Freedom From Cannibalism!

-Biting One Another!

In the Apostle Paul’s letter, to the Church of Galatia, he wrote: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another” Gal. 5:15.  In the context, of this letter, Paul’s main theme is “freedom.” The genuine follower, of Jesus Christ, is set FREE from their previous bondage to the flesh! We are FREE from the slavery to capitulate to the demands of our broken and depraved natures. No longer does sin have power over us! Jesus, upon His ascension to the Father, sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us with the ability to say “no” to sin’s demands!

-Called To Be Free!

So, Paul, the Apostle, tells this church:  “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” Gal.5:1,13-14.  The essence of Paul’s words is this— the Gospel, of Jesus Christ, sets us free from Christian Cannibalism! It is only Jesus’ Gospel that empowers us to love others like this! When our love, for others, grows, in this way, it’s a powerful endorsement to the validity of our words when we share our faith! Conversely, it is a blatant & ugly contradiction, of Jesus’ Gospel, when we “…bite and devour one another…” (v.15).

-Preying Like Cannibals!

When we prey on one another, like Cannibals, we sabotage the Glory of Jesus’ cross! We cover up the beauty of Christ, Who gave Himself up in payment for our self-centeredness! I saw the ugliness of Christian Cannibalism played out, as a Bible college student; when half the church, I was attending, walked out, on the other half, over the color choice of the ladies restroom during a building program! Their testimony, in that rural community, was ruined! I saw it happen! Oh, how we need the Spirit’s help to learn how to deal with conflict in a way that’s redemptive; rather, than destructive! A church that does not serve each other, in love like Jesus, will cannibalize itself! We can only love, like Jesus, if we’ve been set FREE by the Power of His Gospel! God can & does deliver churches from Christian Cannibalism!

-Overcoming The Past!

Only the Gospel of Christ can deliver our churches from such ungodly behavior! Some of you have experienced a church that devoured itself! You still struggle with the pain! It’s still raw! And, you are broken at the thought that some unbelievers will never come to faith, in Jesus Christ, because of the relational damage they’ve seen inflicted on others by so-called Christians! And, don’t forget to praise God if you’re part of a community of faith that truly loves, honors, and respects one other! That is truly a work of God! Be encouraged & pray regularly for a continuing peace & harmony in your church! Pray daily for spiritual renewal & revival! And, remember that it’s the Gospel of Christ that frees us to be Jesus to everyone we meet!

 

Prayer Is Not Counseling God!

-We Don’t Know What’s Best!

I’m afraid that many people treat prayer as their opportunity to counsel God on certain matters! We ought never pray like we’re trying to convince God that we know what’s best— As if the eternal all-wise God, who knows the end from the beginning & everything in between, needs our advice for anything! His eternal plans, for creation, were already laid out before the world began! The writer, of Acts, reminds us that  “The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things” Acts 17:24-27.

-God Doesn’t Need Our Counsel!

When it comes to prayer, let’s get one thing straight:  GOD DOESN’T NEED ANYTHING… INCLUDING OUR COUNSEL! He didn’t create us because of some deficiency, hoping that we could fix Him! There’s a clear, underlying message in Jesus’ response to His disciples question, “Lord, teach us to pray!” God doesn’t need us! We need Him! According to Jesus’ response, in Matthew 6, prayer is to be “GOD-CENTERED.” “Pray like this,” He says; and, He begins with the “Father.” Not with us! By the way He didn’t tell them to memorize it & repeat it mindlessly— “Our Father, who art in heaven…blah, blah, blah.” But, “…pray LIKE THIS…” He said. This is “how” we’re supposed to pray! It’s Jesus’ model prayer!

-Don’t Try Twisting God’s Arm!

Rather than making prayer our attempt to twist God’s arm over something we want Him to do, prayer should begin with a focus on God, the Father! Start your conversation, with the Creator of the universe, by honoring Him for His character! Praise Him for who He is! Don’t rush into His presence like your schedule is what matters— “Here’s my grocery list of needs, God! Will You go shopping for me?” Show Him reverence when you pray! You’re entering the throne room of Heaven! God transcends so far above anything on your agenda! There’s an order here! You’re kingdom 1st, Father! Our greatest desire should be that God’s name is hallowed, admired & cherished! And, He’s “our” Father too, Jesus says. Never get over that great Doctrine of Adoption— that God has birthed us into His family!

-We Become His Children!

Though we were born children of wrath, because of our sin, He adopts us into His family in Christ! We’re FAMILY! Depend on Him like He’s family because HE IS! We’re brothers, sisters, and joint-heirs with Jesus Himself! And, then, Jesus models prayer by moving from the Father’s  character to His “KINGDOM”— “YOUR kingdom come. YOUR will be done on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN” Matthew 6:10. So, pray like this, Jesus says— Pray for the Father’s KINGDOM & for His WILL!  If we’re praying like Jesus taught us to pray, our primary concern will be for the Father’s Glory! For the advancement of His kingdom! Our prayers will be “GOD-CENTERED.”  Take note of the things you pray for! Are your prayers motivated by your dreams & goals; or, by God’s eternal kingdom & His will & plans?  Mature believers pray for God’s will above their own!

 

Lord, Teach Us To Pray!

-Bad Prayer Habits Abound!

I want to begin this series of posts, on the subject of prayer, by sharing, with you, the results of a survey of the “Top Ten Bad Prayer Habits.” Here they are:  #10—”My Prayers Are Just A Grocery List!” #9—”I Make My Grocery List During My Prayer Time!” #8—”I Only Pray By Myself!” #7—”I See Prayer Only As My Personal Wish List!” #6—”I Always Pray The Same Thing & Get Bored!” #5—”I Only Pray When I’m In A Crisis!” #4—”I Do All The Talking While I Pray!” #3—”I Can’t Stay Focused While I Pray!” #2—”I’m Just Too Busy To Start My Day With Prayer!” And, #1—”I Don’t Pray At All!” Can you identify with any of that? I can! I’m guessing we’ve all had; or, still do, have some bad prayer habits. Now, if you claim to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, you can see how that would be a bit problematic if you don’t pray at all, right?

-Praying Like Jesus!

There’s an amazing New Testament text, about prayer,  in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus was praying; and, when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray!” Now, let me share my take on that scenario. I see it kind of like one of our typical church prayer meetings! Jesus and His disciples are all gathered in a circle praying; and, the disciples have their little prayer lists—  “God, keep us safe from the Romans… Help Zebedee catch lots of fish today… Help us not to get leprosy! That’s been going around… Oh, and bless the missionaries!” And, when they finish they look up & Jesus is still praying! Minutes pass by! Maybe an hour! We don’t know! The text doesn’t tell us. But, I get the idea that things begin to feel a bit awkward as the inadequacy of their own prayer lives becomes evident. Maybe they start whispering among themselves, as they often did:  “Hey, ask Him how to pray!” “I’m not gonna ask Him, that would be embarrassing! It’d be like admitting I don’t know how to pray!” However it actually worked out, one of them wrenches up the courage to ask him:  “Lord, teach US how to pray!” Not “ME”; but, “US”! So, Jesus tells them how to pray! We need to pay attention here, church! To summarize, He tells them never to pray like they’re counseling God!

-When You Pray!

He told them: “…you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one...” Matthew 6:9-13. If you were to underline or highlight any of Jesus’ words here, I’d go back to v.5 “…whenever you pray…”; v. 6 “..when you pray…”; v.7 “…when you pray…”; and, “…pray like this…” in v.9.   Over the next couple posts, we’ll dig deeper into Jesus’ instruction about prayer! And, spoiler alert, Jesus makes it clear that God doesn’t need us to tell Him what to do! That’s not prayer! Don’t hang out a shingle and try to be “God’s Counselor”! Jesus tells them that prayer is how we align ourselves with God’s Sovereign plans!

 

A Distinctly Christ-Centered Home!

-It’s Counter-Intuitive To The Majority Culture!

(PART II) In so many ways, keeping step with Jesus and Scripture is counter-intuitive to the majority culture! The culture will often tell a woman to divorce her husband if they don’t share the same values! But, the Apostle Peter’s Holy Spirit inspired words tell us that a husband, who is disobedient to the Lord, “…may be won over without a message by the way their wives live…” 1 Peter 3:1.  She doesn’t need to NAG! It’s possible that the Spirit can use her life, in such a dramatic way, that her husband may be “won over WITHOUT A MESSAGE.” She doesn’t need to PREACH at him!

-Internal Adornment & Beauty!

And, Peter builds on that point in the verses that follow:  “…when they observe your pure, reverent lives. Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes” 1 Peter 3:2-4.  If you’re a wife, who’s a follower of Jesus, your life should be marked by an internal adornment and beauty! And, let’s be clear, Peter is not teaching that women should refrain from makeup and jewelry! What he’s saying is that your life should consist of more than the “paint” and “bling” on the outside! How shallow! Live pure & reverent lives, he says!

-Have A Beautiful Heart!

Focus on making your heart beautiful by yielding to God’s Word & his Spirit! Just because you CAN say something, doesn’t mean you should! Don’t give your husband a piece of your mind that you can’t afford to lose! My girls are familiar with a verse of Scripture that I often quoted to them:  “A beautiful woman without discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout” Proverbs 11:22.  Your hope ought to be placed in God’s Sovereignty—  “…in the past, holy women like Sarah PUT THEIR HOPE IN GOD as they submitted…” 1 Peter 3:5-6.  Go back and read the Genesis account of Abraham and Sarah’s life. It’s interesting that she was never present when God gave Abraham His instruction; but, she submitted to Abraham by putting her hope in God’s Sovereign control of the situation.  She let God work out the kinks in her husband’s head! She didn’t nag!

-Husband: Know Your Wife!

Let me finish by drawing your attention to Peter’s words, to the Christian husband: “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” 1 Peter 3:7. Your life, as a husband who follows Jesus, will be marked by an understanding of your wife! Now, I know that some of you men, reading this, are laughing inside— “You really think we can ever understand a woman?” No, I don’t! And, this is a subject I have a really hard time preaching on because I personally stink at it so badly! But, what it seems Peter is saying, in part, is that “…AS you LIVE with your wife, gain an understanding of her…” Study your wife! What causes her tension & frustration? Serve her in those areas! Be a help to her!

 

Children That Please God!

-Scripture Speaks To Children!

I find it interesting, that, in his letter to the Colossian church, Paul speaks directly to children:  “Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” Colossians 3:20.  In a section of Scripture, devoted to family issues, Paul expects children to read & adhere to his admonition. And, if obedience to parents “pleases” the Lord, we can infer, from that, that God is NOT pleased with children who disobey their parents. Yes, He still loves them! But, He’s not pleased with them!

-Disobedience Produces A Hard Life!

I used to tell our kids, “Hey, I’ve figured out how to never get in trouble with your parents! If you never disobey them, you’ll never get in trouble with them!” I would often remind them that, “The way of the transgressor is hard!” If Paul were writing a letter to your kids today, I think he’d say something like this:  “Your life is going to be hard if you insist on disobeying your parents! Why put yourself through that? Disobedience produces a hard life because your parents are always on you; and, God is not pleased with you! So, OBEY! Your life will be much easier!” Jesus set the example of obedience—both to His Heavenly Father; and, to His earthly father!

-Attitude Originates In The Heart!

Obedience is a matter of the heart. It’s not just about obeying on the outside—your body language can show disrespect even if you did what you were told! Grumbling, rolling your eyes, shrugging your shoulders, stomping off, banging doors, sassing, arguing, justifying your behavior by making excuses, rationalizing with a “Jimmy’s mom doesn’t make him do that…”— all point to a disobedient attitude of the heart! And, to delay is the same as disobedience! When Paul wrote, on the same topic, to the Ephesian church, he told them that honoring your parents will earn a reward of long life. Put the two together— HONOR your parents by OBEYING them!

-Fathers Are Significant!

Back to his letter to the Colossians, Paul also pointed out that fathers play a significant part in raising children that please God— “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged” Col. 3:21. I don’t believe that Paul is suggesting that mom has no responsibility in the upbringing of their children.; rather, he’s calling out dad for his “headship” in the home! He’s to be the family shepherd & leader!

-Don’t Crush Your Child’s Spirit!

Dad needs to be the leader when it comes to “voluntarily” loving his wife sacrificially (as we noted in our previous post). And, he needs to step up his leadership when it comes to training the children. Don’t exasperate your children, dad! Or, you’ll discourage them! You’ll crush their spirit! That’s what it means to discourage them. Don’t make promises you don’t keep! Don’t change your mind without a very good reason! Don’t withhold compliments! Give them credit for the good things they do! For the times they’re obedient! They’ll remember it forever! But, they’ll also remember when you fail to compliment them for a job well done! Love them unconditionally, mom & dad! And, give them room to grow!

 

Honoring Jesus With Our Gender!

-The Culture Doesn’t Get It!

We honor Jesus in our hearts when we obey Him with our lifestyles! And, by our obedient lifestyle, we create curiosity! The answer the culture is giving, about our sexual identity, isn’t working! And, it never will! But, when we live, sexually, in obedience to God’s word, we earn the right to share it when the world gets curious— to share with them the Gospel and God’s purpose for gender. This is difficult subject matter! It’s layered with lots of abuse & painful injuries dating all the way back to the Garden of Eden; and, it’s just not easy to jump into without laying a foundation of understanding with empathy and love.

-Say It With Empathy & Love!

And, that is what the world needs from us— understanding, empathy and love! It’s simply not helpful when, instead, we offer them self-righteous judgment and vindictiveness! So, let me try and unpack some of the main points from the first 2 chapters of Genesis; especially, as it relates to gender & sexual identity. We need to take note of some of the implications it plays for our homes, our families, and, how it plays into our child rearing. Keep in mind,   from an interpretive standpoint of the text, that Genesis ch.1 presents the “Big Picture” of God’s creative act; and, ch. 2 fills in the “details.” Chapter 1 is like the Super Bowl headlines the day after—  “Patriots Win The Most Boring Super Bowl Ever”; and, ch.2 is like the story that fills in the details how the Patriots pummeled the Rams into submission.

-What Shapes Our Opinions?

Let’s also remember the most important detail as a Follower of Jesus Christ—  When determining our roles, as men and women, God’s Word must shape our opinions, not the culture! And, perhaps, the most significant point, of the text, is that God created humanity to reflect HIS IMAGE.  “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth’” ch. 1:26.  God created humanity to function as His living image over the creation; and, I believe it’s correct to interpret “man” here as “mankind”; including, BOTH man & woman! I believe the next verse bears that out—  God created humanity to bear His image as MALE & FEMALE!

-God Created Maleness & Femaleness!

The text says, “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female”  ch. 1:27. Our “maleness” and our “femaleness” are essential parts of being God’s image bearers! Somehow—and, I don’t want to get “weird” here—but, somehow it seems that God is saying that it was in the “complementing” or the “completing” of the man with the creation of woman, that humanity was created in the image of God. That image wasn’t clear or evident until woman complemented God’s creation of man. So, here’s my plea:  Men & Women! We need each other to correctly image God in His creation! When we grasp the significance of that we’ll begin to glory in both “MANHOOD” & “WOMANHOOD.” Together, we are God’s intentional design of human diversity!

 

God’s Glory In Our Salvation!

-We’re Rendered Speechless!

Music is a powerful medium! Especially, in a worship service! Just combine a deeply moving message—about grace, mercy, love, the cross & salvation—with an appropriate musical score and it locks up my vocal chords! I’m just rendered speechless! I can’t sing! All I can do is praise Jesus—in my heart—as I listen to the congregation sing! That’s the kind of picture I get, in my mind, when I read about the worship service that will one day take place in heaven— “And I beheld, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor,  AND GLORY, and blessing.” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying, “Blessing and honor AND GLORY and power be unto him that sits on the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever” Rev. 5:11-13

-Jesus, The Lamb, Is Worthy!

Why? Why will there be such a scene in heaven? Because Jesus, the Lamb, is worthy! Jesus is worthy of blessing, honor & GLORY! He willingly submitted Himself to the Father’s plan! He was the Lamb of God, who shed His blood—on our behalf—so, that we might be saved! And, every believer since creation will sing their praises to Jesus because our salvation was the result of Jesus’ work, on the Cross, ALONE! Our salvation is God’s work alone! So, He gets all the Glory alone! There is no one else to praise!

-Because Of His Great Love!

We can take no glory for our own salvation! We were DEAD in our trespasses & sins— “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages (That’s the scene described earlier in Rev. 5) He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” Eph. 2:4-9.

-Nothing To Boast About!

We have nothing to boast about in ourselves! We boast in Jesus & the cross! Our greatest preoccupation must be with God’s Glory! It’s for that purpose that we exist! Jesus is the HERO of our story, NOT us! Our salvation didn’t require a little bit of our effort & a lot of Jesus’ work! All that we contributed was our total depravity & brokenness! His coming, to save us, was nothing short of a “rescue mission”! And, Scripture teaches clearly that He is to be offered praise for the entirety of our salvation! So, that, from the beginning of our faith, in this life, to the completion of our faith, in heaven, He gets ALL the Glory! It’s appropriate that we remain committed to giving God Glory for our salvation every opportunity we can!