Category Archives: spiritual growth

Restaurants & Relationships

I’d like to disclose one of my strong personal preferences that actually drives a certain set of behaviors in my life: I will not go to a restaurant that has poor service. Let me clarify that…I will go once to that restaurant but I will not go back again. If I will be spending money to eat out then I not only expect the food to be to my personal liking but I also emphasize that the people who work there at least pretend to be glad I have come. Call it snobbery, call it presumption or call it reasonable if you choose. In the end, it’s my choice and this personal preference determines my actions… and I have no plans to change my standards. It is one thing for me to take such an elevated view of my individual tastes when it comes to eating out. It would be an entirely different issue if I allowed this same principle to determine my relationships. By the grace of God I have been made to understand that I must not walk out on people, refusing to return, because they don’t serve my personal tastes. Let me explain.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” – Romans 14:17-19

The Apostle Paul teaches us in Romans (chapters 14 & 15) that we owe each other a debt of love and a commitment to work through our personal differences in order to cultivate lasting, meanigful relationships. Specifically, he is speaking to Christians who clearly have opposite views on some peripheral issues within God’s Kingdom. Paul takes off his scholar’s hat for a moment and has to replace it with a black and white striped referee’s cap as he tells the followers of Jesus that they must think a little more deeply and try a little harder at maintaining the unity of Spirit in the bonds of peace with one another. The people to whom he was originally writing were very frustrated with each other over things like eating meat, observing Jewish holy days and whether or not Christians were able to drink wine. Paul clearly identifies stronger Christians as those who were liberated from fixating on religious technicalities and presumably binding traditions. The weaker brethren were seen to be those believers who could not feel secure unless they obeyed their scruples – and they expected everyone else to obey those personal tastes also. To the freed, stronger Christians Paul gave a warning for them to be careful how they exercised their spiritual liberty. To the weaker Christians he offered the command to stop judging the freedom of the stronger brother. As a pastor who has navigated these waters many times, I can almost hear Paul sighing as he writes those two chapters.

Have you thought lately about how your particular views/preferences/standards are affecting your relationships with others?  What does it take for you to give yourself permission to stop associating with another believer? Are you thinking of breaking fellowship with your church and finding one that better suits your personal tastes? Sometimes you can convince yourself that your individual preferences carry the weight of Gospel truth. They do not and we deceive ourselves if we assume that God always allows us to step away from others because we do not agree with them in non-biblical matters. Going back to the restaurant metaphor, when we come to moments of decision like these we need to slow down and consider whether the saturation of other available “spiritual dining establishments” makes it too convenient for us to move along from where we currently dine. Let’s be honest: in the Bible belt where many of us live, we can head out a few miles in a different direction to locate a new home church every time we discover that our current fellowship serves up the Sunday meal with some seasoning we do not find appealing. We glibly call it church-hopping but I think we might do well to consider that sometimes it is simply outright selfishness and sin.

Paul told the Romans in the verses above that God’s Kingdom can never be reduced to our personal scruples. God’s Kingdom involves you but it is never all about you. As followers of Jesus we need to seek the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to become more like our Savior in this area. Think about it: everywhere the Son of God went He was surrounded by people, words, ideas and events that failed to meet His own holy standards. Nobody thought like He did, everyone was truly “beneath Him” but they never felt that way. Interestingly, He just kept revealing His commitment & availability to those people. He pressed further into the needs of those people. He remained in places where He knew that His words, Kingdom-offers and saving mission would not be appreciated nor accepted. Jesus even washed the feet of the betraying Judas… but some of His modern day followers cannot even give the right hand of fellowship to other Christians who don’t carry the same English bible translation as they do. Jesus went to a party at the scandalized Zaccheus’ house while some of His 21st century followers won’t go to a local church whose music style doesn’t meet their personal tastes or whose denominational banner doesn’t mimic their own . Jesus asked the Father to forgive His tormentors while He was impaled to a cross – yet today some younger Christians arrogantly write off the older as irrelevant and some older Christians callously judge the younger as irreverent. Turf wars never begin in the church house. They find their origin in proud hearts.

I won’t be going back to yesterday’s restaurant where I took my family to eat after church. The food was pretty good but the way I was served was woefully lacking. To not ever go back is not a difficult decision for me. They won’t miss me and I can just go across the street to the place I am more familiar and where I am always appreciated and served. Yet I don’t view my relationships with others in this same light. Do you want to know why? Because they are not here to serve me in my relationships. I am here to serve them. I am not a consumer negotiating a transaction with them. I am a follower of Jesus as they are and we are part of a forever-family. When that driving principle takes up home in our hearts we will love more selflessly, work more thoroughly, stay more lastingly and hope more enduringly. Set up your personal criteria for restaurants any way you may choose. Be a little more deliberate and humble when you are considering Kingdom relationships.

 

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Jeff Lyle,
Lead Pastor of Meadow Baptist, Lawrenceville, GA

@Transtruth

Don’t Worship the Faucet!

03faucet-running-water-lgnShortly after World War I, Lawrence of Arabia took several of his greatest men to visit Paris.    When they were about to leave the grand hotel at which they were staying, Lawrence found his men attempting to pull the faucets out of the wall!  Lawrence was confused and asked what the men were doing.  The men responded: “If we could bring these faucets back to our desert land, we could have all the water we desire!”  These men clearly had an appreciation for water, but they had an unhealthy and illogical appreciation for the means by which it was transferred – the conduit if you will.

Many Christians know they have access to the “water” Christ offers (see John 4), but many of us seem to make a much bigger deal about the conduit(s) through which the water comes.  In other words, we tend to worship the faucet!  We rave about our church; we gush about our pastor; we are quick to tell what a talented, wonderful worship leader we have.  But Jesus – the one who gives the church significance, the one who the pastor and worship leader are there to serve, the cornerstone on which “Christianity” is built – we don’t make nearly as big of a deal about him!

To The Church

Most Christians love and appreciate the local assembly of believers in which God has placed them.  Scripturally, they should.  In fact, Christ loved the church so much that He died for it! (Ephesians 5:25)  But I believe far too many believers have an unhealthy, illogical, and unscriptural appreciation for the church.  How?  By worshipping it and loving it more than they love Christ.  Christians must realize that Jesus is Christ is the water, and the church is only the faucet.  The faucet is important, but, without the water, is meaningless.

When you last walked through the front doors of your church, what was your primary purpose?  Connecting with friends?  Christian fellowship?  These can be by-products of church attendance, but neither should be our purpose.

When you were talking to a friend, co-worker, or first-time visitor and explaining how great your church was, did you emphasize the groups, clubs, and activities offered to children?  Or did you emphasize Christ?  Youth groups are great avenues to reach the next generation; children’s clubs can be used to effectively teach boys and girls about the things of God.  But in the list you rattle off when touting what makes your church different or noteworthy, where do spirit-filled worship and Christ-exalting preaching rank?  Are you worshipping the faucet?

To Church Leadership

The culture in which we live encourages idolization of athletes, movie stars, singers – well, everyone really.  Unintentionally, some church members idolize their pastor and put him in a place that should be reserved only for Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately (and I hope unintentionally!), some leaders encourage this unscriptural practice by their words and actions.  The Jehovah God of the Bible is a jealous God – one who does not share the glory only he deserves. (Exodus 20:5)

A pastor or staff member placing himself in Christ’s rightful place or a congregant doing so of their own volition is a practice that can only end in disappointment and defeat for all involved.  And no matter the cause, we must remember that our ultimate affection should be reserved only for Christ himself.  To use the words of John the Baptist in John 3, the pastor and staff should strive to be a “friend of the bridegroom.”  Jesus alone is the bridegroom.  He is the water; they are but a faucet.

Christian: before you next enter the sanctuary, consciously acknowledge to God why you are there.  Spend a few moments in prayer asking the Lord to use the singing, giving, and preaching to reveal himself to you.

Pastor, staff, and Sunday School teacher: before you mount the pulpit or begin that next lesson, make sure you understand who the listeners should be talking about when you finish.  Better yet, as you prepare, ask the Lord to reveal exactly how you can emphasize Christ in your lesson or sermon.  Get out of the way, and give people the water!

 

Article by Bryan Likins

@bmlesq

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Powerful

Do we really know what the word “power” means?

Sometimes, I wonder if we are so conditioned by shows of weakness that we’ve begun to call moderate strength or even mediocrity, “power.” It seems that those exercising true Spirit-enabled power are often culturally interpreted as arrogant or brash.

power

Could it be that a weak church culture is feeding that misconception? Could it be that we are teaching the world that “Christian” = “weak”? Yes, Jesus is humble. Yes, those who follow Jesus will demonstrate real humility.

But…

Jesus is also powerful & those who follow Him will demonstrate His power! Have you read the book of Acts? Humility & power are NOT mutually exclusive!

Real humility isn’t about projecting a negative or neutral self-image; it’s not about talking yourself down whenever someone gives you a compliment.

As C.S. Lewis so wisely said:

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

So Go ahead, be powerful, think of Jesus more, follow His mission harder, see like He saw, do what He did, & think of what your friends will think WAY less.

Look in the mirror & see someone who is powerfully compassionate, someone who tells the truth even when no one wants to hear it, someone who is powerfully joyful even in the face of painful tragedy. Look in the mirror & see someone so controlled by the Spirit of Christ that he looks a lot like Jesus! Yes, you’ll likely lose yourself in the process, but isn’t it all about Him anyway? Don’t worry, living a powerful life won’t lead you to deny truth, rather you will find yourself discovering greater truth.

Don’t be afraid to be powerful!

Romans 12:1-2

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Article by Brian Norris

@BrianNorris

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Psalm 23 – It’s Not About You

jesus_shepherdHow many times have you read Psalm 23?  For me, it is probably several dozen, if not more than one hundred.  Until recently I read it with a selfish focus.   When I read Psalm 23, I saw the promise of peace, restoration, and protection.  While it speaks to these subjects, none of them are THE subject.

The Temptation

If you or I had written Psalm 23, it might go something like this: 
1 I have a shepherd; I don’t lack anything.
2 I get to rest in luscious, green pastures: anytime I want, I get to drink out of clear, still waters.
3 When I’m tired, my soul is restored. . .

This is somewhat how I used to read it.  But that is not what the Holy Spirit inspired David to write, and, more importantly, that is not the message of Psalm 23.  The Bible is littered with promises, many of them being “personal promises.”  But, frankly, not a single one of them is about you or me.  Each one is about the one who makes the promise.  If you think it through, this only makes sense, for a promise is no greater than the one making it.

The Truth

Psalm 23 is not about how David received some special blessing from God.  Psalm 23, like the whole of Scripture, is simply about the greatness of Jesus Christ.  In this instance, God wants us to know Christ as a Shepherd.  He reveals the care and protection He provides.  I do not believe David is proclaiming how lucky he is because he is a “famous sheep.”  I believe he is informing us about the goodness and prosperity he found in the Lord when he made the decision to humbly become a sheep.

I’m no king.  I’m no great warrior.  Though I strive to be, God has never called me “a man after His own heart.”  But I have yielded to the Shepherd, and I have found peace, restoration, and provision.  If you are willing to come to the Shepherd, submit to His authority, and become one of His sheep, then you will – like David – be able to attest to the greatness of the Shepherd.

Article by Bryan Likins

@bmlesq

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True Treasure

Estate (ist`eit) n.
a landed property. The whole of a person’s property, including real estate and personal estate.

This weekend my family attended the estate auction of my grandmother, Beulah Irene Deckard. There were thirty-two acres with a small house and barn. Furniture sat empty along the walls of the living room and bedroom forming a line of memories out the back door into the yard where there were two tents with tables supporting boxes upon boxes of stuff; much of which I did not remember.

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There were several things that would make the people on those antique reality shows drool. I smiled at the thought as my wife and I walked along the tables looking at everything. But then it happened…we walked by a box of wooden shelves and I saw the crescent moon with a stairwell going from one landing at the bottom of the moon to a landing at the top. There were two of them that hung on the walls holding the small knick-knacks that Beulah’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren had made over the years. The sight of the moons that hung on the walls, among countless pictures, waiting to greet us every time we would visit was too much. I lost it. Just as I was able to turn away and choke back most of the tears, we walked toward the tables (plural) of quilts my grandmother had sown by hand.

After the auction was well underway and the real estate had sold, I stepped into the house and found the new owners standing in the kitchen. The wife remarked, as she closed the oven door, how Beulah was known for her cooking, “But this stove looks almost new.” The tears started flowing again as I smiled, “It is. She wore the other one out.”

Matthew 6: 19-21 says, Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. When I thought of that scripture, I realized the quilts and meals my grandmother’s hands had made for so many years were never her treasures…we were. Anyone who received either from her was given a gift of abundant love. Her family knew the Gospel because her husband was a preacher. They understood the Gospel because she lived it.

As it turned out, I was able to see my grandmother the day before she died. We had gone down to visit with her in the nursing home. When my mother was ready to leave, she took my youngest daughter and walked outside. I stayed behind another minute because I wanted to pray. When I finished, Granny looked over at me and said, “I want to go home.” That was the first time I had ever cried for my grandmother, because when I looked into her eyes, I was sure she didn’t mean her little house in Gamiel, Kentucky.

In the end, Beulah Irene Deckard left this moth and rust riddled world with her treasures in the right place. We left the auction with a few quilts, two moon shelves, and a lot of memories. But the tears I am wiping away from my face as I write this have a lot of joy in them. You see, I have one more treasure waiting for me in Heaven. I love you Granny and I can’t wait to come home.

 

Article by C.S. Depew

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A Matter of Perspective

sw2004_2_06aEvery so often, I feel a little out of place or disjointed. I wonder if I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to do. At first, scrolling through the articles of my fellow partners didn’t help. There are several articles concerning leadership. While those are helpful to an employer, a pastor or even a deacon, what about the rest of us? You can find articles, news, seminars, self-help books or even take classes on how to lead. But what about how to follow? More importantly, what about how to follow non-Christian leaders?

In order to provide for our families, we work more hours or more jobs. We spend more time at work or looking for work knowing good and well our family needs the husband and father around more. But something occurred to me a while ago; the large company I work for doesn’t want me working more. In fact, the company doesn’t want me at all. If they could automate my job today and let me go – they would. I have worked there for seventeen years and they see me as a liability, not an asset.

Now I know the general biblical response to such feelings or situations; we treat those around us the way we would like to be treated. We respect the authority set over us. We try to be a light in the workplace so those non-Christians will hopefully see Christ in us. But that brought me to another problem. I read and/or study my Bible or meditate on a scripture daily in order to help me lead my family. From Genesis on, there is an amazing theme happening through the Bible – God is sovereign. He cannot be stopped. His plans cannot be thwarted. Even when the fathers of Israel didn’t have enough faith, enough courage, or enough brains, God still achieved His eternal plan. That made me realize something else entirely; God doesn’t need me. If He worked around the saints of old, then His will is still going to be done today, with or without me.

I stewed on these thoughts for a few days and then posed a question to a dear friend: If you spend the majority of your day working and reading/studying the Bible so you can provide for and lead your family, what are you left with when you realize you work for a company that doesn’t want you and serve a God that doesn’t need you?

Remember when I said God can’t be thwarted?

Through my friend, God gently twisted my perspective. The truth of the matter is – I was right. God doesn’t need me at all. In the grand scheme of His plan and the universe He created, I am a grain of sand. He will reclaim what is His. Satan will be cast into the lake of fire and there will be a new Heaven and new Earth. And God doesn’t need me for one bit of it. But He wants me to be there to see it! You see, this grain of sand means something to its Creator. In the vastness of all the stars, moons, and planets of the universe, God named a grain of sand. In Jeremiah 29:11, He says: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. He doesn’t need me – – He wants me! The thought of being separated from His Creation, even the sand, bothered Him. So much so, that He sent His Son to pay our ransom for sin and bring us home. He wants every last one of us.

As for the company I work for, I was right about that too. They don’t want me at all. But they need me. For seventeen years, I have honed my skills to do the best job I can. They are working as we speak at automating my job, and they will…eventually. But God has this grain of sand right where He wants me. 1Corinthians 15:58 says, Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Out of love, I was created. By faith in Jesus Christ, I was saved. By grace, I am wanted by the King of Kings.

 

Article by C.S. Depew

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Are You Stuck in the Old Testament?

imagesMany of us do it. We live an Old Testament existence in a world of New Testament promises. I guess Law will always appeal to our flesh more than Grace. So we go along mistaking the physical lesson of the Old Testament for the spiritual truth of the New Testament.

Recently, there it was in my Bible reading. In Joshua 5 there was a lesson I found thrilling. Here were the Children of Israel freshly arrived in the Promised Land, and after the drama of the Jordan crossing, the Lord’s first order of business was the practice of circumcision. They had carried it out years before in Egypt, but over the years of wandering they had neglected it.

Well, we are supposed to look at OT stories with NT light, right? The circumcision that the Lord is really after is circumcision of heart. So many times we neglect it and it is urgent that we put it in practice again. Just think of the pain of carrying out that call to circumcision! I understand that “sharp knives” of Joshua’s day were flint stones. I don’t want to be too graphic, but I would dread it! Any surgery with stones instead of modern day knives would terrify me.  So, I suppose even at the cost of discomfort we must do the work the Lord seeks in our hearts. In verse 9 we were even told that “This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.” He never said it until the events of this chapter. This we need and in verses 13-15 the Lord came. Pretty exciting stuff, huh?

These lessons get by us too easily. We’d rather pull out the stones of flint than do real heart surgery. We’ll inflict the pain of body and leave our souls at ease.

We become consumed with the object lessons. We prefer the tangible, outward things over the spiritual, inward things. Since this lacks spiritual power, we turn on each other and watch for the pool of blood and listen for the screams.  We are always ready to point out everyone’s failure as if circumcision could tell us all of our hearts. Our conclusions miss the point and hurt others, as well as ourselves. Need I remind you that Jesus has come through in the interim between Joshua and us?

Perhaps we find the pain exhilarating. Perhaps we enjoy it more if we see others suffering with us. I don’t know. We inspect the circumcision, so to speak, while the Lord says you are seeing the object itself as the lesson and missing the point. But we can see the circumcision and we can prove we did it. We can never prove what is in our hearts. We settle for what we can impress others with while being indifferent to what might please the Lord. We live the Old Testament as if the Lord had no greater revelation in the New Testament to share. Pretty ridiculous, wouldn’t you agree?

If I saw the point I’d pray for my heart and yours. I’d listen carefully as the Lord spoke to me and encourage you to do the same. But I’d leave the stones of flint to your own consideration and ask you to keep them away from me. Live the Old Testament if you please and I’ll keep my mouth shut. As for me, though, I’m rather fond of the New Testament.

Empowering Reasons to Say ‘IDK’

5823288833_IDK_answer_3_xlargeFor years, I just couldn’t say it. I don’t know why, but I would say anything except those dreaded three words. Three simple words: “I don’t know.”  Why are they so difficult to say?  It’s because we have to admit a measure of ignorance.  It’s humbling.  But I want to encourage you to not fear saying IDK any more.  Saying “I Don’t Know” is very powerful.  To admit that you don’t know is to empower yourself because:

IDK is not threatening to others. Pride is abrasive while humility is disarming.  When you admit you don’t know, you disarm others’ defenses. Most people (whether they realize it or not) operate on the philosophy of ‘Law to the proud; grace to the humble.’  Saying “I don’t know” allows you a certain grace afforded usually to rookies.

IDK invites collaboration and builds teamwork.  If you’re interested in doing something great – then you know it can’t be done alone. Saying “I don’t know” gets the ball rolling to really make a difference and do something big!

IDK criques the status quo. When approached the right way, “I Don’t Know” queries deep into the heart of big ideas.  It merits honest answers and opens the doors of understanding.

I am proud to say that I’m more humble than I used to be (*sarcasm) – and I readily admit that “I don’t know.”  And I’m excited to say that it’s paying off!  What about you?  Have you ever had trouble saying “I don’t know” or is that something you are good at?

RELATED POST:  5 Practical Ways to Question Authority

Article by Patrick Nix

@patchnix

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What’s in a Boat Anyway?

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing.  They say unto him, we also go with thee.  They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.  But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat?  They answered him, no.  And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye will find.  They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord.  Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.  And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.  John 21:3-8

ontheshoreHave you ever done something as a pure reaction? With little or no thought, you simply react.  This is the third time we find Simon Peter in a boat.  In Luke 5: 4 and 5, there was no reaction, just the obedience, “Nevertheless at thy word,” before he is called to follow Christ.  In Matthew 14: 24-31, we witness Simon Peter’s moment of unbelievable faith with, “Lord if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water,” that allowed him to walk on water toward Jesus.  Now in chapter 21 of John, Jesus has been crucified and resurrected.  He has appeared to the disciples twice so they know he is alive.  There would have been no surprise.  So what would make Peter react in such a way?  When John said it was the Lord, there was little to no thought.  He forgot the fish in the net.  He paid no attention to what the others were doing.  He grabbed his coat, jumped out of the boat and swam the hundred yards to shore.  Why?

I think it had something to do with his journey.  We often talk about people who are too focused on something as having blinders on.  They can see nothing but their target, whether it’s good or bad.  Peter obeyed and followed a teacher.  He later realized Jesus was the Son of God.  Now Christ had been crucified, buried and resurrected.  And there, I believe, lies one point of this Scripture; after everything Simon Peter had experienced, witnessed and heard since becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, what else could stir him to the point of pure reaction except the glory of the risen Lord?

Too often throughout our day, our focus is on everything except Christ.  Our days are so filled at times it can almost seem to minimize our risen Lord.  So I will pose the question – What are you focused on?  What would merit such a reaction and cause you to jump out of your boat?

Article by C.S. Depew

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