Archive | June, 2014

A Prayer of Moderation

June 30, 2014

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The Lord's Prayer - ca, 1890 - James Tissot (1836–1902)

The Lord’s Prayer – ca, 1890 – James Tissot (1836–1902)

“I ask two things from you, Lord.
Don’t refuse me before I die.

Keep me from lying and being dishonest.
And don’t make me either rich or poor;
just give me enough food for each day.

If I have too much, I might reject you
and say, ‘I don’t know the Lord.’
If I am poor, I might steal
and disgrace the name of my God.  – Proverbs 30:7-9 NCV

The Bible generally shows us examples of prayers that are simple and short. Another thing I notice is that they generally de-emphasize self and focus on God and others. The Proverbs writer’s example is one that helps us see the beauty of godliness and simplicity. Here we see the desire to avoid the temptations of the extreme conditions of life.

In the Lord’s Model Prayer, (Matthew 6:5-13) Jesus shows the listeners a prayer with four simple ingredients:

  • Praise (Matthew 6:9-10) – God first. Remember to tell him you love him and want his plans to succeed
  • Provision (Matthew 6:11) – We shouldn’t hesitate to ask for what we need (Also see Philippians 4:6)
  • Purification (Matthew 6:12) – Help us to be forgiving and forgivers
  • Protection (Matthew 6:13) – Keep us out of trouble

A little prayer goes a long ways, just like a little contentment returns great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6) If you need to improve your prayer routine, simple is a great place to start.

…The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much – James 5:16

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Struggling to Get in the Trap

June 27, 2014

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Freedom doesn't always look like we thought it would.

Freedom doesn’t always look like we thought it would.

The world thinks that living outside of God’s boundaries provides some sort of freedom.

The Proverb writer did not think so:

Evil people are trapped by their own sin,
but good people can sing and be happy. – Proverbs 29:6 NCV

By looking at other versions we can see they used different words to try to get the point across:

  • snare
  • ensnared
  • caught
  • etc.

In the Greek, the literal word is a noose or a nose hook. Sin does not give us freedom – it places us in a noose!

Look at the things a careless lifestyle causes:

  • bad reputations
  • addictions
  • health issues
  • relationship problems

The list could keep going, but isn’t that enough?

Godly and faithful people have much cause for celebration. They have hope. (Hebrews 11:1) Those who will not or cannot turn from their sinful ways do not know hope. They also do not know the peace Paul describes in Philippians 4:4-8.

Choose to stay with God’s freedom.

Choose hope.

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What Have You Heard?

June 26, 2014

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How easy is it to change  the story?

How easy is it to change the story?

The person who tells one side of a story seems right, until someone else comes and asks questions. – Proverbs 18:17 NCV

How often have you heard “perception is truth” in the business place?

How many times a day are persuasive arguments used to back a false premise?

Do you ever make decisions based on what you’ve heard rather than your research?

It happens in business, sports – everywhere.

Worse, I know I don’t have to tell you that this get done with God’s word every day. Even when one reads the truth right out of the Bible, they are convinced it says something else by a skilled speaker.

We fix it by:

  • Knowing the word
  • Correcting the error
  • Teaching the truth
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The Correct Path

June 25, 2014

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There is only one correct way

There is only one correct path

Doing what is right is the way to life, but there is another way that leads to death. – Proverbs 12:28 NCV

If there is a way to restate this verse to make it more understandable, I’m not sure what it would be.

Jesus spent his life as a living example of the right way:

  • He is the way
  • He is the truth
  • and none of us will get to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

Couple that with:

  • There is only one God (Ephesians 4:4-6)

When we come to the fork in the road, best to check the directions God gave us.

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We Are What We Think About

June 24, 2014

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We are what we think about

We are what we think about

Earl Nightingale’s famous motivational speech “The Strangest Secret in the World” seemed ground breaking in 1961 when it sold over a million copies. Its powerful message was simply “We become what we think about.” The key factor is that You will grow a healthy crop of whatever you plant in the fields of your mind. It doesn’t matter if what you put in there is good or bad, your mind will return it in abundance.

The idea wasn’t new in 1961. The Bible has been teaching this all along!  Philippians 4:8, one of the theme verses for this website, tells us to think about only “the good things.” Paul closes the Philippians letter with that and some other exhortations for living godly lives. I am certain that having the “mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5) is not possible when worldly things enter it.

Look what Solomon has to say about our thoughts:

Be careful what you think,
because your thoughts run your life.
Don’t use your mouth to tell lies;
don’t ever say things that are not true.
Keep your eyes focused on what is right,
and look straight ahead to what is good.
Be careful what you do,
and always do what is right.
Don’t turn off the road of goodness;
keep away from evil paths. – Proverbs 4:23-27 NCV

The things that routinely dominate our thoughts are what we become.

The good thing is we have full control over it!

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Attacks on the Church Make Her Grow

June 23, 2014

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Click to see the full artwork

Crucifixion of Peter – Caravaggio (1571-1610)

The church does most of its growing when her detractors are the loudest.

It was true then:

  • Saul got the persecution ball rolling
  • The Jews were jealous over the attention Christianity received
  • Peter and John were beaten and chased
  • Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed
  • The Roman government made sport out of killing Christians

As we read though Acts, we see the participants tried at every turn for proclaiming the truth. God did not exempt himself from the cause and effect cycle of growth born from challenges. (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4) Despite all that, the church grew by leaps while Christians went proudly to their deaths as a statement for God. In fact, the persecutions helped get the church to grow outside Jerusalem.

It takes a lot of discomfort to make nearly anything happen!

Why is that?

Is it because we tend to remember what happened better?

Is it because it helps us own what happened?

It is true now:

  • Evolution vs. Creation is a hot topic
  • Atheist are not only bolder, they are very vocal
  • Homosexuality is being normalized and treated like racism
  • God’s word is second guessed routinely be even those “in” the church

The church is under no less stress now than it was in the first century (or any other time for that matter.) I suspect it will get worse before it gets better.

Like Stephen, Peter, Barnabas, Paul and the rest of the great men that lead the way, we need to be ready for anything.

Prepare to be memorable.

Prepare own it!

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It’s Still a Sin Even if it Sounds Good

June 20, 2014

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Words can talk us into things we shouldn't do.

Words can talk us into things we shouldn’t do.

The words of fools will ruin them;
their own words will trap them. – Proverbs 18:7 NCV

Words have a way of flowing out easily and whether we like it or not, describe exactly what is on the heart. (Matthew 15:18)

We can also use enough words to ease into sinful lifestyles:

  • We fool ourselves into justifying our actions
  • We fool ourselves into believing we are actually doing good
  • We fool ourselves into believing our own falsehoods

Upon closer examination, the justifications for error and sin do not hold up to the scrutiny of God’s word. In Proverbs 10:14 we see the need to gain knowledge through study so that we avoid this trap:

The wise lay up knowledge…

Good command of the Scriptures helps prevent us from being a victim of words of a fool. The tongue is described by James to be as powerful as a ship’s rudder or the bit in a horse’s mouth. (James 3) He also shows us that power works for both good and bad.

In the end, it is not possible to live in a way pleasing to God by trying to fool him with good intentions and flawed reasoning. That’s a trap that will only fool ourselves.

And the trap is difficult to escape.

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2 Steps to Avoid Meddling

June 19, 2014

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Inserting ourselves into a situation usually only keeps the fire hot.

Inserting ourselves into a situation usually only keeps the fire hot.

“If you have been foolish and proud,
or if you have planned evil, shut your mouth.

Just as stirring milk makes butter,
and twisting noses makes them bleed,
so stirring up anger causes trouble.” – Proverbs 30:32-33

Whether or not it is on purpose, creating anger in others is ungodly.

  • Friendships will not grow
  • Trust will not build
  • Peace will not prevail

The Proverb writer says to just keep our mouth closed when these situations arise. Peter goes so far as to rank meddling with murder and theft. (1 Peter 4:15)

Asking ourselves if getting involved will assist or aggravate a situation is the first step in being helpful.

Realizing that the answer is usually “aggravate” is the second.

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How We Can Grow Our “One Talent” Service

June 18, 2014

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Etching of the Parable of the Talents from the Bowyer Bible

Etching of the Parable of the Talents from the Bowyer Bible

In a previous article about the “One Talent Servant,” we looked at the excuses the servant made to explain how he failed his master. Based on the lessons learned from The Parable of the Talents, (Matthew 25:14-30) we come to understand that we can get lost in a sea of excuses and never really see the problem.

What are the root causes of the one talent servant’s failure?

It was not because of the workload or reward potential. The key to this passage is that each servant was given “according to his ability.” (Matthew 25:15) When the accounting time came, the five talent and two talent servants were rewarded equally.

The amount they were given and the amount they returned did not come into play, because they tried their best.

God only expects from us what we are equipped to handle at any given time.

But he also expects us to get to work with whatever we have!

We can quickly examine the attitude of the one talent servant and see at least three problems:

  • He had a low opinion of the master – The servant had no love or understanding of what the master planned
  • He did not believe the master was fair – Why should he have gotten only one talent to manage?
  • He was lazy – He didn’t even look into some very safe uses for the money

That laziness is one that can sneak up on a person. It is a very scary thought to realize that when he (Christ) comes, the lazy will be cast out, not because they did not believe, or because they had rebelled, but because they had neglected their opportunities.

For the Christian expecting the return of the Master, it is a good idea to take a little inventory.

What do I have?

What can I do?

Am I using these things as well as I can for the Master?

Am I making “one talent” excuses?

When we can answer those questions honestly, we can begin converting ourselves from a “one talent servant” into a two talent servant!

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The One Talent Servant Could Have Been a Two Talent Servant

June 17, 2014

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Etching of the Parable of the Talents from the Bowyer Bible

Etching of the Parable of the Talents from the Bowyer Bible

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) points out something that might trouble many of us.

There are no excuses.

In this parable, the master goes away on a journey and leaves three servants an amount of money (or talents as it is written) “each according to his ability.” (Matthew 25:15) Two made good profits with what they were given while one hid his money.

The one that buried his talent is a reflection of so many in the church:

  • Many do not participate because they don’t have a certain skill.
  • Many don’t participate because they don’t have much to offer.
  • Many don’t participate because they are afraid to mess up.

Rather than take what he had and try to make more (because everyone has to start somewhere,) the one talent guy played the victim and was a non-starter.

Just Start

The two that made good use of the master’s money doubled it according the text. (Matthew 25:20, 22) If these were good economic times where they could make a 12% annual return, it would still have taken six years to double the money.

That’s a long time.

That means the one talent servant presumably sat around for a long time and did nothing.

The correct approach for him would have been to take what he had and grow it. Start out with safe actions. Begin with the basics. Even that will cause growth.

Then keep going

No matter where we are in our Christian walk, there is more to do and there are more needs. The requirement to grow what the Master has entrusted us with is still with us. He doesn’t expect us all to be five talent servants, but he expects our best efforts.

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5 Bits of Guidance for Helping Others

June 16, 2014

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The Good Samaritan - ~1633 - Rembrandt (1606–1669)

The Good Samaritan – ~1633 – Rembrandt (1606–1669)

“Helping others” is a touchy subject among most people.

Each individual has their own definition of what it means to help, how much they can help and indeed, who deserves help.

So who do we help and how do we know when we are Scripturally required to do so?

Outside of the framework of the church, it is argued politically how much help should come from the government. Appeals to human decency are weighed against abuses of the system of redistribution. The only clear result is people take sides and argue more about it – and we still have people in need.

Inside the framework of the church, many get tired of the requests for help. The constant flow of “needs” and “misfortunes” from the communities surrounding a church facility make it hard to distinguish between the occasional real need and those working the system. In order to protect the resources of the church from “thieves,” they are often distributed too sparingly – and we still have people in need.

How do we, as individuals or the church, deal with this? Loving our neighbor is a mandate that is equal to loving God. (Matthew 22:39)

Jesus wrapped a lesson on how to help others and to what extent in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) This parable is the gold standard of what it means to “Love thy Neighbor” by showing unlimited compassion for a complete stranger.

It takes that level compassion to properly show our love to God!

Each person should work through the idea of helping others on their own. Here are some relevant Scriptures to help with that:

  • Luke 6:38 – How generous giving is rewarded
  • Galatians 6:10 – The church is instructed to “do good to all“, but especially other Christians.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:10 – Often used as a reason NOT to help others, but the context is much more than that. Be careful here.
  • James 2:15 – Telling someone you’ll pray for their situation (or they just need to have faith in God) isn’t very helpful when they are hungry. One needs to take some action.
  • Acts 2:45 – The new Christians were selling stuff they owned to help sustain other new Christians as the church grew.

I’ve given just the main verses, don’t forget to go look at the context for each of these. The context definitely key.

As to what to tell you the answer is, I’ll leave the Scriptures to do that. “Helping others” is a lifelong pursuit that a Christian has to grow into. To get to the level of the Good Samaritan, we all have a lot of growing to do!


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How to Relive Paul’s Trip to Damascus

June 13, 2014

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Ananias Restoring Paul's Sight - 1631 - Pietro da Cortona

Ananias Restoring Paul’s Sight – 1631 – Pietro da Cortona

The events that led up to Paul’s baptism and conversion were pretty extreme. (Acts 9:1-18) In a matter of days he went from hunting those who believed Jesus was Christ to proving Jesus was Christ. (Acts 9:19-25)

Lucky for us, God doesn’t have to take that kind of action anymore.

Now, we have everything God wants us to know printed and bound and readily accessible. We can sit and read about the events that led up to Christ and the spread of the Gospel in the comfort of our home.

We can see the pain in the minds of the prophets.

We can see the doubt of the children of Israel.

We can see the excitement that Jesus brought to those that needed him.

We can see the urgency of Paul’s message.

Not only is the printed word readily available, we have digital alternatives that are often free. In devices that fit in our pocket, we can have any translation, word search for scriptures and attach personal notes to the text. It seems like having a Bible is no big deal anymore.

God put a lot of people through a lot of trouble to get the word out and confirm its truth.

And it worked!

In light of all that … Shouldn’t we make Bible study a higher priority?


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4 Lessons the Eunuch Taught Us

June 12, 2014

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The Baptism of the Eunuch - 1626 -  Rembrandt (1606–1669)

The Baptism of the Eunuch – 1626 –
Rembrandt (1606–1669)

The account of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39) is a reminder of how rich the Bible is in content. We could spend a lifetime in the book and not master the lessons it is able to teach us. Take a look at just some of the takeaways that this passage gives us about Christianity:

Christianity is learned

The Eunuch asked, “How can I unless someone guides me? (Acts 8:31)

It’s true. God meant for is word to be studied, but most importantly – taught. One of the key verses I pivot a lot of my posts on in this blog is 2 Timothy 2:2. In that one verse, four generations of teachers are described.

Let’s face it, while the basic gospel plan of salvation is simple to follow, the Bible has some difficult content that needs to be learned and then taught. The essence of the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is Teach – Baptize – Teach.

Christianity has been the plan from the beginning

Philip found the Eunuch reading from the book of Isaiah. (Acts 8:32-33 = Isaiah 53:7-8) A passage talking about the crucifixion! The Jews missed it then and today’s Jews still deny that passage is about Jesus.

We know from John 1 that God’s word was uttered in the beginning and Christ became that word.

We might not ever fully understand the full impact of that, but God’s plan is and always was in full effect.

Christianity cannot wait

Once the Eunuch understood what was required for his salvation, he asked to stop and fulfill it at the very next opportunity. (Acts 8:36-38)

We are not promised tomorrow…

Almost saved still equals lost …

Something to keep in mind whether we are currently the teacher or the student.

Christianity is a joy

After the Eunuch was baptized, he went on his was rejoicing. He understood in that moment that the blood of Christ had paid for his sins. What’s not to like about that?

Keep studying!

As we continue building a habit of reading and re-reading the Bible, remember to look deeper and deeper into the passages for more of what God was trying to tell us.

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How to Convert the Tough Cases

June 11, 2014

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Peter Confronts Simon - 1620 - Avanzino Nucci

Peter Confronts Simon – 1620 – Avanzino Nucci

Despite being fully immersed in practicing something other than the gospel, Simon believed and was baptized when he heard the genuine “good news.” (Acts 8:9-13)

It is difficult to teach – or even approach – someone that has a lot invested in a false doctrine. (By false doctrine, I mean a teaching that is different from what the Bible teaches.) Like Simon …

…their personal income might come from it.

…they may have started a large project in its name.

…they may have committed time and money to help spread it.

Luckily, since true faith only comes from the word of God, (Romans 10:17) it is not impossible to change someone in these situations. Philip showed us that in the Simon the Sorcerer account.

Note that I didn’t say it was easy, just possible.

The possibility comes…

  • from commanding the knowledge needed to prove the false teaching wrong
  • from living a lifestyle that reflects what you teach
  • from standing your ground even when it makes the relationship uncomfortable.

Luckily, God only holds us accountable for planting the seed of truth – He’ll give the increase in his own time. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) Like Simon, if they desire to be honest with their heart, they will come around to the truth.

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How to Learn the Truth

June 10, 2014

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Stoning of St Stephen - ~1435 - Paolo Uccello (1397–1475)

Stoning of St Stephen – ~1435 – Paolo Uccello (1397–1475)

Acts 8:1 says Saul approved of the execution of Stephen.

He thought he was doing God’s will – all the way up until he met Christ in a vision on the way to Damascus in Acts 9

At any given time on our Christian walk, there is more we need to know. No matter how mature in the word we think we are, there are corrections to make and more understanding we can gain.

There are many “versions” of God’s word being taught in the world, but only one we will be compared with at the judgment.

The way to find the right one is go to the source.

Study it then review it.


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