Monday Motivation: Grace

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:4-10)

God is rich in love and mercy.  So rich that he sent his only Son to be a sacrifice for us, making us alive for all of eternity.  That grace, that gift is far beyond what our feeble minds can imagine or dream of, and it’s that grace that should cause us to act.  God not only created us, he not only saved us, he has prepared for us good works that we should do in order to glorify him and his goodness.

What are doing today and the rest of this week to show gratitude to God for all that he’s done for you?

-Joe

Exposed

Thank goodness for true friends.  I don’t mean friends who you rarely see and who only pay lip service to you via Facebook when they’re notified of your birthday.  I mean the kind of friends who have your back no matter what, even if that means calling you out for something inappropriate or sinful.  It doesn’t feel good to be exposed like that, but if we take it seriously, it’s usually a time of reflection and growth.  In fact, if we’re Christians, we’re all tasked with being that kind of friend to others, even others we don’t even know.

During a lot of Old Testament times, prophets were sent to the people of Israel, God’s people, to speak on God’s behalf and warn them of their misdeeds and sin.  Ezekiel was one such prophet and there is much we can learn from him that applies to us today.  In Ezekiel 33:1-11, we see that Ezekiel had been given the responsibility of warning the nation of Israel of their sins, and in turn, we have the same responsibility today.

When someone has been warned of their sin or of some irresponsibility on their part, who is supposed to heed the warning?  The offender right?  That is exactly what Ezekiel tells the people.  If someone receives a loving warning about the sin in their lives and chooses not to listen, their blood is on their hands (vs. 4-5).  If I am living in sin and am openly admonished for my wrongdoing, then it becomes my sole responsibility to take note and take action.  On the other hand, if those tasked to be a watchman do not do their job and do not sound the alarm, they are then responsible for the lost (vs. 6).  This is an extremely scary thought because it reminds us of the very important job we have today to expose sin.

”  for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.”

(Ephesians 5:8-14)

Our job in doing this is not to pass judgment on others, for that is the sole responsibility of God.  But we also are not to remain silent when sin and the devil are active around us.  Remaining silent in effect condones sinful acts and places the responsibility for the blood of the lost on us.  God does not want anyone to die in their wickedness (2 Peter 3:9).  He uses us as his watchmen, deliverers of the good news of the gospel.  He’s even given us a handbook so we cannot possibly confuse the message.  We don’t have the liberty to change the message.  It’s God’s message and we are the messengers.

As this passage in Ephesians says, we cannot laugh off or pretend that the sin going on around us is ok.  It’s not ok, and we should be appalled by it to the point that we speak up, call out, and expose this sin for what it is.  But we also shouldn’t just spend all of our time weeding out the sin in the world.  There are plenty of praiseworthy things we can give thanks for as well.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

(1 Peter 2:9)

Like Ezekiel, we are a chosen people, tasked with declaring the excellent attributes of God.  Our words and our actions should turn people away from their sin and point them to the Savior.  Will we win them all to Christ?  Maybe not.  But God gave us the job to deliver the message nonetheless.

-Joe

 

Monday Motivation: Even if You Don’t

God, I know I don’t trust you the way I should at times.  You’ve asked for my faith and called for me to offer my life in obedience to your will.  You’ve shown your goodness and faithfulness time and time again, and you’ve given me no reason to doubt that you will take care of my needs.  I know you are stronger and wiser than men (1 Corinthians 1:25) and need no one to tell you how to order your creation.

And still, sometimes I find it hard to act in faith in my daily life.  Sometimes, I have fear of the unknown, I have worry about your plan for me and whether or not I’ll ever live up to your expectations.  Occasionally, I’ll act like I have it all together when on the inside I’m stressed beyond belief.

I know I’m not alone.  I know there are other children of you, God, who struggle when facing the trials of this world.  I’m aware that many of us Christians are not carrying on the intimate relationship with you that you so strongly desire.   I know that you long for your children to trust you and to live out our faith in our daily lives. I know that you wait there, offering a shoulder to cry on, making the promise that you will bless us beyond what we could ever imagine.  I know that you wish for us to present every request to you, believing that you are powerful enough to make them happen (Philippians 4:6-7).

But even if you don’t, I still want to obey you.  Even if you don’t, I still long to worship you.  Even if you don’t, I still wish to follow you.  Because, when it come right down to it, God, where else can I go?

Amen.

-Joe

It’s the Simple Things That Change the World

I love it when I’m able to brighten someone’s day.

A casual “good morning” to a stranger.

A favor granted for a friend in need.

A loving gesture for my wife that says, “I love you.”

All of these things and more bring me great joy when I’m able to lift the spirits of another, even if it’s only in some small way.

I’m not as good at it as I could be though.  There are many days when I count up missed opportunities, moments when I noticed someone down, someone in need, but I failed to act because I was focused too much on my own momentary agenda.  Sometimes I question or bemoan the state of society until I realize that I could be a small solution to that problem.  Christians, people like me, fret over how we can affect the world for Christ and the truth is, the solution is right in front of us every single day.  It’s not always a powerful sermon or an insightful commentary of God’s word that produces change in the world.  It’s also the simple things, the little acts of kindness and consideration and love that show the world what Christ is all about.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus gets right to the point of this matter when he says that we should care for the simple needs of those around us if we are to call ourselves Christians.  This is feeding someone when they are hungry.  It’s visiting those who need encouragement.  It’s actually noticing the other souls around us who we share this earth with and acknowledging them and treating them the way we would want to be treated.  Jesus is even serious enough to say that our reward in heaven depends on our service to others.  Refuse to love when there are obvious needs around you, and you are basically turning your back on God as well.

And in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, we see that we can do amazing acts of righteousness like having tremendous faith or powerful spiritual gifts, and if we don’t show love, we are nothing.  All of our works are in vain if we fail to show love while doing them.

Do you want to change the world?  Do you want to live your life with purpose, to have an impact on those around you so that they can’t help but question who God is because of your love?  Well, it’s the simple things that change the world.  The opportunity to be an inspiration may literally be waiting right around the corner.  Take it and you’ll be changed as well.

-Joe

 

Monday Motivation: Dressed Like Christ

Have you seen Jesus?  That was kind of a trick question because if you are reading this then you’ve never seen Jesus in the flesh.  Even though we’ve never physically seen him, we still have an opportunity to show Jesus to the world around us.  The Bible teaches that Jesus had an unassuming appearance, nothing that would draw our attention to him (Isaiah 53:2).  And yet, he was able to draw multitudes!  How?

I’m sure the miracles had something to do with it, but I think it was more than that.  I think it was what he wore.  Before you think I’m going to discuss the merits of appropriate clothing, it’s actually not Jesus’ choice of attire that I’m speaking about.  I’m talking about what Jesus wore on the inside and how we clothe our hearts and attitudes today.  In Colossians 3:12-15 it says,

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

I believe people were drawn to Jesus for the same reasons they should be drawn to us today.  If we are clothed with Christ, with his demeanor and attitude, others can’t help but notice the difference between us and the world.  Being clothed with Christ means we show…

  • compassion
  • kindness
  • humility
  • meekness
  • patience
  • forgiveness
  • love
  • peace
  • gratitude

Let’s not be the person who may dress in expensive clothing but is only judgmental and downright selfish.  Let’s be the person who has a Christian heart.  If we do, the world will get to see the reflection of Christ which is the way it’s supposed to be.

-Joe

Obese Spirituality

I was alarmed recently when I went to the doctor for my physical and found out that I had gained some weight.  Now, it may seem petty, but I have been between 180 and 185 lbs. for literally the last twenty years.  So you can understand my surprise when the doctor told me I weighed 192 lbs.  It’s not a huge increase, but I quickly realized that in middle age, the weight does in fact catch up with you like I was warned.

I can probably hear some of you saying, “I’d love to only weigh that much!”  I only mention it to show I’ve been a little undisciplined, that I’ve taken one too many trips to the all-you-can-eat buffet and listened one too many times to that ravenous voice in my head that says I need a snack at 11 o’clock at night.  Putting aside some very real medical and physical issues that cause some people to be overweight, most obesity is simply a result of taking in more calories than you can burn off.  Apparently, the problem is pretty widespread too.  According to the National Institute of Health, 74% of men and 64% of women in America are considered overweight or obese and the number is continually rising.

I believe there is a deeper problem behind the increasing rates of obesity and it has nothing to do with food.  In fact, we may be seeing the same phenomenon in parts of the church today and it’s becoming detrimental to our ability to win people for Christ.  I believe the problem lies with the fact that we have a consumer mentality.  In terms of our bodies, when we consume too much it gets stored as fat and can ruin our health.  In regards to the church, when we consume too much, we think only of our own spiritual appetite and miss the chance to be the true church to the world around us.

Ask any preacher or body of elders from any congregation of your choice and most will say that people primarily look at church as a means to be filled.  People want sermons that pander, programs that provide, and decisions to be made that fit their opinions.  Church has become a place where if your needs aren’t being met, you move on to somewhere else or leave the church altogether.  Instead, we should be fixated on serving rather than taking.  We should be asking, “What can I do with my life, my time, and my talents to serve God and his kingdom purposes?”

Sure, we should feed ourselves from time to time.  We should consume scripture because it brings life.  But we should also feed others, looking for ways to encourage, pray for, and teach those who need the life-giving sustenance that only God can provide.

I say, let’s all go on a diet together.  Let’s be more concerned about the needs of others and not just our own.  Let’s share the bread of life (John 6:35) and the living water (John 7:37-38) with as many people as we can so they can know Christ and have their spirits quenched.  I guarantee this diet will have a much bigger effect on your soul than any fad diet would ever have on your body.

(John 6:27a) “27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

(John 6:33) “33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

(John 6:51a) “51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

-Joe

Spiritual Sightseeing

I simply cannot get enough of the outdoors!

It’s not just enjoying a trip to the beach or a scenic drive through the mountains.  I want to immerse myself in the environment, to enjoy everything,  noticing and savoring the sights and smells and sounds.  When I go to Washington state, I love to visit Mt. Rainier and smell the rich scent of the evergreen trees and view the powerful glaciers as they make their slow advance down the flanks of the mountain.  When I go to the beach, I love to feel the coolness of the sugar-white sand and inhale the briny smell of the salty air.  When I’ve gone hiking in the woods on the Appalachian Trail, I’ve noticed the scattering of the birds and squirrels as they explore the forest floor, the soft trickle of mountain streams cascading over rocks, and the leaves exploding into an abundance of vibrant colors in the Fall.

One thing I’ve noticed is that very few people actually see or experience any of those things.  They either miss them because they’re too busy to slow down and take notice, or they never leave their car or the parking lot when they do visit the outdoors.  The statistics even bear this out as well.  According to a recent report by the U.S. Forest Service, almost 86% of people who visit a wilderness site only use developed facilities such as park roads, overlooks, campgrounds, and visitor centers.  And of the tourists who do leave developed areas, most never get any farther away than a half mile.  That’s too bad because they have no idea what they’re missing.

If you’ve been a Christian for even a short amount of time then you’ve probably noticed how people have this same mindset towards God and religion in general.  Some people are spiritual sightseers, never going any further than attending worship services and somehow thinking they now have a deep relationship with God.  I must ask, how can you possibly think you know God if you never immerse yourself in Him?  How can you know him and his will for your life if you are not being fed by his word?  How can you experience all the goodness God has to offer if you only act like a Christian for a couple of hours one day a week?

People are missing out on so much because they’re satisfied with a surface-level knowledge of God and his love instead of desiring intimacy with him.  Like Paul, we should declare that we, “want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10) and we can only do that if we are willing to learn about him and to make him the center of our entire existence.

Get off the beaten path and explore who God is.  Attend worship, read you Bible, pray, serve.  Go all in for God and you’ll discover far more about him than you’d ever imagine.

-Joe