Honor code

•February 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment
code

It can seem, at times, that honor is as complicated as this.

Today, I was reminded of the importance of honor.

Honor, as close as it is to the heart of God, seems like a distant topic of discussion. He says in Malachi 1:6a , “‘A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty” (NIV).

Not only does the Lord care about his own honor, but that of the authorities he institutes. First Peter 2:17 states, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (NASB).

For the Christian, honor is weaved in the very essence of our faith. A Christianity that lacks honor has no structure and quenches the Spirit. The Apostle Paul demonstrates the importance of honor in Acts 23:1-5:

And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” (ESV)

Even amidst injustice, Paul’s words convey that there is a place for honor. In our current social and political climate, differing opinions and views have diluted our sense of honor for our authorities. Faith in Christ, though, recognizes that he is the ultimate authority, and that a breach in our conduct as his followers is not necessary to advance his agenda.

Lastly, the honor that we exemplify to the outside world should be perfected in the church. First Timothy 5:15 states, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (ESV). Paul even expands the context of honor to our fellow believers, as he writes, “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10b).

Let us seek to honor God as we honor one another.

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The best things come in pairs

•January 31, 2017 • 2 Comments

love

What love looks like 🙂

On January 7th, I  was privileged to marry the beautiful woman in the above picture. Not only was it the best day of my life, but my life as a whole is so much better for having her in it.

I’m convinced that the best things come in pairs. Think about it.

Shoes. Socks. Pants (Who’d want to have one pant leg?). Gloves. Just to name a few. Even God said that “goodness and mercy” would follow us all the days of our lives (Psalm 23:6). Also, all the animals that marched onto Noah’s Ark did so in…pairs.

While I am being somewhat facetious, there is a great blessing when two people join together. King Solomon says as much when he writes:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)

This new season of life has and will teach me many things. One of those early lessons is the beauty of teamwork. It’s a blessing to work with a partner to accomplish something, especially someone you love and admire.

To all my newfound married brothers and sisters, look across the bed and cherish your spouse as you are going to sleep tonight or waking up tomorrow. To all my single homies, cherish the people the Lord has placed into your life to help sharpen you, especially your roommate(s)–they have a way of preparing you for marriage like none other.

I’m going to sign off now, so I can go tell my wife how much I love her.

Grace and peace.

A poor-atitude

•December 5, 2016 • Leave a Comment
bad-attitude

There is a difference between a “poor-atitude” and a “bad attitude.”

 

In our previous discussion, we examined the opening words of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. He begins this kingdom discourse by describing the condition and qualities of its subjects. They are a blessed people, but are so because they demonstrate character traits that are met with the promises God.

The first of these maxims is found in Matthew 5:3 NIV:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This seems like such a lofty statement, or at the very least an unfamiliar one. When was the last time you heard anyone use “poor in spirit” in a sentence? What does it even mean?

The call to be poor in spirit requires that we practice contrition, with contrition being the acknowledgement of one’s sinful state and personal deficiencies. Readily coming to terms with our shortcomings is what fosters destitution in one’s spirit (inner man).

This is a quality that God has always sought. King David, known to be a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), confirms this with his words in Psalm 51:16-17 NIV, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

To be sure, all of us are nothing but broken people. Those that practice contrition, though, do not walk in denial. The premise of David’s writing, even, was to acknowledge his transgressions. Having committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranging her husband Uriah’s murder, it was not until confronted by the prophet Nathan that David exhibited any remorse; there was a time when his broken state did not produce a broken disposition.

The best way to achieve a posture of contrition is by entering the presence of God. Isaiah the prophet instructs us from an experience he has with the Most High:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:5-7 NIV)

For Isaiah, the awareness of God’s presence made him come to terms with his own depravity. He was sinful, while God was holy; he was filthy, while God was without blemish. God, however, is not interested in finger-pointing, but redeeming. After the prophet acknowledges his sin and shortcomings, God does not say to him, “Yes, that’s exactly right! You are a real disgrace.” Instead, God makes provision for Isaiah’s sins.

By walking in contrition, we give the Lord the opportunity to administer forgiveness and restoration. The reason the poor in spirit are “blessed,” or happy, is because they are recipients of the kingdom of heaven, where things are made new and power is given to overcome. There were people who missed the kingdom during Jesus’ time on earth, simply because they sought to justify themselves and not acknowledge their deficiencies. In one instance, in reply to Jesus, a rich young man asks, “What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20b).

We, of our own accord, lack everything. Apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus, our condition is utter poverty. Every day of our lives, our challenge is to recognize our deep need for Jesus, who became poor that we might be rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

It’s never fun to focus on our weaknesses, but it is not for our weaknesses’ sake. The purpose is that we would look to Jesus, who is our eternal source of strength. As we cultivate this spiritual practice, we will be able to testify with the apostle Paul:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor. 12:9 NIV)

 

Attitude Adjustment

•November 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment
adjustment

Our attitudes can sometimes use a little work.

As I was reading a devotional the other day, the following question was posed: “What one thing could you change to give those around you a foretaste of God’s Kingdom of peace?”

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have a propensity to skip over these questions. This time was different, though. There was a subtle restlessness that came over me; I needed to have an answer for this one.

Finally, I asked the Lord, “God, what do you want me to change?” His response was expeditious and clear: “Change your attitude.”

While I was not quite thinking along those lines, this answer did not come as a total surprise. Much like the cars we drive, there is routine maintenance that needs to be performed on us. Our inner man is of utmost importance, and the reality of God’s Kingdom should be the determining factor in our internal dialogue and outlook.

In Matthew 5, Jesus begins his famous Sermon on the Mount with what are commonly known as the Beatitudes, with the word “beatitude” meaning “a state of supreme happiness.” Yes, Jesus wants those that follow him to be happy. In fact, the word “blessed” that he uses several times can be translated as such.

Here are the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12 NIV)

After reading, you’re probably wondering how some of these can produce feelings of happiness. When has anyone ever been happy that they were mourning, or being insulted?

The Kingdom of God has a way of turning things upside down. It is a place where the first become last, where children are honored more than nobles and where the smallest seed produces the largest tree. Ultimately, those that are described in this passage will be the happiest, because God will honor them.

While the call for joy and blessing to mark our lives is clear, I would suggest the attitudes of particular note are those found after the word “blessed.” Jesus uses this word to describe the state of those who carry such traits as meek, merciful and pure in heart, and attaches the promise of God to their lives.

Jesus was a counter-cultural teacher. For example, the temple, family and cleanliness were all Jewish mainstays, but Christ said things that conflicted with the idea of each (John 2:19, 4:21; Matthew 10:34-37; Mark 7:1-5, 14-15). In the Beatitudes, then, he is presenting attitudes that are contrary to the norm.

Those that exhibit these traits make known another kingdom. While the world majors on the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life, Jesus says that a hunger and thirst for righteousness and poor spirit will be rewarded.

Practice these attitudes today, and give someone a foretaste of God’s Kingdom of peace.

Reservation for One

•October 31, 2016 • 3 Comments
dinner-table

Who would ever want to be alone in a place like this?

For a guy, making a reservation at a nice restaurant is customary when trying to pursue a beautiful maiden.

This year, I’ve been preoccupied with a pursuit of my own, dining at my fair share of restaurants as a result. A specific episode comes to mind  from the early stages of my relationship with my lovely lady, Heidi.

We had been on a few dates before I was faced with a critical decision: should I take her out on Valentine’s Day? When I reasoned that seizing the day was best, I scurried to make reservations at any restaurant, quickly realizing that most were completely booked. All’s well that ends well, though; we are engaged to be married and currently planning our wedding.

When making that reservation and others that followed, I made them for two, as you would expect. It would have been weird had I made them for one; come to think of it, have you ever heard of anyone calling a restaurant to request one seat?

While this may be incongruent with the dynamics of dating, there are places in our lives where God reserves a table for one. Psalm 76:7 offers, “It is you alone who are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry” (NIV).

The Bible has much to say about fear, doubtless because it is man’s natural tendency. God, however, makes it clear that he has an exclusive right to be feared; any other fear that grips our hearts is an encroachment on his place in our lives.

Today, I’m going to talk about my one of my own fears. Not Peter’s, not Paul’s, but my own. One of the reasons the Bible has so much to say about fear is because it has to be exposed and addressed. Having fear in secret will serve as a silent killer, and today, I’m shining some additional light on one that has gripped me for quite a while.

I grew up in the inner city of Detroit. My father has been in prison since I was three years-old (I’m now 27), leaving my mother, who battles with schizophrenia, to raise me. There were times when our home was very unstable, so much so that I would come home from school to find our belongings on the curb. Having family in close proximity was a saving grace, but definitely not a cure-all.

My family has always had each other, but money seems to have always eluded us. In a lot of ways, maybe this made us closer. What I observed, however, was that not having means contributed to a lot of our strife, or at least mine. A disposition of heart began to develop towards money based on all of my experiences, chief among them happening during my college years.

I had just completed my junior year, and was faced with a financial challenge. My student aid was unable to cover a portion of my balance, leaving me unable to register for classes in the fall or secure a housing assignment. My college friend, Mike, had just moved into an apartment across the city and graciously offered for me to stay. There was a catch, though; the apartment was a studio that would be shared with two other people!

This presented some obvious challenges, but I actually have fond memories of this season. There was one day, however, over which had been cast a dark shadow in my heart and mind.

It was the middle of the summer, and there seemed to be no resolution in sight with regards to my school balance and completing my final year. I happened to be home alone on this particular day, and there were some things that I needed, so I headed to the nearby Dollar Tree. Grabbing my few items, which maybe even included toilet paper, I took my place in the check-out line. Once it was my turn at the register, the unthinkable happened. After giving the young woman my debit card, she swiped a few times with no success. My trip to the dollar store ended with me not being able to leave with any of the items that I needed.

I was greatly embarrassed and also dejected, but the prevailing emotion I had that day was anger. My self-talk after walking out of the store went something like this: “I hate poverty and I will never be broke again a day in my life.”

What happened that day crystallized what had been loose fragments prior. Because money was so hard to come by, I told myself that I should do whatever I can to preserve what I have. I was a man on the run, and my pursuer was poverty. Simply put, I was afraid of being broke.

This fear has come to a head of late. Faced with my impending marriage and call to pastoral ministry, feelings that may have been dormant have become quite pronounced. I was talking to a friend recently and before long, I found myself in tears, confiding, “I just don’t want to be broke.” What I’ve had to address, as a result, are the implications and source of that fear.

A fear of lack hinders any heart from being generous. Proverbs 11:24-25 states, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want” (ESV). I can truly say, and others would testify, that I’ve been held back because of my conflict of heart. While I may want to give, my fear inhibits me in so doing. According to God’s word, withholding only leads to more lack.

Even with all of the contributing factors, albeit justified or not, it really comes down to one thing: my fear of lack is in competition with my fear of God. God, however, has reserved for himself an exclusive right to be feared in our lives — my life is no exception.

The writer of Hebrews beautifully weaves the concepts of fear, God and money, saying:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (13:5-6 ESV)

When it comes to money, neither you nor I have any reason to fear. The word “fear” used in Psalm 76:7 is the Hebrew word “yare.” This word is also used in Psalm 34:9, when David writes, “Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack” (ESV). The thread of unbelief I’ve allowed to influence my perspective does not have to be my lot, because he is our heavenly Father who provides for us, and his word does not return to him void.

I’m encouraged today, because the Lord has helped me by exposing this fear and addressing it himself. By God’s grace, I hope you’ll find the same encouragement.

God has something

•July 31, 2016 • 1 Comment

what-god-has-for-me-is-for-me

Are you familiar with the saying, “What God has for me is for me”?

This is something I’ve heard more than a few times during my years in the church. In the past, I may have casually conceded to the remote truth of that statement, but for the most part, I had dismissed it as religious jargon. Recently, however, I was surprised to actually find this concept in the pages of Scripture, though articulated a bit differently.

Psalm 16:5-6 reads, “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (NIV). The New Living Translation renders it this way: “LORD, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine. The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance!”

David, the archetype worshipper of God, writes from the perspective of one devoted to the house of God. If you remember, the Levites were tasked with the furnishings and ministry of the tabernacle and later the temple. Due to the nature of their service, God said of Levi, “They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the LORD is their inheritance, as he promised them” (Deuteronomy 18:2 NIV).

Though born of the tribe of Judah and crowned king over Israel, he somehow managed to identify with the Levities. What was it that allowed him to relate to them? Weren’t the Levites dependent upon the tithes of the people (Numbers 18:24)? While David had it within his power to conquer a city for him to dwell (2 Samuel 5:6-9), the Levites were given towns and their pasturelands at the discretion of their fellow countrymen (Numbers 35:1-8); David took what he wanted, but Levi had to depend on others. This doesn’t seem the same.

David’s words in Psalm 16 are not based on riches or status, rather they have much to do with relationship and story. The Lord was David’s portion because he trusted and delighted in him. Everything that came of his life was the result of God’s faithfulness, of which he was well aware. His dependency was on the Lord.

When the Lord told Levi that he would be their inheritance, this was not a downgrade from receiving an allotment in the Promised Land. While it may have seemed that they were left out — much like David was not initially included when the prophet Samuel came to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13) — their lot was as secure as any. The Lord insured that they would always have work (1 Chronicles 15:2), food (Numbers 18:24) and land (Numbers 35:1-8), using the labor of Israel to be a blessing to Levi.

Indeed, the Lord is our inheritance. This does not mean that we cannot expect anything tangible, but that anything we do receive comes from him. We know that he is able to make good on every promise and guard what he has given us — what God has for us is for us.

Contagious Emotions

•June 30, 2016 • 2 Comments
contagious

“I hope she’s not angry, I’m having a good day.”

Emotions can be a difficult thing to manage.

For those of us who lead any type of group, this is a challenge we’ve faced any number of times. Even in relationships, trying to curb the sometimes torrential emotional currents can be a tall task.

While we know this is true of others, what about ourselves?

Recently, I have been challenged to be more disciplined in regards to how I emote. While this is certainly for my sake, it is also for the sake of others. The simple reason is this: emotions are contagious.

Have you ever been in the room with someone who yawned? What typically ensues, for whatever reason, is that either you or someone else quickly follows suit. Perhaps you are familiar with the co-worker who shows up to the workplace with the sniffles, only for you to call in sick a few days later?

If those resonate with you, then I am confident you’ll be able to recall a smile that made a reciprocal gesture near impossible, or a laugh that was so hearty that you had to join. In so doing, you can attest to the infectious nature of our emotions.

The Bible, also, reinforces this truth, in the positive and negative. While commissioning the generation who would cross the Jordan to enter the land of Canaan, Moses gives the following instructions to the Israelites concerning going to battle:

When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them . . . Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” (Deuteronomy 20:2-3, 8 NIV)

God, as our designer and creator, knows the effect that our emotions can have on one another. In the case of Israel, the Lord identified that fear is transferrable, deciding it was better to go to battle with a smaller army with courage than with one that is larger, yet diluted with fear.

It makes sense, then, that God would say, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV). The reason that the bitter root causes trouble and defiles many is because the emotion of bitterness is contagious.

As I alluded before, however, what works in the negative also works in the positive. First Samuel 17:50-52 (NIV) gives the following example:

So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron.

After spending 40 days at a standstill, the courage David exhibited by confronting the Philistine champion, Goliath, ultimately, gave Israel the courage to pursue. Conversely, prior to David arriving on the scene, “Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified” (1 Samuel 17:11 NIV).

In Philippians 4, after addressing two members of the church who were having a dispute, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (v. 4-5 NIV). Our relationships can be characterized by dissension and strife, or by joy and kindness, but this is determined by the emotions we choose to exhibit when given the opportunity.

Peter Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality writes, “Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable.” As Christians, we should recognize the emotional component of our livelihood, and its impact on others.

I’m encouraged today, because all of the emotional qualities to which we are called are produced by the Holy Spirit. As we seek to yield to him, and glorify him even in our emotions, let’s meditate on the following passage in closing:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV).