WHAT CATEGORY‚Äč DO YOU FIT IN?

I suppose it has always been the case that people looked at one another and immediately sized them up in some way to place them in a particular category. Let’s face it the amount of categories you can put another person in today is so multiplied I can’t keep up with them. Think of someone you met today and just had a few words with, perhaps in a coffee shop, a restaurant or on the street. How many ways did you size them up? If you carried on a conversation with them that lasted more than 30 seconds you were given several other slots you could put them in. Just from sight we can size them up by race, age, well-dressed or shabby, confident or a beggar, fashionable or either don’t care or just poorly dressed. But if you talk with them for a while you begin to put them into other slots as well. You can decide if they are from this country, from the south or north or if they are friendly or not.

But, if we are honest we have to admit the slots we have for people can be based on a multitude of other things. Are the liberal or conservative? Are they pro-life or pro-choice? Are they religious or not and if religious are they the kind I am or some other brand? Are they athletic or not at all interested in who wins or loses?

I know I fall into the same pit fall of sizing people up and putting them into some category, but isn’t it downright aggravating when someone returns the favor and sticks you into some category that you don’t even like much less think you belong in? Have you been misjudged lately? I think of the days when I was selling real estate and people would meet to look at homes or to discuss what they wanted and I would look at the car they drove and how they were dressed often to make a quick judgment of what they might want. One day an elderly couple came into my office wanting to look at a house. They didn’t give the appearance of having much money at all and when I saw their car it was old and pretty worn out. But they were asking about a house that was very expensive and wanted to go see it. I immediately thought this was a waste of time, but agreed to set it up to show them the house. After all I wanted to look at it myself. As we waited for the time for us to be able to see it, I started talking about things like if they had a house they needed to sell to be able to buy it and they said, no. I asked if they had visited any mortgage companies to see what kind of loan they qualified for and they said no. So, I showed them the house thinking the whole time this is a waste of time. At the conclusion of the showing I asked how they liked the house and she answered, I really like it and see a few changes we will need to make but we want it. I waited for the man to speak up as well, but he was quiet until we got back to the office and I said let’s go in and start the paper work. He said, O.K. and I pulled out the offer and acceptance and asked if they had in mind what they wanted to offer. He said they would give the asking price. I asked if they needed to make preparation for loan and he said, no they would pay cash and that they would be negotiable on when they people needed to move out. They signed the contract and he handed me a quite large check for the earnest money just to make it clear to the sellers this was real. After they left, I begin to do some checking and found out that they were extremely wealthy and could easily have afforded a dozen such homes if they wanted them. I had totally missed it when I tried putting them into a compartment that I thought they would fit into.

What if we just stopped all the sizing up of people in every way and really took time to get to know people without judging them, what would happen in the world? There is no question that Jesus was the absolute best at taking people where they were and offering them hope and new life no matter what their race, color, background or sin they had been involved in. He touched the unclean, ask for a drink from a immoral Samaritan woman, forgave one caught in adultery and even took a man named Saul who hated Christianity, and wanted to destroy it and turned his whole life around to become his apostle to the Gentiles.

Instead of focusing on what people are or what wrong they have done, what a different world we would live in if we could look at them and see what they are capable of becoming with our help and God’s help. Let’s try something for a few days, at least. Let’s try to eliminate or at least cut way back on the number of categories we have to put people into and then refuse to put anyone into any category until we have actually taken the time to learn about them and know what kind of problems and concerns they are dealing with. I believe it will take a lot of pressure off us but will be uplifting to the whole world.

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THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE

We have worlds of things in life to be thankful for, especially if we are followers of Jesus Christ. He truly blesses us in more ways all the time than we can even imagine. Often in the worst of situations from our point of view, God is still blessing us in ways that we can’t see now but will later. I often thank God that I’m not the one who has the job of judging everyone on whether or not their life is what it ought to be and even more I’m thankful that it isn’t other people who will be my judge in the last day.

In 2 Timothy 4:6-8 Paul is writing the last letter he would write before his execution at the hands of Nero. It is a plea for Timothy come to him as quickly as possible. “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” What if Paul had to face the judgment of so many of the people who were alive during that time? It is certainly the case that most of the Jewish religious leaders were ready to see him put to death and felt like hell would be too good for him. They were willing to lie or whatever to try to get him killed. Many of those Jews who became Christians but who believed that Gentiles who became Christians must also be circumcised and keep the law if they are to be real Christians wouldn’t have felt that Paul had a place in heaven. Even among the followers of Christ, Paul talked in Philippians one about how some were preaching Christ out of jealousy for him hoping to add to his problems. It must have blown their minds when he said he was glad, whatever their reasons that Christ was preached and that some were believing the gospel. Few people in all time, if any have done as much to spread the gospel to the world and suffered more for their faith in Jesus than Paul, yet many would have condemned him if they had been the judge.

No wonder Paul was thrilled that he would appear before the Lord, the righteous judge along with all who were anticipating with joy his appearing. I think that was also the reason that in Romans 14 as Paul talked about areas where faithful brethren in Christ disagreed on matters that they not judge one another but realize that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Brethren believed very different things about eating certain foods that had been unclean under the law. They believed differently about observing particular days as holy. They disagreed on whether or not a Christian should drink wine. But in all these matters he laid down three strong teachings that need to be remembered. First, don’t judge your brother or sister in the Lord. They are God’s servants not yours so leave the judging to him. Second, be careful in your actions and in what you believe is right not to put a stumbling block before those who disagree so that some who are weak might be lost to Christ. Third, live by your conscience. If you think a think is wrong, even though others don’t and even though the Bible says nothing about it being wrong, don’t violate your conscience. Instead with our conscience we need to be constantly retraining it by what God says in his word. Paul himself demonstrated how utterly wrong our conscience could be when he said in Acts 23:1 that he had lived in all good conscience until that very day. He had blasphemed Christ, persecuted Christians, sanctioned the death of Stephen and was worst of sinners, yet he did it all with a clean conscience. Sometimes we feel guilty about things that aren’t wrong at all. It is just something that doesn’t feel right to us because of what we have always thought.

Praise God that Jesus is the righteous judge. He has walked in our shoes, suffered the pains we’ve been through, known the temptations we have had, been rejected in ways far worse than we have ever imagined and yet he was made like us in every way so that he might be the merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God. At the same time, the thought that Jesus is the judge should cause me to step back and realize that if I think I am keeping something hidden from the Lord that I don’t want anyone to know about my heart and life, I am fooling myself. Nothing is hidden from the eyes of him with whom we have to do. No one will be welcomed into heaven because they tricked the judge or got off on a technicality. He is the righteous judge who knows our hearts, our minds and our actions. His memory never fails. The only way anything can be hidden from the Lord’s view is through it being forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Knowing Jesus is the righteous judge is encouraging, eye-opening and real. It is easy to fool ourselves, our friends and even the church, but no one has ever fooled Jesus the righteous judge. But when I turn to him for forgiveness he is faithful and just to forgive all of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Judgement Day is real. It is coming. It is a blessing to look forward to if I am being faithful to Jesus and living the life he calls me to live. It is scary if I’m living a sinful life trying to ignore the Lord. It will be a total surprise for many who have denied His existence and thought this life is all there is. But what a glorious day for those who have lived for him to be welcomed home with him in glory forevermore.

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FINDING THE RIGHT CHURCH

We are live in a very interesting time with regard to church. So many of the different churches are losing members all the time. It is pretty common to hear someone say, “We don’t have any young people in the church where I am a member.” Others talk about the fears they have for the future of the church. It also seems there is a new church of some sort being started every few weeks. Besides that churches that have been strong, united and growing, suddenly face lots of members that are unhappy because there is something they want that isn’t happening. Often the result is the church tries to react to the longing for something different by trying to change to make those who are unhappy become happy, the result is that many of the ones who liked things the way they are become unhappy and end up leaving to either find a place that looks like what they want or they set out to start one like they like. The result is that the churches all over are struggling and wondering what to do. Everyone seems to have some special things they are looking for from church and look for a church that fits that standard.

One question I would like to encourage every person to think about if they are on a church search or maybe even if they aren’t. Does it matter what the Lord wants in the church? Sometimes it seems that we are so carried away with what we want or like that it makes no difference with the Lord and that every kind of church that does everything people like is fine with him. I suspect it would be worth a ton if every person who is doing a search for a church that fits them if they took the time to read Revelation chapters 2 and 3. These two chapters of the Bible pictures Jesus writing letters to seven different congregations that were part of what we know as Asia Minor today. Some of these are old churches that had been strong in days past and others were younger and newer. It is amazing that most of these churches have both some good in them and some that don’t please God at all. Many of these churches thought of themselves as great churches doing wonderful work and very pleasing to God. Some of these same churches were told that if they didn’t repent they would lose their place as a church of God. One that believed it was rich, increased with goods and in need of nothing were told by God that they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. They had Jesus outside knocking to get them to open the door for him to come in. So, one powerful lesson we all need to get is that the church that fits me, may not fit the Lord and He is the one we want to please.

It is vital that we remember that the church is the body of Christ. He was the one who built the church. He is the one who adds people to the church that belong to him. He purchased the church with his blood on the cross. While the church is the body of Christ, there is only one body. I fully realize the different congregations in different places were different from each other in some ways. But there have always been fundamentals that God placed in the church that has to be there for it to be acceptable to Him. Far too often we act as though all that matters is what we like. But it should be clear that we didn’t build the church, didn’t die to bring it into being, and it isn’t our body. Think of Ephesians 5:25-27 for a moment. “Husbands, love your wives, just like Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water by the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” He even challenged us to “glorify God in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”

So, what if we started asking what the Lord wants for us in regard to church instead of what we like or want? If we listen to Jesus it won’t take long for us to realize that Jesus prayed that those who became his followers would all be one as he and the Father are one, that the disciples might be one in God and Christ so that the world might believe that the Father had sent him (John 17:20-21). When we look at the division that has become so common that churches divide over every kind of difference imaginable, it is certainly no wonder why there is so much unbelief in the world. Every year more people declare they are not religious and have no faith in God. What becomes even more troubling is that most of these new churches and divisions spend most of their time and effort trying to steal members from other churches instead of trying to win the lost to Christ. The church is supposed to be a mission to the world to bring the lost to Christ. When we lose sight of the mission we stop being the church that belongs to Christ.

It is time to put Christ back on the throne when it comes to church and who we are as his people. If what I want is not what God calls me to be, I am the one that needs to change, not ask the God of glory to change.

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BENEATH THE SKIN

Do you remember on the old cowboy shows when the hero got shot it was almost always only a flesh wound? Normally, they could wrap up the hurt spot for a episode and by the next episode it was totally well. Most of the time in life we only see other people skin deep. I think everyone wishes that others would look at them deeper, at the heart level to know what they are really like or what they are really feeling. But it is a much greater challenge to look deeply into the heart and soul of another person than one might imagine.

Think of Jesus and what he was able to see in the lives of people, often that they couldn’t even see in themselves. I think of the day when Jesus was using Simon Peter’s fishing boat as a pulpit to teach the people. When Jesus finished teaching he told Simon to take the boat out into the deeper water and cast the nets where he told him and he would have a great catch. Peter had a hard time believing that Jesus knew more about fishing or catching that he did since that was his profession and they had already fished all night without catching anything. As far as we know Jesus may never have even been out in a fishing boat before that day. We never read of him going on a fishing trip. But Peter is ready to obey Jesus. Even though he couldn’t imagine it being worth the effort, he said, “Nevertheless at your command, I will let down the nets.” When he dropped the nets they were so filled with fish he couldn’t get it in without breaking his nets. His fishing partners, James and John had to bring their boats to get the haul in. While they had their boats filled with fish, Peter fell before the Lord and asked him to depart from him for he was a sinful man. Jesus saw far deeper in Peter than Peter could see in himself. He told him from this time on he wouldn’t be fishing for fish, but for men. He even changed his name to Peter or Rock or Rocky to illustrate the kind of man Jesus saw in Simon. Jesus saw what he could become, rather than just what he was at that moment.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had the ability to look into the lives of others and see what they are capable of becoming instead of just what they are right now? Most of us that have lived for some time on this earth can remember some turning points in our lives when someone expressed faith in what we could do or become that went far deeper and reached out much further than we had ever imagined. But that person, speaking faith and truth into our lives, so often changed our whole thinking process and led us to believe that we really could do things that we had never imagined before. Just imagine the difference we could make in the lives of our children and grandchildren if we looked beneath the skin and saw in them abilities that God had put there but that needed cultivation and needed us to challenge them to see what they are capable of becoming.

Tell a child that they are worthless and that they will never amount to anything worthwhile in life and most of them will believe us and live out the vision we have placed in their heads. I never will forget talking to a man whose son was difficult and into something most of the time. He loved to kid others and was full of mischief. But I heard his dad say to him one day in frustration, “Son, I swear you will be in prison before you are 21. You just don’t think before you act.” I hurt for the boy and remember trying to pull him aside to tell him his dad was mistaken and just angry and that he had tremendous ability to become whatever he wanted to be. Sadly, his dad’s perditions came true. He spent most of his life in and out of jail or prison for one thing or another. Yet, below the skin he really was a boy that wanted to do right and be someone that mattered for good. Somehow, he could never see in himself anything below the skin.

Think of all the people Jesus met in whom he saw more than they could ever have imagined. He saw in Matthew, the tax collector an apostle and one who would write an account of his life on earth. He saw in the Samaritan woman a missionary that could bring her village to know him. He saw in Mary Magdalene the one out of whom he cast seven demons a godly lady who would be a faithful disciple for the rest of her life and a witness for him to all. He saw in Nathaniel a man whose heart was pure.

Truthfully the list goes on and on. But there are two questions that I want all who read this to ask of themselves. First, what does Jesus see below the skin in you? He knows what you are capable of with his help. The problem so often is that we just can’t see deep enough into our own hearts to believe we can make a huge difference for good in our world. The second question is, will you work on looking at others below the skin level? Something special is there in every life. But they need someone to see it to help them to see it. Be that person that helps every child imagine something wonderful they can do in the kingdom of the Lord.

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WHEN LOVE LAST

Two days from now, my wife, Linda and I will have been married for fifty-five years. Being back home in Vernon, Alabama this past week for a few days it was interesting how many people we saw that had gone to high school with us and had gotten married around the same time we did and were still living happily together after all these years. Now, it wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that some of the people we had gone to school with and married someone that we know from school, had long since called it quits and moved on to either live single or to marry someone else. But when I think about the number of marriages just in our class who have stuck together through the years, it makes me wonder what the differences are? Why do some marriages hold tightly together so that getting a divorce and finding another person never enters their minds. It certainly isn’t because they don’t face problems, challenges, and disagreements. I don’t think it is possible for any two people to live together day in and day out for over fifty years and not have some strong disagreements. I don’t think it’s possible not to have some times when you are angry at the other and just believe the other one is being unreasonable. So why do we stay together and work out the problems instead of cutting the cord and going another way?

It certainly makes a huge difference when you are both committed to God and doing HIs will. Just to know that God loves me when I’m not lovable and that he is willing to forgive and give me a new start when I turn from the sin back to him makes a difference. The truth is, as long as we are walking in the light of God the blood of Jesus just continues on cleansing us so that the sin is never marked up against us at all (I John 1:5-10). I know that God made marriage to be permanent. His decree is “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” To think that God looked at our marriages and said they were a picture of the marriage between Christ and the church is absolutely amazing. Do you ever wonder, how Christ can keep loving the church in spite of all our failures? It should be easy for us as the church to love him back since he never leaves or forsakes us and is there as our helper and friend at all times. But the very picture of God loving and caring for us in the tough times should give us hope for a life of lasting love. One thing that stands out when Paul said for husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify and cleanse her by the washing of water by the word that he might present it to himself as a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but that she should be holy and acceptable in love. His loving relationship with us makes us better. He is about making us more holy, pure and ready for an eternal relationship with him all the time.

When we think about our marriages to each other and we look back on where we have been, what we have come through, the joys and blessings we have shared and the hard things we have helped each other make it through, then it is easy to see how the love grows a little deeper every year. When we look down the line and see the days ahead when we will need each other to help and walk beside us each step the love becomes more intense than ever.

I hear people say, they no longer love their wife or husband because they have changed and aren’t like the person they married. The reality is we all change and none of us are the same we were at the time of marriage. Love means a commitment that we will love each other through the changes of life and see how each change makes us better and moves us closer to God’s will for us, it will make a difference in life.

I suspect I’ve heard a thousand times from couples who did give up and divorce and go their separate ways, as years pass and they look back and see what all they missed in life with family, friends, grandchildren and life as a whole, “If I had known what it would really do to break up the marriage to the rest of my life, I would have done a lot more to keep things together.”

When divorce has happened, God is still ready to forgive and give a fresh start so we can make the best of the situation we can. But if you are struggling in your marriage, let me remind you that your marriage is worth fighting for and God will help you forgive, be there for each other and rebuild the relationship even when we have fallen miserably. Love that last is an amazing thing and you truly feel more as “One flesh” all along. I thank God for the 55 years Linda and I have shared so far. I’m expecting many more to follow.

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WHAT IS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?

The first I ever heard of a bucket list was when we went to see the movie by that title and featured two guys laying in the hospital and one kept talking about his bucket list of things he wanted to do before he died. It was an excellent movie that had some fun things that two old, sick men were able to do together to fulfill the bucket list.

Since that time I seem to always be hearing someone say that something is on their bucket list. Well, what are some things that are important enough in your mind that you want to make certain to do them before you die? I’ve met people that were so into adventure that they had fulfilled their list and were now making a new one so they could keep up with all they wanted to do.

One of the biggest things I’ve had on my bucket list has been to see all my children grow up, have good marriages, and all the grandchildren be devoted to God to bring up their own children in the Lord. It just seems to me if you can look out on your family and know that they are all trying to do God’s will in their lives and to bring up their families to do the same, that there couldn’t be much that was better than that.

Sure there are things I’ve had on the list that I would like to see in this world before I leave this life, some of which has been accomplished and some haven’t, but maybe some more of it will be fulfilled before life is over on this earth. It has aways been exciting to cross things off that I wanted to do or see such as seeing the Grand Canyon or spending some time in Sedona, Arizona. Probably the most exciting place to visit for me outside this country was Athens, Greece and the areas around it where the apostle Paul had preached the gospel and established churches.

As time has gone by, there are things that I’ve crossed off the list that just don’t excite me anymore and things that have been added to it that are meaningful to me now. Strangely, as time moves on the bucket list changes in its focus. Suddenly, it’s not nearly as much about things that relate to me and much more about things that relate to someone else and how I might be helpful to them. I’ve also, noticed that a whole lot of the list relates to things I just want to understand, much of it to do with Scripture or the creation of God that I don’t comprehend yet. My list has a lot to do with family, with things that my wife wants to do and with the church and some things I want to see accomplished in God’s church before I leave this world. I know that all of that is in God’s hands but I pray to see them happen anyway.

Ultimately, my bucket list today has tons more to do with the next life than with this one. I am anxious to see Jesus face to face and to see what kinds of bodies we will have in glory. I’m excited to think of what it will really be like to be in the presence of God and to have the God of heaven wipe away all tears from my eyes, to be in a place where there is no more pain, suffering, death, or separation.

The truth is if our bucket lists don’t have as a priority being right with God and ready to face him in judgment to hear his say, “Well done, you are a good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many. Enter into the joys of your lord” then all the other things I may see or do that are on the list are of no value at all. Only what will last beyond the grave is ultimately worth anything at all.

I think it would be a great idea for everyone to not just make a bucket list of things you want to accomplish before you die, but to make certain what is on the list looks at the things that last beyond this life into eternity. Otherwise it has all be a waste of time and effort.

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WHY GO TO CHURCH, ANYWAY

Antagonism toward church of all kinds seems to grow all the time. It is common to hear those who have grown up going to church and participating in the worship and activities of the church as they grow up, decide that it is no longer for them and to wonder out loud why their parents or friends continue to go. Some question the teaching, others the sincerity of the people, some the work that is being done or the failure to do the work they think they should be doing. Many seem to just wonder what the whole reason is behind getting your family ready on Sunday to get to church services? Is it to be with friends, to study in classes, to make new bonds, to worship God or hear the preaching of his word. The truth is there are lots of people that believe each of these and in their minds that is the one reason they are there. If their friends move away, they are no longer there. It was the friends who were the glue that kept them involved in the work.

Why can’t we just get together as a family and have our own worship time and ignore this whole thing of an assembly or congregation of people? While there are times and places where that is often the best people can do since there aren’t other Christians around them, meeting together and worshiping God together. But under normal circumstances, it is God’s plan that the church meets together as a body of believers to worship Him. At the very beginning of the church in Acts 2, right after telling the story of Peter preaching the gospel to the people and 3,000 of them making a commitment to Christ that led them to be baptized to have their sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, Luke adds this powerful verse “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles teaching, in fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayer.” The result of that action was the Lord was adding to their numbers every day.

Notice God’s explanation of the why of coming together in this first statement about their gathering. It was to grow in their understanding of the teaching that was coming from these apostles as ones sent from God. It was that they might break bread or commune together in partaking of the Lord’s Supper in memory of Jesus on the cross. It was in order to fellowship with each other that involved treating each other as family, sharing with each other and giving of what they were able to the Lord. Then they were to spend time in prayer together as the church for the benefit of all and to turn their attention toward God. These kinds of gatherings led to joy in getting to know each other and helping each other deal with needs in life, but it meant their growing toward God all the time.

In I Corinthians 11 when Paul discussed the church coming together in one place it was to break bread in communion and he reminded them it was what he had learned from Jesus about taking bread to remind them of Jesus, dying on the cross for us and drinking the fruit of the vine to remind of the blood he poured out on our behalf. They were to think of one another and do things that would help each other share that communion with the Lord.

In I Corinthians 14 when Paul spoke of the church gathering in one place for worship he taught them many things about doing the things that would build up one another in the body of Christ. He warned that some came just to show off what they could do and that wasn’t the purpose. Everything was to be done to the building up of the body of believers.

Probably the best known verses in the Bible about churches meeting together for worship to God is found in Hebrews 10:24-25. After a long series of “Let us” passages in which the writer pleads with them as Christians to get involved and help each other grow in their faith and commitment to God he comes to these words” And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” One reason we gather as a church is to spur one another one to love and good works. You may say, I can spur myself and family along at home, yes but what about all the others that need your encouragement that are being left without that encouragement. Sometimes we can focus so much on ourselves that we forget God put us here on a mission and life isn’t just about us.

Finally, we must always remember the church gathers as the family of God to worship God, praise the Lord for all he has done for us and ask for His guidance and blessings in our life. Jesus said, the true worshiper worships the Father in Spirit and in truth and that the Father is always seeking for such to worship him.

You may think of a thousand reasons to stay at home and not gather with God’s people in church on Sunday, but there is no reason that outweighs the reasons God gives us to be there and be both blessed and a blessing to others as we worship God together.

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