May 23 – When Bad Things Happen

Acts 28:1-16; 1 Samuel 4; 1 Samuel 5; Psalm 52
Dr. Albert Mehrabian did a research study that showed that when feelings were communicated, only 7% of the communication was through words, 38% through tone of voice, and 55% through body language. Then, people jumped to the wrong conclusion that this applied not just to feelings, but to all of communication. As a result, you may hear people say that 55% of communication is body language. People make a living reading body language in meetings where facts are being conveyed and everyone takes what these body language readers say as absolute truth. By jumping to conclusions, people extended the study from one part of communication to all of communication and they often make mistakes reading the situation.

When you begin a conversation with a foregone conclusion, it’s easy to make mistakes in understanding what the other person is trying to say. There’s an old joke about wives holding up two dresses and asking the husband which one he likes better. When the husband replies that he likes the one on the left, the wife gets upset because he thinks she looks bad in the one on the right. The people on the island of Malta had a belief that when bad things happened, God was (or in their case, the gods were) punishing the person. When a snake came out of a pile of wood that Paul had gathered and bit him, they were sure he was bad news. “When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.'” (Acts 28:4)

It’s an easy conclusion to draw. Something bad happens and it must be that God is punishing that person. The people of Malta jumped to that conclusion when they saw the snake bite Paul. Then, things changed. Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. When the people of Malta saw that nothing bad happened to him, they decided that he must be one of the gods. When Paul started sharing the healing power of Jesus with them, they honored them. It’s interesting that when their first conclusion jump was shown to be wrong, they immediately jumped to the opposite conclusion – which was also wrong. Paul didn’t let either wrong conclusion bother him; he just preached Christ and healed the people on the island.

We shake our heads at the conclusions of those on the island of Malta, but how often do we engage in the same thing? Someone goes through a difficult time, and we let them know that God’s punishing them. We wonder what they did wrong. Worse, we may use some kind of variation of telling people that “karma” will exact revenge. Just for the record, “karma” is not a Christian principle. It comes from Buddhist and Hindu thought and relates to your actions in all of your various lives. It’s not true that “what goes around, comes around.” What’s true is that while there are often consequences for our actions, sometimes the things that happen to us just happen. When we do wrong, there is always the opportunity for forgiveness from God.We don’t serve an eternal revenge seeking God who tries to get back at us for every perceived slight; we serve a loving God who seeks to bring us into a loving relationship with Him and He forgives us when we do wrong so that we can enjoy His love.

Lord, help me to seek Your grace in my dealings with others. When they are going through difficult times, don’t let me rub salt in their wounds, instead, let me share Your mercy.

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Posted in Devotional Thoughts

November 18 – God’s Grace and Glory

1 Peter 1; Jeremiah 31-32; Psalm 134

It’s perhaps one of the oldest driving jokes there is. The wife, not recognizing where they are as the roads pass by asks the husband, “where are you going?” He replies, “I don’t know, but we’re making good time.” Some of us have the ability to find that silver lining in every cloud. All I can say is that I’m glad we have GPS units now. Whether a separate unit or the unit on your phone, you can tell the GPS unit where you want to go, and it will give you directions, an estimated time of arrival, and often the speed you’re traveling. Sometimes, if you’re not making good time, it will give you alternative routes. As long as the GPS unit is working right, there’s no excuse for anyone to get lost while driving anymore.

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the Israelites had used a GPS unit on their Exodus journey. They could have punched the right button and it would have told them not to make the golden calf because Moses was coming back. Either that or, as they wandered in the desert, they would have heard the word “recalculating” a lot. Still, God spoke to His people before GPS units and He pointed them in the right direction. Peter talked about the message of the prophets that foretold the coming of the Messiah and our opportunity for salvation. “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:10-11)

Through the ages, beginning in Genesis, God spoke through His prophets to let His people know that a Messiah was coming. One of the problems that many people have with the Old Testament is that they claim that it focuses on the Law. Many Christians discount the Old Testament because of that. Peter points out that these prophets spoke not of Law, but of the grace of God, the grace that was to come. They didn’t know how God was going to do this; they didn’t know when He was going to do this; all they knew was THAT He was going to do this. They even predicted the suffering of the Messiah, although many discounted that part because, well, suffering just isn’t fun and they couldn’t imagine God’s chosen one having to suffer – especially for us. They knew that God’s grace was coming, though, and continued to proclaim God’s message of grace even as the children of Israel strayed from living in God’s love.

Now we know. The Spirit of Christ predicted the suffering of the Messiah, and He suffered and died on the cross to bring us forgiveness for our sins. We know the time. We know the place. We know the effect. There’s no excuse for anyone to be separated from God and lost anymore. Oh, I’ve heard people say that they aren’t good enough for God, or find some other way of saying that God couldn’t love them. That’s why it’s important that when we share the good news of Jesus Christ we emphasize the grace of God. God doesn’t love us because we’re better than others. Jesus didn’t die for people who were good enough for God – if they were good enough for God, He wouldn’t have needed to die for them. Paul reminded his readers in a them that Peter echoes here: Christ Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am chief. The truth, all of the history of God’s people pointed to that time on the cross when the Messiah, Jesus, suffered and died on the cross. And all of history since then is a reminder of His glory, and the glory we experience now in our walk with God reveals that there is a greater glory to follow. It all begins with accepting the grace that God offers in Jesus Christ: grace that is offered to everyone.

Lord, let me experience Your grace and Your glory more and more each day. As I experience them, let me share them with others as well.

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November 17 – A Warning to Those Who Oppress Others

James 5; Jeremiah 29-30; Psalm 133

You know “those” business people. Everything they do works out. They start businesses with the craziest business plans, and they succeed. They purchase businesses that are failing and have no hope, and within a year, the business is prospering. Everything they touch turns to gold, so to speak, and so we say that they have the “Midas” touch. Of course, when you think about it, that may not be the best compliment to pay to someone. According to the myth, King Midas asked for the power that anything he touched might turn to gold. At first, he rejoiced as he touched rocks, and sticks, and flowers and saw them turn to gold. Then, the problems started. It was time for dinner. Anything he picked up to eat or drink, turned to gold. According to one version of the legend, he gave his daughter a hug and, well, you can guess the rest of the story.

The Midas Touch would seem to be a great blessing, but King Midas found out that what he thought was a blessing turned into a curse. While I haven’t see this happen literally, I have seen people who have done amazing things to get ahead financially. Yet lost in the dust were family, friendships, integrity, faith. As James began this section he talked about gold and silver rotting and corrupting. Gold and silver don’t rot, or corrupt. Gold doesn’t oxidize, and oxidized silver has a special beauty. Yet, James made this comment in the context of a relationship with God and caring for others. He continued. “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” (James 5:4-5)

Perhaps there’s a little bit of guilt for me as I write this; I haven’t paid the man who mows my lawn for the last time he did it yet. I won’t go into details, but I can say what’s different in my situation and the situation James describes is that I feel guilty about not paying him yet. James talked about those people who deliberately cheated people out of their wages. I would guess this wasn’t just a case of not paying those who mowed for them. I would guess that by manipulating the situation, the rich land owner charged them for various “amenities” and tried to make them think they were lucky to be able to work for him, much like what happened in the past when companies were able to pay low wages and charge high prices for necessities. Tennessee Ernie Ford sang the song “16 Tons” and these lyrics talk about the same thing: “You load 16 tons and whadda ya get, another day older and deeper in debt. Peter don’t ya call me ‘cuz I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”

The issue that James dealt with is one that still exists today: oppression by those in power. We’re dealing with that problem in society today as examples of that oppression continue to be brought out. Oppression happens because those in power don’t see those they’re oppressing as being people, or at least as being people worthy of respect. They treat others like objects to use for their own pleasure and discarded when they’re finished. Those who oppress others, be it sexually or financially, don’t really think about what they’re doing; they thoughtlessly deal with their own desires, sometimes just to show that they have power, and have no care for others. The cure for this is learning to see others, especially the downtrodden, as people created in the image of God. We need to see and recognize others as people that God has placed in our path to show His love to. Today, make sure the clerk at that store, the parking attendant, the secretary, the receptionist, and everyone you work with knows the love of God.

Lord, it’s so easy to get consumed in my own work that I forget to show others Your grace. Help me do that every day.

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November 16 – Are You Thinking About Stuffing or De-Stuffing?

James 4; Jeremiah 27-28; Psalm 132

We seem to be in eternal competition here in the United States. We compare ourselves to our neighbors. In fact, one of the major, annual competitions is about to start – house decorations for Christmas. Yep, with Thanksgiving almost upon us, in some area of every city, the competition is beginning to take shape. Who can put up the most lights? Who adds music to highlight their Christmas display? And, if you really have your “A” game on, who can synchronize the lights and the music. Oh, we may laugh and talk about how we all enjoy any lights, but the competition can get fierce. The competition exists in regards to all kinds of things – and I mean things. Stuff. The cars we put in our garages, or leave parked in the driveways because our garages are full of stuff. The watches we wear. Our kids’ accomplishments. Everything becomes a competition because the winner is best.

Sometimes I wonder “best what?” Is God going to base our entrance into heaven on our light displays: the better your display, the more He can trust that you can care for your mansion? If so, I might get a pup tent in the woods. Still, we seem to think that the acquisition of material goods is part of the competition God has planned for us and that the more we have, the more God loves us. And so, we look at the “Stuff” others have with resentment, wondering what makes them better in God’s eyes than us, His most faithful servants. And in our resentment, we belittle others because they have so much. “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3)

“Stuff” by itself isn’t necessarily bad. James deals with a different issue here: the attitudes towards stuff. James deals with an extreme attitude issue in this passage: you desire something so badly that when you can’t get it, you kill. Taken literally, this would mean that you’d stick a gun into the face of someone who had what you desired, but couldn’t get. It could mean that you’d manipulate others or work them to death to gain your desires. Taken figuratively it could mean that you suck the life out of someone just to gain “stuff.” Or, as in the case of Cain and Abel, the favor of God. You covet what someone else has, so the fight starts. Perhaps you finally get around to asking God to get you that stuff you want, but you don’t get it because you ask with the wrong motives. According to James that means that you seek and ask God for stuff for your personal pleasure, forgetting that God blesses us so that we can bless others.

The problem we have is when stuff becomes more important in our life than our relationship with God and His love for all people. The rich young ruler refused to get rid of his stuff when Jesus told him that was necessary for eternal life. Zacchaeus was so excited about his relationship with Jesus that he started giving stuff away and paying back more than he needed to. His commitment to Christ freed him from his commitment to stuff. We want everything we get to support our pleasures. You won’t see many ads on TV for ways to give away your stuff to help others: most advertising is designed to make us think we need more stuff to be happy. Either we are supposed to want the stuff that’s advertised, or we’re supposed to use the product advertised to get more of the stuff we really want. Society calls us to eat, drink, and be merry, because new and improved stuff is on the way. Before you search out the newest stuff to bring yourself pleasure, seek God’s will. See if you need to give stuff away to support others.

Oh Lord, I have so much stuff in my life that I don’t have time for others. Remind me to care for others before I worry about stuff for my pleasure.

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November 15 – Blessing and Cursing From the Same Mouth?

James 3; Jeremiah 25-26; Psalm 131

Scientists today are praising the art of gossip. They explain their position by noting that this is how social norms are passed on. Apparently, people won’t know what’s right and what’s wrong unless tales of people breaking the rules are whispered undercover. I believe that’s a bunch of bunk. People gossip because it’s fun, and they can make themselves look better than the ones they’re gossiping about. There’s an important reason to shun those gossiping: if they talk about others to you, they’re going to talk about you to others. While gossip may have the peripheral benefit of passing along social norms, the thoughts in the mind of the person gossiping are usually about how to make themselves look better, not how to make society better. And that attitude makes all the difference.

As James deals with the problems caused by the human tongue, he takes the gossip picture a bit further. No longer is this gossip just anyone from the street, now they’re in the church. The church gossip is dangerous. First, the church gossip destroys the harmony of the church by disrupting the fellowship. The church gossip destroys the witness of the church when they take their gossip outside the church and non-believers see and hear the gossip, only to react by thinking, “why would I want to be around a person like that?” And, it gets worse. A gossip does things secretly, sometimes you have people who talk bad about others openly. Neither they nor the gossip are seeking to help people improve, they seek to tear others down. This is what James was dealing with. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)

Whether the criticism, cursing really, is in secret or in public, the effect is the same: the people doing that are belittling another human being while they also claim to worship and praise God. And make no mistake about it – cursing as used here does not mean particular words that are included in the list of seven words you can’t say on the radio, cursing means denigrating a human being and making them appear to be the lowest kind of human being. James reminds us here that these people we’re attacking are made in the image of God. And, if they are made in the image of God, cursing or attacking these people comes full circle into an attack on God. For instance, when you call someone a “stinking idiot” not only are you cursing them, you are attacking who they are as one of God’s creations, and this would mean that you’re attacking God’s work. James reminds us that this is wrong.

Before I received the grace of Jesus, I prided myself on my ability to insult or curse others. I could find a way to cut anyone down no matter what they were doing. Once I came to Christ, I realized after a while that this wasn’t good. It used to be funny (ok, not really) to tell someone that they had a face that only a mother could love and that their mother wasn’t that one, but when I began realizing that my jokes at the expense of others ultimately became an attack on God’s creative work in their life. I realized that if I was praising God, I needed to have a hard time reviling His work. “But what about people caught in sin?” you may ask. There are ways to deal with that that don’t involve public rebuke or humiliation most of the time. Sometimes, though, the best way to help people caught up in sin is to praise them out of it. When we talk about their good qualities, many people want to emphasize those and thus their sinful ways get put on the back burner and disappear. People need me to show them the love of God far more than they need to hear me insult them. My goal is to use this dangerous tongue to show God’s love.

Lord, bridle my tongue. May the same mouth I use to praise You, be used to show Your love to others.

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November 14 – When God’s Grace Gets All of You

James 2; Jeremiah 23-24; Psalm 130

There is a debate among people who hire others to work for them that can get very interesting. Which is more important in hiring someone to do a job – their academic qualifications or their experience in the workplace. As you read articles about this debate you can discover that both sides of the discussion have good arguments. One of the arguments for the academic side is that getting the degree, or an advanced degree shows a commitment to learning that’s necessary for any job. Meanwhile, the argument from the experience side is that if someone has shown that they can do the job, why shouldn’t they be given the opportunity to keep on doing it, or find a way to do it better? The best way to stop the debate, of course, is to find someone with the academic credentials who has experience in the field.

That discussion sounds amazingly like the discussion Christians have about grace and works. What makes a person a “better” Christian: the fact that they live by grace and have faith or the fact that they do works befitting the gospel. There are some who take their understanding of grace as a license to sin. God will cover the sin because of His grace, so we can do whatever we want. There are others that people observe and say, “Oh, they must be a good Christian, look at all the good things they’re doing.” I’m amazed how often those who claim no religion at all, or a different religion are willing to make these judgments. The question of grace and works isn’t an “either/or” question, it’s a “both/and” question that depends on timing to answer the concern. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)

One of the reasons Martin Luther rejected the book of James as canonical was verses like this that seem to emphasize a righteousness based on works. It’s easy to see why this passage left that impression. I think, though, that Luther, as excellent a scholar as he was, missed the boat. James doesn’t describe a works based salvation, he’s describing two people who claim to be Christians. One of those people proclaims to be a Christian and yet, when the opportunity to minister comes along, all they offer is platitudes. The other shows his faith by meeting the physical needs of the person in question. The truth is that the grace of God changes people. The grace of God changes who we are. James is dealing with a timing issue. There are no good works that we can do to earn our salvation from God. The only way to develop a relationship with God is through faith, which is a gift of grace. Once we’ve received God’s grace though, He works to change us, to mold us into the image of Jesus Christ who worked to meet the needs of people.

Because of grace, we no longer look out for our own interests, but also the interests of others. If the grace of God doesn’t move you to action to proclaim the gospel and meet the needs of people who are hurting, then James would say that you might want to examine your relationship with God. Faith is more than a noun, it’s an action verb that shows itself in our daily lives. God’s grace should move you to compassion and action, to becoming like Jesus in meeting needs. One of the faults we as Christians have is our belief that God is concerned solely with blessing us and that we’re supposed to keep all those blessings. If we are truly moved by the grace of God, we’ll realize that we have been blessed to bless others. We’ll meet the needs of people, just like Jesus said in Matthew 25 about the sheep and goats.

Oh Lord, open my eyes to the needs of people around me and let me show my faith by what I do.

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November 13 – Do You Really Want All the Joy God Gives?

James 1; Jeremiah 21-22; Psalm 129

One of the fun parts of social media is sharing the joys that friends experience. Recently, one of my friends got married. I shared her joy as she posted about the engagement. Then, they went to Rwanda to hold a traditional Rwandan engagement ceremony. (I met her through volunteering to work with Africa New Life.) Then came the wedding here in the United States, with all the pictures. You could see the joy on my friend’s face throughout the process. People share the joy from weddings, from the births of babies and, at my age a lot of friends are posting about grandbabies, from accomplishments in school and sports. I saw a lot of pictures from a recent chess tournament as players celebrated their victories. Some have noted that when you share the joy you’re experiencing, the joy is doubled.

We get joy out of so many different things in life. We talk about joy a lot during the Christmas season, and some people get so caught up in it that they’re already talking about Christmas. (OK, folks, the Christmas season doesn’t start until the Friday AFTER Thanksgiving. Experience the joy of giving thanks in the meanwhile.) Some have noted that JOY makes a great acronym if you think about it as Jesus, Others, Yourself. True joy happens when you put Jesus first in your life. True joy continues when you think about others before you think about yourself. And while we’re supposed to be selfless as we think about others, we do see that God takes care of us. We all want the joy that comes from God, or do we? “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)

Don’t you hate it when God redefines concepts? If you’re like me, you want to talk with God and let Him know that He doesn’t quite understand the concept of “joy” if we’re supposed to consider it “pure joy” when we face trials because of our faith. But, as we think about it, because that statement is so jarring to our natural beliefs, it keeps coming to mind, we are known more by our enemies than our friends. I allow practically anyone to “friend” me on Facebook, hoping that the gospel message I share might draw them to Jesus Christ. You might see some strange friends on my list; but, if someone were to spend time attacking everything I wrote, the nature of the attacker would tell you more about me than the nature of my friends. When evil people attack us because of our faith, we’re to consider it “pure joy” because that means we are living our faith correctly and we are making an impact on the lives of other people.

If you really think about what it means to follow Christ, it means that you develop a mindset that isn’t controlled by the desires of this world. We aren’t too good for the economy, because we don’t believe in things. We don’t do worldly things like seek revenge or put other people down to make ourselves look better. At least we shouldn’t. The problem with a godly mindset is that it is so opposed to the mindset of people in the world that those who are deep in the desires of the world begin seeing us as enemies. Perhaps they see us as enemies because our lives are so different as a result of our relationship with God that they can’t understand us. (I sure hope that’s true in my life!)  Perhaps they see us as enemies because they see us as a threat to their way of life. Whatever the situation may be, if we are living lives that honor God and we face trials, we need to rejoice. We rejoice not because of the trials themselves, but because those trials help us grow and develop perseverance. The smaller trials prepare us for even harder trials in the future – but always take joy in remaining faithful in the face of trials.

Lord, I don’t really want to take joy in trials – I wish they wouldn’t come. But if trials prove my faith, thank You!

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November 12 – If You Want to Change the World

Philemon 1:1-25; Jeremiah 19-20; Psalm 128

It was Gaius, a renowned legal expert in ancient Rome, who said that slavery was a human institution not found in nature and that another human institution, war, brought the bulk of the slaves into the Roman Empire. Slavery is a vile evil that has existed throughout history in spite of many attempts to eradicate it. The practice so permeated Rome that Senators there quickly shot down an idea of forcing slaves to wear an identifying mark that would allow people to see who were slaves and who were Romans for fear that the slaves would see safety in numbers and seek to revolt. Some Romans sought to deal with the slavery issue by freeing their slaves, but manumission was a double-edged sword for those brought up in slavery – they often had not learned any skills that would allow them to make a living as a freedman. Still so many sought to manumit their slaves that the Romans eventually passed a law to limit the number of slaves that could be freed in a slave owner’s will.

Slavery was always a double-edged sword for people with a conscience: they didn’t like it, but they couldn’t live without it. In ancient Rome, some slaves were highly skilled and became doctors and accountants, so they did have some measure of social mobility, but even that didn’t excuse the practice. As Paul dealt with the issue of slavery, he dealt with the situation as it was. When talking with slaves, he talked about being the best slave Christians could be so that slave owners could be won to Christ. When talking to slave owners, though, he talked about fair treatment and even suggested the radical idea that slave owners should consider freeing their slaves at that immediate time. When Paul wrote to Philemon, this was his cause. “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.” (Philemon 8-10)

Paul understood human nature. He let Philemon know that he could order Philemon to release Onesimus to him. Imagine the ripple effects if he were to have done that. It could have caused chaos as slaves sought to tell their masters they should be free, and masters might forbid their slaves from following Christ or even going to church for fear that this teaching of Paul might overturn Roman society. No, Paul instead focused on his relationship with Philemon and on his relationship with Onesimus. I don’t know whether Onesimus was sent by Philemon in the first place or if he ran away so that he could be with Paul. In either case, Paul noted that Onesimus had been useful to Paul – acting as if he were free, but useless to Philemon as a slave. Paul didn’t seek to change Roman Law with a new Christian law that would cause resentment; he sought to make Philemon examine himself and respond out of love for what Jesus had done for him.

Society has tried to force a lot of changes in the way things are done. To be fair, laws that allowed these evils needed to be changed. At the same time, even more important than a legal change, is the change that needs to come in the hearts and minds of the people who are involved with these evils. They have been brought up to accept behaviors that are evil and will often resent attempts to make them change by means of law. If we don’t bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to these people, they may change their outward practices, but in their hearts, and in secret, they may continue. In fact, slavery continues today. The key to eradicating slavery, or any societal evil, lies in the grace of God to change people.

Lord, I am a man of unclean hands amongst a people of unclean hands. Change us through Your grace.

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November 11 – Christian Behavior in the World

Titus 3; Jeremiah 17-18; Psalm 127

It seems that the worst enemies that Christians often have are other Christians, or those claiming to be Christians. 500 years ago, as the Protestant Reformation began, we fought wars over whether to stay in the Catholic Church or allow Protestantism to rise. Terrible things were said and done on both sides. While we don’t fight wars over this issue anymore, mostly, it seems like attitudes haven’t changed a whole lot. I remember working with an ecumenical group on an issue and walking up to introduce myself to a couple of men who were engaged in conversation. I stood quietly, waiting for them to finish their conversation and I heard all sorts of things about how terrible my denomination was for not getting involved more often in things like that. All I could do was say, “and that, gentlemen, is why you don’t see us around much in these organizations,” whereupon I introduced myself as a member of the slandered denomination.

When we’re right, as my denomination usually is, it’s easy to look down on other denominations, or other people in general. Ok, my denomination isn’t always right, neither am I, but it’s easy to think that you’re right in just about everything and look down on others, because they’re different in their beliefs. The problem with looking down on others is that it shows that we’re not doing this “follow Jesus” thing correctly. He didn’t look down on those people who were wrong. He showed them love and compassion. Paul mentioned expected Christian behavior to Titus. “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” (Titus 3:1-2)

Power seems to go to the head of Christians. When we get political or economic power, it seems as though we want to bend everyone to our way of following Jesus by coercion. Coercion has no place in the kingdom of God. People should come to their belief in Christ by the grace of God, not because of fear of the authorities. I look at the results of Christians in power and I worry about why substitute weak, earthly power for the power of God. Paul never foresaw Christians being the powerbrokers of the land, instead, he saw us working in whatever power structure existed and living in such a way that others would see Christ in us. Obviously, his injunction to obey the government comes after the reminder that we are to obey God first, but that being said, we are called to be obedient citizens. It shouldn’t matter to us if the government is friendly to Christians, or unfriendly. Our job is not to be swayed by earthly power, but to proclaim the gospel with the power of God. And Paul’s admonitions to Titus about our behavior is the essence of living in godly power.

Do your beliefs lead you to confrontation with the government, your neighbors, or other Christians. While we cannot accept evil, we can love people who do evil things. When people do evil things in the church, Paul has a plan for dealing with that, and he did so in Corinth. For the most part, though, we, as followers of Christ, are called to live peaceful lives: following and obeying authority, doing good, speaking the truth, and being gentle towards everyone. It’s sad that too often Christians are seen as harsh as unyielding in certain areas. At times we should be showing grace to those who are suffering the effects of sin, we’re known to be the people that remind them how terrible they are. As you go through the day, remember to be peaceable and considerate, always being kind toward everyone.

Lord, remind me of how much grace You’ve extended to me. Let me extend that same grace towards others.

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November 10 – All I Really Need to Know About Grace, I Learned by Grace

Titus 2; Jeremiah 15-16; Psalm 126

There seems to be a hierarchy of teachers. Some teachers are in the upper tiers: college professors, high school dual credit or honors teachers. Others may not be at the absolute top, but they’re pretty high up on the list: other high school teachers especially. Elementary teachers are important in the lives of their students. Middle School/Junior High teachers are all terrible, this having nothing to do with the time of life that kids are going through, of course. Kindergarten teachers, though, many accuse them of doing nothing by engaging in play time. The truth is that they have one of the toughest jobs around. While we see them as sweet ladies, because no guy can teach those little munchkins, who care for kids, many don’t see them for the teachers they are. These teachers take kids who have no sense of numbers, or colors, and are just learning the alphabet, and teach them the academics they need to be able to read and do math. Kids learn their colors because of these teachers. Many of these kids come from difficult family situations and have no sense of right and wrong, and it’s the kindergarten teacher that starts them off on the right path.

Robert Fulgham wrote the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” We think it’s a cute book, but there is a lot of truth in that title. Many kids learn how to behave and how to do academics because of the dedicated work of Kindergarten teachers. How many of us secretly wanted our Kindergarten teachers to stay with us all the time? Learning and growing is an important part of life, and it’s an important part of our walk as followers of Christ. We have a teacher who begins with us as we learn what it means to follow Christ, and He continues with us as long as we shall live. “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” (Titus 2:11-12)

We have our first positive experience with God through His grace. This grace appeared and offered salvation. Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith. We wouldn’t even have the faith to be saved, were it not for God’s grace. And so it is, God’s grace appeared to give us our first experience with God’s love and allow us to come into fellowship with him. One of the problems that many of us have is that once we experience that grace, we embrace it excitedly to come to salvation, a relationship with God, but then think that like a Kindergarten teacher, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. Only, as Paul shows us here, grace doesn’t only initiate us into the fellowship of the gospel, it teaches us each step of the way. Grace teaches us what not to do, and what to do.

Grace is an amazing teacher. Grace treats us with love and compassion, like we expect Kindergarten teachers to do. Grace teaches us how to live from the beginning of our relationship with Christ. Grace continues to build on those “kindergarten years” in the faith and leads us deeper and deeper into our knowledge of God and His ways. Paul asked the Galatians why they were so foolish to believe that having begun by faith, that they should continue to grow by works. Grace that allows faith teaches us each step of the way. Our lives become molded more and more to the image of Jesus Christ, not by works, but by God’s grace which allows any works of service for Him. It saddens me to see people trying to make God happy or doing good things out of fear that God will get mad if they don’t do them. God’s way of dealing with us, if we accept it, is grace. Grace draws us to Him, grace teaches us to say ‘no’ to bad things in life, and leads us to live in a way that pleases God. Our works can’t do that, only grace can.

Lord, let Your grace continue to work in  me and reveal the mysteries of the faith as I live for You.

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WHAT? Christmas Movies Already? (Yep, and this one’s good!)

 

Ok, it’s not really Christmas yet, but it’s getting to be Christmas movie season, right? This year I have the opportunity to share a review of a great movie that will air in a couple of nights on the Hallmark Channel and those movies are always inspirational. I don’t normally use this blog for anything but my devotionals, but I think this movie is worth checking out!

ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS 

Can you feel it? That little edge of crispness in the air and the undercurrent of excitement in the stores? The holidays are right around the corner and you know what that means. Decorations, baking and family? Uh…no. It’s time to tuck into snuggly pajamas, grab a steaming cup of cocoa and curl up on the couch with your favorite holiday movies!

Every year, Hallmark Channel outdoes itself on the family movie front and this year is no different. With TWENTY-ONE new holiday features premiering on the network’s “Countdown to Christmas” this season, there is plenty of sweet, family friendly goodness to go around.

One of these movies in particular has piqued my interest. It’s called Enchanted Christmas*. Here’s the description of the movie:

Young widow, Laura Trudeau (played by Alexa PenaVega) was a remarkable dancer. Now working as a project manager in LA, she is tasked to renovate a rundown hotel lodge, in her hometown of Rosemont, Utah and have it ready by Christmas eve. She is stunned to run into her former love and dance partner Ricardo Archuleta, (Carlos PenaVega) who she discovers is in rehearsals for The Christmas Eve shows grand finale, with his new dance partner Taylor (Chelsie Hightower, “Dancing with the Stars”).  When Taylor has an audition abroad, Laura once again finds herself back in Ricardo’s arms. Feelings are rekindled, and with both the hotel opening and the show in jeopardy, Laura has to make some difficult decisions, both personally and professionally.

Photo: Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

You can check out the trailer here.   http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/videos/preview-enchanted-christmas

Doesn’t that look great? Who doesn’t love ballroom dancing? And you throw in Christmas? Seriously! 

If you thought you recognized the main character, Laura, you probably did. Alexa PenaVega skyrocketed to fame in the Spy Kids series of movies. Now she’s all grown up and co-starring with her husband, Carlos PenaVega. They even contributed their musical talents by recording one of the songs for the movie. Is there anything they can’t do?

Photo: Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

Enchanted Christmas airs on November 12th on Hallmark Channel at 8:00 pm/7:00 central. Don’t miss it!

Photo: Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

 

*Enchanted Christmas is a Mission Pictures International and Gabriel Productions, LLC production. Cindy Bond and Gene Davis serve as Executive producers. James Wilberger and Jarrod Phillips are producers. Terry Cunningham directed from a script by Rick Garman and Catherine Y. Friday.  #HallmarkChannel #EnchantedChristmas #CountdowntoChristmas #Missionpicturesintl

 

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