Christian Living

Helpful articles to encourage followers of Jesus.

The Foundational Attitude You Need During Difficulty

Joni Eareckson Tada became a quadraplegic at 17 years old. Her faith resounded despite the obstacles and she leads an organization for people with disabilities. In her book, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, she wrote:  “Subdue your heart to match your circumstances.”

My guess: it is hard to bring our hearts under control when our circumstances seem out of control.

Circumstances arouse feelings, emotions, and words, which are the overflow of our hearts (Luke 6:45). Perhaps they lead us to not think clearly through certain situations. In fact, many circumstances can lead to confusion, anger, and resentment to the point of not seeing the reality of our circumstances because our hearts are out of control.

We might wish we weren’t in a particular circumstance, but we have to face the reality. Joni had to realize that she was going to be in a wheelchair. She talks about her earliest struggles, but at some point she chose to accept her reality and glorify God through it.

While you should have many supporters and might seek counseling and medical care during difficult circumstances, the Apostle Paul reveals two foundational ingredients to a mindset that will lead to persevering and glorifying God: prayer and the Holy Spirit.

Now that might sound so simple, but sometimes we neglect even the most simple, foundational things during difficulty. Paul wrote to the Philippians:

“… Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:18b–20, ESV)

He was in prison when he wrote that. His confidence through difficulty came through prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit. In other words, our attitude through difficulty must start with a humble reliance on God’s help.

Are you struggling? Start with prayer and asking the Holy Spirit to guide you through your reactions and actions.  

Why Our Church Is Starting A Prayer Walking Ministry

Tonight at 6:00, the Central Baptist family will join together to prayer walk in some of our surrounding neighborhoods. This is the start of our 1st Wednesday Prayer Walking ministry. While it is starting as a monthly ministry, my hope is that our people will see its effectiveness and we’ll do it even more down the road.

I’m thankful for those who are helping organize this ministry. As we met to brainstorm and plan, the intention was clear: we believe God will bless and bring opportunity through our efforts to pray for our neighbors.

Here’s why our church is starting a prayer walking ministry:

  • We believe prayer is commanded by God (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
  • We believe churches should be houses of prayer (Is. 56:7; Matt. 21:13)
  • We believe we are to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39)
  • We believe that we should intercede for others, and that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us even when we don’t know what to pray (1 Tim. 2:1; Rom. 8:26)

Our hope, then, is that going into our neighborhoods will increase our opportunities to pray for, witness to, and serve our neighbors, effectively loving them. We want to be a house of prayer where people know that we love them enough to lift them up before our Father in Heaven.

Your Kingdom Won’t Last

Pinterest has created the impression that everything you do must be perfect. The problem isn’t that weddings shouldn’t look nice or that every craft and recipe you attempt shouldn’t be Food Network worthy, but this facade of perfection can make you feel inferior if you don’t attain that standard.

It is not wrong to have nice stuff or do your best on every pallet board craft, but it is easy to develop a mindset where you put all your worth in what you have and what you do. The Bible talks about this: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”  (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV).

Earthly treasures don’t last forever, and sometimes they can be taken from us quickly. If all our identity or purpose is wrapped up in those things, then we will quickly lose purpose and feel defeated.

Like Micah. I wrote about his natural desire to worship (which we share) last week.

After he set up his own house of worship with his own idols, carved images, and priests, he thought God would bless him (Judges 17:13). But the Danites came through his area and took his Levite priest, ephod, household gods, carved image, and metal image (Judges 18:14). After Micah confronted the Danites, this really sad verse appears: “Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home” (Judges 18:26, ESV).

Micah’s kingdom could not stand.

Neither can yours.

All that will last beyond our years on earth is our legacy, whether good or bad, and the things we did that had an eternal impact. The people we ministered to and witnessed to, the ministries we supported that continue after our time on earth. The earthly pursuits won’t matter when you stand before God one day. After all, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36, ESV)

 

Photo by Bart Anestin on Unsplash

People Naturally Desire To Worship A God

When the cat is away, the mice will play. This cliche is seen in the last chapters of Judges, and we tend to live according to it when we do not think there is an authority in our lives.  

A great example of this is at the end of the book of Judges (ch.17-21). It begins with Micah and his mother in “The hill country of Ephraim”—not a new location in Judges:

  • It is the place of Joshua’s burial (2:9);
  • Ehud sounded his trumpet there (3:27);
  • Deborah held court there (4:5); and
  • Gideon sent messengers there to call up the men of Ephraim to go against the Midianites (7:24).

Look how different it is by the end of Judges though! The phrase “there was no king in Israel” occurs three times in chapters 17-21 (17:6; 18:1; 21:25). When there is no king, people will do what is right in their own eyes. In other words, they will become their own kings or submit themselves to all kinds of other kings.

We see a natural desire for worship in Micah and his mother, and we share this natural desire.

The short story—Micah had stolen 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother but returned it to her. Her response:  “. . . I dedicate the silver to the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. . .” (Judges 17:3, ESV)

Do you see anything in her response that doesn’t make sense? This shows how far off the Israelites had come in their thinking and beliefs–Micah’s mother would dedicate the silver to the Lord IN ORDER FOR it to be made into a carved image and a metal image. The 2nd commandment directly forbids this: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4, ESV)

But Micah wasn’t done there:

  • v.5- he sets up a shrine, which is essentially is “the house of God.” This is an abomination because there was only one house of God at that time and it was in Shiloh, which is even noted in Judges 18:31.
  • v.5- he sets up his son as a private priest. First, priests are to be public, not just for one person. Second, is his son even qualified?
  • v.7-13. Maybe Micah did realize the qualification part of this, even though he didn’t care, because he finds a Levite and asks him to be his priest.

Levites were the priestly class of Israelites, so Micah got that right. But God was not Micah’s authority, and his confusion is revealed in Judges 17:13: “Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.’”

Not only did Micah’s mother dedicate the silver to the Lord to be used to make idols, but Micah presumed upon God’s blessing of his ungodly decision to create a place of worship outside of Shiloh with carved images and idols.

They naturally desired a god: something to rule over them, look up to, and try to please. People today share the same natural desire to worship by setting up their own places of worship and idols (whether physically or mentally).

Why would people do this? Let me offer two reasons:

  1. All people are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), meaning at least that people have a soul and are able to have a personal relationship with God. In other words, every person is created to glorify and worship God, and when they don’t worship God, that longing to worship is still there. Instead of worshipping who they were created to worship, though, people will create all kinds of idols and other pursuits to fill that void that can only be satisfied in God.
  2. The law of God is written on people’s hearts. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14–15, ESV). Because people are made in the image of God, we naturally have the law of God written on our hearts. There is a general sense of right from wrong in every person, though sin can so horribly cauterize the ability to discern the difference. As John Piper said, people “. . . have enough knowledge of the moral law of God in their hearts by virtue of being created in God’s image so that their consciences are conflicted: sometimes approving, sometimes disapproving.” So, people are naturally pursuing morality, and that will lead to some kind of religion in their life.

Are you naturally desiring the One True God, or is your natural desire to worship misdirected?

 

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

 

Why I Am Working On the SCBgO Podcast

There were months of planning and now we are 3 episodes into the SCBgO Podcast. The leadership of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio (SCBO) approved the idea, episode guests have been so gracious in recording, and I hope people will listen, learn, and enjoy!

The idea came because I believe we need to celebrate what the Lord is doing around our state. As I have served the convention in an elected position the last year and a half, I have heard more testimonies of amazing ministry across Ohio.

Church members can often feel disconnected from the activity of their state convention, but we have the technological means to solve that problem. That’s exactly why the SCBgO Podcast exists: to motivate you to be active in Mission Ohio.  

Even more specifically, here’s why I am working on the SCBgO podcast:

  • To inform listeners of what is happening around the SCBO. Some might not know that First Baptist Church in Vandalia changed their name to First Light Church (listen to episode 1), or that individual churches can call the IMB directly and partner with missionaries around the world (listen to episode 2). Some of our church members might not know what the H2O network of churches is, and that H2O Columbus sent out 19 people to the University of Indiana to start a new church (listen to episode 3). When people know about this activity, they can praise God for it and pray for those leading it!
  • To inspire listeners with practical ideas they might be able to use. There might be a church leader who is wondering how to go multi-campus, or a church member who really desires their church to be more active in global missions. Maybe hearing something on these episodes will inspire them to take the next step. The conversations in these episodes are intended to be practical and the show notes include helpful resources from which our listeners can benefit.
  • To motivate listeners to be committed to Mission Ohio. I hope that someone would hear what is going on and would be encouraged that they are not alone. There are 750+ churches in the SCBO who are fighting the good fight of taking the gospel to our neighbors and beyond. Feeling disconnected can lead to feeling lonely, but we need every one of our churches active in the mission of reaching Ohio. There are plenty of people in Ohio who have not been saved by Jesus. We have work to do, and maybe someone will be motivated by these episodes to keep going!

 

Who is knocking it out of the park in a certain area of ministry that I need to interview for an episode?

Our View of God is Diminished When We Choose To Sin

Samson exemplifies this principle. Judges 16 records the popular encounter between Samson and Delilah. The main point of that chapter is Samson’s flirting with presumptuous sin, and any one of us are like Samson in the way that we set our affections on something ungodly and are blind to any obvious attempts of that thing to lead us astray. Samson finally told Delilah the truth about the secret of his strength after he had tricked her three times.

Here is a simple but profound point that struck me when I noticed it. When Samson told Delilah the truth, he said “…A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man” (Judges 16:17). Interestingly, he uses the name Elohim for God there instead of Yahweh, the Divine name.

Elohim certainly can be a reference to Yahweh, but it can also be used to refer to all kinds of gods. Delilah, a polytheistic Philistine, might have thought nothing of what Samson said because that’s how any one of her gods could have been addressed. In fact, the Philistines use Elohim to refer to their gods in this very chapter (four times in verses 23 and 24).

Right before he tells Delilah what it would take for him to break the last stipulation of his Nazarite vow (therefore, sinning against God), he refers to God in a way that couldn’t be well distinguished from any other so-called god. Samson’s view of God diminishes as he chooses to sin.

The same can be true for us. A temptation has risen to the level of being a god to you, and the One True God is nothing more than another option in a world of many gods.

It changes though. Samson has a moment at some point after his capture and imprisonment where he comes back to the realization that Yahweh is God, not himself or anyone or anything else. In verse 28, Samson called out, “O Lord God, please remember me…” Here Samson cried out Yahweh. He knows who the One True God is. He returns to having a proper view of God.

So, the question for you: what is your view of God when you are tempted beyond what you think you can handle? If He is nothing more than another option in a world of options, then you’re sure to rely on yourself and give in to sin. But if you view God properly as holy, righteous, and able to strengthen you in times of need, then you can choose and live in righteousness.

Photo by Elena Taranenko on Unsplash

Showing Appreciation for Your Friends

“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, CSB)

 

Have you ever paused long enough to be thankful for the people in your life? The friends and family members who continue to shape you, encourage you, support you, and teach you. It has been refreshing to me to do this over the last month, and I would encourage you to do the same.

Whether you realize it or not, the people around you sharpen you. Recently I’ve had this thought:  I can’t believe that I get to know him/her. I have been so blessed by seeing how people around me use their abilities and giftedness to serve the Lord and others, and their commitments sharpen me. We might not be in the same line of work, but their character is refreshing and leaves me proud to know them and learn from them.

I am so proud of people around me doing some incredible things: publishing books, leading university bands, motivating people in their organization as a supervisor, single mothers taking on the world, a dad who works hard hours and still serves his wife and young child well–I could just keep going on. They may not realize they are teaching anyone anything as they are accomplishing the world, but their skills, determination, and integrity are sharpening me.

We should be grateful for friends! Here are a few ideas on how you can show appreciation to these people in their lives:

  • Tell them you are grateful. Seems simple, but have you? Tell them face-to-face or send a note somehow.

 

  • Listen well and don’t control the time you are together. It is easy to dominate conversations because we are naturally selfish, but taking time to really listen to others shows them how valuable they are to you.

 

  • Get into their world. Show interest in what they value. Support their hobbies and events and try new activities with them. I would have never climbed Seneca Rock if my friends didn’t invite me; and I would not have learned a lot of valuable lessons through that trip.
  • Be humble. This might be the necessary attitude behind all of these ideas, but if we do not consider others more highly than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), then we might not be in a position to have friends around!

 

 

 

How do you show appreciation for the people around you?   

 

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Samson Reveals Your Weakness to Save Yourself

Since I grew up in church and “knew all the answers,” I was blinded to the fact that I needed to be saved from my sin. I thought the message of Jesus and the cross was just for others out there who were doing the really bad stuff. Essentially, I thought I could save myself by my knowledge and behavior.

If you are in a similar situation like I was, Samson could be helpful. Samson might be the most popular person in the Bible who was under the Nazarite vow, but it is also thought that Samuel was under the vow (1 Sam. 1:11-28; Hannah specifically mentions not cutting the hair); John the Baptist (Luke 1:15; no wine or strong drink); and the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:18; he cut his hair because he was under a vow-maybe at the end of a Nazarite vow).  Nazarite is a word that derives from a Hebrew word (Nazar) meaning “consecrated or devoted one.”

Let me highlight details from Numbers 6 where we first read about the Nazarite vow:

  • Voluntary vow by Israelite to separate himself to the Lord
  • no wine and strong drink
  • no vinegar made from wine or strong drink
  • no juice of grapes, no grapes (fresh or dried)
  • nothing produced by the grapevine (not even seeds or skins)
  • no razor shall touch the head
  • nowhere near dead bodies
  • for a specific period of time

Three things are unusual concerning Samson’s Nazarite vow:

  • He did not take it voluntarily; it was his lot from the womb (Judg. 13:5, 7).
  • It was not limited in time; it was to last to the day of his death (vv. 5, 7; cf. 1 Sam. 1:11; Luke 1:15 for similar situations).
  • He broke every one of its stipulations: his head was sheared (Judg. 16:17, 19); he associated with the dead (14:6–9; 15:15); and he undoubtedly drank at his wedding feast (14:10–20; see note on 14:10).

Still, God called Samson out for a specific mission. At the end of v.5, we are told that Samson would start to save the Israelites from the Philistines. The cultural situation isn’t anything new to us by now. The Israelites had turned to their own ways and were serving other gods. God gave them into the hand of the Philistines for 40 years. The Philistines would continue to oppose God’s people and the Israelites wouldn’t find relief from them until near the end of King David’s life as you can read about in 2 Samuel 21. There are a few mentions of the Philistines after David, but David was able to break their power.

So, Samson was given great strength to be able to basically single-handedly take care of the Philistines. We know this was God’s strength upon Samson because the strength stopped when Samson’s hair was cut, which was the last part of his vow to be broken.

You can look at this information about Samson and a Nazarite vow and say so what? Here’s what I hope you will see:

The Nazarite vow was a voluntary claim to say I’m going to be holy.

Salvation today is God’s claim to say I’ve made you holy.

Samson is an example of someone who tried to be righteous but failed apart from the power of God–like me before I understood the power of Jesus and salvation.

Jesus Christ did what no Old Testament leader did—He broke the power of sin and death, and now you can be declared righteous and enabled to live a life of holiness if you profess faith in Jesus and trust Him to save you.

Even the strongest man in the Bible wasn’t powerful enough to save himself. If I were you, I wouldn’t try either.

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Don’t Negotiate With God

Last week we looked at Jepthah’s example in Judges 11 of how to lead with faith by being empowered by God’s work in the past. This week, let’s finish that conversation by knowing that leading with faith means we are persuaded by God’s promises for the future.  

Jepthah seemed like a rational guy when negotiating with the king of the Ammonites. But when the King of the Ammonites would not listen war couldn’t be avoided, Jepthah moves into battle with the Spirit of the Lord upon him.

It is important to note that God empowered Jephthah for the battle that is coming, and Jephthah had already declared that the king of the Ammonites was really messing with God, not him. You would think that Jephthah knew that he was being used by the Lord to bring about justice on the Ammonites. But then you read the crazy account of verses 30-40, which centers on Jepthah’s vow to the Lord in Judges 11:30-31:

And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

The first thing out of his door when he returned home was his only child–his daughter.

Why did Jephthah feel like he has to make a vow to the Lord when he clearly knew God’s work and power in the past?

He sounds like a desperate, scared person at the end of his rope—if you do this, then I’ll do that.

Jephthah is not persuaded by God’s promises for the future. The Spirit of the Lord was already upon Him. Instead, he reverts back to negotiating, but this time he tries to negotiate with God and not men. Negotiation has its place among people, but don’t negotiate with God–you really do not have anything that He needs.

Negotiation can be masked as making a commitment. If this, then that. Lord, I’ll do anything if you just help me…  But it’s a form of bribery. Lord, I really want a certain outcome, so I’ll offer up my services to you.

You’re basically saying God, you really need what I have to offer, so why don’t you do this, and then I’ll let you have what I have to offer.

What a flippant statement to make to the Creator and Almighty of the Universe! Negotiation is the antithesis of faith because we aren’t trusting God to do what we know he can do; we’re trying to bribe God to do what we think he should do.

When you lead, you need to be persuaded by God’s promises for the future. In other words, leading with faith based upon the promises you find in God’s Word. You need to submit your decisions and actions to the Word of God.  

We need to lead with faith, powered by God’s work in the past and persuaded by His promises for the future.

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Let God’s Track Record Keep Your Leadership On Track

This is the craziest request I’ve seen by a young man asking a potential father-in-law to marry his daughter.

Adoniram Judson, the first Baptist missionary from America, married Ann Hasseltine on February 5, 1812. They boarded a boat two weeks later and headed to Burma, where they had a rich marriage and a fruitful ministry.

Before he married Ann, she told him he had to get permission from her father. And so he wrote him a letter:

“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair.” (Quoted in Courtney Anderson, To The Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson [Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1987], 83.)

If you have ever read about George Mueller, you will be familiar with the amazing accounts of how God provided bread and milk for the children in the orphanage where he ministered.

How could Mueller and Judson’s father-in-law lead with faith? Because they had confidence in God’s character; they could stay on track because of God’s track record.

I’m encouraging you to lead with faith, and I think we do that by being powered by God’s work in the past and persuaded by His promises for the future. I’ll explain the first part of this today through Jephthah’s example in the book of Judges, and then I’ll explain the second part next week as we seek how to lead with faith.

In Judges 11, Jephthah was brought in to lead Israel in battle against the Ammonites. Jephthah showed that he knew and was guided by God’s work in the past. He didn’t run recklessly into a fight. Though he was a “mighty warrior” he attempted diplomacy first.

He sent messengers to communicate with the king of the Ammonites, asking him why he was attacking Israel. When the king gave an answer, Jephthah gave a rebuttal. He gave historical facts (v.14-22), declared that it was the Lord’s work (v.23-24), questioned the timing of the fight (v.25-26), and reminded the King that his problem is actually with the Lord, not with Jephthah (v.27-28).

This was leading with faith that was powered by God’s work in the past.

Leadership can be scary ground. You might not know what to expect. You’re not sure which decisions to make or how it will affect people. But as a Christian, we have to be empowered by God’s work in the past. We find comfort in knowing the character of God and how He will lead us.

Jephthah had to find some comfort in knowing how God has worked in the Israelites in the past. He was confident that the king of the Ammonites was really battling against the Lord. That’s a battle Jephthah would stand in because he knew he wasn’t alone.

When you consider your leadership, always remember God’s character and what he has done in the past because that is going to remind you how He will continue to work.

Photo by Andrew McElroy on Unsplash

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