Pastor's Corner

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God Who is Perfect and Complete

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God is constantly having folks misrepresent Him, talk about Him as though He were something other than He is, and simply ignoring all He has said about Himself. Throughout the Bible God communicates to us He is holy, just, merciful, long-suffering, compassionate, and so on. God is perfect and complete. In fact, when God told Moses who He was, it was a descriptive rather than a name.

Exodus 34:6-7Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations."

And when we ignore what God has said about Himself to us so we can know Him, we inevitably end up creating a god of our own liking and form.

Psalm 50:21 "These things you have done and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.”

Those who want to discredit God use what the Bible says to state a case of evidence, but it is always distorted and lacking the whole truth about God. But often, those of the believing community make the same mistake from the opposite end of the spectrum as they present a distorted view of God as well. The first group presenting only the harshness and meanness as they see it, and the latter presenting God as only loving and compassionate with no sense of holiness and justice. At times, the religious community can be no better than any idolater because they form God in their own image rather than taking God for who He says He is.

Perhaps because we cannot comprehend some of God’s perfect qualities, we strain to understand them and fail at communicating them. What do we know of being eternal, we are finite? What do we know of perfect holiness, we are flawed and sinful? What do we know of complete and unconditional love, we love conditionally and guard ourselves all along the way so we do not get hurt? But God desires to be known, this is why He has preserved the Bible through centuries of malicious attacks and misrepresentation.

Acts 17:26-28 “…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist,…”

God does not want to remain distant from us, He longs for an intimate relationship with us. If you would know God, truly know Him for who He is, you will need to abandon your preconceived ideas and take Him for who He says He is in the Bible. You must not stop with the Person He presents in the Old Testament either, you must go on to the New Testament books as well. For in the New Testament, God, in Christ presents Himself to us in a recognizable human form (Jesus) in order to communicate His heart to us in a very real way. I know it is hard to comprehend that the Creator of all things desires to relate to you, but this is what He says he desires. He waits for you. 

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Depressed, Stressed, and otherwise Unhappy

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All of us, no matter who we are, eventually find ourselves in a “funk” or struggling with feelings of depression and being overwhelmed. And during the holidays there is a particularly common problem of depression which settles into the hearts and minds of many people. We can become depressed over finances or depressed over family relationships you will have to face in that once-a-year dance of family gatherings. But there are many reasons why people find themselves feeling some sense of depression or being overwhelmed no matter what time of year it is.

Perhaps you have been carrying more than you can carry emotionally, mentally, or spiritually for too long. Not because you are weak, but because you have been carrying more than anyone should ever carry. Over-committed schedules, lack of sleep, lack of eating properly, and these are just a few of the normal physical things we do to push ourselves into a "funk". You would be surprised how often simply having folks spend a couple of months eating and sleeping right will correct so many things in their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual lives.

Then there is the turmoil that is created by not having enough of the right type of human contact. God created us as relational beings and we were meant to interact with other human beings in healthy relationships and friendships. Animals are not a replacement, they cannot fill the need that only human contact can. Just being in crowds is not a replacement, you can find yourself feeling even lonelier in a crowd than being alone. In an age of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, this is becoming more of a problem. Research shows that those who use social media as a replacement for real human contact, can become even more isolated and lonely. Those for whom social media is not a supplement to real relationships with regular times of face to face contact will find social media creates an alternate reality that is unhealthy.

Then there are spiritual aspects to consider. Never sitting quietly before God for periods of times in prayer, meditation upon God's word, etc., will tear at us. Of all that God has done in the soul of humanity, He has created us to have relationship with Him. And when this is absent or neglected in our lives, we cannot help but end up with some deep sense of loss. There are many issues like the holidays, which can be depressing all in themselves, but there are also those spiritual attacks to depress and oppress us. This can be a consideration.

I know for me, recognizing how easy my life is compared to believers in prison or folks in third world countries, works for a while to keep me feeling satisfied, but not forever. My life is good, I am more blessed than I can say. Yet there are still times when life becomes overwhelming, depressing, and downright ugly. In those times, I have to evaluate where I am and what is happening around me. In those times, as I sit quietly before God, He settles my soul.

Psalm 34:18The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Is it time to run home, cut back, and rest your soul? We will be praying for you. 

 

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Love and Staying in Love

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Falling in love” is a statement often made, but not understood.

To “fall” represents commentary on such things as an accident, something unintentional, or not sought for. Folks use this term and view love as something which cannot be controlled. And because they view love in this manner for how a relationship begins, it also becomes the excuse for leaving a relationship since it is uncontrollable. Romantic love is an emotion, a passing wind which is glorious if you catch it. But miss it or lose it, and you discover misery instead.

No one ever happens upon love, everyone is seeking it… longing for it. There is nothing unintentional about love occurring in a life, we all engage in love with our whole being or we never hold it even for a short period of time. But this is romantic love which is fluid and not stable, it is reactionary and not strong in itself. It needs circumstances, it needs environment to thrive or even to spark. This type of love makes relationships wonderful, but it cannot hold a relationship together. And here is the reason so many marriages and relationships come apart at the seams; they believe this to be the love which creates lasting marriages since this is the stuff of legend that Hollywood film makers and romance novel writers create.

Don’t get me wrong, romantic love is phenomenal, it can stir a heart like little else can. What romantic love does is it makes the road enjoyable for the couple who have more than this between them. Holding hands, walking along a beach together, and sexual encounters all make long-lasting marriages amazing. But this is not all there is.

C.S. Lewis in his book “The Four Loves” explains the four Greek words used for love. Romantic love comes from the word “eros” from which we get our word erotic. In the male mind this is sexual and visual, hence pornography. In the female mind this is emotional and relational, hence romance novels. But the other loves involve being familiar and comfortable with each other, having a depth of emotional connection like only good family members can have, and loving in such a way as to attribute worth to another person and loving them despite who they are and what they have done (agape), which is how God loves us. The apostle Paul gives us a short description of what this love looks like since it is an action word and not the description of an emotion.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8Love is patient, love is kind {and} is not jealous; love does not brag {and} is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong {suffered,} 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails;”

This is a love worth giving! This is the love that binds marriages together for the long life we live. When the romantic love fades, and it will, this love and this type of commitment overrides everything and keeps a couple together. Romantic love will fluctuate throughout a marriage, no matter how long you are married. It will come and go, but if you work at it, the flame can stay lit for longer periods of time than not. Nevertheless, you must have the other loves at work in your relationship or you will not endure long term in any relationship. This love Paul describes is a commitment, a love that sticks you together like glue. So no, you do not fall in love, nor do you fall out of it. Everyone is making choices every day which will reinforce the love that binds their marriage together, or tear it apart. Staying in love, while it may not sound so romantic, takes effort. So get to work, and what fun that can be!!

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Imagine the Possibilities

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I am constantly amazed at how well some companies market their products and how responsive Americans are to going right out and buying whatever it is. Whatever it is we like, we want it – and in American society we want it now. Consider iPhones, think of the long lines of folks waiting for every new version. Or Starbucks, who sometime back started selling a cup with a lid that looks just like their regular cups you receive your coffee in when you buy it. This new cup however was made from recycled materials and could be reused for upwards of 10 refills. And guess what? People buy them. They could just bring in a mug from home and pay 10 cents less, but instead they buy the cup and spend 10 cents more. We want, we buy.

But, is there ever a time when you consider whether you have enough? Or, if there might possibly be something else God might want you to do with the money He provides for you?

Proverbs 22:9A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”

Or consider how God is directly connected to our money and the poor.

Proverbs 19:17He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.”

When we are generous to the poor, God sees Himself in the exchange and promises He will bring reward into our lives. Isn’t it amazing how God interjects Himself into that exchange? God has a heart for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed so it only makes sense that He would. But generosity to the poor is looked down upon in many parts of American society. It is at least uncomfortable as a subject of conversation. We work hard for our money and imagine that it is ours to do with as we please with little consideration of anything else but our wants. Yet, consider this:

Proverbs 14:31He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

While we would never imagine ourselves as oppressing the poor, but this proverb indicates that in not being kind to the poor we are on some level, oppressing them and showing contempt for God. We would rather believe it is the slumlord who oppresses them, the drug cartels, or even the government. But we are drawn into this oppression by our own lack of generosity. I understand this is hard to hear, and believe me I do not want to be beating up on anyone. What you do with your money is between you and God. My desire is to possibly open a dialogue with you about your money and encourage you to realize the opportunities that are available to you if you would see the world the way God does, instead of how American culture dictates it.

When we choose to live with less, we gain the opportunity to give more.” – Jeff Shinabarger, cofounder of the Q Event and the Founder of Plywood People

Because we are always face to face with American excesses, we rarely have a view of the real world and the desperate needs of humanity. We continually have only the excess as a gauge for our resources. There is no balance between excess and need, there is only excess. As a result of this, we never consider how much of a difference we can make in the world with the financial prosperity God has given us. All total, Christians in America who regularly attend church and claim their faith means a lot to them, account for an annual average total income of over 2.7 trillion dollars a year. This is an amount which is greater than many countries in the world, in fact, we would be a part of the G8 nations with that amount of money. Imagine the possibilities!!

Jeff Shinabarger encouraged one audience to do an experiment. “See how long you can go just eating every meal from the food in your house and not eating out.” Jeff, who already lived with an awareness of this, discovered he and his wife were able to go nearly four months on what they had in their home. I guess I really don’t need to say more, you know what your level of excess is. Personally I have walked in third world countries, and I have seen what extreme poverty looks like. It is a constant tension for me to find the balance instead of resting in the excesses. What if you chose to live with less, on purpose, in order to make a difference in the world? What if you chose to purposely cut back on spending on yourself, and instead spend the money on the poor with whom God identifies?

Imagine the possibilities!!

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"Buy Local" Christmas Giving Ideas

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I have some local places I frequent to get coffee or food throughout the month. Some of them have stickers on the front of their businesses that say “Buy Local.” And I think it is good to support local businesses when you can. It helps your neighbors, and keeps the local economy running. So since the holidays are upon us, American and foreign distribution companies have been kicked into high gear for some time in order to provide millions of Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods from overseas. You have been seeing them in your local malls, Wal-Marts, and Target stores. You have been shopping, but now we are down to only a little over a week before Christmas. I was thinking this year could be different, this year Americans can give of themselves, to themselves, by “buying local.” I know those cheap goods are easily found and purchased because all American stores carry them. But maybe it's time to think outside the box. Who says a gift needs to be some mass produced item?
 
Everyone gets their hair cut, so how about gift certificates from the local hair salon or barber? Gym membership? Who wouldn't appreciate getting their car detailed? Small locally owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates. And if you are one of those extravagant givers who would give away a huge flat-screen TV or something like that, perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his or her driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or driveway plowed all winter, or tee times at the local golf course. 
 
There are lots of locally owned and operated restaurants all over the U.S. – and all of them offer gift certificates. And, if the person you are giving something to isn't the fancy eatery sort, what about a half dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint. How many people couldn't use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a shop run by the local working guy? Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom? Maybe mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day. Perhaps you were looking for something a little more personal. Local crafts people spin their own wool and knit them into scarves. They make jewelry, pottery, and other beautiful crafts. These are always good because folks like this are usually trying to put together some extra income to make their financial position a little more stable. And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theater. 
 
You see, we can do something that supports our home town merchants who may be struggling to keep their doors open, and still be getting our Christmas shopping done. What would Jesus do? Well, I guess I wasn't really thinking of all of the theological implications as I wrote this post, just thinking of how we can be a blessing to folks who live and work around us… which I guess has some important theological implications after all. 
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Tasty Morsels that Go Down Deep

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There are some sins which almost everyone universally agrees upon as sin, at least that they are something which is wrong to do. Unjust premeditated murder for example, is nearly universally considered wrong, no matter what time you live in, what culture you live in, and so on. But there are, on the opposite end of the spectrum, sins considered to be socially acceptable. Sins which everyone engages in and no one has a problem with, so long as they are not the target.

There is one sin which some folks do not give recognition to, even though it is quite popular and they practice it quite often. It has no respect for justice. It hurts without killing. It breaks hearts and ruins lives. It is cruel and malicious, and gathers strength with age. The more it is quoted, the more it is believed. It flourishes at every level of society; men, women, and varying ages and genders, and its victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against this sin because it has no name and no face, and to track it down is nearly impossible at times. Once it stains a reputation, regaining the lost reputation is extremely difficult. It can topple governments and ruin marriages. It can destroy careers, cause heartache and sleepless nights. It can wreck churches and separate Christians. What is this sin?

It is gossip.

Proverbs 18:8 "The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts."

There is something about gossip that our fallen nature really enjoys, the author of Proverbs says it is like some really enjoyable thing to eat and we take it all in. Why do people buy the tabloid magazines? Why are awful reality shows and talk shows so popular? Why do folks watch the shows which are pure gossip? Because there is this sick part of us, that broken piece in our hearts and minds that enjoys seeing others fail and have their lives ruined all over the screen or magazine covers. It is all a part of our brokenness as humans.

The Bible ties gossip and slander together as a couple (Romans 1:29-30) and the New Testament word for "slander" means "to speak evil of someone." When we gossip, we speak evil about people; we badmouth them. The KJV Bible describes people who gossip and slander people as "backbiters" (Romans 1:30). When we badmouth someone with gossip, we bite them behind their backs, whether the gossip is true or not. God doesn't hesitate to tell us about the origin of the sins of the tongue:

James 3:6 "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell."

If you have ever been the target of gossip you know the damage it can do. All it takes is one ugly rumor and someone loses a job, a relationship, a position of trust. When you take part in gossip, you are on the edge of ruining other people’s lives and are a willing participant in the devices of Satan himself. Perhaps you have stopped even considering whether you are gossiping any more. Perhaps you no longer even recognize it when it raises its ugly head. What to do then?

  • Recognize gossip for what it is, a destructive force from the pits of hell.
  • Refuse to hear gossip and confront the gossiper.
  • Watch your own tongue carefully and turn from sin.
  • Ask God to work in your heart, mind, and soul to turn from sin.

Psalms 141:3 "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips."

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The Brutality of War and Torture

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I have sat for long hours listening as veterans unloaded their troubled hearts over what they had done while in Viet Nam. I have a good friend who is currently visiting older men in VA hospitals on a regular basis, who now in their older years, are dealing with the ravaging effects of Alzheimer’s or dementia. These men in their 70s and 80s are feeling the effects of PTSD which had skipped them in previous years. The breakdown in their brain as a result of Alzheimer’s or dementia has taken away their ability to cope with the things they witnessed and did as a soldier.

The human soul is not capable of enduring what war demands of it. While some men and women seem to deal with it better than others, no one who has seen long-term battle engagement on foreign soil is ever the same. No one who knows what it is like to sit in a fox hole at night trying to sleep with a loaded pistol across your chest because your enemy may come upon you, and you must be ready to shoot, ever quickly goes home and sleeps well right away. And this is what it is like for men and women who did what was right, who did not compromise themselves to the worst of the brutality of war. How do you contend with your own soul if you do compromise?

Right now there is a lot of focus in the news about torture. For the most part much of what was even written in the report on CIA activities contains an insufficient amount of information to understand what it all means in real life. Never mind the way the media is handling it, which is once again, badly. One major newspaper ran the headlines, “And it doesn’t work.” This is a complete lie, torture does work, which is why every nation for centuries has done it! Anyone who says otherwise is lying. And truthfully, there is a certain level of naiveté from all sides on this subject. How naive to imagine we were not doing what every nation, for centuries, has done. How naive to imagine that there would not be abuses. And how naive to imagine that when we cross certain lines, it will not have a profound impact upon who we are as a people group, let alone as an individual.

So I guess I care about the abuses, but I think some folks don’t understand what they are looking at. I am not bothered by the use of certain types of coercion to obtain information. Water boarding is not like cutting off one finger or toe at a time to obtain information. Disgracing your enemies is not like castrating someone or raping someone, and an enemy combatant does not warrant certain discretions, they are an enemy combatant. And if I can force information out of an enemy combatant that will prevent the death of my fellow soldiers, I will force it out of them. But if we have no lines of humanity, we become as bad, if not worse than those enemies we are fighting.

Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

We cannot excuse ourselves, nor can we draw the same lines our enemies are drawing when it comes to how humanely we are treating prisoners. Certain types of coercion are necessary in war, get over it. Speaking to a graduating class at the Michigan Military Academy, General Sherman said,

I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that someday you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!” – General William Tecumseh Sherman, Union Army General during the Civil War

Sitting in your comfortable suburban home with all of the amenities of living in a safe nation does not qualify you to sit in judgment upon those who must protect us. You have no idea what it takes to wage war, nor do you grasp the damage done to the soul of every soldier. But in the name of protecting a nation, we are not allowed to cross certain lines of how we view life and treat the rest of humanity either. There are rules of engagement we have agreed to for a reason, and we should maintain those rules, even if our enemy does not. Our own souls are at risk if we do not.

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I See You are Very Religious

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There are a lot of religious people, I run into them all of the time. They tend to have some degree of morals which they consider important, and they have a positive view of God. They carry positive views of life as well, giving encouraging words to others. The apostle Paul ran into these types of people during his missionary journeys which brought him into Athens.

Acts 17:16-17Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing {Gentiles,} and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.”

In his speech to the local philosophers, Paul acknowledged their religiousness. (Acts 17:22) And while they were fairly religious as witnessed by their many idols, the Greek gods they worshipped did not demand much except occasional offerings and expressions of loyalty to a particular deity or two. The Greeks did not need to hold to a deep belief, just something sufficient to appease whatever deity they were attached to. It was a surface deep religious conviction, nothing too demanding. Donald Miller describes some of what is behind this “surface faith”.

The trouble with deep belief is that it costs something and there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn't like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them. It is so, so cumbersome to believe anything. And it isn't cool.” ― Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality

Often folks want to hold to some religious belief, but not so much so that it gets in the way. They don’t mind going to church, but not too much you know, not like some sort of fanatic. You might see some of these folks extremely engaged in an activity like social justice, but they would have done this even if they were not religious. (Again, those internal morals) Oh, and something else about these types of religious folks is they often perceive themselves as better than those who are the “holier than thou” types. Because they are not what they would label as a fanatic or self-righteous in their own minds, they see themselves as more enlightened.

Unfortunately what I have also seen is these folks never arrive at genuine faith or a relationship with God, they remain religious and content with not getting too close to God. And if that is all they want, well it is their choice. But God is seeking more, much more. God desires to redeem us from ourselves, our sin, and from this broken world. To restore our hearts and minds so we can live in a way which coincides with how He created us – to have intimate relationship with Him. Not so we can be religious, but so we can be free from the sins that ruin us and to demonstrate His love and His grace to those around us.

Galatians 5:5For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”

While religious activities can aid in living our lives, Paul wrote it is ultimately “faith working through love”. Faith that is genuine must express itself, and when we are in relationship with God, it expresses itself through love.

Where are you? God is calling you to a relationship that is deep and abiding, not something only on the surface so you can continue to ignore Him while being religious. I should warn you though, the God of the Bible will interfere with your view of life, sex, money, and many other very personal matters. He is not like the Greek deities, He wants to be involved in your life deeply and constantly. I perceive you are very religious, but there is so much more!

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A Love Like No Other

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There is something in marriage that makes everything different from any other relationship. Jesus, when questioned about divorce brings this up.

Matthew 19:4-5And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created {them} from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'?”

There is a great depth of love between a parent and their child, and there is a great depth of love possible between good friends. I have had friends through the years, who over time, became people I love. And I know the bond of a child to a parent is truly profound. I would never have imagined I could love someone besides my wife like I do my children and my grandchildren. Any parent knows this sense of love, your heart is immediately smitten by that little person who enters your life.

But the bond between a husband and wife is unmatched by any other relationship we know. There is a tremendous connection that takes place when we bond with our mate.

Marriage is those two thousand indistinguishable conversations, chatted over two thousand indistinguishable breakfasts, where intimacy turns like a slow wheel. How do you measure the worth of becoming that familiar to somebody—so utterly well-known and so thoroughly ever-present that you become an almost invisible necessity, like air?” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

Those people choosing to live together will never know this. Those people who settle for casual sex and temporary relationships will never know this. There is an unspoken barrier in place with these types of relationships, one that is declaring I will be with you until something better comes along or if you meet my needs I might keep you around. This surfaces from a view of love that is based upon the demand for happiness – if you make me happy I will stay in the relationship.

So many failed marriages come apart right here, they fail to bond. Their lives never intermix to the point they are both lost and there is only one life between them that is moving into the future. One partner may give all they have while their mate does not, and the bond fails. Both partners may not give all they have and so the bond fails. They enter into the marriage with no commitment to each other and/or no ability to open their lives completely to their mate. They hold something back, they fear what total exposure will open them up to in terms of pain.

Genesis 2:25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Before the fall, this is what God intended and created for the first man and woman. This is what God intended for every marriage thereafter as well. They were totally exposed to each other so as to embrace complete intimacy and they were unashamed.

Sin ruined this, but Christ brings redemption to the whole of our lives. As Christ-followers you can run this risk because you are committed to Christ and to each other. You can realize the fullness of what God intended from the beginning. Yes, two sinners have married and this will create problems. But if you are both Christ-followers doing what God wills and has directed, you can experience all of the wonder that marriage was intended to be. Stand firm in your commitment to Christ, both of you. Stand firm in your commitment to each other and your marriage, both of you. And in that place, you will discover a love relationship that is unmatched. No, it is not easy, but it will be worth it. 

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Stand Confident and Give it Time

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John 19: 10So Pilate said to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?"

It looked like Jesus was defeated, it appeared all was lost. Anyone who did not know who Jesus was and what He was about to accomplish, would have imagined Jesus had been totally ruined by those who opposed him at this moment in time. They would have imagined the religious leaders and their corrupting influences had gained their triumph. But Jesus responded to Pilate with,

John 19:11Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."

Everything was coming together according to the foreordained plan of God (Acts 2:23), despite all appearances to the contrary. All those who were watching this play out in Jerusalem had no idea what was coming. The disciples were scattered for now, Jesus was a prisoner, and the crucifixion was only hours away. And what Jesus said to Pilate, this was a response Pilate would not have expected. He was accustomed to criminals crying, begging, or loudly pleading for their lives. But not this man, this man stood badly physically beaten and falsely accused, but he was also confident. Jesus knew the victory was not in the hands of those who were abusing Him with such horrible treatment. The torture would not last forever, the cross was only to serve a purpose. In three days everything would be completely different. As one old preacher said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.”

This is the confidence with which we can live our lives in faith, regarding the faith that we proclaim. And when I say confident, I do not mean arrogant. We can stand in humble confidence in God and not ourselves. Not because we are all that, but because Jesus is all that! In ourselves, there is nothing to boast of. (Ephesians 2:8-10)  Rather, we are humbled by God’s grace, and should remain humble because if it were not for Jesus, we would continue to be no different than anyone else. We are who we are because of Jesus and what He has done for us!

We are confident because God is God. We are confident because for more than two thousand years Christianity has been on trial, for centuries the Bible has been under more intense scrutiny than any other ancient document – and here we are still able to stand confident. Archaeology, history, geography, anthropology, all simply continue to lend support to the truth of the Christian faith and the Bible. And through the centuries all of the accusations of error, with time and digging, prove to be false and the Bible true. Just give it time. Whatever authority or imagined power someone may think they have over Jesus, they have nothing. Whatever accusations, whatever claims against Christ and Christianity, just give it time… “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.”

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Bringing Hope to the World

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Every year it seems like it simply is not Christmas until I have heard Linus Van Pelt recite the Christmas story to Charlie Brown. So when we decided to not have TV access in our home years ago, I had to go and purchase “A Charlie Brown Christmas” so I could still see it every year. No commercials makes the cartoon a bit shorter as far as time involved in watching it, but it is really nice without them. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was the first nationally broadcast attempt at taking a shot at the crass commercialism surrounding Christmas that really spoke to kids and not just adults.

But this is not one of those screaming against the darkness things, I do not want to shout against the evil commercialism surrounding Christmas. I would prefer to just turn on a light and let the light eliminate the darkness.

     29.8 Million = Estimated people held in slavery throughout the world today

     164 Thousand = Children died of measles in a single year

     881 Thousand = People killed by malaria

     1.4 Billion = People struggle to live in extreme poverty (avg. 1.53 dollars a day)

These are just a few of the numbers of what our world looks like today all around us. Now, compare this reality with the reality of Americans who are expected to spend more than 601 billion dollars over the Christmas season alone in retail sales.

We have just had our first Sunday of Advent which is the message of HOPE that Christ brings into the world. Jesus’ coming into the world brought hope for all of humanity, a hope that none of us could have had if it had not been for His Advent. Hope displayed by God’s love in sending His Son, hope displayed by Jesus sacrificing Himself on the cross for us, and hope because His resurrection means new life for all who believe! But this HOPE also comes in the form of a worldwide group of followers, “Jesus people” who not only follow their Lord in spiritual matters, but in daily life matters as well. In this, we become a part of the HOPE the world has. I think of the more than 601 billion dollars being spent on gifts and I imagine what just a portion of that can do to change the world…

     $25 can provide a family of five access to safe water

     $5 shot can prevent a child from dying of the measles (same price as a latte)

     $125 for refugee relief would aid those fleeing their countries that are torn apart by war

     $14 for baby chicks who will provide food and an income to a family

     $9 to feed a hungry baby for a week

     $40 a month provides food, clothes, education, and the gospel for a child

What a tremendous opportunity during the holiday season to do good to others, to bless someone else. Go ahead and give those gifts to your loved ones, it’s always a lot of fun. But consider setting aside some of that money you were going to spend and give it to others who are in need. Take some of the time you were going to spend shopping or doing something holiday appropriate, and do something significant for someone who needs you – (with the Holy Spirit in you). In fact, if all of the Christians who attend church regularly and claim their faith means a lot to them in the U.S. gave just 1-2 percent of their income annually for the next fifteen (15) years, we could end extreme poverty in the world. Yes these are the real numbers, and yes it is possible.

When Jesus came into the world (Advent) the first time, it changed everything. Today, we, the people of God can continue doing this work of changing the world. All of us are far richer than we realize, and within our reach is the ability to make a difference in the world. I encourage you to consider doing something with your time, your abilities, and your finances to change the world. You will never regret following Jesus in this way.

For more information:

     samaritanspurse.org

     live58.org

     compassion.com

     or you can check with your local Rescue Mission, relief center, and so on

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Racism, Hatred, and Christ

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Hatred, rage, violent protests in the streets, all because of the problem of race and racism.

Rāc ism n – the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Also: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

Racism is not simply an American problem. Historically, every race and nationality has experienced prejudice and bad treatment at the hands of another group at some time or another. While some races can provide evidence for suffering more than others, no one race can claim to be the only group to have experienced racism. And frequently, there has been similar discrimination demonstrated between tribes within a race or culture as well. Racism is not the trait of any one particular race or group. Racism is a learned worldview and behavior. It is not the right of the elite who oppress, nor are the roots of racism exempt from those who are oppressed. Racism is in the human heart and everyone carries some level of it for someone else, or some other group for any number of irrational reasons. This is true of everyone... There is no one who can claim to be barren of this human condition. So the question is how strong is that feeling of racism in you, and how does it affect you and how you view or treat others?

I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment. I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over...” – Benjamin Watson, NFL football player, New Orleans Saints

Racism is the result of a broken humanity. Ugly historical events have contributed to the increase of the feelings and reasons for racism. But apart from this, racism has ascended without such historical events to excite bigoted feelings into existence. Humanity is self-centered, self-serving, and ego driven about themselves and those of their group among whom they find identity. Before we condemn others about racism, we must take a closer look at our own heart. Before you excuse yourself for your racism, recognize it is a choice to think and behave in that way. Humanity has come a long way since the American Civil War in the 1800s. But the human condition that breeds racism cannot be conquered except through Christ. What we see happening in Ferguson, MO after the death of a local young man is a choice and a decision made before the courts ever handed down their decision.

What should be our response?

  •   -  We must be sensitive to the realities of racism, there are genuine reasons for how people are reacting to racism in the manner they are. While there are no justifications for bad behavior, still, we cannot ignore how people feel and how they have come to feel that way.
  •   -  We must not be baited into the ugliness of racism, or into overreacting in ungodly ways such as we are seeing in the news.
  •   -  Understand the news media are more concerned with how many viewers and readers they have, as opposed to what is reality and what the truth is.
  •   -  We cannot allow our own hearts to harbor ill feelings toward others due to our own racism, in whatever form this takes.
  •   -  We must abandon attitudes and worldviews that place ourselves in the position of victims of the racist or racism, despite our human condition.
  •   -  We must be children of God and be peacemakers. (Matthew 5:9)

If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize our own prejudices. What you do is in your own hands, be careful what you choose. Will you pray for those who have been hurt by all of this? Will you act? Will you reinforce the prejudices in the hearts of others, or will you rise above all of this to choose to do good for others?

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An Observation of Faithfulness

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He was the one person thousands of children counted on as someone they could trust to be there for them, provide somewhere they could get food and a safe place to sleep. All of them were abandoned – orphans with no parents to place their hope in. George Mueller was a Christian evangelist and the director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England, where he cared for 10,023 orphans in his life. He was also well-known for providing an education to the children under his care, something which helped these poor children rise to a better station of life. Mueller established 117 schools which offered a Christian education to over 120,000 children, many of them being orphans.

1 Corinthians 1:9God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

George prayed, asking God to provide a building, people to oversee it, furniture, and money for food and clothing. God answered his prayers. The needs of the orphanage were met each day. Sometimes a wealthy person would send a large amount of money, or a child would give a small amount received as a gift or for doing chores. Many times food, supplies or money came at the last minute, but God always provided without George telling everyone about his needs. He just prayed and waited on God.

"The children are dressed and ready for school. But there is no food for them to eat," the housemother of the orphanage informed George Mueller. George asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He thanked God for the food and waited. George knew God would provide food for the children as He always did. Within minutes, a baker knocked on the door. "Mr. Mueller," he said, "last night I could not sleep. Somehow I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in."

George sought to be a faithful man with all that God brought to him because he believed in a God who was faithful. What was it that made George Mueller a faithful man of God?

  1. Nothing was for himself, EVERTHING was for those he served in the name of Christ.
  2. George Mueller prayed, a lot, and believed. He said he knew of some 50,000 specific answers to prayer requests to God alone!
  3. George Mueller read the Bible through over 200 times, he was a man of God’s word.
  4. George Mueller did everything within the body of Christ, he was always in fellowship with churches and Christian leaders.
  5. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness.” It’s one of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit lives in our life, we will demonstrate faithfulness. 

Faithfulness is a personal life trait that many people long to see, there are too many who have proven unfaithful. Faithful husbands, faithful wives, faithful parents, faithful believers who are following Christ with their whole life is what everyone needs. Would you commit to faithfulness?

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Psalm to Black Friday

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A Psalm to Black Friday

No matter what we have,

No matter what we have been given,

Shopping endures forever.

 

Because we are consumed with more

And the best possible deal to be found in the store,

Shopping endures forever.

 

We are marketed, we are researched to the fullest

Millions are spent to make billions off us

Because shopping endures forever.

 

Ads are printed to show us all we must have

Our eyes we be drawn to deals, bargains, and “giant sale”

Because shopping endures forever.

 

We will endure the crowds, we will endure the shame

We will stand in long lines, we will push others away

Because shopping endures forever.

 

We will purchase things we do not need

Neither strangers at work, nor our loved ones with us

Because shopping endures forever.

 

And when the day comes to open the gifts

Our small children will play with the boxes, and we will eat too much

Because shopping endures forever.

 

And when done is the day, and crowds have gone away

Then we will notice we never really felt satisfied that day

Because it is only God’s love that satisfies and endures forever.

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A Heart Full of Thanks

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Psalm 9:1I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders.”

There is something transcendent about a heart that is filled with thankfulness. The words and intent of the heart are not bound by form or even what some might deem appropriate. Once when Jesus was dining with a Pharisee, a woman who was a known prostitute came into the dining area weeping over the forgiveness she had received from Jesus. But her tears fell upon Jesus’ feet so she began wiping his feet with her hair to dry the tears. Then, with the perfume she had brought with her, she anointed his feet and this filled the room with the sweet smell. As the woman dried her tears from Jesus’ feet with her hair, the onlookers were offended. But to all of the offense Jesus responds,

Luke 7:47 "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."

While others were offended by her complete abandon, and not just with who she was, Jesus could see her heart was filled with gratitude. Her life, totally corrupt and in ruins, had been redeemed by Jesus. All that she had done to destroy herself had been turned around in an instant by the One who could do such a thing in a heart. She was no longer bound by her sins, she was no longer captive to her former identity, she was free and there was no way to hold back such joy! There was no small amount of joy, for there had been no small amount of sin which had been forgiven.

The Pharisee had lived so long with his self-righteousness he could not grasp such thankfulness of heart. He did not perceive himself as evil in any form, he was above such things he thought because of his lifestyle. But Jesus called him out on his self-righteousness and his smallness of gratitude which was displayed by his lack of demonstration in the form of not even treating Jesus with the smallest of welcoming amenities afforded a guest in your home. No washing his feet, no anointing upon his head for refreshment, nothing. He would not lower himself to this, and he did not tell a servant to do it either.

How is your heart? Is it bursting with joy and gratitude? Those “who have been forgiven much love much,” that’s what Jesus said. Sometimes a lack of thankfulness is a lack of awareness of all that God has done for those who are His people. Sometimes, this comes from a lack of awareness of just how much evil resides in your heart. Rejoice little hearts, your Redeemer has done everything for you, rejoice! The Lord has paid everything to redeem you, He has given all so that all can be forgiven. Rejoice!

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God and the Statue of David

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In all of the art world, the statue of David standing 17 feet tall is one of the most recognized and admired pieces known. This Renaissance Period piece of marble carved by Michelangelo (between 1501-1504) continues to be incomparable to any other piece like it. When they asked Michelangelo how he made his statue of David he is reported to have said, "It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn't look like David." While this humorous response is still circulating, anyone who has ever worked with marble can tell you that despite its incredible hardness as a stone, it is quite delicate and a single blow with a hammer can send the entire statue to the floor in pieces.

As an art student I remember the first time I sat and looked at a photograph of the statue, but the photos of it do no justice to the details of the carving. You have to look at several photos to capture the whole of it and the mastery of the artist who carved it. Michelangelo as an artist remains one of my favorites, his work in all media forms was incredible.

Yet, with all of its beauty, it remains a stationary item unable to move, see, hear, or laugh. This is what statues do, they are not created for anything else. When it was completed, there was a huge problem, the people who commissioned the work could not find a building appropriate or with proper access to move the statue into position. Again, it is a statue so you have to move it if you want it moved. Eventually a location was chosen.

Genesis 2:6-7But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

Michelangelo, while able to carve a beautiful depiction of the human form, he was not able to make it come to life. And this is not a cheap shot at Michelangelo, I like him a lot, but here is the contrast, right? Humanity has learned enough to create life in the research lab, but they cannot create something from nothing… only God can do that. Humanity has learned enough to create life in the lab, but they cannot infuse a soul into that life… only God can do that.

Psalm 139:13-15 “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. 14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth.”

Worship and honor the Creator and Sustainer of all things, who also holds our next breath! Give Him the glory due His name for He has done great things!

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Living a Life that Changes Everything

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He was a pastor, a theologian who obtained his PhD at the age of 21, and a native German. He had traveled to America in 1930 and discovered a spirituality in the black churches that sparked his soul. He was a teaching professor at a notable seminary in New York and spent a lot of time engaged with everyone he met over the topic of real faith, and really living for Christ. But in 1931 he returned to Germany. Eventually the dangers of Germany were rising for people like him because he openly criticized Hitler and sought to resist the Reich. Finally he was convinced to leave Germany and return to New York as Hitler was beginning to unveil the worst of his plans, so he left. But it was 1939 and securing his life was doing nothing but securing his own life. So he returned home almost immediately. This choice to return ended up ultimately leading to his death at the hands of German SS officers in 1945. But before his death, Dietrich Bonhoeffer left a definite imprint upon the people of Germany, and the soul of the Church everywhere for the rest of our days till Jesus returns.

Men like Bonhoeffer are remembered by those who know Church history because they impacted the world as it was with truth, with their words, and actions. Rather than secure his life, he laid it out for Hitler to take because he refused to give ground to an insane man. Dietrich and those with him were convinced that what Germany needed was truth, and men who refused to allow the German government under Hitler to control and silence the Church. So he along with those with him stood as immovable pillars against the Nazi leadership. Like Martin Luther who was used by God to begin the Reformation, Bonhoeffer challenged and changed the known world. The apostle Paul knew what this type of living meant when he said,

Acts 20:24 "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”

What does your life mean to you? In the end, what will your life have meant? Will you stand for something that will challenge and change the world? Will you have conversations about things that change a life? There is nothing lacking in the nobility of the person who upholds and maintains their responsibilities as a husband, as a wife, or as a parent. In today’s world, it is quite noble in fact. But if you could do something, would you? Today, you can begin letting go of your life and allowing God to use you to make a difference. It can start with conversations about Christ and the grace of God with co-workers, family members, and friends. It can start with you understanding how God has gifted you and empowered you with the Holy Spirit to do something worthwhile and powerful. (Ephesians 2:8-10) It can start with a simple prayer: “God, will you use me?”

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Genesis 1:1 and God

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” – Genesis 1:1

These are the simple opening words of the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. In this one sentence, so many answers are provided for us regarding human origins, the nature of the universe, the nature of man, and the existence of God. And really, so many of the questions and arguments that are tossed about by believers, skeptics, and atheists are resolved by the acceptance of this one sentence.

First, the existence of God is modestly stated, there is no defense and no argument, His existence is understood.

Then in regard to creation, there is no process by which something comes from nothing, so there is no creation without divine guidance causing everything to begin. Argue processes all day long, you have no beginning from which to work if you reject God as Creator. That is unless you choose to accept theories for which there is no reasonable defense, and for which more faith is required than to believe the basic answer of there being a Creator.

In regard to humanity and origins, we are of His design. He knows us intimately and cares for us deeply, far more than the rest of His creation. It was for us alone that He reserved His very breath to give us life. (Genesis 2:7) It was for us alone that He reserved His blood as the redemption price to have us back, even when we were still immersed in sin and rejecting Him. (Romans 5:6-10)

So what about miracles? Well, if you accept the first sentence of Genesis, miracles are not an issue. He is God, he is capable of altering time, space, and matter. And really, any other question is like this, including those about your own life. What are you doing here? What is your purpose? Where are you going after death? Why am I having these problems in my life? Etc… When you begin with God, faith brings you to a whole different view about life and living. Not blind faith, confident trust in the One who is the only reasonable answer to origins, existence, and what life is all about. So no matter where you are, what you have done, who you have become – God is there still seeking after you.

One simple statement, but the implications and answers are HUGE! And this one little sentence opens the doors to a whole host of more discussions. Bring your questions, God is not afraid of them. All of our questions are resolved in God…

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Finding Strength When You are on Empty

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There is nothing like a terrible fight with your spouse to completely wipe you out. Nothing like having your boss tear into you in front of the rest of your team for something you did wrong. Or what about having your teen do something which tears your heart out, now that will completely wipe you out emotionally. There are many things in this life that can destroy us emotionally to the point of exhaustion.

What do you do when you get to one of those points in time? Where do you turn?

The addict will turn to their addiction of choice; alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography or whatever else they abuse. In turning to these the addict is seeking to self-medicate, to drown out the pain or the anguish of the moment. There is nothing in this which brings strength or an ability to overcome, just a salve to cope for a short period of time because it ultimately does nothing for us long-term. In fact, what is often true is that in turning to our addictions, we cause the situation to become worse or more complicated.

2 Corinthians 4:13-18But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE," we also believe, therefore we also speak, 14 knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. 15 For all things {are} for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

First of all, Paul says not to lose heart. While our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being built up, renewed day by day. This moment may feel overwhelming, but there is hope because this world is not all there is. God is working, and we are going to be renewed as we continue to hold on to Jesus.

Secondly, Paul encourages us to get our eyes on the eternal things and not be so focused on this temporary world. While this is our more natural tendency; now that we are in Christ we must deliberately turn our eyes toward heaven since we know this life is not the end of all things.

And lastly, these are eternal and weighty answers, they are not temporary answers to drown out the pain. It is the power of the Holy Spirit renewing us day by day, strengthening us and enabling us to not simply withstand the pain or the anguish of the moment, but to rise above it all. And when this is all over, these “light afflictions” will produce in us “an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison.” So not just temporary victory, but an eternal and lasting victory. And before you start thinking Paul doesn’t get it, remember he had already been beaten, flogged, put in chains, nearly killed, and so on. Where are you turning? Is there strength there, or only a temporary salve? I would encourage you to turn to Christ where there is strength!

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In Christ we are all the same!

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Growing up in a racially diverse area of Southern California, living with and understanding other races was not something odd or new, it was just life. In our schools there were some who had issues with people who were of a different race, but not me. And when I became a believer I discovered God was also not one to see people on a color chart. God sent His Son to give Himself as a sacrifice for all peoples, nations, tongues, and tribes.

Galatians 3:28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In fact, Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells us the formal social distinctions between men and women have been taken down as well. And according to the apostle Paul, so are social classes (slave or free). All of these identifying social markers that we typically cling to for our own personal identity have been taken down in Christ. Our identity is in Christ first and foremost. So while the whole world struggles with these social markers of race, nationality, social status, economic status, and so on – the people of God should not. All of us in Christ are free, equal, and exquisitely diverse.

As a believer though, I recognize there is a lot of tension in this sector of society right now. Racial tension is an issue being deliberately pushed into the face of Americans. So if you are sincerely seeking to engage politically and socially in these issues of immigration or the criminal case in Ferguson, I would caution you. Be careful who you identify with in the struggle, the companions we choose will bring a label upon us which is either good or bad depending upon who they are. And this will reflect upon Christ and our representing Him in society. Choose your words wisely because everything we say is useful ammunition to someone who hates you. It is too easy to sound like a bigot. Stay focused in your actions and words, these are difficult times and so much can be heard wrong or misunderstood. We must rise above the ugly hostility and be ambassadors for peace. And remember these words from the apostle Paul.

1 Corinthians 13:3And if I give all my possessions to feed {the poor,} and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

If you are doing anything you believe to be important and you are not motivated by love, your efforts are tainted. But be moved by love, and everything you are doing will be significant.

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