The Example of Peter

6 07 2017

Context: 1 Peter

The first epistle of Peter is all about the practical ways that we apply our faith in relation to each other.  It has instructions for our attitudes, our way of living, holiness, our  relations to government and leadership, our relationships in marriages, a perspective on suffering, living our lives with freedom and suffering and how we relate to elders.  Mind you, that’s just a quick summary.  It’s very full of information!  Because of what I know about Peter, I’m not surprised that he’s giving practical advice.  More on that later.

I also want to remind you of something:  this letter was written to exiled people who believed in Christ, and not to a church.  Paul wrote his letters to churches, and Peter has written to specific people.  It was probably a personal letter sent to encourage the people that he knew personally.  Notice that he only identified himself by name and not his audience, which to me, communicates that the people he was writing to, Peter wished to remain anonymous.  Perhaps because they were in political trouble, perhaps for their religious beliefs.  And I also want to point out that from this, we we see that Peter knows that they’re in trouble, indicating that this is part of a series of letters probably exchanged with these people.

From this, we also see that Peter, because of the personal nature, we see he had no intentions of the letter becoming part of the canon of the New Testament, a shared experience of all of the writers of the New Testament.  I think that is worthy of consideration and thought.

As a disciple, we know a lot about Peter, and one of the things that I think Peter never got over is how God chose him, despite all of his flaws and dis-beliefs, he was chosen.  His faith, with all of its questions and insecurities were enough to build a church upon.  When he was killed for his beliefs, he asked to be crucified upside down, because he did not see himself as worthy of the same death of crucifixion as the Christ.  He died a martyrs death, for professing his faith, and refusing to renounce it.  His story is something, if nothing else, another story of how God uses ordinary, imperfect people to share his story of love, his gifts of grace.

Today’s scripture comes from 2 Peter 1:3-11.  I’m dividing it up into three sections, and I’ll identify these three sections according to my commentary sections.

vs 3-4:  Promises:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

One of the things that I identify with in Peter, is my constant insecurity over whether or not I am able to be used by God despite my lack of faith, my past or my experiences.  Sometimes, I lack trust, sometimes I lack confidence.  Sometimes, I lack security.  I have major performance anxiety and just anxieties in general.  And Peter man, he constantly failed Jesus.  He denied him three times, he failed to trust him when he was walking on water, and he was selfish.  We sometimes like to puff ourselves up and like to pick on Peter, claiming that we’d be able to walk on water if the Lord commanded us.  Peter, I love you because you’re so human and you’re so relate-able to those of us who are like me.  I believe that if I were in the middle of the sea and God told me to get out of the boat, I’d look around for another boat to jump into, or a life jacket or something.  I wouldn’t get out of the boat in the first place, probably.  My confidence as a disciple is shaken, when I fail to get out of the boat.  And the royal screw-ups of Peter?  On my own, I could never recover from that.

But Peter did!  Look at what he says.  He says that we’ve been given everything that we need by God to live out this life of faith.  Everything  We’ve been given the courage, the confidence, the power and the courage that we need.  We’ve been given this life to live, according to the knowledge of God and who God is, simply because God has called us to be his.  Peter figured it out.  He had been given everything that he needed in order to live out the life that he was supposed to.  Jesus knew that Peter had it, because he identified Peter as the one that he would be building his church on his shoulders.

Wow.  What a promise!  Peter, with his fumblings and stumblings, to be the rock that Jesus would build his church on!  What a big thing!  Peter knew about promises.  One thing that he knew is that he, Peter, broke them.  Remember the last supper?  Where he promised that he would never denounce Jesus?  How, later, he did so three times, only a few hours later.  Through it all, in his lifetime, Peter realized something about promises.  He realized that although he (Peter) couldn’t keep them, God always did.  He probably realized that Jesus recognized the value of Peter long before Peter realized his own value.  When Peter became a believer, Jesus knew he would one day become a leader in the faith because God had already given him the promised gifts he would need.  He would have the gift of leadership, of vision, of commitment, and they were already embedded within Peter when Jesus made that promise to him by re-naming him.  Peter probably didn’t really understand what it meant when Jesus gave him that promise, but like our salvation, he would understand it better later on.

In the same way, I hope that we recognize that we have been given everything that we need to live a godly life, and I hope that we see these things as promises as well.  Promises to sustain, promises that lead, promises that verify our calling and identity.  These are the gifts that sustain us when things get hard.  When I became a believer, I remember praying the prayer, and I was climbing the stairs of the building afterwards, and I felt something.  The only way that I can describe it was like my heart had exploded.  I wasn’t exploding, my heart wasn’t racing, but it was like this great big open spot was now there in my chest.  It was different.  In different times of my life, times of doubt, I have remembered that aftermath of explosion with in me.  And bit by bit, it’s like all of the learning I do, I fill up those spaces.  But that empty space?  According to this scripture, I’m now going to call it my promise.  The promise of things to come.

vs 6-9:  Building Blocks of Growth

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

We are told in churches to grow our faith.  We talk about how we need to grow and get to know God more and how we need to—–well, you get the picture.  I’d like to take you back to the example of Peter.

We know that Peter tried to walk on water and then he failed?  Why did he fail?  Because he got afraid, looked at the water and took his eyes, his trust off of the one who told him to walk on the water in the first place.  Jesus was already there, he was already on top of the water, he told him to jump out.  But Peter lost sight of the one who was leading him.

Let’s contrast that with another Peter story.  Picture it, day of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit came down as Jesus had promised that helper and it filled the room.  Filled them.  Peter arose, he stands up and begins preaching about Jesus.  From this moment on, he becomes a leader of the disciples, it is because of his words and obedience, that the first church is founded among believers.  Jesus’ promise fulfilled!  Church was born out of Peter, even though he got afraid on the waves.

Woah.  What’s the difference?  How could it go from a sinking, floundering person, a denier of the Christ and a doubter, to being a courageous, strong and secure person who births’ the first church? It’s all because of growth.  I think Peter used his near drowning experience to teach him, his doubts to affirm him, and his denials to motivate him.  Something happened to Peter, and he grew so much.  It seems like the denial would be a hiccup to his growth, because true growth is hardly, if ever, linear, but a maze that is often disorienting.

I love how Peter describes this process through in his letter.  He makes it like building blocks, no doubt representative of his own growth.  Each step is like building blocks.  Each step is because of the previous step.  I don’t have the capacity to expand very much on each of the steps, but I will do a quick summary.  He says that the first step is moral righteousness.  If we are honest, that righteousness step/entry into heaven, is our first motivation and reason for faith.  From that, we grow to knowledge, the mental aspect to our faith.  This is an “academic” understanding of God and scripture.  From that, we realize our need of self-control, because our knowledge exposes places where we still have to become better and more godly.  That leads to perseverance, because self-control, man, it’s a beast.  It’s difficult to stay in control of whatever thoughts or actions that we find difficult to shake.  As we persevere through these sufferings and many more, we move into godliness and understand the purpose of our sufferings.  From that, we develop mutual affection, which from my understandings, means empathy for others and sharing in burdens.  From that, develops love, and love for others is the embodiment of our faith, it’s the way that Jesus said his disciples would be recognized.

Because of these building blocks, Peter says that we continue to grow and we will remain important to the faith, and will will remain engaged, vibrant.  Alive.

Peter also addresses a very different type of believer.  He says that if we don’t build on our faith and grow in the faith, then we are ineffective.  We are nearsighted, we can only see the present troubles right in front of us, not the greater glory.  We can only concern ourselves with the things of the world, because that’s all that we can see.  He calls believers that aren’t growing towards love as blind, because without growth, they cannot see their neighbor as worthy of love.  We cannot see when God is working and moving.  We cannot see how to help others.  And we can never get past our past.  We can never allow someone else’s past to get past their past in our eyes.  We can’t forget, and we can’t forgive.

If we are the latter of the two, there is no growth, and salvation is basically fire protection.  It’s not a changed, transformed way of life.  If we use Peter as an example, the latter is not like Peter’s experience.

vs 10-11:  Go the Distance

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,  and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned earlier, Peter died on an upside down cross, thinking himself as unworthy of the same measure of death as Christ.  The called rock, founder of the church, given a criminal’s death.  After his denial of Christ, all evidence points to that moment being a turning point in Peter’s life and faith.  He grew from that period, and I hope he never returned to the doubting self, but used his experiences to grow.  He remembered the call that Jesus had laid on his life and he did something about it.  He stayed the course and finished his life as the founder of the church.

Because of our growth, Peter says that we should be firm in our salvation and in our growth of God.  That we should not be insecure about our salvation.  If anyone had a chance of being insecure, Peter is among them, and he says that we should be secure.  He didn’t remain insecure, because he already knows where he stands.  He knows his value in Christ.

Which is more than a lot of us can say, because if Peter looked at the church right now, I don’t think he’d see a strong, secure body.  I honestly think he’d liken us to a bunch of toddlers crying because our blankey is in the wash.  He’d call us out because we get our feelings hurt and claim injustice, while our literal neighbors are starving.  I think he’d tell us to get our eyes back on Jesus, and not on the waves, because he knows that’s why he began to sink.  I think he’d tell us to love each other instead of focusing on beautiful buildings and important programming.  I think he’d tell us that our faith and trust needs to be strong enough to not only endure the good times, but also the bad times.  That we can’t abandon our beliefs just because someone hurt our feelings.

But if we stick with it, and we keep a holy growth, we keep our calling close in our minds, then look what God can do through us.  Look what he could do.  After all, it was the denier, the fearful of downing Peter that God built his church upon.  Truly, if God can use Peter, the butt of our scorn to build a church, how could he use us as well?

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Sunday School Series: Happiness, Joy and Partners in Ministry, Philippians 1:3-11

22 01 2017

Author’s Note:  Please see the previous post to give you some of the context of this church’s founding and Paul’s relationship with it.  I made a post earlier about this, and I’m so very glad that I did so!  Thanks!

Everyone is trying to find joy and happiness.  We buy things, thinking that they will make us happy and they will fulfill us.  Our government is built upon the premise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We read that it is an “unalienable right.”  We expect happiness to be lasting, and then, like a whisper, it fades away.  In my life, I can remember times when I have thought “If ________ happens, then I will be really happy.”  The happening happens and then I’m the same person, there’s no great upheaval of personal change or growth.  Eventually that happenning only becomes another page in my book of life.  For example, my college graduation.  When I was in high school, I was so focused on getting into college.  I filled out scholarship applications left and right.  I got into college, and I started focusing on that graduation date.  This dream never seemed more happiness-inducing than the nights where I was holed up in the library for another late night working on a paper.  I would get lost in my dreams of walking across the stage and shaking Chancellor Peacock’s hand.  When the day finally, arrived, my work was done, and I remember that I sat there as a friend made a speech about something, and I remember thinking “this is it.”  And it wasn’t like this great event.  It was just me, sitting in a polyester gown, shaking a hand and walking across a stage.  I was so proud that I did this, but then the next day, I woke up, and I was myself again.  Now, five years later, my graduation day is just another memory.

It doesn’t last, does it?  Happiness?  That’s the difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is an emotion, and emotions honestly, they’re fleeting.  They change and disappear after awhile.  But joy, I think truly is more permanent, despite the present circumstances.  It’s sort of like the difference between liking someone and loving them.  You can like them all you want to, but that “like” fades at the first sign of annoyance.  Love exists regardless of how annoying the person is, or when they scream “I don’t speak chinese” in your ear as they sleep.  (True story)

Paul’s Partners in Ministry:  Philippians 1:3-6

 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

If we use happiness to describe Paul’s emotions towards the church in Philippi, then (because we know of his previous experience in prison because of his preaching of the word) it would be odd that Paul would be thanking God for the memory of this church.  If it were me, and I had been arrested, then I would want to do anything possible to push the memory of that horrible experience out of my mind.  But Paul here was “praying with joy” each time he thought of them and was full of thanksgiving about them.  Each time he gave thanks, he remembered them in love.  It’s a wonderful thing to have such a good relationship with those that you serve in ministry with that they give thanks for you, each time that they remember you.  In that way, I identify with Paul.  In my college years, I served at the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, and as I served, I never remembered to take a moment and recognize just how blessed I was to not only be friends with those that I was serving God with, but also, to enjoy the moment with them.  Now, all of us are spread across this great state, and some are across the continent, and I miss them, and pray for them every so often.

Why am Paul and I filled with joy?  It says so here, “because of their partnership in the gospel”, a partnership that has been solid from the founding until now.  A partnership that has led to blessings and growth that has lasted, both in each other and in Christ.  Obviously, Paul and this church have had contact since Paul left, and they possibly exchanged many letters until this letter was penned.  I think that there was a certain amount of peace knowing that he had a group of people that were united, supporting him.  I think that encouraged him greatly, and I think it helped him to endure, even when he was facing a lot of difficulties ahead of him.  I think it helped him feel his load lightened because he knew that there was a group of people praying for him, and they were peacefully there, waiting his return.  The relationships that he had created while there, they were very important to Paul.  Paul’s encouragement from his relationships with Lydia and others in the church sustained him in ministry, and Paul was confident that this growth and maturity would continue until the day that Jesus came back.  I am confident that Paul knew this fact, because Christ began it!  I think it’s important for us to note that our confidence in God and what God is doing is ultimately the source of our joy!  Apart from that movement of God, relationships cannot growth or initiate, our relationships cannot encourage use.  Our interactions cannot produce fruit, without his touch.  And if he begins the partnership, he will build that partnership until the end.  He will continue to give it all blessings and growth.

Paul’s Affections towards Them:  Philippians 1:7-8

 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

I truly think that Paul and the believers of this church felt a special bond between them, and this special bond was strengthened especially when they experienced great hardship at the beginning.  I truly think that they thought it was worth it because it brought them closer together.  The evidence that I draw this from is because Paul is never as personal as he is in these letters.  He never spent much more than a sentence proclaiming his affections towards a church other than this one.  It’s for that reason that Paul is so affectionate towards them.  From verse 7, I don’t really understand why he said “it is right”, but I imagine that he was facing some criticism because of his obvious affection towards this church.  This often happens when you find yourself in a new friendship or relationship.  I’ve experienced it, sometimes, people get jealous because of the companionship that you’ve found.  They’ll sometimes make passive aggressive statements and remarks or something to say that hints towards their disapproval.  I think this is the perspective that Paul is coming from in this particular passage.  I can imagine that he was hearing some remarks from some of his churches about his perceived favoritism.

But Paul isn’t saying that they should stop being so affectionate with each others, in fact, he’s doing the opposite, he’s affirming the value of this church in his heart.  He’s mentioning that their joy towards each other is holy and right because it is rooted in the fact that they are partners in ministry, mutually supporting each other.  More than that, they have supported him regardless of where he is or what is going on.  Whether he is in prison or enjoying ministry, he continually feels their support and their love of him.  I think this is really valuable for Paul because he probably had a few lonely evenings where he wondered if any of this was making a difference, if it was worth it.  I’m sure he felt especially isolated when he was travelling, and their encouragement helped him to continue on further.

Often, when people are partners in ministry together, they don’t get to be in the same place of service together, and they’re not able to see each other as often as they want.  But they have a sense of calling to each other, that no matter the space, we’re serving God together, and we are mutually growing each other.

Paul’s Desire for Maturity:  Philippians 1:9-11

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Here, we get to the desires of Paul’s heart for this group.

He first prays and desires that their love will grow.  He desires not that their love will only grow for each other and for him, but also that they’ll grow in their love of God.  Through growing in their love for God, they will find knowledge and discernment.  Obviously, we know that the love for each other is already there and it is already thriving.  But now, he wants them to grow more in their knowledge of God and who God is.  By growing in the knowledge of who God is and what God wants for their lives, they will be able to better discern what the will of God is.  Discernment is a process by which a believer or a group of believers figures out how they feel and where they stand on issues.  For example, this last election.  I don’t know which way you voted, but I’ll tell you how I figured out how to vote.  I looked at the candidates, and I looked at what they said they believed.  I looked at what they stood for, and I looked at what God values.  I voted accordingly to my mindset on all of the evidence.

In the early days of the church, they were trying to figure out what they thought and believed.  They didn’t have a moral code to abide by, and they had to figure out what christian values were.  Christian lifestyles were so new, and they did not have the clear definitions that we hold so tightly to today.  So these believers had to figure it out.  Now, remember, they didn’t have written gospels, they just had each other and their relationship with God to depend on.  All of the discernment was for the purpose of appearing blameless before God.

Discernment and growing in character and knowledge of God leads to maturity, and that was what Paul wanted for their faith.  He wanted them to grow in Christ and he wanted them to produce the fruits of righteousness.  No doubt, he was having the story of Jesus teaching about the vine and fruit in his mind as he was writing this.  He no doubt remembered that Jesus told us we can recognize him through the fruit produced.  Believers should have the good fruit being produced that brings others to knowing Christ, and not chasing them away from the things of God.  If we live our lives producing fruit that is pleasing to God and enticing to others to seek God, then at the very last day, we will be declared righteous before God.  On that final day, praises will ring out for God’s faithfulness and for the gifts of love we experience through each other!


For that reason, I am glad that we are partners in ministry together!  For that reason I am glad you are a reader, and I am able to share with you the conclusions of my heart from scripture.  It is my prayer in this life/ministry that we live together, we can grow together and we can produce fruit together.  Fruit of joy and peace and love, not discord.  With God’s help, may I be that for you!

Peace and Love,

-mb





Speak Truth

27 12 2016

Special Note:  The following Lauren Daigle song found here is somewhat of an inspiration for this post.  It has been running in repeat mode in my head for a few days.  Although the subject of this post is not spiritual in nature, the inspiration that it comes from indeed has spiritual roots.  I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that, if I am to share the words of my heart today.

We have makeup to cover blemishes.  Instead of initiating a conversation while we wait at the pharmacy, we hide behind our phones.  We put earbuds in our ears while we walk at the gym.  We’d rather sit alone at a table during the lunch rush and eat our lunch in solitude than to sit with another lonely person.  We attack behind the glimmer of our screens of our laptop, and we automatically have issues that make us put up walls that others have to destroy to get to know us.  We grit our teeth where we should be bold, and we water down our thoughts and feelings, so as to not reveal too much.

Sound familiar?

If you’re anything like me, yeah it does.  Honestly, so much of our culture depends on us not being fully ourselves and who we were made to be.  So much of our society hinges on us being mediocre reflections of who we really are.  So much of our society demands that we be polite where we should be angry, passive where we should be involved.

And so many times, we are shamed for our feelings, regardless of what we feel and how we feel.  I remember as a child, my feelings were hurt, and my grandma said “Hush now, Mary Beth, when you cry, your face swells up and you look ugly.  We don’t want that, do we?”  When something upset me, instead of dealing with the emotions, it is more acceptable for me to retreat and hide, than it is to really understand what I’m feeling.

And unfortunately, it is more socially acceptable to be apathetic than it is to be truly honest with what we feel, how we feel and what we think.  When we do take that risk and be honest, if it is not what the other person wants to hear, they’re mad and more often than not, they write you out of their lives, because doing so is easier than actually trying to take to heart what you say.

Are we so lazy that when truth is given to us, we turn and walk away?  Especially when that truth demands that we do something that is hard?  Are we so selfish that we don’t consider the risk that the truth-tellers have to say to us?  Are we so consumed by our own feelings that we devalue others’ feelings?

Truth is sometimes harsh.  I understand that it is often not what people want to hear, but the way I see it is that truth is something that needs to be said, regardless of response.  And when we speak truth to each other, I think we awaken inside each other the awareness of the pitfalls of humanity.  But when we are truthful and we say “Hey, I care more about your personal growth than how you think of me” through the sharing of our truth, we truly show each other LOVE.  We enlighten them and awaken them to being a better person than they are.  Unfortunately, people often are content to stay where they are, and unfortunately, they are able to more easily discount a friendship that is deep than heeding the truth to change.

The reality is, none of us are perfect.  We are more than willing do admit that.  But rarely, if ever, are we willing to do the hard work that is required to become a better person.  We all want to grow, but we are unwilling to do the painful work of growing.  

Growth requires truth.  It requires ourselves and others to be brutally honest with us.  And it requires that we change our way of thinking.  A simple thing such as changing our way of thinking, that’s a very hard thing to do.  But it is possible, if we are brave.  It is possible if we are transparent.  ANd it is possible if we destroy the walls that society tells us we need to put up.  But, we gotta be willing to work at it.

And if we work at it, and we consistently re-train our minds, we just might find that we are capable of being a more loving person.  We are capable of more love, and more grace than we ever thought.  We are more capable of greater things than we are at this present time.

But it all starts with honesty and embracing that honesty, and desiring the best for all.

 

And that’s just really hard.





Fruits of the Spirit: Joy

2 06 2016

Author’s Note:  This is the third installment in the Fruits of the Spirit Series.  You can find the Introduction here and the first entry on love here.  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

The second topic or characteristic of the fruits of the spirit is joy.  Joy doesn’t always mean being happy.  In fact, joy as represented biblically could be defined as “Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness.”  So joy is a source of happiness, but it is not happiness itself.  Instead of happiness, a good synonym for joy would be contentment, not happiness.  Happiness wavers, but joy doesn’t.  It’s something deeper.

For that reason, I turned to scripture and noticed several different things.  I first noticed the things that can destroy our contentment,  reasons to be content and how to be content.

Destroyers of Contentment:

  1. Insecure People. It’s so easy to allow people to have the power to destroy our contentment.  Living life with other people is just plain hard sometimes.  People don’t always have the same goals and the same aspirations as I do.  People don’t always agree with me.  People are not always so easily able to swallow their pride and move on with life.  Insecurity is an ill that plagues many people.  Insecure people put their faith and sense of identity in other people.  Unfortunately, other people are not a secure place.  As one songwriter put it once “Our hells and our heavens are a few inches apart.”  The true place of our security has to lie in the secure things.  You don’t tie a boat to a stick in the sand, where the waves reach the stick.  You tie a boat to something that can be anchored down, that cannot move.  Something that is secure.  People are like those sticks along the shoreline.  Some small bit of turbulence or pain comes, and it’s very hard to hold on to the stick.  In fact, the people we often put our security in, have their own stuff to deal with, and they can’t be the anchors for us.  We have to place our trust and our security in what God says about us, and in the love of God.  It is steady.  It doesn’t matter what is going on, but God’s love still stands, his faithfulness is an anchor upon my heart and will not be moved.  But people?  They can be moved all of the time.  In fact, they can get insecure, jealous and selfish too.  They can lash out on us, or themselves, simply because of their insecurity.  You and I cannot afford to be tossed about on the waves.  James 1:2-7 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”  The believers of God, they need to be secure in God.  They can’t waste their lives and their time by being unsteady and insecure.  We must be sure.
  2. People who are intentional about creating conflict. Sometimes, we don’t make the wisest choices with who we spend our time with.  Sometimes, we surround ourselves with people who just seem to have a knack for causing all of this stress and drama.  Honestly, I’m not sure why we do so!  I guess it’s to keep us from being bored or something.  Whatever the reason, we keep them around, and we often add fuel to the fire.  I’ve tried to think and contemplate why people enjoy this drama, and I looked in First Timothy 6:5-7 and found this:  “and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  As I thought and studied on this word from the Bible, I realized that perhaps the financial gain concept doesn’t just apply to money alone.  I think it applies also to the concept of whatever we think will happen as a result of becoming closer to God.  See, in this time period, those who had money were said to be closer to God than the poor. Of course, Jesus came along and kinda destroyed that thought, as seeing that he was homeless and all.  But anyways, the people who think that whatever they’re doing gets them closer to God, are the ones that cause “righteous friction” that is constant and never-ending.  For example, there are people that I do not agree with.  When I was actively trying to keep these people in my life, it was difficult to maintain the peace and contentment between us, because it’s hard to remember that we don’t do anything to reserve our space in heaven, and we can’t argue our way to the pearly gates.  Because in the end, we are all in the same state, barren as we came, and barren we will leave.  Don’t let yourself get wrapped into the illusion that you can gain entrance just by being right or “righting” someone who I think is wrong.  Usually, when I think I’m wrong, I push the issue until my point is made.  That is where I am in the wrong.  I’m to pursue peace and pursue contentment with things as they are.  If I do not, then it robs me of my contentment.

Reasons to be Content:

  1. The body of Christ depends on it. There are numerous joys that can occur when we are united with a body of believers.  There are so many benefits from  being in accord with believers.  I cannot stress enough, the value of belonging and associating with believers.  However, one of the temptations of being united with believers is that we often find that it is very easy to be discontent with one another.  The reason for this is that it is easy for us to not remember that we are all human, and we can’t always all exceed expectations.  Try as we might, our best will never be good enough.  Even though we are imperfect, we are still to look past the imperfections and focus on the joys.  It is easy to find discontentment.  In fact, Philippians 2:1-2 says:  “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”  To me, that is instructing believers that if we want to enjoy the benefits of the body of Christ, then we must also be in one accord, without divisions that are so easily to pop up when there is discontentment.
  2. Because God has delivered us and he delivers us. Psalms are full of this theme.  God delivers us.  It’s not just from war, or conflicts, although those are important.  Actually, we probably experience a lot of deliverance from this, more than we realize.  But what we often do not realize, is that we can be delivered from harmful situations.  And we can find deliverance from bad things.  We can find protection.  David echoes this understanding in Psalm 43, when he says:

 Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

David’s understanding of this and his reflection of his understanding is that we have a place to go, a refuge to enter into, someone who is actively on our side and is working things out for us, to help us, and to deliver us from this life and into the next.  Despite how bad things get, despite how hard they may get, we have salvation, and we have ultimately, the assurance of eternity with God.  And that, it should help us to last beyond the present state of being.  More often than not, we forget that we will be delivered, and we focus on the bad parts of life, on the apparent futility of it all, such as David did in verse 2 and 3.  But after that moment of self-pity, he ends with the image of being lifted high on the holy mountain, at the alter of God, where his home is made, where he will find peace.  It’s hard to remember that.  It’s hard for us to remember to focus on the fact that in the end, when it’s all over and done, the struggle we experience now is just a momentary bruise.  That’s it.  It’s not a broken bone, it’s a bruise.  Here today, and gone tomorrow, because that’s the way that this world operates.  If we could just focus on that, if we could only focus on the fact that this is all just temporary, our problems would seem not so large anymore.

Conclusions:  How to Be Content

Joy is marked by contentment, in which the soul is at peace with the world and with the people that you live with.  Joy is something that is hard to obtain, and I, myself, have to continuously fight with myself to keep the joy there.  It’s not about happiness, because happiness is an emotion, which is as unstable as a hill on a fault line.  Instead, joy is a state of being, a decision that I’ve made.  We have to decide to be joyful and content in God.  No one else will make this decision for us.  We have to make it for ourselves.  And it’s not so easy sometimes.  But it is totally worth it.

So now that we see all of the benefits of contentment…how do we become content?

It’s both quite simple and very complicated.

We gotta grow.  We gotta be intentional about growing closer and closer to the one that made us, and the one that sustains us.  The more and more that we grow, the more and more that we’ll let go of the things and people that don’t help us be content, and the more we will chase after and find the things and people that will help us to be joyful.  I cannot express enough, how we must continually pursue the things that help us to be joyful, regardless of our circumstances.

Not a new conclusion, not a new message, and not a new object for us to do.





1. Fruit of Spirit Series: Love

23 04 2016

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

Topic #1 of the Fruits of the Spirit deals with love.  Honestly, I feel like the word Love is used in so many different contexts.  I’m not going to make a comment on the over-use of the word love, but I will try to clearly be specific on the context that I am talking about.  The kind of love that I am talking about today is love that we share between and for people, not the kind of love we have for a cheeseburger, or video games.  But the kind of love that we have for others that we share our lives with, and that we run into each day.

One of the themes in scripture that I have studied the most in discipleship training deals with how the disciple of Jesus is identified through.  I notice several things from scripture and I’d like to share some characteristics of that love:

Characteristics of the Love of God

  1.  God demonstrated love first.   

1 John 4:9-10 says:  “This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  God loved us first.  Before anything else, before anyone else, he loved us first.  That’s it.  There’s no ifs ands or buts about it.  The thing is, we’ve done nothing to merit or earn God’s love.  At all.  Period.  We have nothing to brag about, as being special or unique, and so God loves us.  He loves us because of who he is.  It’s not in his nature to hate anyone, because he is all love.

2.  God’s love does not change based on my emotions. 

This is a theme throughout scripture.  Before we even talk about Jesus and who Jesus is and the person of Jesus, we have to look at the overarching themes and stories of love.

One of my favorite stories in all of scripture is the story found in Hosea.  If you want to look at a love story, look at Hosea.  It’s a little overwhelming, particularly when you examine it in the light of God’s love for us, which it, from my understanding, is a very accurate reflection of God’s love for us, and was intended to be an allegory.  Very shortly and briefly, the story of Hosea is this:  Hosea is called to be a prophet, and he is instructed, by God, to marry a prostitute.  He is obedient and marries Hagar.  They’ve been together for a bit, and she runs back to her old life, and becomes pregnant.  She does that several times, and each time, Hosea goes back and takes her back.

If I am honest, my commitment to God isn’t as steady as it could be.  But instead, it rocks and rolls similarly to the ocean tides.  Sometimes, it’s really rocky and windy due to a storm, and other times, it’s just cycling over and over again.  But you know what?  God’s commitment to me does not waver, it does not increase or decrease based on my response to God’s love.  It’s not about how committed I am to God, because really, I don’t have a choice.  God has already committed himself to me, and he shows this in Hosea 2:19:  “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.”

This is regardless of my response.  Regardless of when I run or how I run.  It’s regardless of how I feel.  From that, I have determined that my love for others, it must be regardless of how I feel.  It must be regardless of whether my feelings are hurt or not, it must be regardless of anything.  My ultimate goal has to be to love people regardless of their response.  Sometimes, people can’t accept love, because of all of the ways they’ve been hurt in the past or how they preconceive that love is….but the thing is, I must love on God’s definition.  And God’s definition is not like humanly definition.  God’s definition is already about commitment, regardless of what I do.  I’ve done nothing to deserve or earn it, but it is my joy to enjoy it, as a free gift.  And that should also be our task, to show others that same type of love, regardless of who they are, their response or what they have done to us.

 

Therefore…..

  1.  If God is love, then we are to love others too.

It’s easier to hate people.  It honestly is.  It’s easy for me to write someone off instead of getting to know them.  It’s easier for me to arbitrarily just decide that I don’t like someone or that I don’t want to share my life with someone, simply because of some random thing that I have decided makes a person unworthy of love.  If I am honest, humanly honest, I have written off people in the past, because I decided that one aspect of them didn’t appeal to me.  I decided that they were not good enough or something.  Thankfully, I have learned the errors of my ways, and am maturing enough to finally realize that everyone has value and is worthy of being loved.  But it takes something for you to be able to recognize that it’s not up to us to decide who gets to be loved.  It’s not up to us to decide who is worthy, because all people are loved.  And therefore, all people are worthy of being loved.  Here’s some convicting words:  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  -1 John 4:7-8.

That thought always sobers me.  When we refuse to love someone, or we decide that someone is not worthy of being loved, we are not of God, and we are not a believer.  That means, in previous moments where I have decided that I don’t want to love others, it means that I haven’t been of God.  And anytime that I used my own reasons to justify why I am not going to love others, then I am not being who I am supposed to be, and I am not loving like I am supposed to.  I am not being obedient like I am supposed to be, and I am not showing love like I am commanded to.

The fact is, the failure to love marks us as nothing but ignorant of the commandments and the person of God.  When I allow politics, my personal beliefs, preferences, or what have you, to discolor my viewpoint of a person, or to prevent me from loving a person, or prevent me from making a person feel like they are loved, then I am in the wrong.  I am in the entire wrong mind frame, and I am in the wrong.

It’s hard to accept that.  It’s hard to be honest with myself and it’s hard for me to call myself out on my wrongness, particularly when I think that I have a good enough of an excuse to justify my hatred or dis-love of others.  I think the reason that the writer of 1 John was so severe, was because he recognizes the weight of love, and the impact and power of love.  See, God endured Calvary for the weight of love.  And so, we should also reflect that weight.  We should also be mindful of the saving power of love, because it is love that allowed us to be redeemed and ransomed.

2.  God’s love makes us sincere in love.

It’s easy to say that we love someone, but it’s much harder to actually do it.  It’s easy to do when the people we love, love us back.  But when they don’t meet our “standards?”  When they don’t meet our expectations?  But what if they hurt us?  What if they upset us?  What if they do something wrong?

The problem with that assumption, is that we are assuming that love has something to do with us and our emotional state of being.  But that is a lie.  See, love should be shown regardless of what we feel or our personal state of being.

How can you do that?  Honestly, it’s very difficult.  But that’s part of sanctification (the process of growing closer with God), because the more that I am close to God, the more that I can and am able to become more like God.  And the more I become like God, the more that I can love people like God does.  Scripture says:  “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” -1 Peter 1:22

We can only love, like God does, when we have been growing, and when we know a thing or two about God’s love.  Then, we can obey the truth, and have sincere love for others.  Sincerity is something that is rare in our world today, because it’s hard to take people at anything other than face value, or to imagine that they don’t have ulterior motives.  The people who follow God and have a relationship with God, should love sincerely, without reserve.  When we fail to do so, then we don’t accurately reflect the love of God as it truly is and reflect the experience of God’s love for us.


But, the question remains:  What is sincere love?

This is a very stereotypical answer, but let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13.  “If I speak in the tongues  of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

To answer that, very quickly, I want to pull out three more additional points about love:

  • If I am spiritual at all, but I do not love, then my works are worth nothing, and I am not reflecting the grace and love that has ransomed me.
  • Love is a very tall order. It moves beyond my own mere human definition, and into something else, something motivated by more than just selfish desires.
  • As I grow, my love will mature and change. And if it doesn’t, then I don’t know love at all.

 

Conclusions

The first thing that I’ve realized through studying these passages, is that I have a lot of ways to grow in love.  But, thank God, how I have grown!  It’s always enlightening and encouraging to see where you have grown and matured!  It’s always a burst of gratitude when I see where God has moved and changed me, how he has changed me.

And if love of God changes me and allows me to mature, how also, could my love for others help to grow others?  If love from God helps me to grow, then it could also help others to grow, and how I could be a beacon of hope and love for others, especially those who need it.

I don’t get to decide and define who God loves, and I don’t get to decide and define who is worthy of my love, and I don’t get to limit love at all.

And the cool thing about love?  “Against such, there is no law.”





Repost from LS: You can do it!!!

17 01 2014

I am so pumped today.  I found out yesterday the results of this test that I hadn’t been taught for in a normal classroom.  No, I taught myself and studied myself, and added a new certification to my degree and can now teach in more areas.  This doesn’t seem like a big deal to many people, but as I was driving to work, I realized a very simple truth:  I can do anything that I decide to do. 

Now this may not be a big thing, but let’s dig deep into my past for a moment, k?  I remember when I was younger, and they found out that I had a hearing impairment.  All of a sudden, sometimes people would find that out about me, and then look at me like I was a poor charity case.  Like they didn’t think I would amount to much.  They would sympathize for me, and tell me that they hoped I made it, and then they’d go on with their lives.  This happened in school.  It happened in the real world.  And sometimes, it even happens on job interviews.  You’ve never heard of a deaf teacher, have you?  Because there are few.  On the flip side of that, I was coached and encouraged by several wonderful support staff at my school, and then continued to be encouraged by them.  It wasn’t until high school that I found people who loved me WITH my hearing loss, not DESPITE that drawback.  Along the way to high school, yes, I definately had a few people that looked at me and loved me with my disability, but they did not become permanent fixtures in my life.  They accepted me into their lives, and began to accommodate for me, which was amazing.  Even then, the other voices rang in the back of my head, and sometimes, they’ve held me back or caused me to be scared.  They fueled my anxiety, and crippled my hope. 

There are two lessons to be learned here:

  1. Your negative words have far more power than all of the positive words in the world.  Look at my life.  Look at how I had anxiety over my senior year in college, because my hearing will hold me back from being a good teacher.  Look at how I’ve had to fight and claw my way to not believing these words.  I’ve been with hearing loss since the age of 5, and I am just now starting to believe that those voices may be wrong at the age of 25.  How powerful!  My negative words, your negative words are far different to shake off.  You truly never do know the impact that negative words have upon each other.  Choose your words carefully.
  2. Those voices….guess what?  They’re wrong.  Believe me.  They don’t know what you’re talking about.  They don’t understand.  If they fathomed the amazing person that you are, they would not disrespect you with their words.  You can truly do anything that you want to.  Do not allow yourself to be boggled down by the naysayers of the world, because I am telling you, plain and simple, that they’re wrong.  They are so wrong.  No one ever could be any more wrong about you.  You can do it.  I believe in you.  But more importantly, you gotta believe that those voices are wrong, that all of those people are wrong, and you have the power within you to do anything that you set your mind on.  You can do it!  You are not chained and held back, shackled by the things of your past, or the situations in your past, you are not held back by what you did yesterday.  You’re not the person you were in the past, you’ve changed and grown and lived.  Therefore, the voices of the past, you cannot listen to anymore.

You can totally do it.  I have faith in you.





Looking Forward

28 12 2013

2013 is coming to a close, my friends.  While you will be ringing in the new year with champagne, Aud Lang Syne, and a late night, I’ll be ringing in the new year asleep in bed, as I have to open at work the next day.  7 am on January 1st.  Kill me now.

All jokes aside, the close of a new year is a time of reflection.  Many times, we look on the last year fondly, take stock of the lessons learned, and move forward into a new year with a load of resolutions that we always intend to keep, but are done trying by the 10th of January.

I have learned a few things this year.  And I actually didn’t expect to end up where I am right now.  I am recently single again, heart is a little broken, but it still beats all the same.  I am recovering a few lost relationships, rekindling some fires, and completely letting go of some others.  I am maintaining those which have always been steady, and growing each day.  Not just saying that I’m growing, I’m truly growing with and without some people.  It’s a painful process.  I honestly never expected that I would be where I am today, but I suppose this just means I have a lot more to look forward to.

When Kayla died, the thing that kept me moving forward was a simple phrase, “Look Forward.”  When my parent’s marraige failed, and ultimately the end of my relationship with my birth mother, “Look forward.”  When I went through a serious time of difficulty with my very best friend in the world, “Look forward.”  When there were health scares and tribulations in my life, the only thing that kept me going was the very simple phrase, “Look forward.”  When my godson was born in difficult times and circumstances, “Look forward.”  And now, with a broken heart, and a cracked ego…”Look forward.”  Life is not a snapshot.

In a sense, it’s sort of like my mind is telling me that no matter how bad the current circumstances are, there’s something better coming.  This moment, right now, is only a small part, a small fraction of your entire life, it’s not the whole picture, it’s just a brief snapshot.  It’s not the whole movie, just a simple poloroid of a moment of the 90 minute flick.

So look forward.  Wherever you are, whatever moment you find yourself in this year…Look forward.  If you’re in a great place, know that there may be troubles in the water up ahead, but good things will come around again.  And if you’re like me, barely hanging on a thread…Look forward.

I truly believe this:  The best is yet to come.  Look forward.