Asking Yourself The Hard Questions

Early in my life as a believer I knew that God had called me, and every believer, to “go into al the world and make disciples.” When I read about God’s desire to reach the entire world with His love and grace, I quickly saw that I had a personal responsibility to fulfill that mission. And when I opened the book of Acts and encountered God’s desire to reach the nations, I concluded quite simply that God intended for me – and every born again believer – to play a part in that. 

Early in my life as a believer, it was so matter of fact: this is what God offers His people; this is what God intends for His people; this is what God expects from His people — and His people, obviously, will respond with obedience and trust. I am not suggesting that I always got it right, because I did not. But, still, the way to be obedient and trusting seemed so clear. And the need to be obedient was beyond question.

I am not sure if I ever heard it said out loud, but I also picked up the idea that obedience to God’s call would result in a life of safety and security. Obedience, it was implied, would lead to effective ministry and measurable results and even success. “The safest place to be,” I was told more than once, “is right in the center of God’s will.” And that sounded both true and reassuring.

I admit, however, my surprise when, many years later, I found myself living a life that was neither safe nor secure. I was stunned when, despite what I considered to be a life of obedience – even, at times, sacrificial obedience – I could point to very little in my ministry that appeared “effective.” In certain situations there were simply no results to measure. And ‘success’ was a word that I would have never used to describe what I had done.

It might, in fact, be safe to be in the center of God’s will — but we would be wise to stop and think about what it means to be safe. I feel that I have lived a life in response to the call of God. But as I look back on certain situations and ministry opportunities, I don’t see a lot that I would call effective ministry that brought long-term results. And, I certainly have not always felt ‘safe.’

So, this honest evaluation led to a number of questions that I needed to answer:

    • Does God, in fact, promise His children safety?
    • Does God really ask us to sacrifice — and to sacrifice everything?
    • What happens when our best intentions and most creative ideas are not enough?
    • Is God at work in the hard places? And does He expect us to join Him in those hard places?
    • Isn’t it possible to love God and to pretty much keep living the life I already have?
    • What does it mean for God to tell us that His ways are not our ways?
    • Would He really allow people who love Him dearly to fail? And, if so, is this a God who can use even holy failure for His purposes?

All of these questions and others I have struggled with, boiled down to: Would I choose to trust this God who I could not control? Would I be willing to walk with this God whose ways are so different? Would I, once again, lean on this God who makes impossible demands and promises only His presence?

When I began to honestly ask these questions – it was the start of the real journey of faith. A journey where I discovered what I truly believed. A journey where I learned to trust and to follow without knowing all the answers or even all the questions. A journey where I discovered the joy of serving – and even more, the necessity of dying. A journey where I discovered who I really was “in Christ.” A journey where I became secure enough to begin to reveal the real me and express myself openly because I discovered God accepted me for who I was. A journey where I was able to see the Kingdom of God expanding in the nations where I worked. And oh so much more.

I don’t have answers to all of my questions. In fact, I have even more questions as I move forward in my journey. I am not sure where this journey might lead. But I am sure that the questions are worth asking — and I am certain that the journey is God-given and God-lead. That He is patient with me and walking with me as I ask the questions and seek His answers. 

I continue to give myself permission to ask myself the hard questions!

A Slower Walk

We are well into the fall season and stores are beginning to put out Christmas decorations and signage … fighting for space with the large Halloween displays that are up in most stores. Interesting to see them side-by-side in some of the larger stores. Not an ideal time to mention slowing life down and living life at a slower pace. 

We are so use to living life in the fast lane that we fail to read the Gospel stories of Jesus, His life and ministry, in the context of the first century. We fail to see all the in-between times when Jesus and His followers were walking from one town to another. When the record states, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee (John 1:43), we project our own pace upon it, not realizing that it took the disciples three days by foot to get there. 

Three days just strolling along, talking, or sharing the silent beauty; the pauses for lunch or a drink from the well; the campfires in the evenings. Even as I write this, it sounds luxurious. Christ does not move immediately from one dramatic story to another; there was down time, transition time between these demands. Time to process what had happened (these are the moments you see the disciples asking questions; “what did you mean by…?”). Time to catch their breath before the next encounter.

That was the pace Jesus felt was reasonable for people engaged in important things and wanting a life with God. Time we would categorize almost as vacation time, for those are the only periods we allow ourselves a stroll, a lingering lunch, a campfire conversation. We highly progressive moderns try to keep up without any of these intervals and transitions. 

The things that we require of ourselves — we go from a tender conversation with our eight-year-old anxious about going to school to an angry phone call with our insurance company as we drive to work, followed by a quick chat with our sister ending a decision about our aging parents’ “memory care unit.” Then it’s straight into a series of business meetings (during which we multitask by trying to bang out some email), firing an employee, interviewing another, making dinner reservations for our spouse’s birthday, fitting in a conversation with our boss because we can’t say no, and showing up late and haggard for dinner.

And we wonder why we have a hard time finding God, receiving more of Him, feeling like we’re overflowing with life.

The EMS technician, who leaves the scene of a terrible accident, races to get to his Bible study group, but wonders afterward why he couldn’t find God there. The school teacher, who come home exhausted from a day herding a riotous classroom, tries to be present to her own child, but can’t seem to find the right gear to do so. The modern pastor, who needs to be a real estate expert on one meeting, a brilliant trauma counsellor in the next, and a caring friend over lunch, only to shift gears into the role of savvy corporate CEO for the meeting that follows.

We are forcing our souls through multiple gear-changes each day, each hour, and after years of this we wonder why we aren’t even sure what to say when a friend genuinely inquires, “How are you?” We don’t really know; we aren’t sure what we feel anymore. We live at one speed: go. All the subtleties of human experience have been forced into one state of being.

Mercy. No soul was meant to live like this. 

What sort of madness have we come to accept as normal when just taking a minute to reflect and rest feels like a luxury? We need time to process as we move from one event to another, one demand to the next. We need time to transition between what we are doing now and what is next being demanded of us. Not a long time – just a brief moment or two. A few minutes to process what you have just been involved in and to prepare for what you are about to focus on. A brief pause that you take to process and reflect; to sense and to learn. And, no one is going to offer this “pause.” It is up to each of us to learn how to slow things down a bit allowing us the needed time to pause and ponder and to sense God in al that we are involved in. To walk at a slower pace allowing us to live life as God intended. 

Strength or Weakness

Did you know that we actually connect with people through our weaknesses. We may impress them with our strengths, but we connect through our weaknesses

Let me explain what I mean. Have you ever met someone, mentally looked them over, and considered the life you think they have? They’re nice looking for their age. Their spouse is attractive. They seem to have great kids. Their life seems to be together. In so many ways, it looks to you like they’re living your dreams. What do you think? “They’re just … so. … perfect. I don’t think I like them!” Right?

Isn’t that tempting to do? 

But that’s not real. You’re not really connecting with them. They’re not connecting with you. We want so badly to connect with others and we think that the best way to do so is by showing off our strengths. But it doesn’t work that way. 

Now, after you’ve spent more time with them and seen them in many different circumstances, you begin to get to know them, and you realize, “Oh. I never would have thought they struggle with some of the same things I do. They’re human after all. You know what? I really like these guys!”

Why? Because we connect through weaknesses.

However — and here’s the issue. We tend not to lead with our weaknesses. We hide our weaknesses and play to our strengths. And, at times, we hide our weaknesses and wear whatever mask we think we need to present to be accepted. We wear masks so that people won’t come to know how weak we really are and thus, we think, not want to connect with us. Not like us. 

How do I know that? Well, we only post on Facebook and other social media what we want people to see. Not the real you but the you that you would want to be. You show only your good side. In fact, you often just make stuff up and post it because you want to come across strong and in control. On Facebook and other social media we have filters that even make us look better in the pictures we post. So, we end up playing a part and playing the role we have created for ourself. But, in your heart of hearts, you know you’re not the person you present to the world. And, e know, deep down inside we are not connecting because the real “we” is no where to be seen. 

The danger is that we can become so used to showing our filleted self, so accustomed to the half-truths and exaggerations, that we don’t even know who our real self is anymore. Are you one person in one group of people and a different person in another group? Until you show who you really are, until you know and are fully known, you’re going to be longing for something more. You won’t really connect.

When we’re always filtered, when every selfie shows only our best side, we may impress some people some of the time. They may think, “Based  

Now that we’re on the same page about this, what do we do? Where do we go from here? How do we “turn off” our desire to constantly filter who we show the world we are? Well, some off-the-cuff suggestions would be:

      • Don’t use a filter every time on your photos
      • Try not to care so much about what people think
      • Just be yourself – if you still know what you are

All of this qualify as solid advice. But the truth is you can get advice like this anywhere. I’d much rather give you godly advice, wisdom that can come only from the source: God’s Word. I can give the solution to the problems with one simple phrase. Only Christ can remove the mask.

That’s it. When we turn to Christ, He removes the mask and the need to be someone you’re not.

Maybe you’re exhausted. You’re weary because you’ve already tried everything else you can think of. You’ve looked everywhere you can for affirmation. You’ve turned to one person after another, but you still haven’t found that thing you’re longing for. This is the promise you have from God, straight from His Word: You don’t have to remove the mask. When you turn fully to Christ, He does it for you!

Then you can finally drop the mask because you’re not getting your approval from Likes; you’re getting it from His love. You will no longer be living for the approval of people; you will be living from the approval of God. He will reveal the truth: you are acceptable to God through Jesus. You are the righteousness of God in Christ. His grace, His righteousness, is sufficient for you.

When you realize that Christ is all you have, you’ll find that He’s all you need. You don’t need approval from someone else because you have approval from Christ. When you turn fully to Jesus, you have the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead living within you. Your identity is not connected to how many followers you can get. Your identity comes from who you are following, and you are following Jesus. 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV).

Have you ever experienced the Spirit of God? Have you ever called out to Him? Asked Him to come and live inside you? When you do, you experience freedom. When we all take the masks off — because our lives are better when we’re together, when we act as the Body of Christ, when we allow each other to see the “real” us — we will truly see the Lord’s glory.

Why? Because we truly connect through our weaknesses and not through our strengths. Because it is not about you and me. It’s not about our selfies. The reason we exist is to give Him glory. When we do, this Scripture says we will begin to be transformed — not into the person we think others want us to be but into His image, bringing ever-increasing glory.

Turn to Christ.

He’ll take your mask(s) off for you.

He’ll transform you into the image of Christ, not for the approval of people but for the glory of God. 

We’re not called to elevate ourselves (John 3:30); we’re called to deny ourselves and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). The way to follow Jesus in a selfie-centered, social media world is to give Him glory in all we do.  

Surrender your selfies and social media accounts.

Let Jesus lift off your masks.

Be real.

Be you!

Monkeys Can Teach Us a Lot

Scientists once conducted a very illuminating experiment. In the middle of a room, they hung a bushel of fresh bananas half-way up a pole. They they let four moneys loose in the room. Immediately the hungry monkeys dashed toward the bright yellow bananas. As they climbed the pole, one of the scientists blasted the moneys with ice-cold water.

The moneys backed off, regrouped, then made a second attempt. As they started to climb the pole, once again they received the discouraging dousing. After several unsuccessful attempts, the monkeys became convinced that failure was inevitable and finally stopped trying.

The next day, the researchers removed one of the four monkeys and replaced him with a new monkey. What did the rookie do? He went straight for the bananas. But before he even reached the pole, the three veterans pulled him away. Undeterred the new monkey tried again. Again his compassionate roommates intervened. At last he gave up and adopted their fatalistic attitude.

Each day, the scientists replaced one of the original monkeys with a new one. By the fifth day, four moneys occupied the room, none of whom had ever been sprayed with cold water. From that day forward, whenever a new monkey was traded in, the others would prevent him from going for the bananas …without even knowing why. Four had failed, and then they conditioned the novices to not even try.

This happens a lot in life, doesn’t it? Someone gets hurt in a relationship and tells everyone else, “Don’t risk the pain. Stay single.” Someone wounded by a Christian spreads the word: “Christians are hypocrites. Don’t trust them.” A teenager makes some bad decisions, and his parents advise a younger couple, “Don’t have kids. They’ll wreck your lives.” To avoid potential failure and pain, people abort their dreams. They stop trying.

The lesson: Don’t let fear of failure make a monkey out of you. 

(Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist.) 

The lesson: Just because someone else had a certain experience, learn from it but don’t let it stop you from moving forward in your life.

The lesson: “God has not given to us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).

The lesson: Sometimes the ones you hang out with will hold you back.

The lesson, There is not always wisdom in a group of peers.

The lesson: Be careful who you hang out with.

Passionate People

Passionate people live each day to the fullest. They recognize that every day is a gift from the Giver of Life, Jesus. They know that there are a great number of problems in the world today but they see problems as opportunities for God to move and do what He is good at – performing miracles. In spite of what they face they embrace and live each day fully and passionately. 

Passionate people are not afraid of making mistakes. They learn from their failures and see them as one of life’s greatest teachers. And failure can be a great teacher is we choose to learn from it rather than let it crush us. And, passionate people make that choice willingly and quickly.

An employee in a large corporation made a mistake that cost the company a million dollars. The man was called on to see the boss, and he fully expected to be fired. But his boss had a different approach.

“Do you know the secret of making a million dollars?” Asked the boss. “It’s making good decisions. And do you know the secret of making good decisions? It’s making bad decisions and learning from them. I’ve just invested a million dollars in you, so learn from your mistake. It may turn out to be a reasonably priced lesson after all.”

What are some of the lessons passionate people learn from their failures? Here are just a few that come to mind:

      • Failure teaches us to depend on God
      • Failure teaches us humility
      • Failure teaches us that we can’t always get what we want
      • Failure teaches us to make a correction in our course of action
      • Failure teaches us character
      • Failure teaches us perseverance
      • Failure teaches us that we can endure and survive

In terms of personal failure and defeat, I like to divide people into two categories: learners and non-learners. When learners make a mistake or fail at a task, they are less likely to repeat it. Non-learners are destined to fail again and again. When learners do something that works, they will probably do it even better the next time. Non-learners are hard-pressed even to repeat the victory.

George Eliot once said: “It’s never to late to become the person you could have been.” I would go on to say that you are destined to remain the person you have always been, lacking the passion and joy in life you desire, unless you learn from your failures and defeats.

Passionate people hang in there when the going gets tough. They persist, they persevere, they never lose heart,, and they never quit. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again.” Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Combine these two scriptural principles, and you have the idea that a person who keeps praying and keeps persisting until success is certain — an unbeatable formula. And they pray and persist because they are passionate about life and everything each day contains for them.

The apostle Paul urged that we be “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). And he said to the Corinthian Christians, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us … Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16)

The “inward man,” of course is the key to all of this. When the torrential storm comes and the outward world is in turmoil we need to realize that we can live in the the calm of the eye of the storm. This means walking in the powerful understanding and faith that even if every worldly possession was washed away, God is unmovable and steadfast. And the best part is that this “inward man” – that spiritual passion – is renewed every single day. Here is the powerful inner strength that endure regardless of what the day brings our way. The powerful inner strength that enables us to be passionate people.

Psalm 46:1-3 “God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge! You’re a proven help in time of trouble — more than enough and always available whenever I need you. So we will never fear even if every structure of support were to crumble away. We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes, moving mountains and casting them into the sea. For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves cannot erode our faith in you.” (The Passion Translation)

If you have that truth locked in your heart, you will keep coming back for more. You will be persistent and passionate regardless. You will have the passion of Peter, the Rock. During his three years on earth with Jesus, Peter humiliated himself more than once. But the important thing in the end was not his failures but his resilience. His passion for life. His passion for Jesus. His passion for the Kingdom. His passion for the Church. His passion for the lost. Peter was the disciple who walked on water toward Jesus until his faith gave out and he started to sink (see Matthew 14:22-32). Was it more important that he failed or that he was passionate enough, engaged fully, that he stepped out of the boat in faith? 

Do others consider you a passionate person? Fully engaged and excited about living life with Jesus? Someone who is fully embracing every aspect of life, every day? And, if the answer is no, what would you need to change to be seen and considered to be a passionate person?

Think about it!

What Would Jesus Eat?

Jesus made a statement that should make us pause before we order our next burger. “My food,” He said, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34).

Wow. My food is to serve God. My food is to please Him. My food is to complete the assignment that God sent Me to do. My food is to do the will of My Father and to finish His work. That’s a different kind of nourishment. And one that caused Jesus’ disciples to stop and think, just as it does us. At first they were a little confused. Their leader had just finished ministering to a thirsty woman who needed more than water from a well when the disciples realized it has been a while since Jesus had eaten. So his buddies urged Him to stop and have a bite so He could keep up His energy.

But Jesus, never one to miss a teaching opportunity, responded, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32). Now, if your mind is a bit odd like mine, you might imagine the disciples thinking, You’ve got food we know nothing about? Have you been hiding some of those new figs and olive Power Bars under your robe? Do you have pockets in there? Sneaking lamb kabobs from the temple concessions? Here we’ve been starving for hours and you’ve got some daily bread stuffed in your fanny pack? Why have you been holding out on us, Lord?

Maybe we’re not so weird after all, because the disciples also took the Lord’s response literally. “Could someone have bought Him food?” They asked (John 4:33). Maybe when we weren’t paying attention, one of the kids in the crowd slipped Him another Filet-O-Fish and some fries. 

When the people around us are all saying, “Get all you can! It’s all about you,” God wants us to contribute rather than to consume. When all of culture says, “Fill yourself,” God tells us to fill others. God didn’t create us to be takers. He created us to be givers. Rather than focusing on our desires, we are called to focus on the needs of others. Instead of cutting to the front of the line, we are called to wait at the end. God created us to serve.

And while at first it might seem like we aren’t getting as much (have you noticed how entitled the phrase “my fair share” sounds?), when we give our lives away, we discover a new and counterintuitive truth: When we give our lives, that’s when we find them. When we serve others, we’re serving God. We are more blessed when we give than when we receive. When we stop obsessing over what we want, only then can we find what we need.

And that kind of spiritual food, that spiritual nourishment, is far better than any burger.

“Yes, But…?”

I connect with believers every day. Even when I am not on the road ministering my “office time” is usually absorbed by connecting with people. I love it. After all, ministry is about people. So, as I sit in my sunny office in the morning I connect with people through emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Instagram, Twitter, iMessage, and FaceTime. Topics vary. People are looking for help. A prophetic word. Some information. Planning of a future trip when flights go back to normal (hopefully). Just to touch base with a person who cares because they are on lockdown like most of the world. Some people are connecting because we are friends and so keep in touch on a regular basis regardless of where life is taking us. You get the idea. 

I also hear from leaders and believers who want to share what is happening in their lives and ministries. That’s good. I want to know. I care. And, I read a limited number of “Christian” newsfeeds. I don’t read or watch or listen to anything anyone “forwards” to me. If I didn’t ask for it, I don’t have the time or the interest to work with it. 

In the midst of these connections with leaders and believers I hear about the “Christian” conspiracy theories. I hear that people are focusing just on prayer and no longer teaching on the Church, the fivefold ministry, or other topics. Just prayer. I relate to people who are convinced that ‘the government’ is behind the Coronavirus pandemic. All night soaking meetings of worship and prayer. “Burn” meetings. That we need to fight the demonic powers that are preventing Christians being free to minister and preach – especially in the prisons during the COVIT-19 outbreak. Christian television and radio and the deception and false teachings propagated through this segment of the media. Prophetic words being declared. Prophecy being examined and interpreted in light of the pandemic. The anti-christ that is now loose on the planet.  And, on the list could go. 

This goes on even when we are not in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Believers, churches, denominations, movements … the focuses are constantly changing. There is an old or new bandwagon for us all to jump on (Toronto Blessing, Bethel…). There are church planting movements where we franchise out a form of planting and running a church (MacChurch franchises). 

I sit back as all of this swirls around me. I have been in ministry for over 50 years. I have seen a lot of this many times over … it is like the waves on a beach. New programs. New methods. New presentations. New television shows. New ways to communicate. They just keep coming. New outreach methods. New worship styles. New dress code for with-it senior leaders. And, each wave continues to keep us focused on something other than what Jesus told us to do. Jesus gave a mandate to the Church. Marching orders to His arm. He said, “Go into all the world and make disciples…”

So, as I hear about all this “stuff” going on and everything that people are focusing on I have to ask myself, “Yes, But…” 

Yes, but how is this helping people to know the love of God?

Yes, but  how is this increasing the influence of the Church in the world?

Yes, but is this really training and equipping the saints for the work of ministry?

Yes, but how is this helping people to be born again?

Yes, but how is this working to move people forward in their walk with Jesus?

Yes, but, what about discipling?

Yes, but what about being salt and light, impacting your community?

Yes, but how is this communicating the life-changing gospel of the Kingdom?

Yes, but how is this in any way impacting the culture?

Much of what we do today in and with the church is seriously just maintenance and not ministry. We are maintaining the sheep – caring for them, loving them, making sure they are comfortable. Real ministry is reaching out to the lost as Jesus did on a daily basis. And, while doing so, discipling those closest to us. Again, as Jesus did. If what we are spending our time on does not encourage and strengthen our evangelistic outreach, it is not the right focus. If what we are doing simply occupies the believer’s time and energy taking them away from building relationships in their community … then we are simply spinning our wheels and playing church. 

So, I am constantly asking myself, “Yes, but…” 

In fact, I have become bold and have begun to ask those I am communicating with, “Yes, but…” and the responses are interesting. Very interesting. And, there is a lot of silence and fewer long conversations. But, that’s okay.

In your walk with the Lord it might be good to occasionally ask yourself, “Yes, but …” what difference is ‘this’ (you fill in the blank _______________)  making in my life, the life of the church I attend,  and the life of others who don’t know Jesus?

The answer – if you are being honest – might cause you to pause and reexamine your Christian experience. I hope it does!

The Quest For Excellence

I love book buying on-line. You get surprised when the mail comes and there is a parcel for you. Wow! Like Christmas every other day. Did I mention I’m addicted to books and buy (and read) a lot of them? So three or more times a week, it’s Christmas all over again regardless of the season.

When I read and there is a typo in the text I actually cross out the mistake and write in what should have been there. If there is a word missing I add it. And, believe it or not that is happening more and more often. Which is interesting in itself because I read a lot of older editions of classics like Moby Dick, The Phantom of the Opera, and Robinson Caruso and very seldom if even do you find a mistake or a typo. It seems like in days gone by publishers took pride in their work and saw it as more than a skill or a business; maybe more an art. Today we seem to be in a hurry to publish another book and so skip over part of the editing process allowing mistakes to be found.

Today I received in the mail “The Kingdom New Testament by N.T. Write. I am a fan of his. He has written an amazing number of fantastic books including “Simply Christian” and “The Day the Revolution Began.” He is not light reading but if you like substance then he’s your man. Nine years ago he first published his translation of the New Testament. I just heard about it and ordered a copy. He is a New Testament scholar and studies God’s Word its original language. It is a really decent read and the way he has expressed some familiar verses bring them alive as never before. He seeks after excellence.

On the back cover of the paperback it states “…gives us in The Kingdom New Testament a readable and dynamic tranlation marked by precision, personality, and power.” Did you catch the typo? “tranlation instead of translation. It seems that we are no longer working towards excellence. Good enough is good enough. Or so it would seem.

Think I am being a little too picky? In the write-up at the bottom of the back cover telling us who N.T. Wright is it reads in part, “Wright is the award-winning author of Simply Jesus, How God becam King, After You believe… Did you catch it? Becam instead of Became. Really now. Where is the quest for excellenc?. After all, we do represent the King of kings and Lord of lords. And, on a less spiritual note – where is the spell check? 

I am hoping that as I take time during this pandemic to read the whole New Testament in this “new to me” version that there are fewer typos on the inside than on the cover. Especially considering this is God’s Word. Excellence should be part of the publishing process so that His Word is properly presented. And God appreciates excellence in His followers and what they do for Him. 

If and when a non-believer might pick up this paperback they could wonder if we really care about how we represent this God that we believe in. And, you might say, “Well, it’s just a secular publishing company and they don’t care.” Well, a head’s up here – it is a Bible publishing company that printed this edition – Zondervan. A large and well known company that publishes a large number of the different versions of God’s Word worldwide.

I am sure for most this is not a big deal. You know – “No one’s bleeding and no one has died. Step back and take a deep breath, Ralph” But as someone who publishes daily on line and posts weekly teachings I work diligently to edit and correct so that my God is represented well and I do everything I can in the quest for excellence in what I do for Him. 

So, For me, it is a big deal. Sloppy work is not something a committed believer should tolerate and we do all things as onto the Lord. Thus we should settle for nothing short of excellence in our work for Him. 

 

All Good Things

The Bible states that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17)

One of the great deceptions of our time is the idea that ‘goodness’ and ‘good things’ exist on their own, without origin, aside and apart from God. Or worse, that goodness somehow originates in human beings. Practical goodness … common goodness … all goodness comes to be taken for granted.

All of this is a lie according to God’s Word. The truth is that God is the source of all goodness and good things. 

NLT: “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.”

TPT: “Every gift God freely gives us is good and perfect, streaming down from the Father of lights, who shines from the heavens with no hidden shadow or darkness and is never subject to change.”

However, when the lie is believed, then people dissociate good from God and often fail to see Him as good. Not only that, those same people associate with God all that goes wrong in the world, which further obscures the truth that God is good and all good things come from Him.

When you separate good from God, you take away the awareness of God’s goodness and humankind’s need to thank, honour, revere, and worship Him. The opposite happens when we connect good with God: we want to thank, honour, and worship Him!

So, in the midst of everyday life, we need to see what God is doing. Jesus says to Nicodemus in John, chapter 3, that when we are born again we can ‘;see’ the Kingdom. Thus we can see what God is doing as it is His Kingdom. But we need to open our spiritual eyes and ears (heart eyes and ears) so that we can determine the ‘good things’ that God is doing while still facing the reality of day-to-day life and all the situations and circumstances we face. 

I have been thinking about this as I rearrange almost my entire life because of the Coronavirus or Covid-19 as it has come to be known. As one who travels to minister and who earns a living travelling I am now working from home and thus the flow of income has dwindled substantially. So, I am learning to see the ‘good’ and the ‘goodness’ that God is pouring out in the midst of this world-wide shutdown and the slowing down of my ministry currently.

There’s a story in the Old Testament where a servant of the prophet Elisha was seeing – with his physical eyes – all the opposition forces that were gathered against Israel in battle. But this man was completely unaware of what he could not see – all of God’s protective forces surrounding them.

Elisha prayed that his servant’s eyes would be opened so that he could see God’s favour in the legions of angels that were protecting them in the middle of this high-pressure situation (see 2 Kings 6:17).

There’s something that happens in our hearts and minds when we go from HEARING that God is good to actually SEEING God’s goodness!

In life when I’m missing the good, it affects my outlook and even my spiritual equilibrium. Some days the good in life is obvious; on other days it hides itself in the routine, complexity, tragedy, and hardship of living. Back-to-back days of hidden goodness certainly can distort my view. They lower the level of my faith and can open the door to discouragement. All because of what I’m not seeing.

So I have taken up daily praying that God would allow me to see and hear and know His goodness. And, I am taking the time to slow down and allow God time and space to show me His goodness…remind me, once again, just how good He really is. 

Religious People Suck!

I feel for religious people. They have all the rules to follow with no benefit gained from their obedience and faithfulness. The height of being religious is seen in the Pharisees. I mean, whenever they get brought up I immediately think, “Great. What arrogant nonsense are they sprouting now?” No Joke: most of these guys were the epitome of self-righteous religious imposters sucking life out of people who were truly hungry for God.

The Pharisees were known as the religious elite, the top dogs, and the high-and-mighty of faith. And although these nicknames sound incredibly awesome, the men who were behind them weren’t all too savvy when it came to actually knowing their heavenly Father, Pharisees were known to be righteous and zealous for keeping the law. But their observance and protection of the law was filled with arrogance and hypocrisy. They were prideful and stingy with grace. Judgment was easy for these guys, but refusing to show grace or give second chances was their demise.

In Matthew 23, you will find Jesus teaching to the crowds and to His disciples about the problems of hypocrisy. He claimed that although the words of the Pharisees may have been wise, their actions did not match what they preached. He continued by describing what most religious people, including religious Christians, face in today’s generation: ‘Everything they do is for show’ (Matthew 23:5).

Jesus was publicly calling out the Pharisees for being religious show-offs who were looking to gain nothing but personal acknowledgment for their actions. They were using their faith and knowledge of the Scriptures as a catalyst for personal popularity. They loved the idea of being extremely religious, but failed to convert that into passion for God Himself.

Not only did the actions of the Pharisees hurt their own opportunity for salvation, but their ways of living gave a false reflection of what it actually meant to be a follow of God. The constant judgment and religious entanglement they repeatedly subjected people to was theologically unjustifiable. 

Listen to what Jesus said about these religious people…

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you won’t let others enter either (Matthew 23:13).

The Pharisees spent so much time focusing on their outer appearance that they failed to allow the inner transformation to take place. You know, the one thing that actually mattered. It would be similar to someone who buys an old car from the junkyard, completely restores both the interior and exterior, and then doesn’t put any money into fixing the car’s engine. It may look spectacular, but it’s not going anywhere. Likewise, we seem to have convinced ourselves that if the outer image looks grand enough, then no one will bother asking about what’s actually under the hood.

When we find ourselves being complimented on the outer appearance long enough, it’s easy to forget about fixing what’s inside. As you can imagine, this is a hindrance to many people who are trying to find true transformation in Christ Himself.

Since the Pharisees found themselves in the spotlight of religious appreciation, it’s no surprise that their elegant speech and impressive knowledge of the law kept them comfortable and unwilling to push further in their spiritual journey.

Do you want to know how to live a great gospel-centered life? Just do the exact opposite of everything the Pharisees did. The Pharisees were more focused on impressing each other with spiritual knowledge than actually following the commandments of God, showing grace, or lending a selfless hand. We have to make an effort to walk that talk.

The Pharisees – Prayed in public for recognition

True followers of Christ – Pray in public because they are unashamed

The Pharisees – Read God’s Word for head knowledge 

True followers of Christ – Read God’s Word to deepen their relationship with God

The Pharisees – Judged people for the sake of judgment

True followers of Christ – Lovingly correct people because they care

So, as you can see – religious people suck! And, it is regretful how many people who called themselves believers – even Christians – are really nothing more than religious people who look good but are inwardly lifeless. Such a pointless existence … believing that things are good only to one day, discover that although they knew the Word of God they did not know God. And thus missed spending eternity with Him in heaven.

And you … what about you? Whee do you fit in to this picture?