Keep Doing Good!

Help Others

I’m tired.

I can’t believe summer is over (school started this Monday for some counties in South Florida!).

Whew!

And then, I came across a story out of Minnesota a few weeks ago that encouraged, and yet challenged me. A wife lost her husband to a motorcycle accident, and as she received his belongings, his wedding ring was missing. Desperately she asked the police if it was anywhere else. When they assured her it wasn’t, she returned to the scene of the accident, frantically searching for his wedding ring.

She didn’t find it.

Later she told a friend who is also a biker, and soon a dozen friends and strangers who were bikers came to the scene of the accident to search the fields in waist-high weeds and grass. Finally, they found the husband’s glasses, and a flashlight that belonged to him.

And they found the precious ring covered in mud!

The wife was amazed at the lengths everyone went just to help her.

This beautiful story reminded me of the book of Galatians, which I have just finished studying in my quiet time, and specifically Galatians 6:9:

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (NLT)

Here’s my personal translation from the original language:

We should not become inwardly weak or tired of continually doing good, for indeed in time we ourselves will reap a harvest, if we don’t succumb and quit!

Yes, I’m tired.

Yes, I had so much more I wanted to accomplish this summer.

But this passage, and the stirring story above, remind me of one thing: as Christians, we should always look to “continue doing good” to everyone. It shouldn’t matter how we feel, how frustrated we might be, or whatever may be going on in our “personal bubble”. We can’t miss an opportunity to serve another person and take the time to share the love of God with them.

And, notice what else the verse says . . . we stand to “reap a harvest” if we don’t quit (doing good).

Scholars debate what that harvest may be, but I think it’s enough to know we made someone else’s day better and were able to be Christ-like to them.

How were we Christ-like?

By giving of ourselves.

Strangely enough, I’ve noticed when I’m tired, and at times frustrated and buried in unfinished work, if I take the time to give, I’m refreshed! I’m renewed! And, I am blessed knowing God used me to bless another person.

Isn’t that reward enough?

So . . . what are your plans for today?

RA

The Secret Things of God

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A few weeks ago I started teaching a summer session of my Old Testament class. One of my personal resolutions during that class is to read as much of the Old Testament to them as possible, and not just tell them about the Old Testament. This past weekend, as we were completing our study of the Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament, I read Deuteronomy 29:29 (here it is in both the New American Standard and the Holman Christian Standard Bible):

 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” (NASB)

 “The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.” (HCSB)

I love this verse, but also marvel at it for a variety of reasons. For instance, it declares:

  • We serve an infinite, awesome God whom we approach with our limited, finite minds.
  • We will never fully understand God or all of his ways.
  • We are expected to understand and obey what has been “revealed”.

Take a moment to dwell on those statements! I don’t know about you, but I’ve stumbled over these truths and failed to comprehend them too many times to mention. For starters, I want to know the “secret things”! At times, if I’m being honest, my questions for God (“Why this? Why that?”) are more numerous than my praises!

And not only that, but I’ve also noticed another curious fact about those “secret things.” For the longest time, I used to think that as I drew closer to God and meditated on his word more and more, I expected the “secret things” of God to decrease in size, but I’ve since learned collectively it actually enlarges! Why?

But as I slow down and truly reflect on all that God has revealed to me, I’m humbled and incredibly embarrassed by what I still don’t understand and fail to obey consistently. As an example, I know 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 by heart (the famous “Love Chapter”), but I’m still not always “patient” with my loved ones, or as “kind” to them as I should be, and so on as the rest of vv.4-8 unfolds.

All of this reminds me of a comment I came across by pastor and author Pete Wilson. In his book What Keeps You Up At Night? How to Find Peace While Chasing Your Dreams, he wisely says:

“We think the more spiritually mature we are the more clarity we should have. The fact is, the more spiritually mature we are the less clarity we need.”    

 Why? Because as Deuteronomy 29:29 helps us to understand, the more mature we become and closer we draw to God, we discover how great and magnificent he truly is, and the tremendous task before us of being accountable simply for all he has already revealed! That should consume us, and not the “secret things”, for while that may enlarge as we truly comprehend how great and profound God is, so should our love and trust for God, as we marvel at how much he has already revealed and the manner in which he has loved us!

And that’s what people of faith should be occupied with.

RA

What Does It Mean to be “Fit” to Follow?

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Jesus never called anyone to be a “Christian”. He called people to be a “disciple”.

Why? A disciple is a “learner,” and to learn from Jesus you must be with him, and follow him as you obey him.

And what did that call to follow him look like? What were the expectations when Jesus called a person to “Follow me”?

Let’s read Luke 9:57-62 to find our answer:

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (NASB)

Upon initially reading this passage, many typically respond with a comment such as, “Man, Jesus is harsh!” But that response alone reveals the influence of culture and letting others tell us about Jesus and what it means to follow him, instead of letting the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus himself influence and define that call.

Honestly, Jesus isn’t being harsh, but truthful. Instead of deceiving us, or playing on our emotions, as some do today, Jesus is describing what it takes to be an effective follower of his.

And what does he say?

First, based on verses 57-58, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to comfort but a call to sacrifice!

Why?

Animals such as foxes and birds naturally have a place to rest, which brings a measure of security and protection.

A disciple of Jesus is not promised this.

Why?

It’s not that you can’t have comforts, or even nice things, but you’re not here for those nice things! The comforts of life can distract us and consume an exorbitant amount of our time as we seek to gain more and more of them.

A disciple of Jesus has another purpose for being here.

Second, based on verses 59-60, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to cultural obligations and religious rules, but a call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus!

In Judaism, a son had a crucial responsibility to fulfill his obligations when his father passed away. It was such a sacred obligation that the son was exempt from all other responsibilities to the Torah (the Law) until that was complete.

Is Jesus saying those responsibilities don’t exist anymore? No. All Jesus is stating is as crucial as that task is, the son now has a more pressing responsibility: “[G]o and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”

In other words, as important as a funeral was with celebrating and explaining the significance of the life of the deceased, now a disciple is to go about celebrating and explaining (that’s what “proclaim” means) to all who will listen what the reign of Jesus is like.

Consequently, this potential disciple discovered you can’t let cultural dictates or even religious rules supersede the call of God.

Lastly, based on verses 61-62, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to make Jesus a priority, but a call to make Jesus the priority of your life!

Undoubtedly, relationships are an important part of life, if not the most important part. But again, Jesus has something to teach us about relationships.

Jesus declares it’s not that we can’t have relationships and fulfill our responsibilities, but in comparison to our relationship with Jesus, all other relationships are subordinate, or to be blunt, it’s as if they don’t exist!

And to close, Jesus gives a beautiful picture of what’s he’s asking of each disciple, using imagery everyone would have been familiar with back then – a farmer plowing his land. Israel could be a rocky land, and to plow a field, it took one hand on the plow, one hand guiding the animal, and continuously looking forward to get those lines straight.

Total dedication, not looking back but forward, and guided by one Master is the picture.

Only that kind of person is “fit” or “well-placed”, and truly “useable” in the kingdom of God.

We don’t know what happened to these three individuals, but it’s unlikely that they followed Jesus. The first person probably was unwilling to renounce the comforts and securities of this life. The second and third individuals came to Jesus with a “but first” request. After Jesus’ discussion, we know a “but first” request is never “fit” for kingdom life.

What’s your response?

Here’s what I believe the challenge is: don’t just be a Christian who is satisfied with their ticket to heaven and attending church as a spectator sport, but be a disciple: one who is willing to go on an adventure with our Lord, putting nothing before Him.

Let’s stop trying to redefine the nature of the call, and just start obeying.

That’s what a disciple does.

RA

Just Say No . . . to say Yes!

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When we think of success or greatness in any field, whether it’s entertainment, sports, education, or business, a trait of greatness that is often forgotten is the ability to say no. All leadership gurus affirm this – and so does Scripture.

Read Titus 2:11-12:

 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, (NET)

What is Paul saying to Titus about living a successful, or life pleasing to God? I believe several key points can be discerned by studying this passage of Scripture:

  • “The grace of God has appeared”

God has shown his unmerited favor to mankind by sending Jesus to live the life we were meant to live, and to die the death we deserve to die. We do well to remember Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you’ve been save through faith . . .”

  • “bringing salvation”

This one-word adverb in the original language describes the kind of grace that has appeared – a grace with saving power – and available to all whom believe!

  • “[and] instructing/training us”

This is crucial – grace appeared not only to save us in the future, but also to instruct and train us now “in this present life”. This is a present active participle emphasizing the ongoing nature of this training. Never forget – we have something to learn spiritually everyday!

  • “to reject ungodliness and worldly passions”

Notice Paul’s counsel here: you can’t live the life you were meant to live until you first say no to your former life – a life focused on “godlessness” and “worldly passions”. Grammatically, the word “reject” is a participle emphasizing that we “said no” or “denied” these things in the past, and that decision should continue each day! The words of Jesus should also come to mind, as recorded in Mark 8:34: “If anyone wants to be my follower, he must deny [“reject” or “say no to”] himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

  • “we can now live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives”

Since we said no to those things, now we must fill our lives with new things. One of the great misconceptions in 21st Century American Christianity today is the belief that God saves us only because he wants us with him in heaven one day. Unfortunately (I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble), this is an unbiblical concept (on second thought –burst away!). God did not save you to spend time with you one day in heaven; God saved you to empower you to live the life you were meant to live with him NOW! He presently desires to live with you, and what does that life, or ‘walk’ look like? God wants us to live:

    • “self-controlled” or practical, sensible lives
    • “upright” or just lives
    • “godly” or well-devoted lives to him!

So in other words, our lives, instead of being godless and chasing after worldly passions (or as the Message translation says, living a “godless, indulgent life”), can now be lives in which we live appropriately with ourselves (living self-controlled), with others (living justly in our relationships with others), and living rightly with God (godly).

Is there a better, more successful kind of life? I can’t think of one. So that just leaves one question: what do you need to say no to?

RA

Go Make a Difference Today!

Help Others

I love these two stories from earlier this month. They both remind me of the difference we can make in people’s lives if we just take the time to care. The first is about a teenager who goes to Target before a job interview, and the second is about a man who walked to work for years. Read what happens to both of these individuals because people cared and decided to make a difference in their lives.

Teen Goes to Target for Tie and Gets More

Detroit’s Walking Man Gets New Car

Both of these stories remind me of three important traits Jesus’ disciples should possess:

  • To make a difference, we must see those around us (don’t be distracted or too self-focused);
  • To make a difference, we must sacrifice (It will cost you something);
  • To make a difference, we must be motivated by our Savior (Jesus lived this way!).

Notice how the Scriptures regularly describe Jesus:

“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 NASB)

So go today and make a difference in the name of Jesus.

RA

Happy New Year!

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2015! We made it to another New Year and we greet it with excitement and enthusiasm, even writing resolutions to inspire us to better health and productivity.

Ugh!

Honestly, right now, I’m not looking forward to 2015.

As a matter of fact, I’m dreading 2015, and yes even concerned (that’s Christian for ‘very worried’).

It’s not that 2014 was a horrible year for my extended family and me, but it came with unanticipated difficulties and challenges, some of which I’m still baffled how best to navigate. For instance:

  • A few health issues surfaced in our family that are still worrisome, and a considerable drain on the finances;
  • Both of my sons are now in college – at the same time! Enough said.
  • I’m still bewildered by the deafening silence I encounter with several prayer requests;
  • My present job, while I’m thankful because it pays bills, and I love working there with the team, it is neither my chosen career nor my passion, and unfortunately I see no change on the horizon.

Can you relate? I have a feeling I’m not alone. Please know these aren’t gripes or complaints but merely honest reflections that were disconcerting to me as the New Year dawned last Wednesday night. I want to be excited about 2015, I want to be enthusiastic about all that God has planned in the New Year, but I’m still stuck in the muck of unresolved issues from 2014.

As a comparison, in the aviation world I guess you could say I feel like an airplane, built to soar and fly to appointed destinations, but I’m incessantly taxiing on a runway that never seems to end!

What’s a troubled and ‘taxiing’ soul to do? Turn to Scriptures.

Two passages encouraged me as I was praying and meditating after ringing in the New Year. First James 4:14 (which we have been doing a sporadic study of at this blog, and will continue in the New Year – join us!!):

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (NIV)

In the context of James’ letter, he is addressing businessmen who are making all kinds of plans regarding tomorrow with the goal of reaping huge profits. James coolly reminds them:

  • No one can predict what will happen tomorrow, so why try predicting and worse worrying about it?
  • In the great scheme of things, never forget your life here is like a “mist”, or the “morning dew”, which appears for a moment, and then disappears.

I believe James’ point can be summed up this way: the quintessential question is not what are you going to do tomorrow, but what will you do today! If we spent more time on that question, surely it would make our todays more productive and we’d have less time to waste predicting and worrying about tomorrow!

Lastly, I turned to one of my favorite prophets Jeremiah, coincidentally dubbed the “Weeping Prophet” for various reasons. Read Jeremiah 18:1-4:

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:“Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you. ”So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do.” (HCSB)

Three things in this passage encouraged me:

  • It assures me God has a plan and a purpose for all things;
  • Redemption is possible even when we become “flawed”;
  • Who am I to argue with the Potter? Isn’t it better and more productive to simply strive to live the life the Potter has given me?

So while I’m “concerned” about the New Year, I am:

  • Thrilled to have another day of life!
  • Grateful for my family, friends, and those I work with, and the opportunity to love and serve them today!
  • Hopeful for the privilege of prayer, and asking God for the desires of my heart as they, and I, align according to His will.
  • Anticipating and preparing to “take off’ and soar as God ‘pilots’ the course of my life.
  • Deciding to stop arguing with the “Potter” and demanding to understand everything that happens, and just obediently live the life he has prepared for me today.

Maybe all of that is part of the process of taking off. It sure beats the alternative – endless taxiing! That’s why my overall goal for 2015 is what missionary David Brainerd asserted many years ago: “God let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.”

Happy New Year!

RA

James, Devotion #3: What is Your Purpose?

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Here’s what I hope you discover today:

  • All people will eventually ask themselves this age-old question: What is my purpose?
  • The great philosopher Aristotle believed the answer was happiness, or better, a life of human flourishing through rational contemplation.
  • James answered this question differently – we are to be perfect!

In our last devotion on the book of James, we finished midway through 1:4, and today I would like to take an excursus, or digress for a moment, as we come to an incredibly important Greek word that is used twice in verse 4. I believe understanding a little of historical background surrounding this word can assist us in discerning how James uses it. The Greek word I’m talking about in James 1:4 is the word telos, or as it is commonly translated in English “perfect” or “mature”.

To begin our excursus, I love Greek philosophy and it’s philosophers! They were courageous men who dared to question the traditional answers of the day, and seek new answers to their queries. Aristotle, along with his mentor Plato, undoubtedly were two of the greatest thinkers from that era, and laid the foundation for all philosophy for the next two thousand years.

For instance, Aristotle questioned why are we here, or in his words, what is our telos, or our goal, our purpose. In his day, as in ours, many thought our goal or purpose was pleasure, or honor and fame, and even to attain money and great wealth, but Aristotle knew these were futile goals to base a life on, or simply means to another goal. Aristotle even went so far as to state that people who based their life on pleasure or amusement were living a life of slavery fit for “grazing animals.” [1] Why? Because so much effort and suffering are a part of life, it would simply be “stupid and excessively childish” if all we had to look forward to was brief pleasures and idle amusement.[2]

Consequently, the great Aristotle surmised the telos of mankind must be:

“Moreover, we take the human function to be a certain kind of life, and take this life to be activity and actions of the soul that involve reason; hence the function of the excellent man is to do this well and finely.” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, 7, 15)

Put another way, Aristotle believed mankind, as with everything, has a purpose, a telos, and whatever it is, it must be whatever allows for human flourishing, so that the human being performs in an excellent, or perfect manner! For Aristotle, as he investigated all of nature and mankind, he concluded the purpose of life for humans must be an active life of virtuous living by using our reasoning abilities.

IN THE WORD

What in the world does this have to do with our study of the book of James? Plenty! Read again what James proclaimed in James 1:2-4:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (NASB)

We’ve already discovered that trials will come our way, and we are to joyfully accept them, knowing they are not purposeless. One purpose for trials is that they produce “endurance” or “perseverance”, or as I translated it “a willingness to cling to God no matter what.” But, that’s not the end of the story!

Here’s what else James tells us:

  • He reminds us that having the right attitude and thriving through trials produces “a willingness to cling to God no matter what”, but also that willingness to cling to God no matter what itself produces something – we become “perfect” and “whole”, or “entirely sound”.
  • While some scholars note that the use of “perfect” and “whole” together can simply imply we are to achieve moral integrity, I believe more is being said here. Why? Jesus said the same thing as James, and used the same word – “You shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)
  • Consequently, our telos, or our goal and purpose for living is not to:
    • Chase after physical pleasure
    • Make all the money we can
    • Become famous and popular
    • Or even to tell others about Jesus
    • Give all our money to the poor
    • Etc. etc., etc.

IN THE WORLD

 Our telos, or the reason we exist, is to daily become more and more like God, because we were created in the image of God, and Jesus came to show us how that looks and he gave us the power to live the holy life, by the gift of His Spirit! All else is secondary to this because, for one reason, nothing else will satisfy and fulfill us.

In the past, I was hesitant to translate telos as “perfect”, thinking that meant we had to be sin-free, but now, as I shared above, I believe “perfect” is the best word when it is used in this way: Jesus is our standard and the picture of what human flourishing looks like!

So see, Aristotle was right, and also wrong – we all have a telos that enables us to flourish as human beings, but he was simply wrong on how to achieve it – we must have a meaningful, vibrant relationship with our perfect Creator, growing more like Him daily as we live as Christ lived (see Ephesians 4:12-13)! Consequently, we are not just the epitome of rational creatures as Aristotle believed, for we are more: we are meant to be perfect!

Let’s conclude with these thoughts:

  • What is your telos today? Or, to be more explicit, what have you been living for?
  • I really liked Aristotle’s comparison of the life of pleasure to slavery fit for “grazing animals.” Have you ever heard anything like that in the Bible? Even though Aristotle was writing hundreds of years before the New Testament, read Romans 6:16 for a comparison. Now, do you see what he meant by the futility of such a life and how we simply become a slave to our desires?
  • Incidentally, as you aim to be perfect, and more and more like the Father, living as Jesus lived, you will naturally do things like tell others about Jesus, give to the poor, serve gladly, and much more. But this – striving to be like Jesus – should be first. For a reaffirmation of this, read Matthew. 22:36-40.

So, what’s your telos?

RA

[1] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Second Edition, Translated by Terence Irwin. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1999) p. 4, Book I, Chp. 5.

[2] Ibid, Book X, Chp. 6, p. 162.