The Journey with Ron Moore

The word “image” means “to carve or cut out.” We are carved or cut out in the pattern of our Creator. God is spirit, so this pattern is not a physical representation. Rather, to be made in the image of God means that we share God’s nature, specifically his communicable attributes, such as life, personality, truth, wisdom, love, holiness, justice. Of course, all of God’s attributes are perfect and eternal. Because of sin, we experience each attribute in an imperfect and finite way. Genesis 2:7 gives more detail of how this came about.

…The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

-Genesis 2:7

The word formed is from the Hebrew word “yatzar.” It describes a plan and design. When the word is in the participle form, it means “potter” (Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18:1-4). Using the dust of the ground, God sculpted a body that would best house our spirit and is the best vehicle to carry out His purpose for us. Then he stooped down and breathed into the man the breath of life, “and man became a living being.” God’s breath brought more than just animation. He breathed into us spiritual understanding, functioning conscience, a moral capacity. God’s breath brought life to man and allowed him to stand up and live out that one and only life…generously given to him.

Now check this out—God gave man…think of this…the capacity to create…to produce a living soul. God generously gives us the gift of life, and then generously gives us the privilege of producing life with his enablement. Allen Ross writes,

For believers, childbirth is an act of worship, a sharing in the work of God, the one who created life.

-Creation and Blessing

Now, this is a critical point. Just as God was intimately involved in the creation of the first man, he is intimately involved in the creation of every person. The Psalmists writes:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

-Psalm 139:13-16

This is a beautiful picture of God’s work in every life from conception. That is why I am unashamedly Pro-Life. My belief is not based on a political platform, but on the Word of God. Our one and only life is a generous gift from God, filled with purpose and meaning.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

-Ephesians 2:8-10

We are not “accidental blobs…evolving from primordial sludge….” We are made in the image of the eternal God. God has generously given us a life with purpose and meaning. He has prepared works for us to do. God did not create us in his image to suck oxygen and take up space.  I do not know specifically what good works God prepared in advance for you to do, but I am 100% sure that they do not include filling your one and only life with temporal material stuff, building large portfolios without investing in eternal things, and being obsessed with career, hobbies, and recreational activities.

We are created in the image of God. Believers, the eternal Creator knows you by name and loves you with unconditional love. He has a purpose and plan for your time on this earth. How will you respond to the generous gift of life?

Young Jewish boys were not allowed to read it (but I bet they did). I’m talking about the Song of Solomon, the Old Testament book about a man and woman passionately in love with each other. The writing, set in poetry, describes dating, marriage, and the problems that inevitably occur. But most of all the song is about God’s gift of sexual intimacy between a man and woman in the context of marriage. The book pulls no punches regarding sex. Yet it is no way vulgar or crude.

Three Hebrew words in the song best describe the components of intimate lovemaking.

  1. Rea

This Hebrew word means “spirit love,” and is translated “friend” throughout the song. That’s where healthy sexual relationships begin—a non-sexual relationship, usually in the company of others. This allows you to see how a person acts and interacts with others. Friendship provides a safe place where you can begin to talk with one another and learn the substance of a person’s heart.

This is important because a major desire for couples is to have a friend in their partner. In one study conducted with couples in all stages of the marriage relationship, couples were asked to rank a list of possible goals for their marriage. The single most important goal listed was to have a friend in one’s partner (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, Fighting For Your Marriage: Positive Steps for a Loving and Lasting Relationship, pp. 233-234). In another study aimed at determining why singles wanted to get married, 84% described friendship as the primary reason. This should not be surprising since the essence of marriage is the meet man’s need for companionship and loneliness. Researchers Notarius and Markman note that many divorced couples say that in the process they “felt like they lost their best friend” (We Can Work It Out: How to Solve Conflicts, Save Your Marriage, and Strengthen Your Love for Each Other, p. 132).

  1. Ahab

This Hebrew word describes “heart love” and describes the emotional part of love. It is that indescribable feeling that mysteriously causes two people to desire to spend their life together. When a man and woman “fall in love” they can think of little else. Ahab is used in this song to describe “lovesickness” (2:5b…for I am faint with love) and “emotional loyalty” (3:1— …the one my heart loves).

  1. Dod

This Hebrew word describes physical love. It means “to caress, rock, embrace, and consummate.” Throughout the book, it is translated “lover.”

 

These three components—connection, commitment, and consummation—make for true sexual intimacy. Any one by itself or any two are incomplete and unbiblical.

  • Consummation without connection or commitment is animalistic.
  • Connection and consummation without commitment are called fornication.
  • Connection and commitment without consummation lead to frustration and temptation.

But all three together—spirit (rea), heart (ahab), and body (dod)—now we’re talking! Now we’re singing love songs! This is the one-flesh relationship that only God could invent and design!

For the last twenty years, my wife Lori and I have participated in the March for Life in Washington D.C. When our children entered the sixth grade, we started taking them with us. We live in Pittsburgh, so the bus pulls out at six in the morning and we are home around midnight. It means a day from work and out of school, but we believe that is a small investment. For some of you, the trip may be much longer. But here are three reasons why we believe it is important.

  1. We want our children to understand why we believe in life.

We believe that life begins at conception. Life is not a political issue in a political platform of a political party. It is a moral issue embedded in Scripture. Man is made in the image of God. Each life deserves to be treated with honor and dignity until the last breath. Technology has taken away the argument that a fetus in the early stages is simply a blog of tissue. These are truths that parents (not the youth pastor or Christian school teacher) must teach their children.

  1. We want to show our children the power of their participation.

There is power in one voice. And that power is magnified when it is joined with others. It was reported that between 400,000 and 500,000 people attended this year’s march. That strong showing was dependent on one person at a time making a decision to show up. We want to show (not just tell) our children that their voice is important and powerful when joined with others.

  1. We want to show our children that they are not alone.

Our children may be one of the few in their classroom or at the lunch table who believes in the sanctity of life. But as they march with hundreds of thousands of others, they are reminded in a vivid way, that they are not alone. We pray that the experience of having them involved in the march gives them the confidence to speak out on this important matter.

  1. We want to show our children that we must speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.

After World War II, German citizens living around the Nazi concentration camps were required to visit the facilities to witness the atrocities they had permitted to occur.  Though it was technically legal to kill Jews and political prisoners, these citizens were still blamed for remaining silent and not living by a higher moral code.

Many German citizens did speak up. One was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For his decision to take a stand, he was put in prison. Bonhoeffer was put to death just days before the end of the war.

One of the prisoners who survived was Elie Weisel. Later in his life, he was awarded the Nobel Prize. In accepted the award, Weisel said this:

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endured suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps oppressors never victims. Silence encourages tormenters not the tormented.

Scripture says, Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8). It’s one thing for parents to read that verse to your children. It’s another thing to show them that you mean it.

 

 

Does your job require you to speak a lot?  Do you like to talk a lot? Are you married or in a relationship? Then you are at high risk for Foot-In-Mouth disease. The Proverb says, “When words are many, sin is not absent…” (10:19). For sure, when words are many, something regretful or downright stupid is sure to escape your lips.

Here are three remedies for the dreaded disease.

  1. Don’t say the first thing that comes to your mind.

Researchers call this “editing.” It is the discipline of reflecting on what you say before you say it. Some people pride themselves for “speaking their mind.” But Scripture is clear that speaking is not something to be proud of.

            Everyone should be…slow to speak…. James 1:19

            …a man of understanding holds his tongue. Proverbs 11:12

            He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. Proverbs 21:23

So, slow down…and think before you speak.

 

  1. Wrap what you need to say in kindness.

Researchers call this “leveling.” Scripture calls it “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).  Communication must be clear, truthful, and transparent. Many spouses are afraid to level with each other for fear of expressing feelings in a way that will be hurtful. One way to speak the truth in love is to use the X, Y, Z approach.

            When you did (or didn’t do) X in situation Y, I felt Z.

            Instead of: “You jerk! You forgot Valentine’s Day, again!”

Try: When you didn’t buy me a gift (X) for Valentine’s Day (Y), I felt hurt and insignificant in your life (Z).

 

Instead of: “You really make me happy!”

How about: “When you held my hand (X) as we walked into your companies Christmas party (Y), I felt deeply satisfied and secure (Z).

 

Feeling can be expressed with words such as: glad, warm, nervous, frustrated, low, bad, angry, lonely, euphoric, sad, excited, irritated, happy, pleased, embarrassed, anxious, or agitate

 

  1. Timing is everything.

There is certainly a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Communication at the wrong time will not be heard or will be misunderstood more often than not. Communication will not be effective when the listener is preoccupied, tired, or stressed. That’s why “hallway” conversations at work and at home create confusion and misunderstanding. When you need to communicate something important, make sure the timing is right.

Marriages never explode. There is never one event that causes a couple to call it quits. Instead, the demise of a marriage is more like a slow leak. After a time, the marriage goes flat. Too many couples were not willing to fix the leak in the first place. And too many couples are not willing to invest the time, put in the hard work, and effect the personal change needed to restore and grow the relationship.

So the key is to maintain a sense of oneness.

I use three words to describe this biblical concept of oneness.

 

  1. Connection

Connection is the intercourse of body, mind, spirit, and emotion. All marriage couples understand the oneness of body in the sexual relationship. But that same connection has to be present in other areas as well. The physical connection comes most naturally. Mental, spiritual, and emotional oneness takes time to nurture and develop.

 

  1. Mission

I believe couples must have a marriage mission. The chief end of man is to bring glory to God, so the primary purpose of marriage is to do the same. A husband and wife have to be going the same direction at the same time for the same reason—in one word—mission. God brought you together to do what you could not do alone. He has a mission for your marriage.

 

  1. Mystery

Ready for a profound statement…man and woman are different. Shocker, right? We are wired differently. We view things differently. But here’s the kicker. Diversity creates strong oneness. If we are willing to deal with our differences, the differences will fuse oneness instead of driving us apart.

 

So how do you define oneness in marriage? What do you do to create and maintain it? What are some things that threaten oneness in your marriage?

What does the Apostle Paul mean when he tells the believer to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18)? There are two important things to know about this instruction.

  1. The word “filled” means to be controlled. Instead of being controlled by a substance like wine (Eph. 5:18a) be controlled by the Spirit who indwells you as a believer.
  2. Being controlled by the Spirit is not one-and-done. It is an ongoing prayer of the believer.

One writer puts it like this:

[Being filled with the Spirit] is not some high-and-mighty, once-in-a-lifetime moment where you experience the fullness of the Spirit and from then on you are on an all-time high that never wanes. Instead, we are regularly to pray, “Fill me, Lord, for the moment…fill me in this hour…fill me as I’m facing the challenge.”

Here’s a prayer I’ve written and use to ask God for His control of my life:

Father, this is your day on loan to me and I want to be used by you for eternal and lasting purposes. I submit myself, my plans, my activities, and my interactions with others to you. I thank you that I have been baptized and sealed by your Spirit. I thank you that your Spirit indwells me. Now I ask that your Spirit control every aspect of my life. Take control of my tongue that my words will reflect your love and grace. Take control of my emotions that I may respond obediently and calmly, Take control of my thoughts, that my mind may be quickly cleaned of those things that will not honor you and be full of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and praiseworthy. Control my actions in such a way that others will see my deeds and know that they have been influenced by you. Give me the strength to live this day in a way that pleases you. I submit myself to your control in Christ’s name. Amen.

Christmas is all in the heart. It’s not about expensive gifts or long wish lists. It’s not about shopping malls that stay open until midnight or paying for express mail service to make certain that packages arrive in time for relatives who live far away. Christmas may be cluttered with busy schedules and mile-long to-do lists, but that does not change this simple fact: Christmas is all in the heart.

Christmas did not begin in a smelly Bethlehem stable. It did not make the calendar only after a little baby named Jesus took his first gulps of air. Christmas began in eternity past — conceived in the heart of a Father desperately in love with his children. A Father whose heart was broken in a garden when those children disobeyed his only request and turned their backs on the one who had stooped low to breathe into them their first breath of life.

Christmas began in the longing heart of a Father whose children were estranged and would forever remain so unless he stooped low again. The Father’s hatred for sin had caused him to place on it the stiffest sentence. Knowing the eternal separation sin would cause between him and his children, and knowing the hellish pain it would cause in life, the loving Father decreed that the penalty of sin would be death. And so the sentence stood and still stands.

Christmas is all in the heart. The heart of a loving Father with an extreme plan. His penalty on sin would stand, but he would bend down to pay the penalty himself. As one has so eloquently written:

The God of power, as he did ride his majestic robe of glory resolved to save; and so one He did descend, undressing all the way.

The Creator…The God of time and eternity…The God of strength and power and majesty descended from heaven, undressing all the way to a virgin’s womb, and there he began the process of humanity to pay the penalty of sin himself. Christmas is all in the heart.

God demonstrated his love in this way: while we were still sinners with the sentence of death hanging over our heads, Jesus—God in the flesh—died in our place on the cross.

Christmas is all in the heart of the eternal God desperately in love with his estranged children and willing to provide the way for them to return home.

Christmas is all in the heart—is your heart ready and willing to return home?

The Bible is clear.

All have sinned and fall short of the holy standard of God.

The penalty of sin is death, but Jesus came. He died on the cross for you. You can trust in him as the only way to forgiveness and restoration with the eternal God.

Two women were having lunch in an elegant hotel. A mutual friend saw them and asked for the occasion for the meal. One lady replied, “We are celebrating the first birthday of my baby boy.” “But where is he?” inquired the friend. “Oh,” said the mother—“you didn’t think I’d bring him, did you?”

Christmas without Jesus is like celebrating a birthday without the birthday person. Jesus is the heart of Christmas and the only way to the heart of God.

Today many people are living in fear. For some, the fear was brought on by post-election disappointment or disillusionment. Some are filled with anxiety as cable news commentators proclaim that our country is near economic collapse. Some are terrified at the news coming from the Middle East. But we are not the only generation living in uncertain and challenging times. Since the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, this world has been broken and messy. It was an especially bleak time when God entered the pool of humanity.

When Jesus was born Rome ruled the world. After Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, his two sons, Octavian and Anthony shared the throne. But co-rulers never work out well. Anthony soon fell in love with the Egyptian Queen named Cleopatra. They married and decided that Octavian was an unnecessary third wheel. So they went against him for sole power of the throne.

In the Battle of Actium in 33 BC, Octavian’s armies defeated Anthony and Cleopatra. Remember what they did? The hightailed it back to Egypt and in fear and desperation committed suicide. That left Octavian as the sole ruler of the Empire—The Caesar.

Four years later Octavian named himself the chief citizen of the Roman Empire and took the name Augustus. Caesar Augustus ruled the world.

The poet, Virgil, called Caesar Augustus the “present deity,” the “restorer of the world.” Augustus built roads throughout the Empire. Great buildings were constructed. Magnificent coliseums were built to entertain the people with sport. Circuses traveled throughout the country. Under Caesar Augustus, the world experienced Pax Romana—The Peace of Rome.

Things were going well in the Roman Empire except for this little piece of land called Palestine. In this little strip of land lived the Jews. They served one God named YHWH and their daily practices came from His instruction. They would not bow before Caesar. They would not follow the Roman customs.

The Jew’s hatred for the outside world started years earlier when a Greek ruler named Antiochus tried to force the Greek culture on them. They refused and things got messy. Antiochus flogged a 90-year-old priest to death for refusing to eat pig’s flesh. A mother and her seven sons refused to bow before an idol, so the soldiers killed each son…one by one. They killed the mother last so she would have to endure the unimaginable. She died seven deaths before they took her life. And in an act known as the “Abomination of Desolation,” Antiochus took a pig into the holiest part of the temple and sacrificed it on the altar in honor of Zeus and smeared the pig’s blood on the sanctuary.

That was the last straw. The Jews revolted. In 164 BC Judas Maccabee led a successful revolt to take back the temple and rededicated it to the Lord. The Jewish celebration of Hannukkah comes from that victory. Hannukkah—which means “dedication” or “consecration”—will be celebrated by Jews this coming week.

Amazingly the Jews held their independence for almost 100 years. Then the Roman army marches into town. It took around 30 years for the Romans to crush all signs of rebellion. But crush it they did. One commentator (Barclay) said that between 67 BC and 37 BC, no fewer than 150,000 Jews died at the hands of the Romans.

During this time, the Romans installed Herod as their puppet king. It is said that as he watches the Romans crush the rebellion—killing men, women, and children in their homes, in the marketplace, and those who took refuge in the temple, he asked a Roman general,

Would the Romans deprive the city of all its inhabitants and possessions and leave me a king of the wilderness?

Around this time, a Jewish rebel broke into an arsenal in the city of Sapphirus to arm his followers. Sapphirus was about 3 miles from Nazareth. The rebel was caught, the city of Sapphirus burned, and 2000 Jewish rebels crucified. And if the killings from the rebellion were not bad enough, in 31 BC an earthquake hit the area killing an estimated 30,000 people.

It was during this time—with people living in oppression, political unrest, poverty, their country in ruins—that God sent His angel Gabriel to a broken and messy world to make an announcement to a young woman named Mary.

Jesus did not come to overthrow Rome. His kingdom is not of this earth. He came to fix the problem of man’s sin, fear, and brokenness one person at a time.

Can you imagine a salesman who never sold a product … a surgeon who never performed a surgery … a trial lawyer who never tried a case … an interior decorator who never decorated the interior of anything … a teacher who never taught … a preacher who never preached … a congressman who never wrote one piece of meaningful legislation? Maybe that last one is a bad example, but you get my point. A profession demands evidence. And so does a profession of faith. Someone has asked, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” That’s a great question, isn’t it? The purpose of this booklet is to show that true faith produces “convicting” evidence.

Does the Bible teach “faith by works,” “faith plus works,” or “faith that works”?

In the history of the church, there has been a variety of teaching regarding the issue of faith. Many have taught that a relationship with God must be earned by good works. You have to go to church, say your prayers, give a certain amount of money, take communion, be baptized and help little old ladies across the street. Then, when your time is up, God will take out his eternal balancing scales. He will place your good deeds on one side and your bad deeds on the other. With heaven and hell in the balance, you will stand before God and hope against hope that your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds by at least a nanogram. Talk about stress!

Others teach that a relationship with God is all about faith … plus the things you need to do in order to complete your relationship. It’s kind of like taking out a loan to buy a house. You can live in the house as long as you make the payments. But, if your missed mortgage payments pile up, you will risk foreclosure and losing your home. Talk about pressure to perform!

But faith is not by works or plus works. Scripture clearly teaches that an eternal relationship with the holy God is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is nothing we can do to earn or complete our standing before God. Salvation is a free gift. The Apostle Paul made this clear when he wrote, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

But God does not stop at simply making us his child. We are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). God has graciously gifted us with a faith that works. So, here’s the question. What does a faith that works look like in the life of a true believer? How can we know beyond any doubt that we possess such faith?

Saving Faith

Let’s make sure we are on the same page when it comes to a genuine relationship with God. A faith that works begins with saving faith. Let’s use the acronym “KAT” (Knowledge, Agreement, Trust) to help us understand what saving faith is all about.

Knowledge: Saving faith begins with an understanding of what the Bible says regarding my sinful state and God’s gracious remedy. Scripture says that I am a sinner and cannot save myself. My best effort on

my best day falls short of God’s holy standard. Because of my sin, I will be separated from God for eternity. So God did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. He sent his Son to die on the cross as a perfect

sacrifice for my sin. The Bible says that I can trust in Jesus as the One who paid the penalty of sin for me and enter into a relationship with the living God. But this knowledge alone is not saving faith.

Agreement: Not only must I know what the Bible says about my condition and God’s remedy, but I must agree with what Scripture says. I must agree with God’s Word that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I must agree that Jesus came to pay the penalty for my sin. I must agree that my trust in Jesus places me into an eternal relationship with the living God. So far, so good … but knowledge and agreement are not saving faith. There is one more essential step.

Trust: I must place my trust in Jesus alone as the One who died for me and the only One who can place me into an eternal relationship with God. The Bible says that Jesus died for me. I agree that Jesus died

for me. I trust in Jesus alone as the One who died for my sins.

When you hear the word “hospitality” it is often in terms of a person having people over for dinner capped off with coffee and dessert. That’s a great thing to do, but biblical hospitality goes much deeper. Someone has well said:

Hospitality is not having someone into your perfect home; it is allowing someone into your imperfect heart.

The word translated “hospitable” is made up of two Greek words, philo and xenos. Philo means “love” and xenos means “strangers.” Biblical hospitality refers to a person who demonstrates acts of love to those who can’t pay them back. It is one-way giving.

In the Old Testament, God’s law instructed the Israelites to not harvest the corners of their fields so foreigners in need of food would have something to eat. God’s law instructed the Israelite to provide food to the hungry and clothing for the naked (Ezekiel 18:7).

In the New Testament, this characteristic of hospitality continues to be driven by one’s love for God and it takes on a very practical purpose.

The first practical purpose of hospitality was persecution. Christians were being captured and killed. Some were forced from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Others were forced to run for their lives. Those fleeing had no money so they couldn’t stay at the inns. Even if they had money the inns and taverns were immoral places populated by hardened, drunken men. Not a place you wanted to take your wife and children.

Therefore, it was critical for Christians to take in the persecuted and provide a room, food, clothing and needed staples to help them continue their journey to safety. Hospitality was a sacrificial and costly endeavor, and it was dangerous.

In 209 A.D. there was persecution under the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus. A Christian priest was being pursued and was running for his life. For some reason, the priest was given shelter by a soldier in the Roman Army named Alban. In the next few days, the two talked at length and Alban became a Christian. When the officers were tipped off as to the location of the priest, Alban came to the door dressed in the priest’s clothes while the priest escaped. Alban became the first Martyr in Britain when he refused to renounce his newfound faith and was beheaded.

Another reason that hospitality was so important in the New Testament church was mission work. As Paul and others traveled around starting churches and sharing the Gospel they needed a place to stay. Again the inns of the day were out of the question, so Christ-followers housed traveling evangelists.

When the Apostle John was sending out missionaries to either start or support churches in Asia he learned of a certain man in one church who was wreaking havoc. He addressed this issue in 3 John and then praised Gaius for his kindness and support of the traveling preacher. Now certainly the kindness of hospitality can be abused. One early Christian writing—the Didache—says that the traveling preacher should stay one day, two days at most; and if he asked for money you knew he was a fraud.

Certainly, biblical hospitality can be costly and inconvenient. That’s why Peter reminds us to be hospitable without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). The writer to the Hebrews says that the strangers to whom we show hospitality may even be angels in disguise (Hebrews 13:2).

Here are a few ways to demonstrate biblical hospitality.

  1. Work with a local church or pregnancy resource center to house a pregnant girl who has no place to go.
  2. Give clothes to a local mission. I bet your closet is full of clothes you seldom wear.
  3. Prayerfully consider foster care or adoption.
  4. Get involved in prison ministry.
  5. Get involved in mentoring children from single-parent families.
  6. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter.
  7. Get involved with international ministries committed to helping the needy.

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 lifeJohn 3:16

Thanksgiving Day is a time to remember, reflect and give thanks for all that God has done, is doing and promises to do. Here are a few things (not an exhaustive list) that I am very thankful for.

  • A wife who loves me enough to let me know when I am way off base. Lori keeps my feet planted firmly on the ground. What a privilege to enjoy life and laughter with her.
  • A day with family. I love it when the kids are home, and we talk and laugh and play Killer Uno (Our table game motto: if you don’t get caught, it ain’t cheatin’–that motto, of course, only applies to our family games.)
  • A church that loves God’s Word. As crazy as it seems, I know of pastors whose congregations would run them out of town for firmly proclaiming the entire counsel of God’s Word. I love it that I would get run out of town if I didn’t.
  • Being in one place for 30 years. My dad moved around a lot during his school years and dreamed that one of his children would go to one school from first grade through graduation. My mom and dad only moved once. I think my oldest brother was in the 7th grade, and the third child, my sister, was in the second grade. The fourth child, my sister, and I got to do the whole run in the Perry School District. I’m thankful that all four of my children have been able to do the same.
  • Friends that don’t have to go “deep” all the time. I spend a good part of my time studying and writing. So with friends, it’s fun to relax and laugh. Thank God for those friends.
  • The United States of America. I have done some traveling that has led to a deeper love and appreciation for this country. We are not perfect. But travel the world, and you will see that God has His hand of blessing on the USA.
  • John 3:16–this is the crux of my thanksgiving. God loved me so much that He sent His Son for me. He loved me so much that He moved in my heart to trust in His Son. I do not face condemnation (Romans 8:1) but have in my future the gifts of eternal life. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Okay, time for you to make your own list.

Father, thank You for all Your blessings, but most of all the blessing and gift of Your Son. I pray in His name. Amen.

Joshua, the Old Testament leader of Israel, was given a heavy assignment. Following the great leader Moses, God charged Joshua to lead Israel into the Promised Land. Joshua knew the challenges and risks. Seven groups of people inhabited the Canaan and there would be many battles to fight. Right after crossing the Jordan when Joshua looked at the walled city of Jericho, he had to be asking: How in the world will we conquer such a fortified city? How would he lead God’s people to take the land? How many husbands, fathers, and sons will give their lives for what God has called us to do? Joshua asked the same question we do: Are the battles worth it?

You tell me. Our ministry is one of leading people—empty, hurting, broken, fallen—to inherit the eternal promises of the eternal God. Jesus has gone before, fought and won the battle. He is the One who leads us into the eternal promised land. And as those called to proclaim his message, we get to follow him and simply encourage others to come along and follow us as we follow Christ.

When we are following Christ we can be sure that every battle is worth it. We are leading people to an eternal inheritance. And one day . . . if we do this thing right . . . we will look into His face and He will say, “Welcome home, good and faithful servant.” Yeah, every battle is worth it!

The great pianist Paderewski was holding a concert in a grand hall. A mother took her young son to the concert and, while she was talking to friends as the hall filled with people, he slipped down the aisle, crawled onto the stage, made his way to the piano . . . and started playing Chopsticks. The crowd, waiting for the great pianist, was aghast. From the wings, though, Paderewski saw what was taking place, slipped onstage behind the boy and whispered in his ear, “Keep playing . . . don’t stop . . . keep playing.” Paderewski accompanied the boy’s Chopsticks with a brilliant harmony that turned this simple piece into a masterpiece.

That’s what God does for us. When we are filled with fear, doubt, and discouragement, he puts his arms around us and says, “Don’t stop . . . keep playing . . . Don’t stop.” When we trust him, he strengthens our frightened hearts, bolsters our feeble efforts, and chases away the discouragement. He can turn a life of Chopsticks into a brilliant masterpiece.

Believers know that following Christ involves sacrifice. There will be battles to fight. We want to know if the battles will be worth it.

Joshua knew that they would not enter the Promised Land the next day or the day after that. There would be many battles to fight. Seven groups of people inhabited the Promise Land. When it was all said and done Joshua conquered thirty-five cities. Husbands and fathers, sons and brothers, would die on the battlefield. And he had to know if the sacrifices would be worth it. God answers that question with a rich theological truth.

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.

-Joshua 1:6

The inheritance of the Promised Land for the nation of Israel takes on a spiritual significance in the New Testament. Peter tells us that through Christ we have,

an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

-1 Peter 1:4-5

Are the battles worth it? Every one of them! At the end of the day, they will pale in comparison to our great inheritance through Jesus.

Recently I used a story from Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, in a sermon. The story was told by a pastor who had a prostitute come to him for help. She had been “renting out” her two-year-old daughter in order to support her drug habit. In the story, the pastor asked her if she had gone to church for help. “Church!” she said, “I was already feeling bad enough about myself. Why would I want to go there? They would simply make me feel worse.”

I used the story to focus on grace—the grace we receive from God and the grace we should extend to others. I noted that it is easy for me to see some sins as worse than others, but that Jesus paid for all sins on the cross and his forgiveness extends to the “worst” of sins and sinners. I did not have time in the sermon to run down all the implications of this truth, and afterward, received some great questions about how to apply to this all-encompassing grace. Following is an attempt to address some of the questions. Let’s consider grace, the Law, and common sense.

Grace

Grace is the free gift of God. It is an undeserved favor. It cannot be earned, bought or bartered for. The Apostle Paul clearly said that grace “cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). Until we understand that grace covers the greatest sin, we will not be able to understand that grace covers our sin. Yes, God’s grace covers even the despicable sin of the prostitute who sold her two-year-old.

Grace and the Law

In a discussion about grace, we can’t forget about the laws we live under. In Yancey’s story, the pastor said that he was legally liable to report this woman for child abuse even as he offered her God’s grace. King David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheba, but he and his kingdom experienced consequences resulting from his sin. The thief on the cross, forgiven and headed to heaven, still died for his thievery. God can forgive the repentant murderer, but he will still receive the legal penalty rightfully due to him. The man who leaves his wife and family and runs off with his mistress can receive God’s forgiveness and may, in time, receive the forgiveness of his wife and children. But things will never again be the same between them. Grace does not negate the laws we live under. Grace does not negate the consequences of our sins.

Grace and Common Sense

When we extend grace, we must also use common sense. For instance, even though grace should be extended to the prostitute in Yancey’s story, we would be foolish to let her babysit our two-year-old. We must forgive those who hurt us. But this doesn’t mean that we put them in a position to hurt us or those we love again. If an alcoholic spouse leaves home, I can and should forgive him, but I am not going to let the children stay the weekend during his drunken stupor. Grace does not mean we put those we love in danger just for the sake of grace.

First, prayer is communication with God. So prayer is much more than requests. It is talking to God as we would an intimate friend. It is sharing our life with Him–fears, frustrations, joys, sorrows, and, yes, our requests.

Second, some turn prayer into a formulaic ritual. I thought of this in the story of two people who prayed for their children – two friends who each had a child in an accident and everyone was praying for their recovery. One was healed, and God took one home to be with Him. If God took one child because the mother forgot to pray (or didn’t pray hard enough or didn’t pray with the “right words”), then He is not a loving God but an ogre ready to punish us when we “forget” a step in the religious ritual. I don’t understand all of God’s actions. I don’t understand why my brother-in-law died at 43 or my dad at 59 or Dave at 30. Each one of these people were walking with the Lord and had a strong testimony. But God is sovereign and it was His perfect will to take them. None of them died because someone in the family forgot to pray, or prayed the wrong way. Again, this is a twisted understanding of God.

Third, in 1 John the passage says that our prayers are answered if we “ask according to God’s will.” My challenge is I don’t always know God’s will…I only know mine. So, for instance, when I don’t get something I want, it makes me doubt God’s love (or makes me question if I prayed long enough or hard enough). But all along God is protecting me from what I want in order to give me what He wants…which is always better. He wants me to learn to trust Him and wait on Him.

Fourth, certainly we can pray with confidence according to God’s will that is clearly spelled out in His Word. I can pray with confidence for a person’s salvation (again, it’s not always in my timing). I can pray that a couple does not divorce because God hates divorce. I pray that my children will walk close to Him because I know that’s what He wants (at the same time there may be a time when my children stray…again, that is not because I forgot to pray that day or not pray the right way). My children (just like me) have minds of their own and may have to learn some hard lessons the hard way. So, praying according to God’s will is praying according to God’s Word…and understanding that when I pray according to God’s Will/Word I still don’t know His timing.

Fifth, if prayer is only asking for what we want, or if it is ritualistic and formulaic, then it’s a human endeavor. But again, prayer is communication with God. And we are to be in constant communication with Him. Jesus prayed all night before a big decision in His life–picking the twelve disciples. That reminds me that I don’t pray enough. I need to constantly ask for the Holy Spirit’s control of my words, thoughts, desires, and actions. This is certainly in accordance with God’s Will/Word (Ephesians 5:18).

So, we communicate with God. We tell Him how much we love Him. We confess our sins to Him. We give Him thanks. We put our needs and desires before Him, and we give Him the “Floor” and listen because listening is a big part of communication.

 

Two men decided to build a house. Both dreamed of a room where their family would meet and watch movies, eat popcorn, play games, and have real family conversations in front of a blazing fire. With their wives they planned the kitchen—counter space, storage space, proximity of the sink and dishwasher, the best place for the oven, stove, refrigerator, and microwave. They wanted the eating area to be a special place because every family knows the important of eating together. So they took pains in planning a dining area.

Two men decided to build a house. One of the men was a bit impatient. He wanted the house…now. So he took some shortcuts and finished the house right on schedule. The family moved in and started doing life. It was beautiful and impressive home. One day the man was on his deck cooking burgers with his buddies. He looked down the road and chuckled out loud. “See that house down there,” he pointed to a lot 100 feet away.

“We started building about the same time. We’ve been in our house for a month but that poor guy is still building.”

Down the road the other man was still building. While his neighbor was building up…he was digging down. He knew that digging deep was most important. He knew that having his house grounded on rock was more important than the family room, because without the foundation…the family room wouldn’t last. But it takes time to dig deep. And digging deep is hard work. And it takes time to dig deep.

Finally both houses were finished.

One day, the families were sitting in their family rooms, when a weather advisory scrolled at the bottom of big flat screen television mounted on the wall. The alert warned that a super storm was on the way. Just as predicted, one day the clouds gathered and darkened and the heavens opened up. The rains came down, the streams and lakes and even the oceans rose. The winds blew at 100 miles an hour and beat against the houses.

You know what happened. The house built by the man who took the shortcut crumbled. The house build by the man who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock stood.

Sooner or later, a storm hits every life. The one thing you will have to have is a deep foundation laid on the Rock. That is, if you really want to stand firm in the storm.

When my family moved to Pittsburgh in 1989, one of the first men I met was Al.  Although twenty-five years my elder, we became friends. When our church went through a rocky time, Al and I became even closer commiserating over coffee at McDonald’s.

Al had owned a construction company, so when we broke ground for our first building, he was asked to be our on-site supervisor. Every Monday morning, I would stop by McDonald’s, buy coffee and meet Al at the building. He would walk me around and show me the progress. But it didn’t look to me like much was happening. Every week I complained, “What in the heck did they do all week?”

After a while, Al got a little irritated with my complaining. He said, “You know absolutely nothing about construction.” He walked me over to a deep trench and said, “Look down there. The reason you are not seeing the building coming up is that they are digging down. They are digging the foundation. If they don’t get the foundation deep enough if the foundation is not on bedrock if they don’t take the time to get the foundation right…then the building will not last. It may not look like they are making a lot of progress to you, but quit complaining. This is the most important part of the whole project. And next week I want my coffee black with two sugars instead of one.”

Al Schneider taught me that the most important part of a building is not what you see on top. The most critical part of any structure is the foundation…deep below the surface.

Jesus said the same thing in his conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. He said that the wise builder “dug down deep and laid the foundation on the rock” (Luke 6:48). When life’s inevitable storms hit the wise builder’s house, it stood firm. But the foolish builder had not taken the time to dig deep. And when the storm hit, the house “collapsed and its destruction was complete” (Luke 6:49).

So, I’ll admit…you are looking good above the surface. But here’s the question: is your spiritual foundation dug down deep and laid on the Rock?

The most important thing about parenting has nothing to do with parenting.

The primary component of raising our kids is how Mom and Dad love and respect each other.

The husband and wife’s relationship is key to allowing a child to mature with security and provides a solid platform to form personal faith and values. A marriage done God’s way allows children to see faith in action and sets the example of a loving relationship that has a really good chance of being replicated when it’s time for our children to experience love and marriage for themselves.

And a godly marriage is not just important when the kids are young; it’s just as important when our kids have kids of their own.

Robert McQuilkin exemplified this Parenting 101 love for his wife, even when she suffered from the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. McQuilkin, who at the time was president of a Christian college, resigned to take care of his wife. Here’s what he wrote in his resignation letter.

My dear wife, Muriel, has been in failing mental health for about eight years. So far, I have been able to carry both her ever-growing needs and my leadership responsibilities…. But recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her. It is not just “discontent.” She is filled with fear—even terror—that she has lost me and always goes in search of me when I leave home. Then she may be full of anger when she cannot get to me. So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full-time.

[This] decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health . . . til death do us part.” So . . . as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years, I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me—her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resistance in the face of her continued distressing frustration. I do not have to care for her; I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.

“Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Wives should love and respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:33). Read all the great books on parenting after you have read the Bible—THE Book on parenting – that reminds us the most important thing about raising our kids is not about our kids, it’s about doing marriage God’s way.

 
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If you are alive, sooner or later, you will run into the buzz saw of conflict. Some people visit the land of conflict occasionally. Others seem to make the land of conflict their permanent residence.

Let’s begin with a biblical foundation. What does the Bible say about conflict?

  1. My sinful nature is the source of conflict.

I always want to blame others for the clashes I have at home or work. And certainly it takes two to battle. But James reminds me that I am the source of conflict in my life.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

-James 4:1-3

Convicting, isn’t it? James says that whenever there is conflict I have skin in the game. Whenever there is conflict I have to own up to my part in it.

  1. I need to own up to my part in the conflict.

Remember Jesus’ “Plank in the Eye” story. He asked, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). He pointed out the hypocrisy of focusing on the issues of others (their sawdust) while refusing to deal with our personal issues (our plank). It’s kind of like pointing out a bread crumb on your wife’s lip when you have a long string of cheese dangling on your chin from your French Onion soup (that’s why I don’t eat that stuff). Here is an important conflict principle to accept: it is never entirely the other person’s fault.

  1. A worshiper in conflict is a conflicted worshiper.

Remember Jesus’ “Conflicted Worshiper” story. He said if you are in a significant act of worship and remember that you are in conflict with a significant person in your life, then you should stop worshipping. Jesus said, “First go and be reconciled to your  [husband/wife/child/parent/friend]; then come and offer your gift [of worship]” (Matthew 5:24). How our lives and our worship would change if we actually obeyed this instruction!

 

Remember, conflict starts with you. Until you are willing to deal with you…you can’t begin effectively deal with others.

The right thing to do is always to do the right thing. Obedience is always the path to take. The road of obedience always leads to the desired destination. But…let’s face it…obedience is hard. Even Jesus learned obedience “from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:7-8).

I have listed below several life situations when obedience is hard. I’d love to hear your response to these and your stories of when obedience has been hard for you.

  1. Purity
  • When teenagers are suffering from exploding hormones and their minds (especially boys) are fixed on one thing, they are called to be pure.
  • When a single is following God’s path for purity and his/her friends are sleeping around.
  • When a spouse has saved himself or herself for the right mate and now the mate is not meeting his/her needs.

 

  1. Relationships
  • When a single is waiting (and waiting) on a Christian mate and is tempted to begin “Evangelism Dating.”
  • When a couple has vowed before God to be committed come hell or high water and now they are hanging on to a hellish relationship feeling like they are drowning emotionally.

 

  1. Parenting
  • When your kids think your standards are too strict.
  • When other Christian parents seem to be more lenient.
  • When you feel peer pressure to have your child overly involved.
  • When the child you have prayed for goes astray.

 

  1. Career
  • When others get ahead by cutting corners.
  • When you begin to wonder if honesty really is the best policy.
  • When you are tempted to “beef up” your resume.

 

Those are some of my thoughts. What about you? Have you experienced a time when obedience was really hard? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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