simplicityThe function of the pathway of grace is to fit you for living life to the full. Everything is to be done in alignment with the divine will, trusting our lives to the One who raises the dead. We are disciples: saturating ourselves in the Word of God and prayer and coming constantly before the Lord so we can be constantly fit for the people before whom we stand. We have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless we live.

At every turn, the Apostle Paul says, this pathway of grace causes us to live in simplicity and in the sunlight of God. This is the witness of our conscience and the rejoicing of our soul.  We are those who trust the Lord.

But, there are enemies to this simplicity, ways of thinking that complicate our faith or try to shipwreck it all together. The first is the flesh, or “worldly wisdom”. (2 Corinthians 1: 12) This kind of wisdom is governed by feelings and appetites, desires and preferences. It’s this kind of wisdom that leads guys to lead with the wrong part of themselves.

The second enemy of simplicity is following a mindset of procrastination and laziness, of wandering and waste. The Holy Scripture says of God, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26: 3) You cannot find simplicity if you cannot with singleness of heart and mind surrender yourself to the Lord.

The third enemy of simplicity is what I will call a spirit of adultery or a mindset of deception. Ordinarily, you cannot have simplicity if you have multiple causes or loyalties that have to constantly be weighed one against the other.  Yet, the great danger with this enemy is you can simply be deceived.  And, consorting with another Jesus, creating another gospel, or carrying on in an interfaith spirit, the Apostle Paul warns us with great fear, “you (can) put up with it easily enough.” (2 Corinthians 11: 4)

Yes, this last enemy encompasses all three. We can be deceived and think the pursuit of our will is entirely appropriate. Our life is selfishly simple. Or, our life can be simple because we do as little as possible or simply what comes next. Se la vie! Or, we can follow diligently a false trail.

Do not be entangled with anything that robs you of the simplicity of the gospel. Let your life be a single strand that is pulled along by Jesus.

 

payattentionIf you’ve got a Bible – and you should have one, turn over to Acts 20 where the Apostle Paul gives a warning to key Christian leaders about six essential things to which they need to pay attention. These are six imperatives that every Christian benefits from if they take heed to what the apostle is saying here.

  1. The first thing we pay attention to is ourselves. God wants to make his mark in our lives and anoint us for his purpose. Are we cooperative? Do we make the work of transforming our lives easy or difficult for God? How are we staying near to the Lord?
  2. The second thing that gets our attention is our flock. Everybody’s got one. It may be your family, your co-workers, your parents, your rec league team or any group of people for which God has given you the responsibility for making your mark on their life.
  3. What we are going to feed our flock and how are we going to tend to them is the next thing for which we need to pay attention. What good does it do for us to have people if we don’t have something to give them, some way of leading them into “green pastures or beside still waters”, (Psalm 23) working with Jesus to restore their souls?
  4.  Jesus has with great blood and sacrifice purchased people for himself. This is why we have to pay attention that no influential “wolf” gets a hold of anyone in our flock, depriving them of God’s goodness and causing them to pull back from any or all of God’s blessing and benefits for them.
  5. We also have to pay attention to the “sheep” and other peers of our flock who through fear, greed, or unbelief steer them away from being the disciples that are strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Our love and integrity has to be kept on high alert and highly active. We are not measuring ourselves up against Little Bo Peep but up against Jesus.
  6. The final thing that Paul tells us to pay attention to is the Word of God, “which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20: 32) It’s the word of God which refreshes the soul, is trustworthy, and makes us wise. It’s the word of God that gives joy to our heart, light to our eyes, and warning to our spirit. (Psalm 19) We can’t pay attention to everything else if we forsake or neglect the Word.

Let us pray for each other that we will pay attention – so the good news of God’s grace becomes the unavoidable experience of multitudes of people!

gospelofgraceAll of us need a way of confirming and adding strength to the call of God upon our lives. The Apostle Paul in Acts 20 helps us do that. Paul calls for the elders of the church to come and meet him in Miletus as he travels towards Jerusalem hoping he can arrive before the festival of Pentecost. He begins his message to them with a summary of his ministry among them and that’s where I want us to begin today.

I want to use his message as a template for establishing and verifying our ministry. I will list seven questions and give Paul’s answer for each question. I believe if the answers we give to these questions are not similar to the apostle’s we should rethink the kind of ministry we are pursuing.

  1. What’s the one task to which I am called? The Apostle says, ” I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20: 24) Whether it is highlighting a personal work of God’s deliverance or a particular focus of teaching, our one task should reflect the ‘good news of God’s grace’ in some way.

2. What is the one attitude that I keep in the forefront of all I do to fulfill that task? Our understanding of our calling is blanketed with all humility, Paul says. We are not about self-promotion or profit. We may become well known and blessed but these are never ends in themselves. As Proverbs 3 points out, in all our ways we acknowledge the grace and goodness of the Lord.

3. What is it that one thing that brings me to tears and so grips my soul that I must follow through? What is it that induces such a reaction? The Apostle says it is “being entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 1: 9, 2: 4, 19-20) and the results the gospel produces in people.

4. What is the one thing I must do for which I will withstand any and all opposition? What is the one thing I will do regardless of reward or recognition?  The Apostle says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom, the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.” (Galatians 6: 14 – 15)

5. What is the one thing that I repeatedly do that proves the most helpful to others, whether it is shared personally and individually or with a crowd in public? God doesn’t call us to anything that is perpetually fruitless or barren. Who benefits from what we do or teach? There’s got to be somebody for whom God has called us. “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20: 20)

6. Does this one thing I do solemnly affirm and witness to repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? All ministry calls us to an activity, whether direct or indirect. But, all activity is not necessarily ministry. Make sure the activity you undertake allows people the opportunity and grace to live their lives under God. “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20: 21)

7. When all is said and done, do I feel compelled by the Spirit to keep on doing this one thing? If I stop doing the ministry, is there any withdrawal? Do I have “fire in my bones” that smolders and looks for air when I’m not actively pursuing what God has asked me to do? The Apostle says “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20: 23-24)

Examine your ministry. Use this template and we will pray for each other to have a fruitful and more effective ministry.

goldenruleIf you want to make proper judgments about people you must operate from the vantage point of your desire to make no judgments apart from the active reception of the Holy Spirit. Ask for the Holy Spirit. Once you have received the Spirit begin seeking the knowledge on the subject (whatever or whomever that is) that allows you to find a basis for how you respond. If nothing adequate or substantive is found, knock on other doors of inquiry. This is not for the purpose of trying to self-fulfill your suppositions but to see if the Truth opens the door and speaks to your search.

If a straightforward, self-evident conclusion is not forthcoming don’t try to create broad scenarios where your suspicions can be validated. Don’t go looking for helpers or other birds who will flock together with you. It is better to watch and pray than to become a watcher who preys on the first thread that will sew your blanket of suspicion together.

Get into getting the story right, not just getting into the story. Jesus teaches that the easiest set of information to string together may not be the most accurate but it will likely be the most destructive. Don’t be in a hurry to paint with a broad brush. Instead, be painstaking in your patience and in your attention to detail and congruity for this is surely how you would want someone to observe and form conclusions about you.

Give it time and conduct the contradiction or “tree” test at the very least. Don’t judge by a snapshot or quick quote. Instead, Jesus says go by the tree test. “Wherefore, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7: 17 – 20)

Remember it takes time for fruit to come out. While you wait, keep on applying the golden rule: “do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7: 12)

responsibilityIn a word, we have one responsibility as a person of faith: FOLLOW! That’s it. We don’t have to make up anything. We don’t have to justify or defend what we do. We don’t have to tell anybody else what they have to do. We just need to follow.

The good news about following is we don’t have to create the path or set the goal.The bad news for some of us is, if our one responsibility is to follow, our intentions – our why we do what we do – doesn’t matter. Our intentions have no bearing on anything at all unless our only intention is to follow.

Let me explain. The way of sin follows a very predictable path. It always begins in betrayal. That betrayal locks us into a self-serving biased way of doing things. That bias will look for someone to blame when things don’t hold up. Blame will give way to bitterness. Bitterness will move to bloodshed and bloodshed will bring us to the breaking down point of judgment where the cycle of sin carries us from deceit to destruction again and again.

Now, if I am rooted in my betrayal or bias or blame or bitterness will any amount of good intentions keep me from avoiding the inevitable result of sin in my life? No, if you are rooted or tied to sin (no matter your intentions) the results will be the fruit or wages of sin.

Let’s say you join a group whose stated reason for existence is to protest or blame someone for some terrible thing they are doing. Where will that protest take you?…

Wait a minute, let’s get grace up in front of our eyes to weigh what will happen in our hypothetical. Grace always begins in repentance as we are bound in alignment to the will greater than our own – to the Lord. Grace calls us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ so we can have a means of exchange to move off of following our will to following the word of Jesus. Grace then builds up our most holy faith giving us the means to take responsibility for everything in our lives. Building up our faith produces blessing as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Blessing brings forth life as we give and sacrifice our lives in the following of Grace. Finally, we break through into newness of life, bringing better solutions to the mis-alignments and problems we face tomorrow.

Now, back to our protest. How will you take responsibility to make things better by following in solidarity those who follow after blame? You say you have the intentions of grace on your side. It doesn’t matter. Intentions don’t matter. Whose band wagon are you riding? Riders don’t steer the wagon, they just ride. They might be loud riders. They might insist the wagon head for a particular destination but their words are in vain.

So, if you are going to be carried along by the movements and currents that are at work in the earth make sure you’re riding in the stream of the gospel and your one responsibility is to follow Jesus. Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. To whatever you root yourself to follow, regardless of your intentions, out of what you follow the fruit will come.

 

social-mediaIt seems if you are plugged into any social media today you will read, hear, see, or be inundated with the choices people make and the associations they are making. As I become one of the inundated, I’m sure I am not hearing as much good news as I should. Jesus teaches us to be careful of the measure we give to things because that’s the measure we will receive.

My wife, Karen suggested I fast from all media for thirty days because so much of it tends to dishearten rather than hearten. I am not yet convinced I need to do that but one thing I do know: I have to choose to focus on the things of God and on the choice God has made for humanity more than focusing on the choices humanity makes for itself.

The one thing I know God has chosen is revealed to us when the early church gathered in counsel one with another to pursue the priority of God for their life together. After much dispute and discussion, a declaration was made that focused their time and energy from that point forward.

“After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are’.”

So, what are we talking about? What is the topic of our discussions and disputing? Does the way we talk about things reveal God’s choice for people to hear the message of the gospel and believe? Does the way we talk show that there is no distinction between one person or another except whether they have received the Holy Spirit and their hearts have been purified by faith? Why are we endlessly talking as if the yoke we have been unable to bear must be put on by someone else for them to be acceptable? Does the way we talk and act remind people it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus that we, our family, our community, and our nation will be saved?

Lord, forgive me for stringing out “small” discussions of what I think or what someone else thinks. Let the one thing I share be the choice that you have made for humanity in Jesus Christ. Let that be my great cause and let me resist everything else.

compeledThe Bible speaks of how the love of God draws everything and everyone in our lives down to a singular relationship with Jesus. We don’t live for ourselves. We live so that others would know what the crucifixion and resurrection means for them. But, the Apostle Paul says their is something more ontological that we need to know that shapes our faith and witness as an ambassador for Jesus Christ and that raises the dead to life.

It comes from reading 2 Corinthians 5: 14. “For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.”

What are the implications of all being dead? What has to happen for all (or anyone) to go from being dead to being alive? For that, we’re going to tell the story of love from John 3: 13 – 21.

State the Facts: “No one has ever gone (ascended) into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.”There are two groups of humanity. The first group is ‘the all’ who cannot ascend into heaven. The second group consists of the One who can.

Share the Faith: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

See the Future: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Show a Singular Focus: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Start the Funnel: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

The Simple Framework: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that the works they have done that they are wrought in God.”