What got early Christians through hard times? What helped them grow? How were they able to thrive when their jobs, families, and personal safety were threatened?
They focused on hope. Biblical hope is confident expectation. God promised us a perfect life after this sometimes stinky one. The early church’s hope for death’s freedom gave courage and comfort (I Peter 1.3). Their hope for a perfect life had the same effect (II Peter 3.13; Romans 8.18ff).
They focused on grace. It keeps us from falling out with God, and it helps keep our motivation high (Romans 7.15ff; I John 1.7)!
They focused on God’s message to humans (I Peter 2.2). We have to view reality through God’s eyes. This isn’t possible without deep, meaningful, and unbiased study! The Bible is a collection of rich, fascinating insights into God’s nature and our future! It’s very helpful to use a version that’s easy to read and modern.
They focused on each other. The early church spent a ton of time together (special circumstance, but still cool: Acts 2.44). Their relationship provided encouragement and strength! Managing conflict healthily is also crucial for the church’s health (Matthew 18).
They focused on selflessness. We aren’t animals, so we should put the needs of others above our own (Romans 14; I Corinthians 8; All of Philippians). A selfless family can get through anything!
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
God wants you to succeed and He can’t wait to see you.
Alright, take a deep breath and let’s dive into an ocean of hope for a few minutes.
If you’re a member of the Lord’s church you can probably think of at least one person who is able to keep a smile on his or her face and a tune on their lips, even when everything in their life seems to be going horribly wrong.
We might be tempted to think, “I must be one horrible Christian because I can tell you now, I’d never be that joyful under such circumstances.”
It may seem unnatural or even out of reach for everybody to live their lives just like that but we can’t forget their secret.
The “magic” is all happening on the inside.
God has transformed the heart and spirit of that person, and the effects of this are seen when you spot that smile on their face and see their head carried high. You’ll also be able to hear the effect–evidence in conversations with these inspiring people because they tend to direct your attention to God by giving Him all the glory and credit for their peaceful state of mind. Do you have the desire to be that kind of person? I’m assuming you do. Who wouldn’t want this supernatural ability?
Our lives are a roller coaster ride of emotions and situations of all kinds and the worst state to find yourself is the dreaded “slump.” You know you’re in a slump when you can’t seem to find the motivation to be happy or even allow a peaceful or cheerful thought to linger in your brain.
Let’s take a quick gander at Philippians 2:14-15 and then dive right into those four ways to feel better about life.
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
This verse may make us think, “easier said than done!” (especially if you’re currently in the slump) but let’s look at it from another perspective.
When we look a wee closer at this verse we see at least four juicy nuggets of hope.
We could imply that–
1. Your attitude can change (no grumbling!)
2. Your speech can change (no grumbling or questioning!)
3. Your demeanor can physically change (like innocent children)
4. Your mindset can change (shining lights)
The key word is in bold in each of these four areas. This CAN happen, but we’ll need to take a visit to the “how department” first.
Welcome to the “How Department.”
First, it’s up to us to internalize that this change is really possible.
Second, allow yourself to enjoy that feeling of hope that comes with the knowledge that God can change your mindset.
Third, we must accept that this change is also expected of us.
Fourth, understand that God knows that we have the ability to climb out of the slump or He wouldn’t have told us to do so.
Here’s how God can make you feel better.
1. Remembering all those times in the past that God has helped you and others out of previous slumps.
2. Surrounding ourselves with those positive family members in the congregation you attend.
3. Gaining some of His wisdom by reaching out to trusted mentors or older Christians who have walked the walk of faith longer than you have.
4. Spending time with God-loving friends who are trying their best, just as you are, and the two of you can mutually encourage one another.
We have the ability to change, but we have to develop that desire to do so.
God wants you to succeed and He can’t wait to see you.
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
It is no secret that we are politically divided in this country. Larger cities are typically progressive, while the majority of a state’s rural populations are conservative. This has even dictated what kind of news we watch! If you watch CNN, you fit in with progressives. If you watch Fox News, you are most likely conservative. Both approach reality with their own highly specific bias in order to appeal to their respective audiences. As a result of this, we have entered into what is being called a “soft civil war.” Liberals speak with extreme hatred against conservatives. Conservatives speak with great hatred against liberals. It may be a soft civil war right now, but it would not take much at this point to become a full-fledged war.
As a church, we are a kingdom. Our king is Christ and the citizens of this kingdom are Christians. Sadly, the church is not immune to soft civil wars. In Philippians 4, Paul strongly rebukes Euodia and Syntyche because their argument was destroying the church. How easily we can become heated and hateful over matters of opinion! The way we handle differing opinions on matters not pertaining to salvation determines whether we will be unified as a church or whether – like Euodia and Syntyche – we will be a force for division. The greatest tragedy of the American Civil War was that families fought on opposing sides and killed one another. As the body of Christ, let us continue to handle our differences with godliness, love, and patience.
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
(NOTE: Carl is pretty sick today and getting tested in Huntsville–please pray for him. I’m filling in for him on the blog today)
My good friend, the late Bill Snell, enjoyed telling a story about a preacher who was staying for several days with a brother in Christ, his wife, and their little 5-year-old son. Every morning, the woman of the house made a hot breakfast that included the flakiest, fluffiest biscuits he had ever tasted. Each morning, the little boy would get to the table before the preacher. As the preacher sat down to eat, the little boy would touch the top of all the biscuits and say, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine….” Finally, the preacher was fed up enough to get to the table just before the boy. As the boy sat down, the preacher touched the top of all the biscuits and said, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine….” The little boy smiled impishly, licked the palms of his hands, and said, as he touched the top of each biscuit, “Yours, yours, yours, yours, yours….”
Selfishness may seem childish, but it is not just a problem for children, is it? Too often, we allow others to provoke us into childish actions. We lower ourselves to their level, but we come out looking just like them. In the book of Philippians are several, well-known statements warning against the follow and hurtfulness of selfishness. Paul writes that some preached out of selfish ambition (1:17). He further says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” (2:3). Some “seek after their own interests” (2:21).
James warned, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (3:14-17).
However cute you did or did not think that little boy was, selfishness is anything but adorable. It is evil and chaos. It is arrogant and dishonest. May we ever strive toward a spiritual maturity that does away with this sort of behavior.
His coach, Jay Wright, and teammates expected and wanted him to take the last shot in the 2016 NCAA basketball championship game. The senior point guard had intentions of doing so, too, but at almost the literal last second he turned and delivered a short pass to Junior Kris Jenkins who sank a three-pointer just before the final buzzer. It was the game-winning shot, lifting Villanova over North Carolina for the Pennsylvania school’s first championship since their legendary victory in 1985. Ryan Arcidiacono, who grew up 20 miles from campus and constantly dreamed of hitting a game-winning shot for the championship, will be remembered, as much as Jenkins, for delivering one of the most exciting games in college basketball history—Jenkins for his beautiful shot and Arcidiacono for his unselfish pass.
For those who know coach Wright’s philosophy, this turn of events is absolutely no surprise. Google “Jay Wright unselfish” and a multitude of articles come up talking about how the coach drills the idea of putting everybody else above yourself from the time kids enter his program. Players earn his trust and confidence by proving themselves converts to his selfless style of play. It is heartwarming to see such values being instilled in impressionable young people.
The local church must adopt the philosophy of its leader, Christ. He modeled it (Ph. 2:5-11) and mandated His followers do the same (Ph. 2:3-4). An atmosphere of unselfishness cultivates spiritual and numerical growth, just as selfishness inhibits such growth. Selfless service is most often bypassed by the world, though most deeply appreciate seeing demonstrations of it. Deference to others is a mark of distinctiveness that must be found in disciples. The better we do this, the brighter the light of Christ can shine through us!
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly all the top 1o most common U.S. occupations are in the service industry—retail salespersons, cashiers, fast food workers, office clerks, waiters and waitresses, and customer service representatives, just to name a few (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ocwage.pdf). But one of the most common complaints you hear is about poor customer service, rude or unhelpful customer service staff, being overcharged or neglected, or a bad attitude. There may be a great many reasons behind this, but one may well be that our culture is not conditioned to serve, but to be served. Those in positions of service may just be reflecting the culture.
This is not a new problem. Jesus addressed that mentality with His followers in Matthew 20:25-28. In a world insistent upon being the chief and asserting their own rights, Jesus’ message does not play well today. Yet, it did not play well even when He taught it on earth. Jesus was very clearly the suffering servant (Isa. 53:11), and how did the masses ultimately react to Him? They shouted, “Crucify Him” (Mark 15:13-14).
The concept of serving others turned out to be a struggle for the church at Philippi. To that end, Paul urged them to adopt a better mindset, a proper attitude (Phil. 2:1-4). Paul reminded these Christians that they were in the spiritual service industry. It was their job to serve one another. We can understand why this teaching is a bitter pill to swallow. We all know those members of the spiritual family who are difficult to deal with, the ones who can be like fingernails on the chalkboard to us or who set our teeth on edge. We might enjoy doing for the benign brother, the sweet sister, or the friendly family. The real test comes in serving someone who does not make serving a pleasant, happy task. A servant heart was lacking among some at Philippi (cf. 4:2), and an unwillingness to put others first will have a dangerous, negative impact on a church if such a spirit is allowed to grow unchecked.
Gordon MacDonald said, “You can tell whether you are becoming a servant by how you act when people treat you like one.” Paul is urging a united, humble, and serving attitude on Philippi and on us. Our task is not to gauge how others are growing in service, but to examine self. May we live what we sometimes sing to God, “Make me a servant, Lord, make me like You, for you are a servant, make me one, too!”
As we go about our day, we often hear that question. It is an exercise in pleasant politeness, and at times it is asked with genuine, heartfelt concern. It can also be not only asked mindlessly, but answered in the same manner. Some are conditioned to say “fine” without stopping to assess. Others are more curmudgeonly bent and can spout off a litany of complaints without breathing hard, if asked for an assessment of how their day is going.
As we reach the anniversary of certain events in Boston and West, Texas, or as we think back to recent tragedies in South Korea, Malaysia, or Washington state, both those who survived unscathed, who bear permanent scars, or who even perished had no doubt been asked the equivalent of that question. Probably, some were cheerful and positive and maybe some were more negatively inclined. Yet, especially for survivors, their view of each day was understandably and permanently altered.
Here in the land of freedom and opportunity, we can easily take for granted how well, materially and physically, things are for each of us. Catastrophes and tragedies often alter that. Pain and loss rearrange our priorities and refine our perspective. Those hard events can help us see that happiness and fulfillment do not depend on external forces applied to us but radiate from within us.
I cannot help but think of the undoubtedly grimy, malnourished, and mistreated preacher scratching out those inspired words from his likely poorly lit and intemperate climes. Body worn and disfigured from beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, endless road and boat trips, eyesight failing, and heart burdened with concern for churches and individuals, Paul could still say, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13). How could one improve on that general approach to life and each day? May God help us to appreciate the blessings and opportunities we are given today, and use them as advantageously as possible to achieve the glorification of God! Make today a great day.