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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GO SEARCHING FOR ONE WHO RIGHT

Every time I read the Book of Jeremiah I am amazed at the things God told the prophet to do and how Jeremiah, even when discouraged, depressed and afraid, continued to do what God told him to do and proclaim the messages God gave him, when he had to have known it was going to lead to very challenging times for him. Jeremiah calls himself just a boy when God called him. But God told him that he had called him for the mission while he was still in his mother’s womb. He was one with a tender heart. Yet he was a man of boldness who spoke the message God gave him to proclaim to the people even when he knew it was going to bring rejection, not just of his message but of him and the desire to kill him.

In Jeremiah 5:1-2 God commanded him to “Roam about through the streets of Jerusalem, and look and take notice. And seek in her public squares, if you can find a person, if there is one who does justice, who seeks honesty, Then I will forgive her. And although they say, “As the Lord lives, certainly they swear falsely.” Let’s face it, Israel at that time was going through some great challenges, in many ways like all the nations of the world are going through right now. Can you imagine God telling you to search for a person of justice and honesty and if you can find such a person then He will forgive this nation and all of the sins, failures and lack of integrity? Does that really mean that that honesty, integrity and justice were so rare among the people of Israel that God knew that Jeremiah wouldn’t find such a person?

,How many people do you know that you would trust what they told you on anything they talked to you about? Is there anyone in the political world that you truly trust whatever they say? What about where you work? Is there anyone at your work that you so trust their honesty and integrity that whatever they tell you would be accepted without question or doubt? What if I changed it to would you trust completely that they were telling you what they really believed to be the truth? Would that be easier to accept? I know there isn’t anyone on this earth that knows everything correctly. But who do you know that you trust that they are saying exactly what they believe to be right and true all the time? What if we changed it from politics and work to the church? Who do you know at church that you totally trust what they tell you as being what they honestly believe is right in all situations? What about at home? Do you totally trust what your husband or wife or children or parents tell you is the honest truth as far as they know it?

God had both Jeremiah and Ezekiel to go searching for such a person. One part of it that I find challenging is that neither of them spoke up to say to the Lord, “What about me? Am I not such a person?” Perhaps both men knew that if they looked closely inside their own hearts you would find too many times they had failed to speak up for what is right or to stand for the truth when they saw it being abused.

While we certainly won’t reach perfection in this life, we can grow to be more and more like Jesus, more real, more honest, more people of integrity than we have been before. The truth is, we can’t grow in our own integrity as long as we are pretending we have arrived already. God, help us to be people who are real all the way to the bone. When we become pretenders, help us to see it and to turn from such ways to be the people you call us to be. Father, the next time I go searching for integrity, help me to start by looking in the mirror and being real with myself.

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DON’T BE AFRAID

I’m amazed as I read the Bible at how often God tells his people to not be afraid. If you go back to the Old Testament and read as God spoke to the Nation of Israel, He told them that he didn’t choose them because they were large or strong as a nation. He chose them and loved them even though they were not strong or mighty. As they prepared to enter the Promised Land, he said to them, that he knew the nations they were going in to drive out of the land of Canaan were stronger, and far more numerous than them. They had bigger armies, walled cities and much greater weapons of war. Yet his challenge to Israel was to not be afraid of these nations. Even if there were giants in the land, they had nothing to fear as long as they leaned on Him. He constantly reminded them that He wasn’t depending on their power or strength to drive the enemies out. Instead he said he would send the hornets in before them who would drive out the people of the land. He promised them that he would go before them into the Promised Land and would drive out their enemies before them.

When you begin to read the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament the situation has changed a great deal. It isn’t the nation of Israel that He now promised to deliver. He tells them he will establish the church and that He will be with them every day in all aspects of their lives. What stands out against that is that his most frequent command relating to any sin they were to avoid was the command not be be afraid but to trust Him. He said, “Don’t be afraid little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Think of the day when Jesus and the apostles were in a boat in the Sea of Galilee. A huge storm arose and they were horribly afraid that the boat was going to sink and they would all perish in the storm. Jesus, during the storm was sound asleep in the bow of the boat. They seemed to have to shake him to get him awake. When they have his attention they shouted, “Lord, don’t you care that we are about to perish in this storm.” Jesus arose and rebuked the wind and the waves and the storm calmed down, the waves stopped and the water became tranquil. Then Jesus turned to them to say, “Why were you so afraid? Where is your faith?” Their response was to be amazed and say, “What kind of man is this that even the wind and the waves obey his voice?”

I suspect that if God spoke to us from heaven right now, his strongest challenge to us would be, “Don’t be afraid. Trust me. I am with you.” Let’s be honest with ourselves, FAITH AND FEAR CAN’T SHARE THE SAME SPACE. If I am living in fear all the time, something is dreadfully wrong with my faith in the Lord. Remember the basic meaning of the word “Faith” is to trust, to believe and to live my whole life depending on the love and care of my Lord. We must choose in daily life, shall we live by faith or by fear? In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul explained that when the body is decayed and destroyed, our soul or inner being doesn’t perish with it. When the body is destroyed, the soul goes on to be with the Lord in glory. While our outward man is perishing our inward man is being renewed day by day. When the body dies, we have a building with God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens. In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon by our house which is in heaven. He even said that this is what we are made for to begin with. As long as we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord but that we are well pleased to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. “For we walk by faith and not by sight.” He then challenged us to make it our ambition to be pleasing to the Lord whether in the body or out of the body since we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive our rewards for how we lived in the body.

What are you afraid of today? The truth is people struggle with fear on every level in life. Some are so afraid of catching some disease that they can’t enjoy the health they have for fear of losing it. Many live in constant fear of being killed by someone who has a gun and is under the influence of some drug or alcohol and will murder them. Others live in horrible fear of catching the Covid 19 virus. Many fear war or some terrorist attacking us in some way. Some live in fear all the time of someone revealing some secret in their lives that will lead to people not trusting them anymore. The truth is that fear can so overwhelm our lives that we can’t enjoy even the very best of times and situations because something horrible might happen and take it all away. Do such tragic events take place? Yes they do, because we live in a world stained horribly by sin. The Bible called Satan the “god of this age.” The devil loves to cause you problems and lead you into the valley of despair.

What are we to do to overcome the fears of life? Think about a verse of the Bible found in Revelation 2:10. “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, so that you will be tested and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” This was written to the church in Smyrna. Jesus identified himself as the writer who is the first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life. He tells them, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the slander by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Then he gave the plea for them not to be afraid. The reality was that many of the things they were so afraid of were actually about to happen. They were going to face persecution and many would die in the process. Yet God’s plea was, “Don’t be afraid.” Well, why not be afraid when such horrible things were coming upon them? Because the trials were temporary. They would last ten days. Many would die in the process. But that certainly wasn’t the end of the matter. What was waiting for them was a crown of life! All they had to do was to conquer their fears by being faithful and true to the Lord. Lean on Him, not your own powers or abilities. This plea for us to be faithful, true, dependable to the Lord wasn’t just until we finally die, but even if it means our death on this earth. The reason we can face it all without fear is that we never face such things alone and whatever happens we have a crown of life awaiting when we stay faithful and true to the Lord.

You choose all along whether you will walk by faith or by fear. Which do you choose? I hope it is to put your faith in the Lord and trust him no matter what happens in this world.

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DO YOU FIT IN?

Have you noticed what an amazing difference it makes for us when we feel like we fit in with a group of people and when we don’t feel like we fit? If we feel secure and sure that we fit in, we tend to be comfortable, as ease and without tension. But if we don’t feel as though we fit into a group, we are tense, uncomfortable, and anxious to get away from the group as quickly as possible. One reason why a person falls in love with another, is that they feel loved, accepted and part of the group. What was the name of the television series that was set in a bar and the opening song talks about it as a place where everyone knows our name, and people are glad we came? I’m not at all sure that a bar is such a place. But I know this, everyone wants to find that kind of place. The truth is that tons of people are looking for that kind of church, where people know their name and are always glad when they come.

Look in your Bible at the 16th chapter of Romans with this in mind. Paul was writing to a church where he had never been before. He planned to go there and spend some time with them. He wanted to build some anticipation for his coming and was hopeful that they would be a home church for him who helped him travel on to Spain to preach the gospel in a new area where the gospel message hadn’t been preached so far. He had written to them his most comprehensive letter, laying out the very nature of Christianity and how it fit into the whole scheme of God’s plan from the beginning. Of all his letters, this is the one which worked to show some connection with different members of the church more than any other. He wanted to demonstrate that even though he hadn’t been to Rome and had never met with the church there, he was connected to them, and admired lots of things about them and their work. As you look down this list of people he knew and was connected to, think about the church where you worship God. Think of the connections you have and if you could write a chapter like this about people in the church where you have been a member for years. Then consider Paul writing about these people in a church where he had never set foot. Did he do some research on the church to be able to talk about all these people? I suspect it was simply the reality of him having connections with them and when he began thinking about going there, these people naturally came to mind.

He began by introducing them to Phoebe, by whom he was sending this letter to them. She was a servant of the church in Cenchrea. The word for servant here is the same word that is translated “deacon” in Philippians 1:1 and I Timothy 3. I don’t know if it meant she was one of the deacons at Cenchrea or is just a way of saying she was a great servant of the church there. But Paul wanted to make certain that she was received well by the church in Rome. So, he pleads for them to “receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.” If the church where you worship received a letter from a very well known preacher that you loved, introducing a woman just as Paul introduced Phoebe to them and asked of the church that they receive her, and help her in any need she has, what kind of response do you think she would get? I suspect people would be lined up to help her and to invite her into their home.

But notice as he turns to the people in the church in Rome with every mention, he not only tells their names, he laid out the work they were doing in Rome and how they had blessed his life in some way. Prisca and Aquila were presented as “My fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house.” Paul had met them back in Corinth when the Jews had been driven from Rome and worked alongside them as tentmakers. Wherever they have traveled since that time, there is a church meeting in their house. This was long before there were church buildings. There were no signs out front with the church’s name on it. Instead small groups met in different people’s homes to worship and grow.

After Prisca and Aquila he listed Epaenetus the first convert to Christ in Asia, Mary a hard worker, Andronicus and Junia, his kinfolk and fellow prisoners, who were outstanding among the apostles and were Christians before him. He told of Ampliatus as one he loved. Urbanus was a fellow worker along with Stachys his beloved. And the list goes on to tell of ones who worked hard in the Lord. I would guess that many of these people, when they received this letter were amazed that Paul knew their name, much less knew about their work in the church.

This whole segment shouts a message that I believe is desperately needed today. It is vital to know people, to know their names and to recognize what they are doing in the kingdom of Christ. They weren’t earning their way into heaven. But what they were doing mattered in the kingdom of God. Everybody needs encouragement and are blessed when someone recognizes what they are doing in service to God. You can bless the cause of Christ today and every day by recognizing what someone is doing in the church and telling others about it. It wasn’t that they were doing the work to be recognized. But it blessed them and the church for what they did to be told of by God’s man, Paul. I want to be like Paul in that regard and tell of the good deeds done by people I know, in Christ, don’t you. What if, instead of telling of good things we have done, we all took the time and energy to tell some good deed done by another person and we told the world of their deeds? I think it would make this whole world a better place to live in. Why not start today by telling of a good thing you have noticed someone doing?

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FINDING YOUR CHURCH HOME

Language changes. Our ways of thinking about even the most important things in life change. As you read the Bible today, try to imagine the stories you read in the context of your life right now. Or try to imagine a conversation we might have at church today taking place some 2,000 years ago with Paul or Peter or James taking part in the conversation. It was while thinking along this line that I began to wonder how those people who lived and participated in church life in the first century would react if you transplanted some of our church conversations into their culture or how we would react if you brought their conversation into our church life today. It is pretty common to hear people in church talk about their home church in our time. It may be someone who is traveling and stops in to worship with us on a given Sunday. They are from some other part of the country or world and out of loyalty to Christ make their plans to be part of the worship gathering with us on a given Sunday. As would be normal, we would go to them and introduce ourselves and do our best to make them feel welcome as part of our gathering. In the conversation they explain they are from a distant state and city. They explain that their home church is in that far away place, where they have lived for the last several years. We understand they are talking about the church they normally worship with when they are home. It is the church that counts on them and that invest in their spiritual life and growth.

While we never read of anyone referring to a particular congregation of the Lord’s people as their home church in the New Testament, it is clear that people did identify with particular congregations in that time. Paul and Barnabas became so firmly established as part of the Antioch congregation that they would return to that church at the end of each of the missionary journeys to report what had happened during their last journey and to spend time with the church there to both have time for renewal in their life and to encourage them in their spiritual development. Think about what happened when they returned from the first missionary journey and found that teachers had come to Antioch from Jerusalem and were disturbing the church by telling these Gentile Christians that they had to be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be real, fully Christian. Paul and Barnabas were so frustrated by what they saw that they went to Jerusalem to confront the false teachers and try to stop such actions from happening anywhere else.

While the New Testament doesn’t refer to a home church, it does demonstrate it’s value and that it was a concept that mattered deeply. In Colossians 4:12 Paul tells about Epaphras, “Who is one of your own, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus.” He said he sent them greetings and noted that he was “always striving earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” Epaphras had made his way to Rome to be able to minister on behalf of the church to Paul who was a prisoner there. But it is obvious that his heart was with the people in his “Home church.” He certainly cared for Paul and wanted to help him. But his prayers and concerns were for the people back home. In this incident there is a strong point that I think we need to learn. It makes a difference in our spiritual life if we have a “home church” for which we feel a strong bond of love and concern. I know that when one becomes a Christian they become a member of the body of Christ as a whole and not just the local congregation. One might argue that since they belong to the body of Christ there isn’t that great a need to be deeply committed to the local body of believers. But it would be a futile argument.

We all need to be part of a local body where we feel deeply a part of everything that goes on. We need the bond that declares how much we are needed in that local body. We need the closeness that develops there, so that people care about us and what happens in our life. It is typically in the local church where we are able to get involved, where we pray for each other and reach out to help one another. Without that local church where we feel at home, we can drift away from God and His will and no one know the difference. But in the home church, where we feel like family and have close friends, we are missed and people reach out to us when something goes wrong.

Is there a church that you consider your home church? If not, what in the world are you waiting for to become committed to a home church? You haven’t found the perfect place yet? Well, stop looking for it, because if there was such a place you would mess it up when you got there. Just as our personal families aren’t perfect, yet a place of love and fulfillment, the local church isn’t perfect, but they serve a perfect Lord and Savior and that is enough.

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REMEMBERING

It’s Memorial Day, a time to remember all those who gave their lives in battle for our country and it safety and survival. I sincerely hope that people will remember and think about the reason for this holiday, instead of simply using it as a time to grill, go to the lake or the beach or all the kinds of things that are part of life.

It is always vital for us to remember people and things from the past. One of the saddest things that tends to happen in life as people get older, is the loss of memory. Most of the time when such happens, at least at the start, they can remember things that happened many years ago and tell you in detail about those times, but when it comes to what happened yesterday or even earlier today it is a totally different story.

It is vital for our health that we remember the right things. Imagine growing up where all your memories are haunting to you. How do you think it would affect your life? It is usually in remembering our mistakes and seeing the consequences that leads one to change their ways of doing thing.

The Bible says a great deal about remembering. I suspect the challenge Jesus gave to remember his death in celebrating the Lord’s Supper is one of the great commands about memory. If you picture Jesus on the night before he would be executed by the Roman soldiers, and He knows what is coming, he is having the last meal with the disciples when he took a piece of bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to all the people there saying, “This is my body that is broken for you, do this in memory of me.” Then he took the cup of wine that was there for the eating of the Passover meal and said, “This is my blood of the New Covenant, that is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, do this in memory of me.” So when Christians gather to take of the communion or fellowship time in taking of the Lord’s Supper we proclaim his death until he comes again. It is to lead us back to the cross which brought us forgiveness of sins.

But what about other commands to remember? Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:1-2 challenged younger people to “Remember now your creator in the days of your youth before the evil days draw near when you have no pleasure in them.” In youth especially, even though it can happen at any point in life, I can become so engrossed in all that is going on around me that I lose sight of the Creator. It is vital for young people to remember God, to remember He created us in his image and like and gave us responsibility in the care of the whole creation. If you take God out of the picture, we have little motivation to treat others with respect and honor, not even those who paid the highest price for us.Today as you celebrate Memorial Day, REMEMBER Your Creator as well.

We are challenged to remember where where we have fallen and do the things needed to get back on track in our lives, especially when we stumble or fall completely away from God. What will it change in the life of a person for them to remember the mistakes and go about changing our lives? As I look back on all the failures and mistakes of life and at the same time, see how God has delivered me from all kinds of wrongs in life, it changes me. It leads on to repent of past mistakes and failures and it should lead to one determining from here on I will not be involved in that kind of life.

Let’s face it, we live in dangerous times but not many people remember all the things God has blessed us with in our life. Think today for all the people that have changed your life in a good way. If they have gone on to their reward, you might contact some family member to tell them how you miss their loved on. If they are still alive, why not today take the time to call that person and tell them how much you appreciate what they had meant to you in life. It will likely make their day and give them a good start for a week of good things.

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GOD’S FAMILY AND OURS

One of the most amazing pictures God gave us of the church as He planned it, is that it is his family and that we are all brothers and sisters in the body. Paul told Timothy he hoped to come to him soon but in case he waited for a time he was writing him instructions on how to behave himself in the household or family of God, which is the church of the living God. One of the greatest problems we face today and to some degree in every other time, is that too often the church is seen as an organization, a club or some kind of institution. The result is that when we become part of a church family we are disappointed about something that happens or fails to happen in the church and then decide we will just take our membership and go somewhere else and join their group. What if we did that in our families? Can you imagine a new member of the family, perhaps through being married to one of the family members leaving a family gathering and saying to her husband or his wife, “I didn’t feel loved and accepted in this family today so I’ve decided to not return. I am going to do some research on families in the area and decide which one I will join.” How would you react if your son or daughter called you after such a family meeting to give you the information that they had decided to look around to see if they couldn’t find a family they felt better as a part of?

After the year of dealing Covid, let’s face it tons of people are deciding to look around and are questioning whether or not they will continue as part of the church they have been a part of for some time. I do understand. It is so easy to feel like you have been mistreated or ignored or even that no one really cares about us. I am certain that a part of the whole thing is the times we have been away from meeting together and even when we do meet, people are wearing masks and are afraid to get very close to anyone else for fear of either upsetting them or making unwanted contact. The result is that far too many feel like they are not accepted, loved or wanted in the family any more.

Think about a couple of things right now please. First, family matters. It is vital that every member of the family feel loved, accepted and very much a part of the family. Anytime one feels somehow different from the rest of the family it is easy to get extremely discouraged and down. Yet we are all equal parts of the family we are in. If the family isn’t functioning correctly, it is much my responsibility as anyone else’s to do what I can to make it right. If one of the grandchildren called me up tonight to say, “Papa, my wife or my husband, doesn’t feel loved and accepted in our family.” Do you think for a moment that I would say, “Well, that’s their problem.” Or, “Maybe they will find a family somewhere else they like better.” Not on your life. I would be doing everything in my power to reach out to that one that felt unloved or unaccepted to let them know how much I love and appreciate them. I realize that there are times when a person just will not allow themselves to fit into a family. But that isn’t the norm and it isn’t true with people who want to be a part of the family. In God’s family he tells us that there are no big “I’s” or little “you’s”. We all are equal parts of the body. Remember Jesus telling the apostles back in Matthew 23 to do what the religious teachers told them to do but not to follow their lives because they said and didn’t do. He challenged them not to call anyone “Rabbi”, “Master”, or “Teacher”. He said we are all brothers and sisters. When the church makes distinctions between people, whether based on race, age, education or anything else, it fails to be the family God wants us to be. When God is our Father, Jesus is our older brother and the Holy Spirit is given to us to lead us as His family members.

What if, instead of thinking of the church as something to accept or reject, to place membership in or be part of the family, I saw the church as fellow brothers and sisters who were trying hard to be the ones God called us to be? What if I realized that every single member of the church was struggling with problems and issues of different kinds and are carrying a heavy load all the time and that they needed me to show them love just as I need them to show such love to me? What if we stopped thinking about the church as the staff or the elders and started thinking about every member as part of my family? What if I thought of every person that visited as a perspective daughter in law or son in law? Don’t you think we would all be about making certain we showed them love and acceptance every time I saw them?

We are living in a difficult season. People are hurting and feel needy. May I challenge us all to be that Christian who is constantly looking for someone who is alone and make my way to them to talk, to listen and to show care and compassion. It will change us and it will change the lives of others around us. Let’s face it, there are no perfect families. There never has been and I don’t think there ever will be a perfect family or perfect church. If you read the New Testament letters to the different churches it is obvious they had serious problems all around and yet God loved them and pleaded with them to love and encourage each other. Let’s do it!

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ARE YOU PARTIAL?

What does it mean to show partiality? If you asked just about any parent of more than one child if they showed partiality to one of their children over the others they would tell you no they did not. But if you asked the children in most situations you learn they felt like their parents were partial to some over others. Quite often it is the case that the Father shows partiality toward one and the Mother to another. I suspect every person who has gone to school for more than three days in their life has been in a class where it was obvious that the teacher had a pet in the class that they showed great partiality toward. Sometimes it is a whole group of students who are given preferable treatment. One of the most common complaints at workplaces is that the boss or bosses show partiality toward some or some group in the business that upsets the ones who feel they are not in the elite group. Even in church, one of the huge problems that we face all the time is some people feeling strongly that they aren’t a part of the “IN CROWD”. They feel that some in the church can complain about just about anything and get the attention of the leaders and force some kind of action while others have equally strong feelings in the opposite direction but feel no one cares or pays any attention to their strong feelings. One thing is obviously true, the only people who enjoy another person showing partiality is the one who is being shown the partiality. If one isn’t in the select group they feel empty, left out and insignificant.

By the way, this isn’t a new problem. Back in I Timothy 5 Paul had been giving Timothy instruction on how to behave himself as the evangelist in the church at Ephesus. The discussion had started about the widows who were to be taken in and helped by the church if they were widows indeed or widows who didn’t have any other family to take care of them. Paul told families that if they had widows in the family they were to take care of their needs. But if one was a widow, over 60 who didn’t have family to help and they were godly ladies who had served well in the kingdom to bless the lives of others they were to be taken in and provided for. He turned from that discussion to say, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” Then in verse 19 he said, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep the instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

Obviously, Paul wanted Timothy to see the elders in the church as men with authority and who were trying to do the best for the church. He was to respect them as a whole enough to show extreme care about any accusations made against an elder. In all times there are those who are sitting ready at any time to accuse those who are striving to lead the church in the right way of having wrong attitudes and wrong motives in life. But it is vital for one working in the situation Timothy did, to not play favorites. You must treat everyone, even the elders, in the same way, respectfully and with consideration. Don’t allow people to come to you and gossip about an elder or pastor in the church. But there are times when even these leaders in the church are wrong and need to be corrected. So, Paul’s challenge is not to accept an accusation unless there were two or more witnesses that come to you saying that this person who serves as a leader is moving in the wrong direction and you know it to be true, you are to take the personal responsibility to go to the person to rebuke the sin.

Two things stand out in this segment of Paul’s teaching. One if that instead of rebuking the leader in the church as one would another member just between the two of you alone, you are to rebuke them before all, that others will get the warning as well. I don’t know if this means before everyone in the church or before all the elders. I tend to think it is before all the elders instead of just with you and the individual. Is this risky for the evangelist? Certainly it is and very difficult to do. Yet it is the way God planned for it to happen in the church to keep everyone on the right path. But, notice, it is imperative that such actions be taken without partiality or favoritism. If we are showing favorites among the elders or shepherds in the body, we are harming them and the church as a whole.

Notice how Paul draws this point to a head. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgement ahead of them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.” Partiality is a bad thing everywhere. But don’t rush to rebuke others. Take your time and see what comes out. Not everything comes out quickly and be careful not to look for things against someone you don’t like anyway.

I do wonder as I read through this if Timothy’s stomach problems weren’t tied to the whole thought of rebuking an elder who was involved in some sin. It would certainly bring turmoil and cause your stomach to get upset.

It is worth a lot in life to constantly check ourselves to make certain we aren’t showing partiality in life. Thank God he doesn’t respect any particular groups of people over others. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did the same?

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