Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's been said that love isn't love until you give it away, and the same goes for faith. The biblical faith will create a burning desire within to express itself to others so that they in turn can experience its transforming effect.

In the short letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon, he expresses this thought:

"I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. " (Philemon 6 New International Version)

Apparently our fullest Christian experience is dependant upon sharing the faith with others. As we express to others the unfathomable grace of God in Jesus we grow in our personal appreciation of God's grace.

I've never been one to "collar people for Jesus" and force-feed them the Gospel, but there is an internal unction that wants to give expression to the faith that has profoundly changed me. Increasingly my burden grows for those outside of Christ; fueled by the joy of leading others to saving faith in the past.

I've talked to far too many believers over the years who lamented their lukewarm and lackluster Christian experience. They were painfully aware of some deficiency in their life but unclear as to its cause. Based upon Paul's words to Philemon, I now see more clearly that the deficiency was likely in the area of sharing their faith.

The true faith must find expression. All should not feel a compulsion to ring doorbells or hand out tracts at shopping malls but all should find some genuine form of expression - writing, web publishing, video, radio. A "personal faith" is truly only that when it finds an appropriate avenue of expression.

I'm new to my neighborhood and have only met a few of my neighbors, but the two that I know by name are on my personal evangelism prayer list. I'm praying for a burden for their spiritual condition and for an opportunity to express my faith through circumstances that I'm trusting the Lord to orchestrate. My own faith experience is already enriched through anticipation of the expression opportunity that will come.

There are countless ways to express our faith, but the prerogative is that we do so. Not only are the spiritually destitute dependent upon it, so is our our personal spiritual vitality.

May we each be open to the wonderful opportunities for faith expression that the Lord will orchestrate today.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The scintillating details of the all-too-human behavior of celebrities is big business. Perhaps the tabloid publicity affords a vicarious carnal experience for some, but for others it may affirm and even condone their own sinful nature. Whatever the case, our shared human experience is that we are in reality sinners, regardless of how honest we are about this uncomfortable truth.

"For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." (Titus 3:3)

I'm a bit relieved and encouraged when I read this candid confession from a pillar of the faith such as the Apostle Paul. It's obvious the he was a member of Sinners Anonymous - "Hi. My name is Paul, and I'm a sinner" (step #1 is admitting the problem).

We were likely already aware of the fact that he was deceived and disobedient, but to learn that he was "enslaved to various lusts and pleasures" as well as being malicious, envious and hateful is shocking honesty. This candid confession adds even greater force to his wonderfully descriptive words about grace:

"But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.' (Titus 3:4-7)

From the depths of his human depravity, Paul was eternally grateful for the incredible grace of God through Jesus that lifted him from his hopeless condition and offered him forgiveness, purpose and hope. A profound appreciation of that grace was the driving force behind his life of service and sacrifice for the cause of Christ and the kingdom of God.

Paul's confession and example helps to liberate us to face our own human sinfulness and fully embrace the limitless grace and mercy of God shown through Jesus our Lord. Through that experience we are truly liberated for a life of grateful service.

May we each fully face our human sinfulness so that the brightness of God's grace can shine in and through us.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

I wonder if we realize the profound impact of our words. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21). Negative, critical words can scar a child for life, but great things can be accomplished through those who have been nurtured with positive and encouraging words.

The power and conviction of our words are the greatest tool for passing the faith along to others:

"But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine." (Titus 2:1)

A lifestyle of instruction that is in harmony with a godly lifestyle can accomplish far more than the most powerful and advanced communication tools available today. Nothing is more compelling and effective than conviction-driven words.

Those who have had the greatest impact on my life have been those whose deep conviction was clearly evident. The initial impact wasn't so much the words themselves but the compelling passion that drove their words. That conviction and passion gained hearing from me that caused me to carefully examine the specifics of their words.

In many ways I have problems with "statements of faith" that churches and religious organizations so often use. These may be helpful in reminding us of basic Bible understandings that we agree upon, but they are far from effective in communicating truth to others. The most powerful witness are those who are the literal personification of these beliefs or doctrines.

"showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. " (Titus 2:10-14)

Our goal is that we embody truth and present a compelling witness in lifestyle and word so that others will "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect". As we "deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" we live as powerful witnesses in the world.

May you shine brightly in your world today as you personify truth.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior" (Titus 1:1-3)

The Apostle Paul was the ultimate purpose-driven man. He knew his identity and mission in life, and this provided drive and determination for all that he did.

At the heart of his identity and mission was "the faith" (not just faith in a general sense). This singular faith was entrusted to those chosen of God and involved knowledge of "the truth" (not just truth in a general sense). This singular truth expresses itself in a godly lifestyle within all who believe and embrace it, and is ever focused on the hope of eternal life - the life of the age to come.

Paul clearly understood that his great purpose in life was to proclaim this true faith. Proclaiming it was a sacred trust which he never disregarded.

Paul's purpose is our purpose. We have been called out and radically transformed for the purpose of understanding, embracing, living and proclaiming the faith and the truth. Until this purpose becomes the very core of our existence we will not fully grasp the reason why we have been transformed.

The quest to discover both the meaning and power of the faith and the truth is ongoing. It is a task and purpose so great that it will take a lifetime to discover, but there is nothing more worthy of our best efforts. As we discover its power to transform our lifestyle and to energize us with the hope of the age to come we will have an increased desire to understand and embrace this faith and truth more fully.

May the focus and purpose of Paul's life truly be ours as well, and may we experience the life-changing power of the faith and the truth in a dynamic way today.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What would happen if the local fire department changed its emphasis from responding to emergencies to keeping its employees comfortable and its buildings in good shape? The results would be disastrous. It would be inexcusable for such a vital organization to compromise its main mission. But it's possible for individuals entrusted with an even more important mission to lose sight of the main mission:

"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

"Preach the word". The word "preach" literally means to "herald, proclaim or publish". The main mission of followers of Jesus Christ is to get the word out in every possible way - through speech, writing and lifestyle. It is an urgent mission that we dare not lose sight of.

Perhaps one of the greatest fears that disciples of Jesus have is that of sharing their faith. Stereotypical evangelism methods such as ringing doorbells and handing out tracts are anything but appealing. But the genuine faith within creates a burning desire to express itself to others.

There has never been a time in history in which there have been more means and methods for expressing the faith than there is today. In addition to the changeless method of simply talking about the faith, electronic publishing through books and websites has never been more readily available and cost-effective. If the desire to share the faith is there, the means to do so are nearly limitless.

The "word" that we are urgently called to preach and proclaim is a code word for the often-neglected biblical gospel. Paul and Timothy both clearly understood its meaning but tragically that meaning has been obscured throughout the ages. "Word" is synonymous with "gospel" which, according to Jesus, is the good news of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14,15). Knowing that Jesus was intrinsically associated with that good news, the first-century church proclaimed both the message of the kingdom and the king (Acts 8:12).

It's possible to lose sight of both the main mission and the message at the heart of the mission. The appeal to us today is to discover and rediscover both with all the fervor and zeal that the Spirit of God inspires.

The true faith within will create a burning desire to share. May we each be completely responsive to the Spirit-inspired prompting to understand, embrace and share this vital faith.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

What has been your most recent topic of conversation? Was it weather or sports or was it something more personal? Was it about spiritual matters or the latest news?

"Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness." (2 Timothy 2:14-16)

I've spent more than enough time "wrangling about words" - clarifying what I said or what someone else said. More often than not such conversations lead to frustration rather than clarification and edification.

Even more troubling is the call to "avoid worldly and empty chatter". Typical superficial conversations are exactly that, but most disturbing of all is how often that characterizes conversations between believers. We who are destined to one day rule the world with Jesus often carry on conversations that are little different from that of unbelievers. It would seem that those with such a bright and important future would have much more substantial conversations!

It is interesting that sandwiched between these words about conversations is a well-known verse to many: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15). A vital part of accurately handling the word of truth is our conversations about it. To be unashamed of it is to freely discuss what we are learning.

The older I get the more I value personal and group Bible discussions. To freely and openly discuss with one or more persons what I'm learning or grappling with from the Bible is tremendously stimulating. The very act of discussion is an important part of the learning and growing process.

Let's be deliberate in our conversations. Our conversations can be characterized as "worldly and empty chatter" or they can be stimulating and growing conversations centered on our experiences with the Bible. Make it a priority today to have at least one meaningful conversation centered on your experience with God's word.

Seeking significant conversations today,


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We're the guardians of the sacred flame; we dare not let it go out. Should the flame die down until only glowing embers remain, it is imperative that we rekindle the flame until it blazes bright and hot.

"kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline." (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

Each believer has been supernaturally endowed with a capacity for service. The choice of that capacity is not ours, but the maintenance of it is. It can burn bright and hot or it can diminish to glowing embers but it must be kept lit. "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you. " (2 Timothy 1:14).

The "sacred flame" is closely associated with the body of Christ and the gospel message. Whatever the spiritual capability that we've been given, it is designed to encourage and build up the body of Christ in its understanding, living, and sharing of the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12).

A flame provides warmth and light. We are called to enlighten and warm a cold, dark world with the light of the Spirit and the gospel. The energizing Spirit combined with the biblical gospel fuels the flame that the world so desperately needs to see and experience.

"Kindle afresh the gift of God". Cooperate with the Spirit of God in cultivating "power and love and discipline". Shine brightly today with all the spiritual energy that the Lord so richly provides.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Follow your strengths. Michael Jordan, the legendary basketball player, once decided to pursue a career as a professional baseball player. He loved the game and worked hard at it but the painful truth was that he was at best a mediocre baseball player. His real strength was basketball.

Real effectiveness and joy in the Christian life is found in focusing in the areas where the Lord has gifted us:

"Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." (1 Timothy 4:14-16)

"Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you". Be assured that you have been given some special service capacity to benefit the body of Christ by the Spirit of God: "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7). Discovering and developing that Spirit-inspired capacity is worthy of our best efforts. Paul urged Timothy to "Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them ... persevere in these things". Constant vigilance in conduct and teaching are essential.

Discovering our spiritual giftedness is a huge topic and a life-long pursuit. The Apostle Paul relentlessly pursued this great purpose: "I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12).

Where is your greatest effectiveness in Christian service? Where do you find the greatest satisfaction and joy? What are other members of the body of Christ telling you about your giftedness? The answers to these questions can reveal much about the Lord's purposes for your life and your service.

The body of Christ is a vast orchestra that is tuning up and practicing for its great performance for the King. Each member has a part in the performance, no matter how different and diverse those parts may be. When each part focuses their best energies on their performance, and is in perfect harmony with all the others, the concert is awe-inspiring and fit for a King.

Find and follow your God-given strength. Focus your best efforts in cooperation with the dynamic Spirit of God. Participate in the performance of a lifetime - and beyond. In so doing you will be a blessing to the body of Christ and a genuine praise to the King.

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Purpose gives perspective. The reason for something opens the door for an "aha!" moment of understanding. If we know the WHY then the details of the WHAT will not be a problem.

"I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

The Apostle Paul wrote to a young man named Timothy who was faced with the challenges of serving as a pastor. Paul specifically addresses the issues and challenges that pastors and churches face: false teachings, the priority of prayer, proper conduct, and leadership qualities - to name a few. But he frames the importance of all these issues in his great purpose statement in 3:14-15. We need to know how to live our lives within the family of God and to understand the purpose of the church.

Most families have a coat of arms - a symbol of a family's origin and background, such as their original trade. The coat of arms serves to reinforce a family's identity.

We belong to the household, or family, of God. Our coat of arms is the church of the living God and its great purpose is to be the pillar and support of the truth. Our deepest and most meaningful connection to one another revolves around this great purpose. When we, as individual members, draw close to this vital purpose we also draw close to one another. There is nothing more powerful and unifying than a strong common cause and purpose.

The exciting purpose that rallies God's people is to know, defend, and demonstrate truth. The adventure of faith through a living relationship with our Creator Father and His Son, Jesus the Christ, and living the lifestyle of the coming kingdom today is our focal point. Dynamic energy and zestful living result when we are constantly reminded of our great purpose.

May the Lord's great purpose for us - individually and collectively - be sharply in focus today and provide the vital energy that will be personally rejuvenating as well as attractive to others.

Pastor Steve