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True Change

By |2022-10-23T02:33:11-04:00October 23rd, 2022|

Raised in a turbulent home in south London, Claud started selling marijuana at fifteen and heroin when he was twenty-five. Needing a cover for his activities, he became a mentor to young people. Soon he became intrigued by his manager, a believer in Jesus, and wanted to know more. After attending a course exploring the Christian faith, he “dared” Christ to come into his life. “I felt such a welcoming presence,” he said.  “People saw a change in me instantly. I was the happiest drug dealer in the world!”

Jesus didn’t stop there. When Claud weighed up a bag of cocaine the next day, he thought, This is madness. I’m poisoning people! He realized he must stop selling drugs and get a job. With the help of the Holy Spirit, he turned off his phones and never went back.

This kind of change is what the apostle Paul referenced when he wrote to the church at Ephesus. Calling the people not to live separated from God, he urged them to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” and instead to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 24). The verb form Paul uses implies that we’re to put on the new self regularly.

As with Claud, the Holy Spirit delights to help us to live out of our new selves and become more like Christ.

Being Seen

By |2022-02-17T08:06:04-05:00February 17th, 2022|

In an article on mentoring, Hannah Schell explains that mentors need to support, challenge, and inspire, but “first, and perhaps foremost, a good mentor sees you. . . . Recognition, not in terms of awards or publicity but in the sense of simply ‘being seen,’ is a basic human need.” People need to be recognized, known, and believed in.

In the New Testament, Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement,” had a knack for “seeing” people around him. In Acts 9, he was willing to give Saul a chance when the other disciples “were all afraid of him” (v. 26). Saul (also called Paul; 13:9) had a history of persecuting believers in Jesus (8:3), so they didn’t think “he really was a disciple” (9:26).

Later, Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over whether to take Mark with them to “visit the believers in all the towns where [they’d] preached” (15:36). Paul didn’t think it was wise to bring Mark along because he’d deserted them earlier. Interestingly, Paul later asked for Mark’s assistance: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Barnabas took time to “see” both Paul and Mark. Perhaps we’re in Barnabas’ position to recognize potential in another person or we’re that individual in need of a spiritual mentor. May we ask God to lead us to those who we can encourage and those who will encourage us.

Moving Toward Maturity

By |2021-06-09T09:06:04-04:00June 9th, 2021|

A recent survey asked respondents to identify the age at which they believed they became adults. Those who considered themselves adults pointed to specific behaviors as evidence of their status. Having a budget and buying a house topped the list as being marks of “adulting.” Other adult activities ranged from cooking dinner every weeknight and scheduling one’s own medical appointments, to the more humorous ability to choose to eat snacks for dinner or being excited to stay at home on a Saturday evening instead of going out.

The Bible says we should press on toward spiritual maturity as well. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, urging the people to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). While we’re “young” in our faith, we’re vulnerable to “every wind of teaching” (v. 14), which often results in division among us. Instead, as we mature in our understanding of the truth, we function as a unified body under “him who is the head, that is, Christ” (v. 15).

God gave us His Spirit to help us grow into a full understanding of who He is (John 14:26), and He equips pastors and teachers to instruct and lead us toward maturity in our faith (Ephesians 4:11). Just as certain characteristics are evidence of physical maturity, our unity as His body is one evidence of our spiritual growth.

Practice These Things

By |2021-03-18T12:09:49-04:00March 10th, 2021|

As I helped my son with his math homework it began apparent he was less then enthusiastic about doing multiple problems related to the same concept. “I’ve got it, Dad!,” he insisted, hoping I would let him out doing all the problems. I then gently explained to him that a concept is just a concept until we learn how to work it out in practice.

At the end of Paul’s letter to his friends in Philippi, he wrote about practice. “Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us” (Philippians 4:9). Here are five things he mentions: reconciliation—as he urged Euodia and Syntyche to do (vv, 1–3); joy—as he reminded his readers to cultivate (v. 4); gentleness—as he urged them to employ in their relation to the world (v. 5); prayer—as he had modeled for them in person and in writing (vv. 6–7); and focus—as he had shown even in prison (v. 8). Reconciliation, joy, gentleness, prayer, and focus—things we’re called to live out as believers in Jesus. Like any habit, these virtues must be intentionally done in order to be cultivated.

But the good news of the gospel, as Paul had already told the Philippians, is that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13). We’re never practicing in our own power. God will provide what we need (4:19).

Faith Investments

By |2021-02-08T16:30:28-05:00February 4th, 2021|

On his twelfth Christmas, the boy eagerly awaited the opening of the gifts under the tree. He was yearning for a new bike, but his hopes were dashed—the last present he received was a dictionary. On the first page, he read: “To Charles from Mother and Daddy, 1958. With love and high hopes for your best work in school.”

In the next decade, Chuck did do well in school. He graduated from college and later, aviation training, and became a pilot working overseas, fulfilling his passion to help people in need and to share Jesus with them. Now some sixty years later, he shared the well-worn dictionary with his grandchildren. It had become for him a symbol of his parents’ loving investment in his future, and Chuck still treasures it. But he’s even more grateful for the daily investment his parents made in building his faith by teaching him about God and about His Word.

Deuteronomy 11 talks about the importance of taking every opportunity to share the words of Scripture with children: “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (v. 19).

For Chuck, the eternal values planted when he was a boy bloomed into a lifetime of service for his Savior. With God’s enablement, who knows how much our investment in someone’s spiritual growth will yield?

The Sweetest Harvest

By |2020-11-06T08:06:02-05:00November 6th, 2020|

When we purchased our home, we also inherited an established grapevine. As gardening novices, my family invested considerable time learning how to prune, water, and care for it. When our first harvest came, I popped a grape from the vine into my mouth—only to be disappointed with an unpleasant, sour taste. 

The frustration I felt about painstakingly tending a grapevine, only to have a bitter harvest, echoes the tone of Isaiah 5. There we read an allegory of God’s relationship to the nation of Israel. God, pictured as a farmer, had cleared the hillside of debris, planted good vines, built a watchtower for protection, and crafted a press to enjoy the results of his expected harvest (Isaiah 5:1–2). To the farmer’s dismay, the vineyard, representing Israel, produced sour-tasting grapes of selfishness, injustice, and oppression (v. 7). Eventually, God reluctantly destroyed the vineyard while saving a remnant of vines that someday would produce a good harvest. 

In the gospel of John, Jesus revisits the vineyard illustration, saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). In this parallel imagery Jesus pictures us, His followers, as grapevine branches connected to Him, the main vine. Now, as we remain connected to Jesus through prayerful reliance on His Spirit, we have direct access to the spiritual nourishment that will produce the sweetest fruit of all, love.

Golden Scars

By |2020-10-20T09:06:05-04:00October 20th, 2020|

In the Netherlands, a group of fashion designers offer a “Golden Joinery” workshop. Inspired by the Japanese technique Kintsugi, where broken porcelain is visibly repaired with gold, participants collaborate in mending clothes in ways that highlight the mending work rather than trying to mask it. Those who are invited bring “a dear but broken garment and mend it with gold.” As they remake their clothes, the repair becomes ornament, a “golden scar.”

Articles of clothing are transformed in ways that highlight the places where they were torn or frayed. Perhaps this is something like what Paul meant when he said that he would “boast” in the things that showed his weakness. Although he’d experienced “surpassingly great revelations,” he doesn’t brag about them (2 Corinthians 12:6). He is kept from getting proud and overconfident, he says, by a “thorn” in his flesh (v. 7). No one knows exactly what he was referring to—perhaps depression, a form of malaria, persecution from enemies, or something else. Whatever it was, he begged God to take it away. But God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).

Just as the rips and tears in old clothes can become sites of beauty as they are remade by designers, the broken and weak places in our lives can become places where God’s power and glory may shine. God holds us together, transforms us, and makes our weaknesses beautiful.

Rooted in Love

By |2020-09-30T09:06:02-04:00September 30th, 2020|

“That’s all it takes!” Megan said. She had clipped a stem from her geranium plant, dipped the cut end into honey, and stuck it into a pot filled with compost. Megan was teaching me how to propagate geraniums: how to turn one healthy plant into many plants, so she would have flowers to share with others. The honey, she said, was to help the young plant establish roots.

Watching her work, I wondered what kinds of things help us establish spiritual roots. What helps us mature into strong, flourishing people of faith? What keeps us from withering up or failing to grow? Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says that we are “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17). This love comes from God, who strengthens us by giving us the Holy Spirit. Christ dwells in our hearts, and as we begin to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (v. 18), we can have a rich experience of God’s presence, being “completely filled and flooded with God himself” (v. 19 amp). 

Growing spiritually requires rooting into the love of God—meditating on the truth that we are beloved by the God who is able to do “immeasurably more that we can ask or imagine” (3:20). What a glorious basis for our faith!

 

Failed Again

By |2020-09-06T09:05:04-04:00September 6th, 2020|

Back in my sermon-making days I approached some Sunday mornings feeling like a lowly worm. During the week before, I had not been the best husband, father, or friend. I felt that before God could use me again I had to establish a track record of right living. So I vowed to get through the sermon as best I could and try to live better the coming week. 

 

That was not the right approach. In Galatians 3 it’s said that God continually supplies us with His Spirit and works powerfully through us as a free gift—not because we’ve done anything or could do anything to deserve it.

 

Abraham’s life demonstrates this. At times he failed as a husband. For example, he twice put Sarah’s life in jeopardy by lying to save his own skin (Genesis 12:10–20; 20:1–18). Yet his faith “was credited to him as righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). Abraham put himself in God’s hands despite his frequent failures, and God used him to bring salvation to the world through his lineage.

 

There’s no justification for behaving badly. Jesus has asked us to follow Him in obedience, and He supplies the means to do so. A hard, unrepentant heart will always hinder His purposes for us, but His ability to use us doesn’t depend on a lengthy pattern of good behavior. It’s based solely on God’s willingness to work through us as we are: saved and growing by grace. You don’t have to work for His grace—it’s free.

Working with God

By |2020-08-28T15:38:18-04:00August 20th, 2020|

During his 1962 visit to Mexico, Bill Ashe helped fix windmill hand pumps at an orphanage. Fifteen years later, inspired by a deep desire to serve God by helping provide clean water to villages in need, he founded a nonprofit organization. He said, “God awoke me to ‘make the most of the time’ by finding others with a desire to bring safe drinking water to the rural poor.” Later, having learned about the global need for safe water through the requests of thousands of pastors and evangelists from over 100 countries, Bill invited others to join the ministry’s efforts.

God welcomes us to team up to serve with Him and others in various ways. When the people of Corinth argued over which teachers they preferred, the apostle Paul affirmed his role as a servant of Christ and a teammate of Apollos, fully dependent on God for spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:1-7). He reminds us that all work has God-given value (v. 8). Acknowledging the privilege of working with others while serving the Lord, Paul encourages us to build each other up as God transforms us in love (v. 9).
Though our mighty Father doesn’t need our help to accomplish His great works, He equips us and invites us to partner with Him.

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