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Beautiful in Old Age

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, I find myself thinking about what it takes for someone to be beautiful even in their old age. I’ve concluded there’s no better example than Sarah, the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac.

In addition to being beautiful in her later years, Sarah also was fruitful and honoring – rare qualities indeed, especially in today’s world. Let’s look at how this was possible:

      BEAUTIFUL: If a woman is attractive in her youth, we often attribute it to genetics. But in order to be beautiful in old age, the source is usually the person’s attitude, character, and countenance.

In Genesis 20, we see Sarah as a beautiful woman nearing 90 years old – so attractive that King Abimelech attempted to take her as his wife! What a stunning and flabbergasting story. Wouldn’t any woman today want to look like that at age 90?

We know Sarah’s secret wasn’t Botox beauty, so it must have been something more. Somehow she developed an inner radiance that transcended her age.

Peter explained this when describing how Sarah remained so beautiful:

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful (1 Peter 3:3-5 NLT).

Let’s be honest: Peter’s advice seems woefully out of step with the times in which we live.

  • Beauty that comes from within? What a quaint idea!
  • Unfading beauty, based on a woman’s spirit rather than her body or her attire? Much too idealistic!

However, this is exactly the kind of beauty Sarah displayed. Not only was it “precious to God,” but it also was appealing to people. While priceless, this rare beauty was something money couldn’t buy. In the midst of the trials, disappointments, transitions, and injustices of Sarah’s life, her joyful, peaceful countenance enabled her to remain gorgeous beyond her years.

      FRUITFUL: When Sarah overheard the angels tell Abraham she would bear him a son at age 90, she laughed. Wouldn’t you?

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14 NLT).

Have you ever laughed at the promises God made to you? I bet you have, because His promises always require something more than your natural ability. Divine promises are worthless unless accompanied by divine enablement.

So notice: Although it’s wonderful that Sarah was beautiful in her senior years, don’t forget that God also supernaturally enabled her to be fruitful, bearing Isaac when she was 90. How does this apply to us? While there’s no guarantee our fruitfulness in life will include having children, it will always include having an impact on the lives of others.

That’s why I’m grieved whenever I meet elderly people who’ve given up on having an impact. Don’t they know someone they can share the Gospel with or encourage? Don’t they have children, grandchildren, or friends who could profit from their wisdom?

Look at what the psalmist said about this:

Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing
(Psalm 92:13-14 NKJV).

Although I don’t know how much longer I will live, I want to “still bear fruit in old age.” Even in my waning years, I hope I’ll remain “fresh and flourishing.”  

In the case of Sarah, her greatest “fruitfulness” didn’t occur until she was age 90. What a powerful lesson for us, encouraging us that our most meaningful impact may still be years ahead.

      HONORING: Peter’s description of Sarah includes another statement that is completely mind-blowing when applied to today’s culture:

Our “mother,” Sarah, devoted herself to her husband, Abraham, and even called him “master” (1 Peter 3:6 TPT).

At the moment, I’m not in the mood for a debate about marriage and gender roles, but instead I want to point out a larger principle here: Even in her old age, Sarah was still able to show honor, respect, and gratitude to her husband and others.

This is no small matter! If you took time to interview people at a retirement center, you would soon discover that there are two kinds of people there. Some are the sweetest, kindest people you would ever want to meet. They are full of stories about God’s goodness and the great life they’ve had. As they reflect on people they’ve known along the way – or on their current life in the retirement center – they express tremendous gratitude.

However, you’ll meet others who are cynical, bitter, and cranky in their old age. They will tell you endless stories of life’s injustice and the people who’ve done them wrong. Instead of showing honor and gratitude to those around them, they act as if they’re the center of the universe, entitled to have people serve them.

Sarah could have been like this second group. She had ample reason to be resentful toward her husband’s twists and turns, like the time he felt led to leave their homeland without any clear destination in sight! And how could she forgive his shenanigan in calling her his “sister” so the king wouldn’t kill him in order to take Sarah for himself?

Like Sarah, we all have choices to make about whether we will maintain a good attitude or bad attitude…express gratitude or grumble…honor others or harbor a critical spirit. Let us choose wisely!

My prayer is that we will be like Sarah – beautiful, fruitful, and honoring in our old age. And no matter what our current age might be, today is a great day to start cultivating those three wonderful qualities.

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This Is Not the End!

Did Jesus ever make a prediction that turned out to be false? It certainly seemed so when He said upon hearing that His friend Lazarus was sick, “This sickness will not end in death” (John 11:4 NIV).  

If you know the story of Lazarus, you remember that his sickness did indeed result in death. In fact, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, his friend had already been in the tomb for four days.

Not only was Lazarus dead, but the situation had already become stinky. “By this time there is a bad odor,” Martha reported to Jesus (v. 39).

At first glance, people could have concluded that Jesus had simply been wrong. Despite His prediction to the contrary, the illness of Lazarus had obviously ended in death.

But this was not end of Lazarus’ story. Yes, if we would have put the movie on pause at this point, we would have assumed that death was the final scene – but that was not the END.

There is a profound and life-changing lesson here – especially if you’re dealing with circumstances that seem disappointing or smelly.

No matter how dire your present circumstances may look, when Jesus is on the scene they aren’t the end of the story. Mirroring His words in John 11, I encourage you to declare today that the ending of your present story will be God’s glory and your restoration.

  • Has your marriage or an important relationship fallen apart? This is not the end!
  • Have you suffered a devastating financial setback? This is not the end!
  • Are you disappointed by choices your children or grandchildren are making? This is not the end!
  • Are you frustrated by lingering health issues? This is not the end!
  • Do you feel spiritually unfruitful, craving a life of greater impact? This is not the end!
  • Have you prayed persistent prayers that still remain unanswered? This is not the end!

When I read the story of Lazarus, I’m struck by how Jesus disregarded the request of Martha and Mary to come and heal their brother. At first, this may seem calloused or even mean. However, Jesus had a very good reason for ignoring their request for a healing: He wanted to give Lazarus a resurrection!

So if you’re frustrated by some unanswered prayer today, consider that God may want to do something much greater for you than you’ve been asking (Ephesians 3:20).

We see this same principle in Luke 5:1-11, where the fishermen had worked hard all night and caught nothing. They probably would have been satisfied with just an ordinary catch of fish, but Jesus wanted to do something far greater for them – something EXTRAORDINARY.

To their surprise, the frustrating efforts of these fishermen were not the end of the story. The night had seemed destined to end in failure, but a miracle catch of fish was right around the corner when they followed Jesus’ instructions.

Although it may not sound very manly of me, I’ve grown to enjoy Hallmark movies. There’s not really much suspense, because you know from the beginning of every story that there will be a happy ending. Despite many ups and downs along the way, the main characters are destined to live happily ever after.

Friend, I don’t know how your story is looking at the moment. But I do know this: God is planning a happy ending for you. Your present circumstances are not the END, so don’t give up on the movie until it reaches its conclusion.

I encourage you to face your disappointing circumstances head on today and declare through faith in God’s faithfulness: THIS IS NOT THE END!

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An Encouraging Word

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Then Hezekiah encouraged them with this address:

“Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid of the king of Assyria or his mighty army.

There is a power far greater on our side! He has a great army, but they are just men.

We have the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!”

These words greatly encouraged the people.

2 Chronicles 32:6b-8 NLT

 

            Encircled by invisible armies, the Greatest Power is on your side. Stand proudly with spineless wimps turned into steel-backboned warriors. Feeling powerless, recall the truth not by force nor by strength, but by My Spirit. Feeling weak-kneed, trustingly don My armor.

 

            Sometimes you feel “where never is heard a discouraging word” is only a dreamy Utopia. Despair and pessimism are rampant. Bad news is all you ever hear. Futurists have little optimistic to predict.

 

            Tired of negativism? Bow before the plus sign of the cross.     When it seems discouraging words are all you ever hear, turn to My Word. Take a walk through the New Testament and revel in transforming truths.

 

             I am your Travel Companion. Earth’s saddest day and gladdest day were just three days apart. My story captivates you and cheers you on. My Spirit brings peace in pandemonium. Christ’s return gives reason for living until paradise is restored. In the darkness, dawn approaches. You are a victor, not a victim. You enjoy freedom, not shackles. Your Heavenly Father cares for you, His child. Prayer opens the window to   infinite resources. Christ unlocks the secret to surviving every situation. Unimaginable glory is waiting just around the corner. I am the Eternal Optimist—you can be too.    My Son came to planet Earth to solve your biggest problem—guilt. I grant power for living, love for your relationships, and self-discipline for spiritual development. I am your Blessed Hope. Active sharing of faith’s perspective helps you to grow up in Christ. At the throne of prayer, find mercy for your sins and grace for your struggles. A humble attitude ensures help from the Almighty. Trust causes joy beyond words. Internalizing My Word purifies you from moral filth. In Jesus, there is certainty in all circumstances. Count on Unchanging Truth. Enjoy the pleasure of My company 24/7. I am your Source of eternal security. The United Kingdom is on the way.

 

            Take this walk often—My Encouraging Word will lift your spirit.

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© Pastor Johnny R. Almond, Day 175 Gentle Whispers from Eternity

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Over the past 18 months I have had the distinct privilege of helping to direct a national outreach initiative called Saturate USA. The ministry of Christ for All Peoples, due to the benevolence of some major investors, was able to supply Gospel resources to thousands of local churches to bring the message of Jesus to homes and apartments in their communities.

It was a divinely inspired move of God that resulted in millions of Jesus DVDs, Gospel tracts and participating church information beings distributed in cities from coast to coast. More information is available at www.SaturateUSA.org.

In my role, I was blessed to work with local churches in ten different cities representing the diversity of the body of Christ in America. I spoke to several large gatherings of pastors and directly with over 1,000 pastors. What a rich experience it was to work with so many churches interested in taking Gospel responsibility for their local mission field and seeding the Good News into every household in their ‘Jerusalem.’

Churches in cities as large as New York and Los Angeles, to small town rural America, were mobilized and resourced to reach their communities. They had one thing in common – they were participants in a simple evangelism outreach.

The reports back from the churches were, for the most part, a testimony of God at work. Recently, in a meeting in Cleveland, one pastor gave testimony that her church saw eleven new baptisms as a result of their outreach. Another church in northern Idaho gave testimony to three “dechurched ex-pastors” returning to church and becoming new members. A church in Deland, Florida saw 50 ‘decision for Christ’ in just two weeks. There are many other such reports.

Many pastors have described the personal renewal of their members and revitalization of their churches that has taken place as they left the building and went out into their communities. One report from Houston described how volunteer numbers doubled on their second outreach due to the excitement generated by their first. Another expressed new enthusiasm for outreach in their church that had not previously been involved in an evangelism outreach.

One pastor shared with me that he had tried for four years to get his people to share their faith with little success. But then he found out about the simple outreach offered by Saturate USA and his people got excited. They completed reaching every home in their zip code and are now expanding their mission field to the next.

From my experience with Saturate USA, I want to make four observations:

  • Believers are receptive to evangelism outreach when the model is kept simple. Most Christians do not regularly share their faith with others out of fear and uncertainty of what to say. When equipped with simple tools and a simple model, people who have never shared their faith will participate.
  • Churches are ready to participate when resourced for the task of evangelism. Who can turn away a free gift of Gospel resources sufficient to reach their immediate community? Good luck trying to sell a pastor a supply of Gospel materials. I have tried. But given the opportunity to take advantage of free resources, many will respond enthusiastically. No judgment here just an observation.
  • People are responsive to the simple Gospel gift delivered to their door. Some may question the efficacy of the distribution model but the results speak for themselves. Additionally, with but a few exceptions, most people receive the Gospel gift with at least an appreciation for the effort. We heard repeatedly that people were friendly and welcoming, with very few exceptions.
  • Divine encounters happen when the Church leaves the building. One of the best stories I have heard in the past year is of a team walking down a neighborhood street and encountering a young lady sprawled out on her front lawn weeping. She was planning on committing suicide that day. The team ministered the love of Christ and left this young lady rejoicing in the Lord.

I believe that Saturate USA represents a “first wave” of God’s moving in our day to thrust the workers out into the harvest field. The Lord providentially removed all the barriers to enable pastors and their congregations to get out into the waiting harvest.

Is more necessary beyond material distribution? Of course. When I spoke to pastors over the past year, I would refer to 1 Corinthians 3:6 where Paul tells us that he planted the Gospel seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. Paul describes a simple process.

I am reminded of Luke 10:9 where Jesus gives two very simple instructions to the 72 disciples. Jesus tells them to go heal the sick and tell them the “Kingdom of God has come near.” They were to demonstrate God’s power and presence where they were welcomed. But in order to find out where that was, they needed to visit an unknown number of households. There was no thirteen-week training program, no expectations yet for more. They were given a simple task and the power to complete it.

My experience tells me that we make a mistake when we set the bar too high for the average believer to participate in evangelism. When we emphasize training, equipping and disciple-making we set a high bar that we expect people to jump over. The majority are not ready. However, give them a simple task and watch the number of volunteers increase greatly. Many people want to be involved in evangelism when given a simple opportunity. Then they overcome their fears and are excited to do more.  

One comment I heard often from pastors after their distribution and their members had returned from the outreach was, “Pastor, this was fun, can we do more!” I would suggest to these pastors that now their people were ready to be trained. Likewise, Jesus’ disciples returned from their simple outreach filled with joy. (Luke 10:17). Those same disciples then changed the world.

The K.I.S.S. principles works. Keep it simple, Saints! That is if you are a pastor who wants to see more of his people excited about and involved in the task of evangelism. Then they can change their neighborhood and maybe the world too.

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The Future is Disciple Making

By Allen White

Small groups are no longer making disciples at the rate they once were. For many churches, the purpose of groups is to assimilate new people and keep them connected so they won’t leave. Everyone needs to go where everybody knows their name, and they’re always glad you came… But, if the purpose of small groups ends with assimilation, host homes, and the church-wide campaign, then how are disciples being made? Host homes and campaigns are great to get groups going, but not so great for on-going discipleship.

Disciple Making is Not Complex.

Programs are complex. Disciple making is not. Jesus told us what we need to know to make disciples.

First, Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). Jesus boiled 613 commands down to two: Love God and Love your neighbor. God is easy to love. But, neighbors, which neighbors? Look out the window.

Second, Jesus gave us the Great Compassion in Matthew 25 [ “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). Feed hungry people. Clothe those in need. Show hospitality to strangers. Visit the prisoner. Care for the sick. Essentially, love your neighbor as yourself. See #1.

Third, Jesus gave us the Great Commission. Read this and try not to “yada, yada, yada” it. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus told us to “Go.” How well are we scattering? We’re pretty good at gathering. Jesus didn’t say the lost should come to our seeker services. That’s not working as well as it once did. [LINK]

Does this seem too simple? If our lives were focused on these things, we would grow. Our people would grow. As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”

 

Disciple Making is Customized.

Disciple Making relies on a system to produce disciples. When we hear the word system, we often resort to a manufacturing process, a catechism, or a training program. While some of these methods might add to disciple making, there is a considerable flaw in the thinking. People don’t come to us as raw materials. They aren’t blank slates. They have a past. They are different – genders, races, backgrounds, educations, experiences, personalities, gifting, callings, opportunities, abuses, and so many other things contribute to who people are. I’m not like you. You’re not like me. Yet, we are called to be like Jesus.

While we must all know basic things about the Bible and what it teaches, how we reflect more of Jesus is a different journey for all of us. I grew up in church. That’s a funny statement, but we were there so often that at times it felt like we lived there. I learned all of the Bible stories in Sunday school. Our church was more of the Arminian persuasion, so I’ve gone to the altar more than 100 times to make sure I was saved. I called this eternal insecurity.

I learned to live by a code of conduct which included no smoking, no alcohol, no dancing, no movies, no playing cards, and the list went on. In my church we couldn’t belly up to the bar, but we could belly up to the buffet. That’s how we got the bellies!

In a holiness tradition, there is a fine line between setting yourself apart for God and becoming legalistic. Legalism defined the don’ts for me, but not all of the don’ts. The don’ts seemed more significant than the do’s.  But, if I lived better than other people, then God would bless me. The others got what they deserved. I didn’t need to understand people from other backgrounds. They were sinners. They were going to hell. There wasn’t a lot of love going around.

Now, put me in your church. How could you help me become more like Jesus? How can I learn to love my neighbor as myself? How can I see people who are different from me as people who God loves? I don’t need to know more of the Bible. I know it. Bring on the Bible Jeopardy!

How would you affect my attitudes and my behavior? How could I think more like Christ? How could I act more like Christ? By the definition set in the church I grew up in, I’m a model citizen. I fit with the tribe. They’re proud of me. Yet, I lack so much.

This is where cookie cutter disciple making goes wrong. We produce rule followers with cold hearts and no actions to demonstrate God’s love to those who are far from Him.

Fortunately, I’m much different now than where I was when I graduated from high school. But, it wasn’t college, seminary, or another church’s process that got me there. It was something unique that God is doing in my life. I’m not the exception here.

My friend John Hampton, Senior Pastor of Journey Christian Church, Apopka, FL lost a ton of weight recently. By ton, I mean, 50-60 lbs. and he’s kept it off. How did he do it? He joined a gym who gave him a personal trainer. The trainer’s first question was “What do you want to work on?” The trainer didn’t prescribe a standard course of physical fitness. The trainer connected with what John was motivated to change. In turn, John’s team is now sitting down with people at their church and asking them, “What do you want to work on?” Then, offering a next step to get them started.

There is nothing outside of us that can motivate us more than what is inside of us. For the believer, God is inside of us – in case you didn’t know where I was going there. What we are motivated to change right now should be the thing we focus on changing. If we don’t sense a need to change, then we need to bring that question to God: “What do you want to work on?”

Disciple Making is Obedience.

The last phrase in the Great Commission punched me between the eyes not long ago: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Read the phrase again. What did Jesus tell us to teach disciples? Hint: Jesus did not say to teach his commands. Jesus instructed us to teach obedience.

In the area where I live, everyone goes to church. There are more than 75 other churches within 10 miles of the church I attend. It’s part of the culture. While these church-going folks are faithful to church attendance, it doesn’t stop them from being hateful, passive-aggressive, and racist. There’s a high incidence of domestic violence here. The daily news is not good news. Now, this isn’t everybody. But, with so much access to church, you’d expect people to be a little more like Jesus. Bible knowledge is there, but changes in attitudes and behaviors are lacking.

Recently, a man who grew up here, told me about his family history in the area. His family has lived here for over 100 years. It’s a colorful family history – running moonshine and other illegal activities. At one point, he told me, “My grandmother was a fine Christian woman, well, except for running a brothel.” I had no response.

Concluding Thoughts

How’s your disciple making? What results are you seeing? What’s missing?

There is so much to unpack here. Please join me in the comments for a discussion. We’ve got to get our people beyond just coping with life. We’re on a mission. How can your members join that mission?

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PICK YOUR PASSION STORY

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“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,

that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

- John 3:16

PICK YOUR PASSION STORY

Good Friday services are difficult for me. The songs and the sermons that pound away at the pounding Jesus took; his bruising and bleeding, the stripes and the scars. As if I should be motivated to believe and obey simply because his pain was so intense. 
 
Of course, I do not minimize our Lord's excruciating ordeal. And, yes, I am truly sorrowful it was my sin that required his sacrifice. But it is essential to realize his submission to that death sentence was a by-product of his love—from eternity past. My gospel witness, sharing the gift of God’s grace that proceeds from the cross to all who believe, should be motivated by joy—the deepest gratitude of knowing that God in Christ has done for me what I could never even attempt for myself. 
 
I do not need to wait for Resurrection Sunday. Jesus was victorious every stage of his life from birth, to maturity, in ministry, and yes, even when dying on the cross. Good Friday was not a setback before some bottom-of-the-ninth rally.
 
As a witness to this passion-provoked story, my life and my conversations must express and explain how God’s eternal passion opens the door to our salvation and our culture’s transformation. I must become part of the community of Christ-followers who “make love (their) aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1). 
 
I am proposing the appropriate sorrow for our sin is not to feel sorry for Jesus every Good Friday, but to be moved by the tests, trials, and culminating torture of his incarnation to show and tell the good story of what Jesus’ death achieved and what God offers to those who trust him. 
 
Make our Lord’s passion, your passion. Not his pain, but the love that sent him, the love that saved us, the love he wants to express and extend through us.
 
Prayer: Lord, thank you for what you did, but even more, why you did it. Your submission to the eternal plan of the Sovereign God, the Savior, our Spirit, defeated death, provided forgiveness, and opened the door of endless, limitless life with God. Make me into a love-motivated, gospel-sharing Christ-follower. Amen.
 
 
- Written by Phil Miglioratti

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The Value of Prayer

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What good will it do us if we pray?
JOB 21:15 NLT


In times of doubt and pain, you may question the value of prayer. You may wonder about the use of spending time in this enterprise and ask what is gained by it all. Petitioning My throne may seem pointless.

Such questions soon evaporate in the light of My Holy Presence. The highest value of prayer is a deeper awareness of your Creator. To feel Me near—holding your hand as you travel life’s rugged road—is the highest reward of prayer and your supreme joy.

I will show you the best way to live, grant you equanimity the world is unable to give, and bless you with the eternal pleasure of My company.

No matter how the world shoves you, remember I care about you and love you with all My heart. Let Me have everything that worries you—I can handle it better than you can. Burdens of life can crush you—My shoulders are strong and wide enough to carry the heavy load.

Begin each morning with an appointment with your Father. I will listen to you and pay attention to your requests. You can depend on Me to answer. Almighty help is only a prayer away—trade weakness for My strength. Heavenly wisdom is yours for the asking—be sure to ask!

Learn these lessons well:

     1) prayer does not change things—I do;

     2) prayers do not change Me—they change you.

Find a quiet place and get still before Me—take an exit ramp from the interstate of life’s rapid pace, find a country road sheltered by trees and listen to birds singing songs I taught them; spend unhurried time communing with Me—then return to the daily grind with renewed love for other people.

When you are weary and buckling under with responsibilities, fall to the holy ground beneath your knees. In My Presence you will find something you will never find anywhere else—rest. I am your Calm and Contentment—thank Me for My blessings, talk over with Me whatever is troubling you, and you can relax.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was correct in “The Passing of Arthur,” Idylls of the King: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” And when Arthur Christopher Benson said, “Life is fragile, handle it with prayer,” he had learned the value of prayer.

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(c) Johnny R. Almond

Pastor, Hull's Memorial Baptist Church

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

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Marked by the High Calling

My local newspaper recently gained national attention with an investigative report on sexual abuse by ministers in “Independent Fundamentalist Baptist” churches.

 

The study revealed 412 documented allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 churches, based in 40 states and Canada. Let me quickly add that while I am “independent,” and some would say, a bit “fundamental,” and a life-long Baptist, I am not an “Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.” Second, on behalf of ministers everywhere, I’d like to apologize to victims of ministerial abuse. It is never acceptable, nor should it be ignored, or covered up. It is true that many ministers sit dangerously on pedestals, without seat-belts, and when they fall, they deserve correction.

 

While this study focused on one group of churches, it followed a national scandal involving sexual abuse among Roman Catholic priests. So, let me broaden the focus of my comments to include all of those called by God to church-related ministry. As a twenty-two-year Seminary professor, I observed first-hand, the moral and ethical failures of both want-to-be ministers, alumni, and colleagues.

 

This is not a new problem, nor a narrow one. It began shortly after the creation and fall of mankind. Early in my ministry, I memorized a verse of scripture (from the King James Bible, which is all we had back then) as something for which I wanted to strive. It was Paul’s standard, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). I focused on three words: “mark” which was later translated “goal;” “prize” which was an award, often given in the public games of the day; and “calling” which was an invitation, and in the New Testament, always used for a divine call from God. I am not a judge (even though that is the meaning of the Hebrew name, Daniel), and now that I am much closer to pressing toward the finish line than kneeling in the starting blocks, I realize the danger in judging others. However, I pass this verse along to my younger ministerial family, and beyond. Keep your focus on the prize of the “high calling of God in Christ” not the low calling of “the sins of the flesh” (Colossians 2:11). No doubt some have been, and will be again, falsely accused. To those, I repeat what I often told my students, “So live, that when the rumors and the negative reports begin no one will believe them.”

 

 In other words, be “marked” by the “high calling.”

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“Follow God’s example . . . and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us. . . . Now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:1–2a, 8b–10 NIV).

  With our Bibles open to 1 Corinthians 13, we began our 12-step meditation about God’s top priority for every disciple with this statement: “The most fulfilling journey in life is the path of a person who has an intimate relationship with God, and who faithfully follows Him. Is it the easiest path to walk? No. Is it the inside track to popularity? No. But is it the inside track to joy? Yes, for eternal reasons.”

  As we now conclude our contemplation, let’s recap several highlight9570813895?profile=originals and then relate them to eternity:

  1. Our life on earth is mostly about relationships. And our life in eternity is all about one key relationship: our relationship with God.
  2. Any disciple who focuses only on growing in knowledge and skill will fail sooner or later. Why? Because “Knowledge + Skill – Character => Collapse.”
  3. A true follower of God is known for reflecting His love. The evidence of His love in that disciple will be Christlike character:                                           “Knowledge + Skill + Character => Worship!”
  4. Our walk with God is our greatest witness to the work of God—and our worship of God.

 

  Looking forward, we learn that our lifestyle values and choices on earth today impact rewards that God wants to give us in heaven tomorrow. For example, He virtually underlines His priority on Christlike character as He identifies various “crowns” that He will graciously grant to us:

  • 1 Corinthians 9:25 speaks of an everlasting crown for running our race with self-discipline.
  • James 1:12 describes a crown for enduring in our walk of love even under great duress.
  • 2 Timothy 4:8 tells of the crown of righteousness for finishing our race with trustworthy integrity, not compromising our faith.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:19 reveals the crown of joy for diligent ministry through which souls are won and faithful walks matured.
  • In 1 Peter 5:2–4 we learn of the crown of glory God has for disciples who set examples of kindness as they selflessly care about and help others.

 

  “So . . . what is the bottom line?” you ask. Here’s what matters most to God: His will for you and me is that we make worship a lifestyle; that is, we honor God acceptably with our heart, mind, and strength. That is how we will “walk in love.” His Spirit in us will enable us. Alleluia!

 

Shall we?

© 2018 John C Garmo

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What Matters Most to God in a Disciple (Part 11)

“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7–8a NIV). Love doesn’t quit!

  As He continues speaking to us through the pe9570809085?profile=originaln of Paul, God identifies four ways that distinguish a maturing disciple who reflects His enduring agape love. All four are related to our relationships—which is not surprising, since life is mostly about relationships.

  First, love protects. A maturing disciple neither slanders others nor encourages it by gossiping with slanderers.

  Rather than gossiping about their faults, whether suspected or true, the disciple protects and preserves the reputation of others by keeping silent in public (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). This helps “cover” or shield the person from attack. Any appropriate confrontation is initiated personally and privately (Leviticus 19:16,17; Matthew 18:15).

  As a young boy, I recall a teacher’s wise advice about careless talk: “Before you say something about someone else, ask yourself three questions: (1) Is it true? (2) Is it kind? (3) Is it necessary?”

  Second, love trusts. A maturing disciple chooses to believe the best in others. Unfair though it may be, when a rumor begins about the bad attitude, word, or action of another person, people often believe it too readily. I know that at times I have accepted a rumor too hastily, and I also know of times that I’ve been victimized by rumor. Have you? Either way, it hurts people and it harms relationships.

  God calls on His disciples to believe the best in others, not to delight in their demise. Is that rumor true? What is the other side of the story? How would I want others to respond if that rumor was about me? True or not, how does God want me to “cover” that person with His agape love?

  Trusting others, however, does not mean that God wants a disciple to close their eyes to realities around them. Like Paul, a disciple sees problems and discerns solutions that will help others move forward in their relationship with God and with others. That’s how we build each other up.

  Third, love hopes. Coupled with trust in others is the firm conviction and expectant desire that a person—even one who has severely missed the mark—can change. This, too, is evidence of agape love.

  How many times have you heard or experienced the transforming impact of a parent’s trust in the value of an errant child, a teacher’s encouragement of a struggling student, or a coach’s praise of an athlete’s potential? It’s because of loving hope that the parent sets and enforces rules at home, that teacher still gives challenging assignments, and that coach still runs demanding workouts.

Fourth, love perseveres. The maturing disciple stands firmly beside that other person. He or she does not abandon that disappointing friend, neighbor, or family member.

“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7–8a NIV). Love doesn’t quit!

How’re you loving as you walk through this week?

© 2018 John C Garmo

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Is Discipleship Possible in the Age of Twitter?

When I entered the Twitter world in May 2012 with @BestBibleTweets, I set a goal that seemed audacious at the time: gaining 4,000 followers within one year. However, that goal was surpassed in just six months, and now I’ve reached 45,000 Twitter followers.

Although this accomplishment is exhilarating in many ways, it’s also a time of sober reevaluation. At each new milestone, I’ve found myself facing honest questions, like “Do Twitter followers count for anything in eternity?” … “Are any lives really changed?” … And “Do my supposed followers even read my tweets?”

Reaching the 45,000-follower mark seems pretty amazing from a biblical standpoint. You probably remember the story of Jesus feeding 5,000+ hungry people on a Galilean hillside. When women and children are counted, it’s likely that around 15,000 people were fed, which was only a third of my present number of Twitter followers. How would Jesus disciple people in the Age of Twitter?

Although the loaves and fish story is one of my favorite events in the Bible, it had a troubling aftermath.

After Jesus fed the multitudes in John 6, He began to explain the cost of true discipleship. Instead of just involving miracles and free meals, it turned out that a real follower had to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood” (v. 53). Hmmm…so much for easy believism or greasy grace.

And while Jesus’ day began with thousands of fair-weather followers, it ended with only the Twelve remaining. The text says that many of those who turned away after hearing His “hard teachings”  had actually considered themselves to be “disciples”  (v. 66). Yes, this is a troubling story indeed.

Jesus finally asked His 12 remaining followers, “Do you also want to go away?” (v. 67). What a question! You see, it’s one thing to say you’re following Jesus when everyone else is—when it’s the culturally expected thing to do. But what if the tide of public opinion is flowing in the opposite direction? Where will you stand in that day?

Peter’s response to Jesus’ question has often been portrayed as heroic, but I’m not sure that’s really accurate. He replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68).

Yes, Peter was absolutely correct that there was no one else he could follow who would be able to provide eternal life (see John 14:6). Yet his response could also be interpreted to imply several less virtuous traits: (1) Peter seems to have already given some thought to what his “other options” might be, and (2) he perhaps would have been open to some other option if it seemed a feasible alternative.

Could it be that Peter was secretly wishing there was some other Messiah who had a “kinder and gentler” message? Or was he tempted to regret that he and his fellow disciples had left behind their fishing nets, tax offices, and other occupations to put their destiny squarely in Jesus’ hands?

Regardless of what Peter may have been thinking at the time, he made the right choice in the end. So I guess it’s OK to wrestle with God’s call as long as we ultimately heed it.

I hope some of my 45,000+ Twitter followers will read this blog post. And I pray that a few will count the cost and become true disciples of Jesus.

What about you? Are you only following Christ because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do among your friends or family? Are you willing to follow even if others turn away at His hard teachings, after they’ve received their fill of miracles, bread, and fish?

Be honest.

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The Benefits of Manure

Several weeks ago I was feeling even more arrogant than usual. I had just published two new books – not as a ghostwriter this time, but under my own name. In a four-week period, I had also preached 10 times, more opportunities than I’ve had in any other month in recent years. In addition, I’ve been thrilled about several young Christian leaders God has given me to mentor.

Feeling rather proud of myself, I thought it might be a good time to fish for a compliment from the Lord.

“Father, why is it that I’ve become so fruitful in this advanced stage of my life?” I asked Him.

I guess I was expecting God to pat me on the back and thank me for my great faithfulness. Maybe He would commend me for my prayer life or my perseverance. Or perhaps He would even say, “I don’t have many other servants as dependable as you, Jim!”

Well, God didn’t tell me anything like that. Instead, He just showed me a picture, and it was a vivid picture indeed: In my mind’s eye, I saw a farmer shoveling manure onto his beautiful, lush garden.

“Jim, you’ve become this fruitful because you’re well fertilized!” was the Lord’s only comment on my humbling vision.

If you’re a millennial, you probably think fertilizer has always come from Miracle-Gro or Monsanto. But in the old days, the best thing for growing healthier crops was manure.

The Bible describes this principle in several places. In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus told a parable about what to do when you have a barren fig tree. Perhaps you’ve never had that exact problem, but it’s likely you’ve faced some other kind of barrenness in your life at one point or another. The solution prescribed in this story was to “dig around it and put on manure” (v. 8 ESV).

Yes, manure really does have some benefits if you want to be more fruitful.

Since God showed me this word picture of “The Manure Effect,” I’ve begun to see Paul’s famous words in Philippians 3:3-10 quite differently. After listing all the things he could have boasted about, Paul wrote that he was counting all those things as “dung” (KJV), i.e., manure (Gk. skybalon).

Yes, the positive experiences in our lives are meant to provide fertilizer too – if we don’t get puffed up in the process.

New Perspectives

If you grasp this deep revelation about The Manure Effect, you will see your past in a whole new way. If you’ve experienced trials and tribulations such as betrayals, divorces, business failures, job losses, bankruptcies, sicknesses, church splits, persecutions, or bouts of depression, the Bible says to “count it all joy” (James 1:2-4). That advice seems completely nonsensical unless you understand that such things can fertilize your future hopes and dreams.

Yes, every hardship is meant to provide valuable fertilizer for your future. So rejoice! Instead of grumbling about your past failures and difficulties, thank God that He’s been fertilizing you for greater fruitfulness.

Manure stinks, but manure is inevitable. As the popular bumper sticker says, “Manure Happens!”

Yet instead of interpreting the manure in our lives as a sign of God’s displeasure, we must realize that the opposite is true: Whoever the Lord loves, He fertilizes.

So I encourage you to pause and thank Him for sending some manure your way. Don’t let it go to waste!  

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Gates to Understanding

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Eliashib the high priest and other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate.
They dedicated it and set up its doors.

NEHEMIAH 3:1a NLT

Retrace Nehemiah’s counterclockwise tour of Jerusalem’s wall. Pause at the gates and reflect on your relationship to Me.


The Sheep Gate pictures your pardon. Untold millions of lambs—led through that gate to be killed in the Temple—point to My Lamb led as a lamb to the slaughter on Skull Hill. He had done nothing wrong, yet He died so you could be right with your Creator.


The Fish Gate reminds you of your life’s highest purpose. Standing there, hear Jesus’ words—be My disciple, and I will teach you to fish for people. Focus energy on obedience and enjoy meaningful living.
 

The Old Gate leads you to remember the legacy of those who invite you to stand at the crossroads and reflect on ancient paths and seek the good way and walk in it, so you will find rest for your soul. Spiritual ancestors in the grandstands cheer you on to the finish line.

The Valley Gate teaches you the danger of pride and catapults arrogance as you adjust your attitude to Christlike downward mobility.
 

The Dung Gate challenges you to purity. If you want to be near Me, you must toss garbage. Everything else in the world is trash compared to the priceless gain of pure-hearted clear vision of the Holy One.
 

The Fountain Gate portrays the Holy Spirit called alongside you to calm, comfort, encourage, and defend you in life’s storms.

The Water Gate speaks of My principles guiding your behavior in the twists and turns of life’s maze.

The Horse Gate stirs you into militant action as you consider the polarization of good and evil in the spiritual warfare you are fighting.
 

The East Gate thrills you with the Messiah’s promised return to the holy city, new Jerusalem. The fi rst gate to be opened every morning reminds you that after you have cried your heart out in midnight desperation, the dawn of heaven will bring untarnished joy.


The Muster Gate motivates you to prepare for inspection by your Commander in Chief, so you will not blush at your interview with Me!
 

End up where you began with Me—the Sheep Gate—near the cross!

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(c) Pastor Johnny R. Almond

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

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What Matters Most to God in a Disciple (Part 10)

“Love . . . does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail” (1 Corinthians 13:6 AMPC).

Throughout this series on 1 Corinthians 13, we see clearly that what matters most to God in a disciple is that person’s agape love.  

Verse six identifies another way in which that love shows. A disciple can be trusted to do what is right and say what is true. That is, this person has trustworthy integrity.9570812266?profile=original

This disciple does not deceive, does not slander, and does not behave in unwise ways. We can describe “integrity” as “showing we can be trusted to do what is right and say what is true.”

Earlier in this letter to Corinthian Christians, Paul confronted them with their toleration of—and perhaps their devious delight in gossiping about—something that was blatantly unrighteous: immorality within their congregation (1 Corinthians 5).

He also called them out on their embarrassing mismanagement of disputes with each other. Rather than settling disagreements within their family of believers, they took each other to court—weakening their witness by airing their dispute in front of a pagan judge and a pagan public.

“Your lawsuits show that you’ve lost [to Satan] already. Why not be wronged or cheated, rather than retaliate by wronging or cheating your own family of believers?” asked Paul (I Corinthians 6:7–8).

Here’s some good news in tough situations: When—not if—someone or some situation tests our commitment to do what is right or say what is true, it gives us another opportunity to worship. To worship is to “honor God acceptably with our heart, mind and strength.” When pressured to compromise our integrity, we can worship by standing firm on this reality: Since God is sovereign, my response to this situation is more important in His eyes than my situation itself.

God’s Word is clear about His countercultural desire for us to do what is right and say what is true:

Lord, who can dwell in Your tent? Who can live on Your holy mountain?
The one who lives honestly, practices righteousness,
and acknowledges the truth in his heart —
who does not slander with his tongue,
who does not harm his friend or discredit his neighbor,

who despises the one rejected by the Lord but honors those who fear the Lord,
who keeps his word whatever the cost,
who does not lend his money at interest or take a bribe against the innocent —
the one who does these things will never be moved.
(Psalm 15 HCSB).

Privately or with some friends, here are several questions to ponder:

  • How does our trustworthy integrity reveal our convictions about God?
  • On whom are we focusing—and not focusing—when we compromise our integrity?
  • How is trustworthy integrity an act of worship?
  • How do you expect that your commitment to trustworthy integrity will be tested this week?

© 2018 John C Garmo

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What I Learned from John Rankin

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about John Rankin, a guy who was in the Christian fellowship group with me at Denison University over 40 years ago. John wasn’t one of my best friends—far from it. In fact, he was one of those people who constantly got under my skin and pushed my buttons.

Have you had people like that in your life?

John was a freshman, and I was a senior. I was the main leader of the group, and he was a newbie. Under those circumstances, you would think he would show me some respect, wouldn’t you?

My problem with John Rankin was his obnoxious arrogance. At 18 years of age, he was one of the most egotistical men I’ve ever met. And although he was a newcomer to the group, he thought he knew better than everyone else. If you look up “Know It All” in the dictionary, I bet you’ll see a picture of John Rankin.

Don’t you hate it when someone thinks they know it all?

I’ll never forget the day things came to a head in our relationship. John wanted to put his favorite song in our fellowship songbook: “Do Lord.”

Isn’t that the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard? You undoubtedly know the song: “Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me, oh Lordy…”

You see, everyone knows that silly song, which is one of the reasons it was totally unnecessary to add it to our songbook.

I also strongly objected to the song’s warped theology. I tried to explain to John that because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are eternally “remembered” and accepted by the Father. There’s certainly no need to beg Him to remember us!

Yes, John always wanted to change things…always thought he knew better…always wanted to get his way. The young man clearly had a spirit of control, and the songbook incident was just one of the most memorable examples.

Perhaps you’re wondering why John Rankin has been on my mind lately—over four decades since I last had contact with him. I wondered that too at first. But then I realized there’s someone in my life today who reminds me of John Rankin! Yikes… I thought I was done with him forever, and it’s as if he’s back.

Once again, my buttons are being pushed. Once again, I find myself offended by a know-it-all guy who thinks he knows better than I do. Once again, I’m going bonkers because I discern that someone has a controlling spirit.

However, I’ve concluded that God must have wanted me to learn some lessons during my encounters with John Rankin at Denison—and my encounters today with the person who reminds me of him. So I’ve asked Him to show me what’s going on here, and the lessons have turned out to be both hilarious and painful:

  1. If you don’t learn what you’re supposed to learn from the first “John Rankin,” God will keep sending you other ones. Failing to learn this vital principle, people go from marriage to marriage, job to job, and church to church, trying to escape the thorny people in their life. But everywhere they go, they find someone else who pushes the same buttons! In case you haven’t realized it yet, there are John Rankins EVERYWHERE!
  2. If people keep pushing your buttons, it’s time to ask God to heal those buttons so the cycle stops happening. I’ve always loved the old maxim that says, “If someone gets your goat, it just goes to show you’ve got one!” You see, God purposely sends us people He knows will offend us. Why? Because He wants to reveal and heal the hypersensitive, easily offended areas of our life. 
  1. In many cases, we’re offended by people who have the same personality trait we have. One preacher calls this principle “If you can spot it, you’ve got it!” It shouldn’t have been any great mystery why I was so offended by John’s controlling spirit. I didn’t want him to be in control, because I wanted to be in control! Why was I so upset by his know-it-all attitude? Because I thought I knew better than he did! And the reason I was offended by his song selection was because I was certain my songs were better.

So now that I realize what’s going on with this phenomenon, I’m asking God to expose and heal my buttons pushed by people like John Rankin. And since my own pride has been the root cause of my offenses in these cases, the healing process is requiring me to humble myself before the Lord and admit my own tendency to be a controlling, know-it-all person who wants to get my own way.

I’ve lost touch with John Rankin over the years, but I would love to track him down somehow. John, if you’re out there somewhere, please contact me.

It would be great to find out if John Rankin is still the same arrogant, controlling person he was at Denison. And I’m sure he would wonder the same about me.

I encourage you to take a moment and sincerely thank God for the John Rankins in your life. If you allow the Lord to do His work in your heart, He will use people like that to make you more like Jesus.

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Defining Purpose: SUBMIT to God’s direction

The Spirit Speaks

A few thoughts from Chuck Proudfit with the Marketplace Minute™ . . .

 

It’s the Holy Spirit that often knocks on our hearts and heads, helping us to understand God’s will for our lives, inside and outside of work.

 

What an underutilized resource is the Holy Spirit!  We Christians are often more influenced by the call of our culture than the call of our God.

 

First Corinthians 2:12 reminds us that . . . “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

 

Once we embrace that gift, we can forge forward with it.  At work, we can press on with an anointed calling straight from our ultimate Boss. 

 

Things may look far different from our plans or expectations; but if it’s from God, it will be one of the contributions for which we were created.

 

Reflection:

 

  1. Have you spent time considering the significance, and the role, of the Holy Spirit in your life?

 

  1. How are you spending time with yourself, to better connect with the Spirit alive and at work in you?

 

Prayer: 

 

Dear Lord, in the Holy Spirit, You have granted us a gift that we often overlook.  Help us to appreciate Your work in us, through Your Spirit, and in pursuit of Your kingdom.

The Marketplace Minute™ is brought to you by At Work on Purpose, a non-profit work life ministry on the web at www.atworkonpurpose.org

 

 

At work on Your purposes - Amen

 

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What Matters Most to God in a Disciple (Part 9)

“Love . . . keeps no record of when it has been wronged” (1 Corinthians 13:5c NLT).

Love . . . forgives. Graciously.

As we continue meditating on what matters most to God in a disciple, let’s ponder the scope and path of forgiveness that we began previously.

God’s Word is clear about His countercultural desire for9570814090?profile=original us to forgive:

“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”

(Luke 6:35-36 NLT).

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31 ESV).

Other questions emerge, in addition to those raised in our previous segment.

First: Other than other persons, who else might you and I need to forgive?

Many of us need to forgive ourselves. Satan, our accuser (Revelation 12:10), revels in discouraging us with unrelenting accusations, in God’s ear and in our hearts, about one past failure or another.

Other times we blame God, consciously or subconsciously, for emotional or physical pain that we experienced. “God, You gave me an abusive mother and an alcoholic father. It’s no wonder that I’m a wreck. Who I am today is Your fault, not mine.”

Whether or not you or I understand a wrenching trauma that we experience, we truly worship when we stand firm on this reality: Since God is sovereign, my response to this situation is more important in His eyes than my situation itself. Forgive Him—as He forgave you.

Second: For God’s glory, Satan’s defeat, and our stewardship of life, how can we “forgive” well?

1 John 1:9 summarizes the way God forgives us:

“He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

That is, we can trust God: (a) to honor His own laws justly, (b) disregard our offenses—because of Christ’s atonement—and (c) purge our record of wrongdoing.

So . . . can those who hurt or offend you or me trust us to stand firm and: (a) honor God’s commands, (b) let go of our anger and vengeance—because of Christ’s atonement—and (c) “keep no record of when we’ve been wronged”? When Satan accuses you or me about some past failure, can we stand firm and resist Satan in the manner of 1 John 1:9?

Privately or with some friends, how would you answer these questions?

  • About Christlike convictions: What does our forgiveness reveal about our trust that God is our Protector and Avenger?
  • About Christlike kindness: On whom are we focusing—and not focusing—when we rehearse wrongs done to us by others?
  • About true worship: How is forgiveness an act of worship?

Do you want to honor Him, and do what matters most to Him? I do. Let’s forgive others, forgive ourselves, and forgive God as He forgives us.

How do you expect that your commitment to forgiveness will be tested this week?

© 2018 John C Garmo

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What Matters Most to God in a Disciple (Part 8)

“Love . . . keeps no record of when it has been wronged” (1 Corinthians 13:5c NLT).

Love . . . forgives.

“What,” you may ask, “does ‘forgive’ mean?”9570814278?profile=original

“Forgiveness,” wrote an anonymous but skillful wordsmith, “is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.”

Is there anything harder for a disciple who imitates the character of Jesus Christ than forgiving?

I’ve taught these true values on five continents of the world. It happens every time: Regardless of race, status, wealth, or renown, when we begin publicly pondering the issue of forgiveness, the participants get very, very serious.

Why is forgiving so important? Because virtually every living person has been wronged—hurt—by someone else. And nobody likes it. When wronged, we tend to respond with anger and other emotions that drive our thoughts through dark alleys. And angry people do foolish things. Unchecked, we are vulnerable to taking revenge—trying to “get even”—in ways that eventually destroy the lives of both offender and offended.

How do we “keep record” of who wronged us and what they did? One way is by rehearsing those wrongs in our minds, imprisoning them there for easy retrieval. Another is by recording them in a journal or an electronic notebook, as we might a grocery list. A third way is to recite those wrongs to listening ears, telling others about how someone has hurt us.

Whatever our method, harboring unforgiveness triggers a vicious chain-reaction. The angry and bitter unforgiveness that we imprison in our heart captures us and puts us into bondage. It messes with our mind and distracts our heart. The soldier who hides a leaking chemical agent vial in his jacket—which he intends to use against his enemy—will himself be destroyed by the toxin.

Adding to this tragedy is another reality: Two significant others are also involved. In ongoing spiritual warfare, both God and Satan care about our response as disciples when we are wronged (Colossians 3:13 et al.).

“Okay,” you say. “I know the Bible tells us that God cares about our response to life’s wrongs. But Satan? Really?

Really. In 2 Corinthians 2:5­–11, Paul specifically challenges that church to forgive a particular offender—as a counteroffensive move against Satan’s destructive schemes. Paul knew that unforgiveness acts against us just as the chemical agent would against that soldier.

Other questions emerge:

  • Other than other persons, who else might you and I need to forgive?
  • For God’s glory, Satan’s defeat, and our stewardship of life, how can we “forgive” well?

We’ll ponder those matters as we continue this series on what matters most to God in a disciple.

© 2018 John C Garmo

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Nine Practices That Heal Our Broken Humanity

This book shows what it means to be the church, the new humanity in Jesus Christ, as Paul writes about in Ephesians 2:15. This is the biblical basis for our understanding of what it means to become new in Christ. The church shows the world God’s perfect design for humanity, which is a reconciled, unified, whole, multiethnic, peaceful, loving life together. As a beacon to the world, the church shows the world what God calls it to be. The church shows the world its destiny and future. In an era where Christian identities seem so enmeshed with race, politics, nationalism, and material goods, we need to imagine a different reality.

 

This book unpacks what it means to be the new humanity in Christ, as we embrace nine transforming practices that we hope you can adopt into your life. The practices aren’t necessarily sequential. You don’t need to practice the fourth before you can go to the fifth, for example. These practices may be taking place concurrently, and different people might have different entry points.

 

  1. Reimagine church as the new humanity in Jesus Christ.
  2. Renew lament through corporate expressions of deep regret and sorrow.
  3. Repent together of white cultural captivity, and racial and gender injustice, and of our complicity.
  4. Relinquish power by giving up our own righteousness, status, privilege, selfish ambition, self-interests, vain conceit, and personal gain.
  5. Restore justice to those who have been denied justice.
  6. Reactivate hospitality by rejecting division and exclusion, and welcoming all kinds of people the household of God.
  7. Reinforce agency by supporting people’s ability to make free, independent, and unfettered actions and choices.
  8. Reconcile relationships through repentance, forgiveness, justice, and partnership.
  9. Recover life together as a transformed community that lives out the vision of the Sermon on the Mount.

Grab this book here>>>

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“Love . . . is not easily angered . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:5b NIV).

Potentially the most impulsive—and most destructive—weakness in your life and mine is poorly controlled anger. We are inundated with angry incidents that—if we are not careful—can lead us to give ourselves “permission” to imitate those lapses of control: fiery dialogue in politics, fist fights at supposed sports events, rage on the roads, violent actions and reactions in media “entertainment,” and vicious words at home.

  God’s call to Christlike calmness in this 13th chapter is connected to Christlike patience, which we discussed in an earlier segment of this series. In fact, since patience, humility (also an earlier topic), and calmness each require significant self-discipline, this is an appropriate time to talk about self-discipline in general—albeit in the context of anger management.9570809869?profile=original

  Think of self-discipline as “focusing on worthy goals instead of on distractions.” A person who is self-disciplined is, first, not easily angered. Second, if that person does become angry, the anger is controlled, subordinate to that person’s focus on a related but worthwhile goal.

  God’s warnings against angry outbursts are ancient and changeless. In Proverbs 14:17, for example, He says, “A quick-tempered man does foolish things. . . .” How well we know.

  Interestingly, the same Greek word used by Paul in this warning against anger in 1 Corinthians 13:5b is used by Dr. Luke to describe Paul himself in Acts 17! What happened?! Did his own actions contradict his teaching?

  On the contrary, his actions demonstrated his words. Acts 17:16 tells us that Paul became very angry at the many, many idols worshiped in Athens. He knew they distracted people from knowing the true God.

  However, he did not throw a temper tantrum for the public to see. Instead, he reasoned with others about this issue in the synagogue and marketplace. He disciplined himself. His mind ruled his emotions. He was “not easily angered,” but when provoked by that widespread worship of false gods, he managed his anger and channeled it into robust apologetics.

  Privately or with some friends, how would you answer these questions?

  • Conviction: What does our self-discipline reveal about our trust that God loves and leads us?
  • Kindness: On whom are we focusing—and not focusing—when we lose control and allow ourselves an angry outburst?
  • Worship: How is self-discipline an act of worship?

  Do you want to honor Him and do what matters most to Him? I do. Let’s cultivate self-discipline—especially over our anger.

  How do you expect that it will be tested this week?

  How do you expect that it will be tested today?

  What will you do to discipline anger when you feel it building up inside?

© 2018 John C Garmo

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