Reinstitute Slavery

Go back up and read that title again.  Yes, you read it right!  I want to reinstitute slavery.  And no, this has nothing to do with race.  It has nothing to do with control or any other negative connotations that the word slavery carries.  No one should be exempt.  White, black, male, female, American, German, or Chinese.  All are called to be slaves, to give up self and to give their time, their life, and their very soul to a Lord and Master.

Whether we like it or not, we are all slaves to something.  We’d like to think we’re in complete control of our life and that no one can tell us how to live or what to do, but the reality is quite different.  We are slaves to our jobs so we can make money to buy the necessities to live.  Some of us are slaves to money itself and allow the lack of it or the gaining of it to control our daily thoughts.  Others are so controlled by their possessions that they spend countless hours and thousands of dollars annually protecting and insuring everything they’ve paid for.

We are slaves in some ways to the government when we must follow the laws of the land or are required to pay taxes.  Some would like to boldly confront that authority, but they still must deal with its restrictions lest they find themselves facing punishment of some kind.

We are slaves to our sins as well, following lawlessness with our impure thoughts and actions.  We present our lives to the world, to follow its ways along with our own desires and become slaves to our sin.  Eventually, that sin leads us to pay the most dangerous price of all….death.

All of this is to say that there is no escape from slavery.  There are too many outside influences in our daily lives to keep us completely free to do as we please.  But there is another way.  If we are to be slaves, we can become slaves to God and to the righteousness to which he calls us.  In giving our lives over to him, we are actually set free from the slavery of this world.  We are set free from sin and its penalty of death.  The gift of God through Jesus Christ pays that debt and gives us sanctification and eternal life.

But God has to have your life.  He has to be your Lord and Master. He offers us this gift but he requires our heart and submission in return.  We cannot fight against this form of slavery.  In its purest form, slavery to God is a freeing, intimate relationship that results in life, and it should be something we look forward to, not shy away from.

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Romans 6:16-18, 20-23)

-Joe

Monday Motivation: You Can Only Wear One Pair of Shoes at a Time

You should see my closet.  Actually, you should see both of my closets.  I have one of my own and share half of my daughter’s just to have enough room to hold all my clothes.  Now, I will be honest and say that when I worked in the golf business, I got a lot of free clothes.  But I still have far more than I really need.  What’s really embarrassing though is how many pairs of shoes I own.  Everyone gives the ladies a hard time for having closets full of shoes, but I’m sure my collection surpasses most.

It may seem obvious, but I’ve come to realize that you can only wear one pair of shoes at a time.  The others just sit there taking up space in the closet, and in some cases, collecting dust because they haven’t been worn in so long.  It’s overconsumption at its finest.

I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one with this problem.  It may not be shoes, but I’m sure many of you have far more of something than you really need.  A far bigger and more expensive house than is necessary.  A huge garage full of over-priced cars that you don’t really need.  A long list of expensive hobbies that you participate in and then stop after only a few months.

Our culture says, “more, more, more.”  When are we going to say, “enough is enough!”  The Bible teaches about the Christian’s attitude towards contentment, and it’s a teaching we would be wise to adhere to.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

(1 Timothy 6:6-10)

-Joe

A New Kind of Discrimination

It is virtually impossible to turn on the television, read the newspaper, or peruse the internet these days without seeing or hearing something about some kind of racism or discrimination.  Sometimes it’s born out of fear, like the rampant discrimination towards anyone of middles eastern descent following 9/11 has shown.  Sometimes, discrimination stems from ignorance, as is the case in the majority of our racial problems today.  Whatever the cause, humans sadly find ways to feel hate or disgust towards others who are not like them.

I believe there’s a new kind of discrimination prevalent in our society and it’s no less impactful than other kinds, even though it receives far less attention.  It doesn’t take much time to look around and notice that the bulk of society, upper education, and the media as a whole have become much more liberal leaning than ever before.  They would argue it’s a result of more wisdom or an ability to think constructively for themselves or a lack of any need for religious thoughts and ideas.  I would counter that our society has just evolved to openly discriminate against an entirely new group of people, and that is the conservative Christian.

Exemplifying Christian values today is causing people to say we’re uneducated bigots.  And apparently this kind of discrimination has gone unchecked for long enough to be standard thought amongst many unbelievers.  The media has done nothing to stem the tide of this kind of hatred either.  In fact, they have openly encouraged it.  Only progressive, liberal ideas are being taught in our nation’s universities, and very few have spoken out against it while we continue to send our children to these so-called places of higher learning.  There’s no doubt that worldly wisdom and fallible human philosophies are trying to quiet the Christian viewpoint.

All this should come as no surprise.  In fact, Jesus himself promised it would happen.  He told us, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:18-21).  Also, Colossians 2:8 reminds us,  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” 

  We must be in prayer, asking God to continue to bless us with peaceful opportunities to follow him, all the while realizing that there may come a day when we will have to boldly take a stand for Christ even in the face of harsh criticism.  Finally, we must keep our eyes focused on the prize (Philippians 3:13-14) and remain faithful until death so we can one day receive our promised crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

-Joe

 

Self-Created Righteousness

I’ve been doing a study lately about attitudes, specifically the kind of attitudes Christians should have concerning such important things like sin, worship, or money.  This is all in preparation for a Bible class series I’m teaching soon, and one of the topics I decided to add was studying the type of attitude we should have towards ourselves.

There’s no question that God has a clear standard and that we as sinners have broken it.  Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 adds, “the wages of sin is death.”  This is not necessarily some form of self-deprecation where we demean ourselves to the point of feeling worthless, but that we recognize that our God is perfect and he has defined what true righteousness is and that we fall miserably short of that standard.  He has asked that those who carry his name remain holy (1 Peter 1:16), requires us to have a proper and humble view of who we are and where we’ve come from, and to remember that it is God who justifies (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

I think the dangerous part begins when we attempt to change God’s standard, either by making it easier for ourselves or by making it harder for others.  Sometimes we decide to create our own form of righteousness based on what we believe is fair or by comparing ourselves to others who we believe are somehow worse than we are.  God, on the other hand, doesn’t see it that way.  He doesn’t create a hierarchy of sin like we do so we come off looking better than those in the world.  He doesn’t keep track of church attendance or works completed and say, “That guy is really dedicated, I’ll make sure to give him an extra portion of grace!”  Instead, God examines our heart, our attitude towards self and decides whether we truly love him or not.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had this problem, and sadly, it’s still a bit of a problem today.  As the religious elite, the Pharisees made sure to change God’s standard to suit their needs.  They would pray openly, fast painfully, and brag loudly about their knowledge of God’s word, all the while holding everyone else to a standard or level righteousness that they themselves were unable to fulfill (Matthew 23:1-7).  But Jesus could see right to their heart and knew that their attitude was all wrong.  They looked for reasons to condemn instead of ways to show love and grace.  They did everything they could to prevent people from ever experiencing the true, merciful God.

And so it is today.  Some in the church treat people in the world as though Christians have a lock on some religious club and they can’t get in unless they follow the rules.  We can’t go around shutting people out of the kingdom of God because we falsely assume their sin is worse than ours.  We can’t take the job of judgment away from God, and anyways, that’s a very dangerous choice to make (Matthew 7:1-2).

Jesus was our physical manifestation of righteousness and he didn’t treat sinners with contempt and disdain.  Instead, he showed grace to the penitent and offered up hope for those who were searching for the truth.  If we are followers of Christ, shouldn’t we do the same?

Let’s ask ourselves, what can we do to help others come to know God and his love for them?  Let’s remember that Jesus died for WHOEVER would believe in him (John 3:16), and that we shouldn’t put a stumbling block or any form of discouragement in front of anyone searching for the truth of the gospel.  We should make every effort to live up to God’s standard of righteousness and encourage and assist others in doing the same.

-Joe

 

Monday Motivation: Every Day is a Day to Worship

 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
    and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it!
33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
34 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!”

(1 Chronicles 16:31-34)

Today and every day, worship the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  You don’t have to wait for a Sunday worship service to glorify God.  While public acts of service are wonderful, you don’t have to do some amazing thing in order to honor Him.  Lift up his name in everything that you do each and every day.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.”

(Psalm 100:1-5)

-Joe

Robbing God

I’m trying to make a concerted effort to read my Bible more often, especially specific books in the Old Testament.  While I’ve read and been a part of many studies concerning the more popular historical events of the Old Testament, I haven’t spent as much time as I should delving into the more obscure books or stories.  All of God’s word is beneficial (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and I’ve found one such passage that may really shed some light on our distinct ability to not always give God our best.

Have you ever wondered why we human beings tend to settle?  Maybe it’s a learned behavior, maybe it’s comfortable, maybe it’s just ingrained in our psyche to take the easy way out.  For whatever reason, we seem to find satisfaction in the pleasures of this world; just a simple case of instant gratification.  It would be proper at this juncture to mention that it was God himself who created this world and he meant for us to enjoy it, but our propensity for sin has us usually settling for less than the best God has to offer.  Sin has a way of doing that doesn’t it?  It always promises great things and always under-delivers on those promises.

I believe one of the most insidious sins and one in which we all partake in, whether we want to admit it or not, is idolatry.  This isn’t the golden calf or graven image kind of idolatry of our predecessors.  We’re too smart for that right?  No, it’s the kind of idolatry where we rob God of what he truly deserves…us!  We may not realize we rob God, but we do almost every day when we settle for the world instead of relishing a relationship with Him.  When we look forward to our next vacation more than we do our next opportunity to worship, we are robbing God.  When we’re more satisfied with alcohol or money or sports or sex than we are with God, we have effectively stolen ourselves from him.  It’s like an act of adultery to be betrothed to our perfect Savior Jesus Christ, and then find more pleasure in the arms of our vices.  Just think about these examples of how people sell out to the world.

  • Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew.
  • Samson sold his secret of strength for a one-night stand.
  • David sold his integrity for another man’s wife.
  • Judas sold his very own soul for only thirty pieces of silver.

What do you sell in your life to gain your own personal desires?  You may say you don’t, but I bet the price is far lower than you think.  Even Jesus asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul” (Matthew 16:26)?  Apparently, he knew that we all must pay with something.  Pay with your soul to gain the world, and you lose out on any inheritance in Christ.  Pay with a sacrificial life to gain God (Matthew 16:24-25), and you will indeed gain an everlasting life with him.

Now, back to that passage in the Old Testament I was referring to earlier.  The text is found in Ezekiel chapter 8 and it’s an interesting foreshadow of our world today.  Ezekiel is showed a vision of how idolatry had taken over the temple of God.  His own people were committing great abominations in the very sight of God and they reached a point of arrogance about it (Ezekiel 8:12).  God referred to these acts of sin as idol worship and described them as the “idol that provokes to jealousy” (Ezekiel 8:3).  Our God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14) and he doesn’t want us to settle.  He has, time and again, proven his faithfulness and love, and his children continue to turn their noses up at his grace and mercy.

Are we any different?  Sadly, I don’t think so.  Even worse, WE are the temple of the holy God today (1 Corinthians 3:16).  There is no building or ark of the covenant that God resides in.  He lives within each of his children, so you can imagine the hurt he feels when we put idols above our Father.  We commit acts of idolatry every day if we put anything before God.  We create the very idol that “provokes to jealousy,” and God is left disappointed that we don’t give him the glory he deserves.

What idols are you using to rob God?  Is there anything in your life that you’ve sold out for, anything that has taken a seat on the throne where God deserves to be?  Remember your first love (Revelation 2:4) and don’t allow Satan and this world to distract you from the God who has given you everything you’ll ever need.

-Joe

 

Unplug and Tune In

Probably one of the things I enjoy best about hiking is the quiet.  When you’re in a classroom full of third graders all day, you long for the quiet of the woods.  When I get out there, I throw on my backpack, hit the trail, and all I can hear is the rustle of the wind through the trees and the crunch of my boots on the ground.  I never want to be in the wilderness and not be completely in tune with my surroundings.  There’s far too much to see and hear and smell to miss out on any of it.

Oddly, many hikers do the exact opposite while out on the trail.  They bring iPods and cell phones and jam out to music or listen to audio books while hiking.  I’ve literally tried to get another hiker’s attention to show them something interesting or beautiful, but they were so zoned out, they completely missed it.  I believe you can’t really enjoy all that nature has to offer while you’re consumed by a device.  To go even further, you can’t even enjoy others and learn who they are when your face is glued to your phone all the time.  It’s as if some people are walking and living and yet asleep at the same time.

This problem is not only present in daily life or in our hobbies either.  It’s also present in our relationship with God.  Sometimes at worship, we’re a million miles away from God while our minds filter through all our other priorities and worries.  We can’t hear God or fully appreciate all that he is if we aren’t tuned in.  We must find a way to give God the attention he deserves instead of always being focused on our own thoughts and desires.  And therein lies the difficulty.  How exactly do you unplug from the world around you and tune in to God?

  • First, we need to realize that our lives should have God at the center.  Everything we do can be done for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23-24), even our daily activities like working or taking care of family matters.  One great way to help do this is to make sure we fit acts of service into our daily schedule.  If you’re like me, your day can fill up fast with responsibilities, so fast that you have no time left to meet the needs of those around you.  Sometimes we have to be purposeful about making room in our schedule to serve others and not just serve ourselves.
  • Next, we need to treat worship with the respect it deserves by removing distractions so that we can give God all the focus.  And let’s not train our children to be distracted by handing them an iPad so they’ll be quiet.  Preparing for corporate worship begins long before the opening prayer by asking God to reveal himself to us.  Be prepared to give your full attention to the songs being sung and the sermon being preached and the thoughts being presented during the Lord’s Supper so that worship will, in every way, honor God.
  • Finally, we need to stop and smell the roses, if you will, and appreciate all the many things God has given us to enjoy.  Like the hiking I mentioned earlier, sometimes we have to slow down and be more observant of all the beautiful blessings we have in our lives.  We tend to lose out on things because of all the hustle and bustle, and it’s usually those simple things that are the most enjoyable.  As the title implies, we must unplug from the things that don’t matter and tune in to the things that do.

As you can probably tell, I’m a big proponent of living simply and focusing on the important things.  It’s such a great way to live and it leaves time to relish in the wonderful blessings God has so graciously bestowed on us.

Give it a try.

Live in the moment.

Show gratitude to God for each opportunity you have.

-Joe