of retirement is that we will sit down, do nothing and serve no one else, we are far afield from what God calls us to do as His children. As you read the Bible you will be amazed at how God often calls those who are older to carry out huge missions in the world. Abraham was 75 when God called him to leave his homeland to go to the land God would show him and give it to his descendants. He was 85 when God renewed his promise to give him a son. He was 100 years old when Isaac was born to Sarah. She was 90 at the time. Moses was 80 years old when God appeared to him in the burning bush to go back and lead the Israelites from the land of Egypt to the land God promised them.

I love the story of Caleb who was at the tender age of 40 when he served as one of the spies to go walk through the land of Canaan alongside eleven other men. They were to bring back a report of how fruitful the land really was. While ten of the spies came back saying it was really a land the flowed with milk and honey, it was a land that was occupied by giants, there were all kinds of dangerous places in the land that could just swallow a person up and besides that the cities all had walls and armies. The places were fortified. They declared that “We were like grasshoppers in their sight and so were we in our own sight.” All the while, Caleb and Joshua were shouting, look at the grapes we brought back from there. It is a wonderful land, flowing with milk and honey. God is with us and we can take the land. But the people listened to the ten and the result was that God had them to wander around in the wilderness for 40 years so that the whole generation of those who were struck with fear would die in the wilderness and their children would go into the Promised Land. But God blessed Caleb and Joshua. He promised Caleb that even though he would be 85 years old when they entered the land, God would spare his life and would give him an inheritance in the Promised Land when they arrived.

In Joshua 14:6-15 the story is told of how the time came to divide up the land. Caleb reminded the people of what Moses had promised him because he was faithful to the Lord when the ten spies led them astray. He said, “Now behold, the Lord has let me live, just as He spoke, these forty-five years, from the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel walked in the wilderness; and now behold, I am eighty-five years old today. I am still as strong today as I was on the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in. Now then, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I will drive them out just as the Lord has spoken.” Don’t you love that spirit? He is 85 but as far as he is concerned he hasn’t lost a thing. “Give me the hill country.”

I want to have the heart of Caleb that isn’t making any excuses or pleading for an easier role. I want to be that one that is ready to take on the challenges of God’s work no matter how strong the enemy may be as long as God gives me life on this earth. I don’t know what the future holds nor how many years I may be allowed to live on this earth, but I know I want to use every day God gives me to do His work to the best of my ability. The notion of backing off or sitting down or watching someone else do the job just doesn’t add up in my mind. How about yours?

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HOLD THAT DOOR OPEN

Have you been in this world long enough to remember the days before we had air conditioners in homes? Remember when the doors and windows were always open in the summer time? Remember the screen doors that kept the bugs out, until the children ran in and out so often that the bugs joined them and filled the house with all kinds of insects. Fly swatters were important parts of daily life. It always seemed like a common part of life for someone to shout “Hold that door open for me.” Of course, that time period was also when we learned that the courteous thing to do for anyone, especially for those of the opposite sex or for someone who was older, was to hold the door open for them before you ever walked through it. it is likely out of all those memories that the words “Open door” take on so much meaning as I read the New Testament. Think about times when the Bible mentions an open door that is before us.

In I Corinthians 16:8-9 Paul said, ” But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” In Revelation 3:7-8 Jesus writes through John to the church in Philadelphia. “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, say this: I know your deeds. Behold I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have followed My word, and have not denied My name.”

It is pretty clear that Paul thinks of the open door that God has put before him in Ephesus as something done by God so that he can do some important service for Christ in the area. If you think about Paul’s ministry, it is important to remember that God both opened doors for him and closed doors to move him into some other area. In Acts 16:6-9 Luke tells how the company with Paul tried to go into Asia, passing through Phrygian and Galatian regions, because the Holy Spirit had forbidden them to speak the word in Asia. They went on to Mysia, and were trying to go into Bithynia and the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them; so they passed on to Troas, where God spoke to Paul in a dream telling of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to “come over into Macedonia and help us.” They took that dream as a sign from God to go to Macedonia and went into Philippi to preach Christ. Then in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 Paul tells of another open door in Troas. “Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but saying goodbye to them, I went on to Macedonia.”

Does God still open doors for us for service to Him? Certainly He does, but it isn’t always easy to determine which doors are opening from God and which may be our own longings for different reasons. The challenge is to determine when it is an open door from God and when it is something I long to do and convince myself that it is from God. So, how do you make that determination?

Obviously, you can’t determine the open door is God’s doing based on everything being easy and without problems. Notice that the open door given to Paul in Ephesus was also surrounded by “Many adversaries.” The open door God gave him and his partners in Macedonia was filled with tons of challenges. When they arrived in Philippi there was not Jewish Synagogue there so they had to change their normal pattern and went out on the Sabbath by the river side looking for some who were worshiping God. They found a woman named Lydia and her companions. As Paul spoke to them the good news of Jesus, God opened Lydia’s heart and she was baptized into Christ. I suspect they were thrilled and felt this was going to be a tremendous work. But they were immediately confronted with a demon possessed young woman who followed them around shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God.” One might think that would be good for a time, but it became very frustrating and Paul commanded the demon to come out of her. The result was her owners were highly angered since she could no longer carry out the profitable business of fortune telling. They had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten and thrown into jail with their feet in stocks. I suspect they may have questioned the openness of the door after that. But God was still moving. At midnight Paul and Silas had a prayer service and were singing praise to God loud enough that the prisoners could all hear them singing, when God sent an earthquake that opened the jail doors, released them from the stocks and left the jailer scared to death to the degree he was ready to take his on life. Paul shouted to him not to hurt himself since they were all still there. The result was they taught the jailer and his family about Christ and they were baptized that night.

You can’t always tell about an open door by how you feel and how strong you are on the whole matter. The church in Philadelphia had a little strength, meaning they were pretty weak. Yet God opened a door for them them that no one could shut.

It is also true that sometimes, even when we are sure the door opened is from God we just don’t have it in us to enter the door. Paul knew the open door in Troas was from God. He knew it was wide and ready for his work. But his discouragement over the church in Corinth and inability to find Titus left him so depressed he just couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. There is something encouraging about this, He failed to use the open door but it didn’t mean that God turned his back on Paul and stopped using him. He opened other doors and would eventually get him in contact with Titus who would bring encouragement from God to him.

So, how do you know if the door is God’s doing? I don’t think we always do. It may also be the case that sometimes God opens more than one door for us and we can choose either of them and still be doing God’s work and in His will. One huge lesson to be learned in Paul’s life is that no matter how things looked and even when it seemed to be the very opposite from what God would want him to do, He kept serving, preaching, teaching, writing and trying to do something that would reach someone else for Christ. In the Roman imprisonment he wrote the church in Philippi and told them that as bad as it seemed things that turned out for him, they had actually worked out for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ. He had been able to reach some in Caesar’s household by being a prisoner there. From our point of view, God’s doors may seem unreasonable but our place is to use the opportunities before us to the best of our ability and trust God for the results.

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CHOSEN EXILES

Let’s face it, we are living through some challenging times. It seems that every way we turn something tragic is going on in the world. I sometimes wonder if it is really a good thing to be able to see and hear about every tragedy that goes on immediately. If we could somehow spread out the problems so that you didn’t face a pandemic, a hurricane, a tragic ending to a long war in a very difficult part of the world, plus the normal kinds of challenges that go on all the time, it would be nice. But we are living in a time when they are all stacked up in one week. Watching the scenes of people trying in every way imaginable to get to the airport to escape with nothing but what they have on their backs in Afghanistan has been heart breaking. The very thought of being left in an area where your past work, your faith in Christ or your family background might lead to extreme persecution and death is horrible to imagine. But I also imagine what it must be like to be among those who made it on the airplanes to escape. Imagine being stacked onto such a flight, wondering where you will actually be taken, wondering what comes next, imagining the reception you will receive and worrying about all the family and friends you either left behind or who have gotten on similar planes wondering where they will be a year from now. The very image of being an exile in life is difficult to imagine. There is something deep inside us that longs to be home, with family, with friends and with a community that we both love and are loved by on a regular basis. Thinking about that image, led me to thoughts about pictures drawn for us of the Christian life as described in the Book of I Peter. In the very first words of that Book it says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and sprinkled with his blood.” The concept of being chosen or elect at the same time being exiles is intriguing. The whole notion of being God’s chosen people is a powerful blessing. Peter will move on in chapter two and verse 9 to say we are a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people called to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Just as the Nation of Israel had been God’s very special people or chosen nation in the past, Peter tells us that today, if we are followers of Jesus, we are that special and chosen group of people. Even when we are scattered all over the place and unable to be with each other as much as we would like, we are still among God’s special people. Many of us learned this passage of Scripture from the King James translation many years ago and remember the fact it was translated as “God’s peculiar people.” It is interesting to remember that the word peculiar in 1611 was a surveying term and used to speak of that plot of land that was inside the staked out lines. If one purchased a lot to build a house on and the surveyor staked out the property lines and pulled a string around that lot, what was inside the circle was referred to as a person’s peculiar. It belonged to him in a special way. So, God is telling us that while the whole world and everyone and everything in it belongs to Him, if we are his followers, disciples of Jesus, we are his special people bought with the very blood of Jesus. What is absolutely amazing is that the very next verse in I Peter 2:11-12 challenges us as God’s special people on our mission for the Lord. “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles , to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” So, we are elect or chosen by God as his very special people. Yet, as far as our place in the world, we are exiles, strangers, foreigners sent on a mission to the place where we find ourselves.

I think about those people coming into this country or some other country as exiles. Can’t you imagine them thinking, “This just doesn’t feel like home.” Even when we move from one neighborhood to another in the same town or area, we often struggle to feel at home in the new place. What in the world would it be like to move into a place where we know nothing about the people, the heritage there or even the language that they speak. How could you ever feel at home?

But here is what I’m reminded of in this whole picture. God doesn’t call us as his people to make ourselves at home in this world. We are exiles, whose citizenship is in heaven. We are on a pilgrimage. We are headed home. While there is a sense in which we need to feel at home in this world to show others the way to the Lord, it is vital that we always feel a sense of being foreigners here. If we are exiles in a new land we long to be accepted, loved and appreciated. God’s answer is to live in a way that even the ones who are looking for something to criticize in us may see our good and godly lives and be brought to God by our lives.

Be careful not to become too much at home in this world.

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HEARING GOD’S VOICE

How many times in your life have you felt very sure that you knew what God wanted you to do in a given situation or move only to realize after you made the move or took the steps that you thought were right, that it wasn’t God’s voice you were hearing? I am sure that at times we are like Jonah when God clearly called him on a new mission. It wasn’t at all, hard to understand God’s call for him. “Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry out against it, because their wickedness has come up before Me.” Jonah understood the mission. He just hated the idea. In his mind it was such a wicked, godless place that Jonah saw no good reason to warn them of impending destruction because of their sins. He would much prefer that God simply rain down fire and brimstone on them to wipe them out. In Jonah’s mind they were so awful that even if they repented it wouldn’t be worth anything. Just destroy them. His view of their horrible lifestyle was so graphic that he wanted no part of even going there, much less preaching to them or offering them any kind of repentance. So, Jonah heard the call, understood the mission and ran in the other direction.

I do wonder if there had been those times in his life, maybe even recently, when he had humbly cried out to God to please show him what he wanted him to do. One of the most frustrating times in our lives is when we aren’t sure what God wants us to do. Think of those times in life when you have been involved in a ministry for God and you felt certain you were doing exactly what God was calling you to do. Then, as that mission came to a conclusion, you began seeking for the call of God for a new mission. I think of Paul when he was carrying out the plan to deliver a contribution from the Gentile churches to the Christians in Jerusalem to help with the poor among the people of God. He had been working toward that goal for some time, knowing that God was calling on him to do it. He wrote the church in Rome about his belief that God had a new plan for him after that work. He felt certain that God’s call to him was to preach in areas where the gospel hadn’t been preached before and thus not to build on another person’s foundation. Now, he felt that the areas where he had been working were being worked by others and saw God’s call for him to go to Spain. He told the Roman church he would come there on his way to Spain and spend some time with them and they could then help him on the mission to Spain. In Romans 15:30-33 he offered this plea about that whole work. “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and relax in your company. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

He sure seemed clear that God was calling him to this new work and how it was all going to proceed. But, was that what God was calling him to do? Is that how things worked out in his future? Did he make to Spain? Did he get to Rome to relax with them and have them help him go to Spain? Actually, God’s calling for him was totally different from what he had dreamed. In Jerusalem he would be arrested. The religious Jews would try their very best to assassinate him. He would spend the next season of his ministry in Caesarea in jail. He would have opportunities to preach, but nothing like he had dreamed of doing. From there he would be sent to Rome where he would spend the next few years under house arrest, chained between Roman soldiers every day. Any preaching mission after this would be temporary and he would ultimately be executed by the Romans for his faith in Christ as God’s Son. Was this mission a failed one? Oh no! Paul would write from that Roman imprisonment to say that the things that had happened to him had actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ. He was able to reach people, write letters and encourage both preachers and churches from that prison in ways he would never have been able to do otherwise.Longing to hear God’s call in life to show us exactly what He wanted from us at any point in time is natural. It is natural for us to dream of callings that fit our vision of what we believe is our purpose and ability as His follower. But, it is often the case that we have a hard time hearing or seeing the actual call of God, because it doesn’t fit the vision we had for ourselves. Our challenge is to fill the role God opens without allowing our dreams of what should be, to hold us back.

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THAT ISN’T HOW I PLANNED IT

Look back over your life for a moment. Has it turned out like you planned it? If you say that it has, you are in a rare situation. Most of us look back and see all the twist and turns and think, very few things in our life really worked out like we thought it would. We made great plans all the way back to childhood, but very seldom do those plans come to pass like we expected. Probably, if we are honest with ourselves we would say that many of the best things that have happened to us, came as a surprise. God blesses us with a tremendous ability to forget. So, we tend to not remember how we thought things would be or even what our visions were of our future life when we were young.

I was reading this morning from I Thessalonians 3 when I noticed something in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica that I hadn’t given any thought to before, at least, I don’t remember thinking much about it before. It is in verses 11-13. Timothy had returned from an assigned trip to visit the Thessalonian church and brought wonderful news of how well they were doing. Paul had been deeply worried about their state since he had to leave them in a hurry and they were going through lots of persecution. So, he is thrilled to get the news of how they are doing great and long to see him. But look closely at what he said, “Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

Focus on the point of Paul praying to God to direct His way to the church in Thessalonica. He wanted with everything in him to be with them and complete what was lacking in their faith and understanding. Along with the message of how well they were doing, it is obvious that Timothy also brought word of the challenges they were facing both in their moral behavior and in their lack of understanding about the second coming of Jesus. They were struggling with things like the purpose of their life of faith in Christ and how they were to treat both the leaders in the church and even one another. Some had decided that Jesus was coming again soon, so there was no need for them to continue working for a living. They quit their jobs and were depending on the church to provide for them while they sat and waited for Jesus to return. All these matters were so important that Paul felt the strong need to go back and be with them to correct the errors in these areas.

Imagine Him pouring out his heart to God to give him the opportunity to go back to be with them now and deal with all these concerns. But a question arises. How did God respond to Paul’s strong pleading? The answer is that Paul wasn’t given the opportunity to go back any time soon to be with them and help them grow in these areas. He would be given the chance to send Timothy back again and to write the two letters we know of to them to deal with those issues he knew about. But God didn’t open that door for him to return to them. His strong letters and the mission given Timothy would have to suffice to meet their needs.

I wonder how many times in life we feel so strongly that what we see as the best answer to a problem moves us to pray earnestly that God will open the door for us to go and meet that need, turns out for God to open the door and allow us to go and meet the need just as we ask. I suspect that many times God sees a deeper reason to guide us in another direction. God had very different plans for Paul and what he would do in the future. I don’t know how he dealt with the refusal of God to send him back to work with these people he loved. But it shouts to message to us that how we see the needs and what we see as the answer may not be what God sees at all. Paul allowed God to guide him and for him to work where God opened the doors. Was he always happy about God’s plans? Probably not. But, like Paul we need to have the heart to let God lead and us follow even when it doesn’t feel right to us.

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INDECISION WILL KILL YOU

Do you remember the story of Elijah the prophet confronting the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah? The story is found in I Kings 18. “Elijah approached the people and said, ‘How long are you going to struggle with the two choices? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him. But the people did not answer him so much as a word.” Sitting in the middle between two or more decisions, unable to make up one’s mind which way to go will drive a person insane. There are few things in life more frustrating that not being able to make up your mind about something. Most of the time the decisions we struggle most with aren’t ones between good and bad but between two things or three things that all have some good elements to them but usually some things that are difficult to imagine or figure out. In many cases either decision would be far better than standing the middle unable to decide which way to go.

When I’m having difficulty making a decision about something that is making me miserable, I like to do something that will probably sound strange to you. I like to watch a baseball game. But in this situation, I don’t care at all who wins the ballgame. Instead of paying attention to the players or the progress of the game, I focus altogether on the umpire behind the plate. They are the best illustration of decision making that I have ever seen. Imagine this guy standing back there watching the ball coming across the plate at 100 miles per hour and it is right at the edge of the plate. Can you even imagine the umpire rubbing his chin and saying, “Man I need to see that one again. It was so close I’m not sure I can decide how to call it. What do you think I should do?” No, in a split second the umpire will shout “ball” or “strike” and hold up the hand and fingers to make the point. What is remarkable to me is that it is very seldom the case that anyone will argue with the umpire about his decisions. I know there are times when he calls someone “safe” or “out” that a coach or even the catcher or the player sliding into home plate will argue their case. But think of how many decisions this person will make in the average ball game about which no one even raises a question. Does he ever miss a call? Certainly! But in our time of technology all over the place, it is amazing how few times there is any question about his call. Every time I go through the exercise of watching this person make hundreds of decisions in the ballgame and then go home after the game I’m encouraged to be a decision maker that never looks back once a decision is made, but to go on as if there was never a doubt that I made the right move.

In Elijah and the Israelites situation, they remained indecisive until Elijah was the one who called down fire from heaven to burn his sacrifice while the prophets of Baal cried out all day long to their pretend god and received nothing in response. Finally, they made up their minds that the Lord is God and killed these prophets of Baal to turn to the Lord fully, at least for a time.

Indecision keeps us in the place of inaction. Since we can’t decide the best or right thing to do, we do nothing. Time passes, often as we sit thinking, trying to figure out the right move until at least one of the opportunities has slipped by us and far too often both opportunities slide by and we are left with no need for a decision since the opportunities are now gone.

What are some ways we can make a decision and move on in life? First, consider the options and make certain we are actually seeing what options are available. Second, compare the options by listing the positives and negatives of each choice. If we can see that one of the decisions will end up leading us away from God or away from my family that leans on me, then make the choice away from that move. Third, spend some time praying to God to open your eyes to see what is best for you at this time. Fourth, ask for the advise of people you trust, who love you and care about your future. Listen carefully to their advise, but don’t let someone else make your decision. If you do you will usually find a way to be angry at them when the decision turns out to have some real negative things about it. When you have all the information in front of you and have evaluated the choices, MAKE A DECISION and don’t look back. Instead pour your whole being into making that the very best decision you can possibly make. I had rather make a decision that isn’t the very best than to spend my life sitting between decisions and doing nothing worthwhile.

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GENTLY CORRECT

How successful have you been at trying to correct someone of some mistake they are making in life? There are tons of times when I am around people in all kinds of situations where I see something that they are doing that is causing them far more harm than good and I have a longing to offer correction, to help them be more productive in life. But I learned a long time ago that just because you see something that you feel sure is a mistake and needs correcting doesn’t mean that the other person is going to appreciate your correction or see any need to change what they have been doing all along.

So, what should you do? Do you just ignore the mistakes and go on? Sometimes that is probably the best thing to do when the mistake isn’t a big thing and will likely not do a great amount of harm. But what about the times when you realize the mistakes being made are going to lead to major problems and harm down the line. Imagine for a moment that it is in one of your adult children or grandchildren or maybe one of your closest friends in life and you love them dearly and can’t stand the thought of them going on in the same mistake, realizing where it will lead. There is certainly always a risk in correcting another person about anything. They may resent it. They may turn to ask you who in the world put you in charge of their life. They may even turn completely against you and tell others what a lousy friend you turned out to be. But what if the mistake is one that you realize will not only affect their life but the lives of their children or their marriage and you feel deeply you need to say something?

There is a Scripture in 2 Timothy 2 that I think relates to this very situation. In verses 22-26 Paul wrote to his young son in the faith to advise him as the evangelist in working with Christians. “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, skillful in teaching, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” Paul had just explained to Timothy how to be a vessel unto honor in God’s house. So, how does this passage affect us in wishing to correct someone we love about something that we feel is extremely important that may affect their lives and their eternity as well as affecting the lives others around them?

Notice, it starts with a plea to make certain we are living the kind of life we are called to live by God before we start trying to correct anyone else. Paul told Timothy to flee from the way of life that was built on his passions and desires and pursue with all energy things like righteousness, faith, love and peace with others from a pure heart. It is always smart to start down the road of correcting someone else by doing some personal examination of our own lives first. I remember years ago witnessing a man that I liked a lot, who was extremely over-weight trying to correct a younger man for smoking. He was telling the younger man that it was an awful habit that would harm his body and became harder and harder to quit the longer you went on. He even explained to him how much it cost over the years to be a smoker. But his correction didn’t go over very well. The younger man looked at him and said, I think you ought to lose a hundred pounds or more before you start talking to anyone about a bad habit that could harm their health. Obviously the whole thing didn’t end well. Both were frustrated at each other and neither went away thinking they would change their lives. That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect to offer any help to another. But we can start by saying, “I know I am not doing everything right myself, but I wish you would consider what your actions are doing to you.”

Secondly, Paul challenged Timothy to avoid foolish arguments that simply bring on quarrels and don’t do any good. There are worlds of things in life about which we disagree with other people and think they are mistaken that aren’t worth arguing about. I think of all the silly arguments that go on all the time that change no one but simply alienate us from others around us. In that day they had tons of arguments about their pedigree. Trace your history back. Are you a real Jew? Such silly arguments seemed to dominate many people’s thoughts. Paul said, avoid all such arguments.

Third, don’t be quarrelsome, but kind to all, skillful in teaching and patient when wronged. It isn’t unusual to be hurt in life even by people we love and trust. But how we react to times of hurt will demonstrate more about us than how we react when everything is going great and people are treating us like we are something special.

Fourth, correct another person with gentleness. If a thing is important and affects the person and others in a horrible way, then be sure you approach it with a spirit of kindness and gentleness that will more likely bring change than a harsh confrontation where you try to argue the person into change. When we are confronted in a way that puts us down, we all tend to react by defending our actions and looking for things in the other person we can attack. But there are times when we all need correction. Imagine what we might have been like if our parents hadn’t loved us enough to correct those things in our lives that were wrong. One of the major things that stands out to me in this text is that if we correct a person with gentleness, “Perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” When we are striving to be right with God ourselves and we long to help others to be right with him, God gets involved to help our correction lead to the changes that are needed. This demonstrates to me that before offering correction it is smart to start on our knees in prayer to God for his guidance and help so that it might have the right result. When God helps it may lead to the person escaping from the devil’s trap to find true freedom in Christ. Remember Jesus said, “If the son shall make you free, you will be free indeed.”

So, it is good to love another enough to correct wrongs that may lead them in horrible directions. But how I do that will make all the difference in the world.

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WHERE DO I FIT IN?

Do you ever have those feelings that you just don’t fit in where you are? It can be in just about any situation. I suspect that just about every person who has been at something they really enjoyed and felt they belonged in, when that opportunity isn’t there anymore, you feel somewhat lost and out of place everywhere you go. I also think living in a time of pandemic, social turmoil and anxiety all around us, makes us have those feelings even more. Recently a friend was talking about going to church and saying that he felt totally out of place. He had stayed home and worshiped online with the church for some time during all the Covid scare and now being back with the people and not seeing many of the people he had expected to see, probably contributed to his feelings. After visiting with him, I began thinking how many times in recent months I’ve just felt like I didn’t fit in. Have you been there? A teenager was talking about school and sports recently and made much the same comment about things just didn’t seem right. With masks, screens and a no-touch mindset, he said he felt like he was in some strange horror movie where everyone was afraid of you in some way. What in the world are you to do when you don’t feel like you fit in where you are?

The answer often is to just move on and try to find that spot where you feel accepted, loved and appreciated. But it is often the case that life doesn’t offer you that option. If you are feeling like you don’t fit at your job, you could quit but what if you can’t find another job that pays anywhere near the same after you leave? If you are a young person in school or college it may well not be possible to switch places or go to a different school. A parent was recently explaining why she had decided to homeschool her children. She said that one of her children just didn’t ever feel accepted at the school she attended and came home depressed every day so she decided to homeschool all of her children. I wonder what will happen if the time comes when they don’t feel like the fit in there. There are certainly times when we need to move on, change the environment and find a place or situation that fits us better.

Consider the example of Barnabas, Paul’s partner in preaching the gospel. They had shared the preaching in Antioch and then responded favorably to God’s call for them to go out together on the first missionary journey that took them to lots of towns, villages and cities preaching the word and lots of churches were established in the process. After they came home the learned that some false teachers had been following them around, even to Antioch to try to convince every convert that if they really wanted to be right with God they needed to be circumcised and obey the Old Testament Law. They together went to Jerusalem, where the false teachers called home, and defended their work, telling of the great signs God had shown them that they were doing right and were truly on mission for Him. After Jerusalem they returned to Antioch and delivered the message that God accepted them as they were and they didn’t need to be circumcised or keep the law. But a day came that had to have put Barnabas into a challenging situation. Paul asked him if he was ready for them to go back and visit the churches they had established and see how they were doing. Barnabas was ready, even excited about the thought. He had an idea that he thought would make the trip even more rewarding. “Let’s take Mark with us. He will be helpful and be a blessing to us.” I think he was shocked at Paul’s response. Paul would have none of the carrying along John Mark with them. He had forsaken them the last time and he didn’t want to take a chance he might do it again. I suspect Barnabas, and likely Mark as well, if he knew Barnabas was making the request for him, felt completely shocked, and like neither of them fit in anymore.

The result was that Barnabas took Mark and went in one direction and preached the gospel to the people and Paul took Silas with him and headed in a different direction. As time went by they seemed to have rebuilt their relationship but there was never another time when Barnabas would partner with Paul. Life changed completely for both of them. Certainly God used it to get the gospel to twice as many people as each went to different people with the gospel.

Consider our options when we don’t feel like we fit in anymore. We would examine ourselves and our attitude and see if we need to change some things in our own life and thinking so that we can fit in, and find joy and peace again. We could look for new opportunities and places to serve in the same place and take on a different role and find peace of mind in it. We could try to find that place where we do fit in and go there to serve. We could humbly bow before God and seek His will for us. Instead of just seeking the place where we fit in, what about looking for the place we can feel certain God wants us to be. It may be a way for us to grow stronger and more useful in God’s service for us to stay where we are and deal with the feelings of not fitting in. It may well be that God will use those very feelings as a means of reaching others who are struggling with the same feelings.

Think about it. Don’t you suppose Jesus felt out of place when he left heaven to be born of the Virgin Mary and to live on this earth for 33 years? Can you imagine the difference between living with God in glory and living in the home of Mary and Joseph in Nazareth? I suspect it became even more challenging when all the brothers and sisters arrived on the scene. What a difference it would be to have been the creator of the universe and now to dwell in a house with poor parents and a house full of children running all over the place. But he made himself at home in that world. Thank God He served, worked alongside his step-father and was a great older brother to his brother’s and sisters. It certainly must have felt strange to head out into his ministry where foxes had holes, birds had nest but he didn’t have a place to lay his head.

So, not feeling like we fit in, may not be a bad thing. There are tons of places in this world where a Christian shouldn’t fit in. Often it is how we at in those times and situations that we feel strange in that determines how well we do in leading others to Christ in this world. Let’s live and be the kind of people that won’t ever feel completely like we fit in. until we reach the home with Jesus in glory. That will be the place and time when we can fully relax and be at home.

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CAN WE TALK?

Try for a moment with me to put yourself back into New Testament times and put yourself into the presence of Jesus and the apostles for a moment. Picture yourself walking around with them one day as Jesus meets with different people, healing some who were hurting, teaching people stories of God, right living and walking by faith. Let’s imagine ourselves in the crowd when Jesus came down from the mountain of transfiguration along with Peter, James and John. Crowds of people are all around. Jesus saw the commotion and asked what was going on. A man told him that he had brought his son to the disciples because he was possessed by a demon and had been for years now. The demon abused him horribly, throwing him into the fire or into a body of water to try to drown him. He had asked the disciples to cast the demon out and they had tried but were unable to do so. He said to Jesus, “If you are able, would you cast the demon out of him.” Jesus said, “If you are able, all things are possible for the one who believes.” The man responded, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Jesus then cast the demon from the boy and brings him healing, fullness and new life. Then the disciples began asking Jesus why they couldn’t cast the demon out of the man. Jesus had already expressed frustration with them saying, “Oh you of little faith. How long am I to be with you?” Jesus then explained to the twelve that such demons could only be cast out by one who prayed.

How would you have reacted to Jesus’ words of frustration with the apostles by challenging them for their little faith? How would you have felt about Jesus correcting the father when he said, “If you are able to cast out the demon?” How about how he dealt with the disciples afterward? Would you have been amazed at how forthrightly he spoke to the people? Would you have wanted to take Jesus aside and explain that he had to be more careful about the feelings of people and not speak so clearly about their flaws? Would you have been bothered by how Jesus dealt with the father who said “If you are able?”

We live in a time when speaking clearly, honestly and boldly is seen as being unkind, inconsiderate and not showing sympathy or compassion. Yet there was never a more compassionate person than Jesus. He loved people more than they would ever comprehend. There has never been anyone else that came close to showing as much care and love for people as Jesus. Yet he spoke boldly, clearly, forthrightly to people all around him. He was the essence of a BOLD TRUTH-TELLER. Think about the fact he spoke clearly to say to the religious leaders “You are hypocrites who bind heavy burdens on others while not lifting even your little finger to help another. You pay tithes of the garden herbs but have omitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the other undone.” He often challenged his disciples for their fear and lack of faith. He even corrected his mother who loved him dearly.

Is it possible today to disagree with another person, to speak truth to them and still be kind, considerate and loving to the same person? Why have we reached a time in life when we can’t talk about anything on which people disagree without hurting feelings or destroying friendships? If we refuse to even talk about matters we disagree or about things we may be wrong about, how in the world are we to ever learn better about anything. The more we refuse to even discuss anything that we disagree about the more we get stuck in our ignorance and refuse to do any better.

While I don’t enjoy being corrected any more than anyone else, I must admit that I have only learned better about anything by someone being sure enough to disagree with me and talk about the differences. Maybe it is time to take a closer look at the overly sensitive mindset that seems to rule our day. I’m certainly not advocating being unkind, inconsiderate and rude. But Jesus was able to speak truth in love. Surely we can follow Jesus in this way of life as well. I suspect it is time for us to get out of the mindset that we can’t put anyone through the mental anguish of hearing anything that is different from what they already believe. To grow demands examination of our beliefs and the willingness to reexamine and rethink what we believe. Following Jesus is never a bad way to live or think.

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A FAMILY HERITAGE

When you think of your family background and what you have received from your family, what is the primary heritage you received? It is usually the case that those in a family see things that make them unique from others, that others who know them or have even been close to the family for years, will likely never see. When you think of your children or grandchildren, what are some things you hope that they recognize as a family heritage they are privileged to share? What are some characteristics that you would love for them to own as they mature and to be able to honestly say to others that it is something they received from their parents or that it is a mark of your family.

In Jeremiah 35 God had the prophet to go to the house of the Rechabites and speak to them. He was to bring them to the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers “and give them wine to drink.” So he prepared everything and brought the family together and had them to sit down. “Then I set before the men of the house of the Rechabites pitchers full of wine, and cups; and I said to them, ‘Drink wine!’ But they said, ‘We will not drink wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall not drink wine, you or your sons, forever. You shall not build a house, and you shall not sow seed nor plant a vineyard, nor own one; but you shall live in tents all your days so that you may live many days in the land where you live as strangers.’ And we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab, the son Rechab, our father, in all that he commanded us, not to drink wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, not to build ourselves houses to live in and we do not have a vineyard, a field or seed. But we have lived only in tents and have obeyed and have done according to all that our father Jonadab commanded us.”

God was teaching Jeremiah a lesson that he was to teach to the people of Judah about family heritage. His point was that God was the father of the Jewish nation and that he passed down a family heritage to them of how they were to live and be faithful and loyal to Him as their father. But, unlike the Rechabites, they refused to follow the family heritage and turned away from God to worship idols and practice all kinds of immoral, ungodly behavior that God had forbidden them to do as His children

Surely there had been those among the Rechabites who felt that the things they had been told to do by their father and grandfather were not what was best for them. Can’t you imagine children or grandchildren saying, “Why do we have to live in a tent all our lives? Why can’t we have a house like everyone else does? Why don’t we plant fields and grow vineyards like other people instead of being so different? Don’t you remember those times as a young person when you longed to be like other young people in your age group? It may have been to wear the clothes they did, or to have some of the things they had. But it could have been more about church, worship or what your family did on Sunday’s.

God wasn’t trying to get the people of Judah to all follow the heritage of the Rechabites. He longed instead for them to have a family heritage that set them apart as His, like that family had done. The reality is that God still longs for His people to follow His family heritage. He longs for us to admire his love and grace and mercy that made it possible for us to be accepted into his family enough that we make those marks of our life and heritage every day. I suspect that if you had lived in the time of Jeremiah and you met some of the descendants of Rechab you would have recognized them immediately. You may have thought their habits were odd. But their heritage made them stand out as his family. When someone new meets us, do you suppose they recognize us immediately as God’s children? What about your family heritage? What about your family stands out as uniquely part of the family? It is certainly possible to pick some small side issue in God’s family and be odd in that way, but God’s longing is for us to pick up His heart and mission and turn it into our heart and mission. Let’s make God’s heritage our own and pass it down continually.

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