Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions this Year

Most of you know the story of my extended hospital stay about 5 years ago.  If not, you can read the details here: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-digital-disciple-resurrected-literally-and-ready-to-write-again/.  The short version is that I had a respiratory infection that led to being put on a respirator, that led to a heart attack, that led to a coma, that led to 8 weeks learning to walk again.

Through it all, I found myself asking why God spared my life, not once, but three times.  Two other people with the same condition I had died from respiratory failure while I was in the hospital and people die from heart attacks every day.  It is rare for someone to spend thirty minutes in CPR and live to talk about it.  I felt like Isaac, in the Old Testament, might have felt when he got off the altar after nearly being sacrificed by his father Abraham.  I knew that my life no longer belonged to me. From June 13, 2014 on, I have been living on time that has been added after my clock ran out.

This leads to the title of the post. I was listening to a podcast about New Year’s resolutions a while back and it cited a study that found most people abandon their resolutions after about 6 days. If you are reading this post when it goes up, and you made New Year’s resolutions this year, you can stop working out tomorrow and go back to eating Twinkies for breakfast. Or, you can take a different approach.

You see, it isn’t necessary to nearly die like me before making decisions about how you will live. The fact that my life isn’t really mine was driven home to me in a dramatic way. Maybe because that was the only way I would get the message, maybe because that is the only way that I could be moved to share the message with you, and maybe because it would take that kind of dramatic story for you to care what I have to say about life and death. Maybe all three.

The fact is we all wake up and do whatever we do every day because God has granted us another day to live. The real question, then, isn’t, “What resolutions will I make this year and keep for an average of 6 days?” But, “How will I live my life for God and not for me?” That’s a harder question because we’re not talking about private promises you make to yourself, but decisions and commitments that you make with God.

My goal is not to make you (or me) feel guilty, which leads to paralyzed inaction, but to stir convictions that will lead to personal and spiritual growth. Are you ready to live your life today as if you died yesterday? If you are a believer, will you put into practice Paul’s attitude that his life was not his own, but he was revived from spiritual death to spiritual life by God’s grace. (Read Ephesians 2:1-10) This is the same grace that has changed us and now sustains us.

If you want to get beyond New Year’s resolutions, try living like a dead person. What would you do differently if you really believed that each day is a new gift from God that you have the opportunity to use? Don’t just recycle your annual resolutions but spend time in prayer and reflection about how you might live your life differently and the impact that could have on yourself and others. Then, as God shows you the new directions, write them down and refer to them often. I pray that this is the year we will move past resolutions and make lasting commitments that will alter the rest of our lives and the lives of those we care about most.

 

Press On!

David

 

To read this post on The Digital Disciple blog please go to: www.thedigitaldisciple.net.  When you are there, you can sign up to receive the posts by e-mail.

The posts in my Christmas series were:

The Shepherds: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-shepherds/

The Angel: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-angel/

The Glory: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-glory/

The Temple: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-temple/

The Temple

 

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),  and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”  Luke 2:22-24 (NIV)

 

We talked last week about times in the Old Testament where God appeared in glory: at the Tabernacle the Israelites carried in the wilderness and at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.  (If you would like to read last week’s post, here is the link: (http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-glory/.)  The same glory surrounded the shepherds the night Jesus was born and caused fear and awe in the shepherds who saw it.

 

What would you expect if you knew this God of glory was coming back to earth, this time as a person?  You would expect something out of a super hero movie, right?  I would.  I’d be looking for someone like Dwayne Johnson, except with hair and a beard.  He would be wearing a royal robe, gold crown, and would walk right in to the temple like he owned he place.  Which would be appropriate, because God did own the place.  He would clean house by throwing out all the corrupt religious leaders and then he would grab the Roman occupiers by the neck, march them to the Judean border, and tell them never to come back.  All the to roaring approval of the crowd of people who had gathered to watch.  But, that’s not what happened.  And, I think, that is why Jesus’ message has been so hard to accept.  No one found Jesus to be what they had expected.

 

Some Jews of Jesus’ time expected the Messiah to be a king like David.  He would be a powerful political leader who would rule the nation of Israel and free the Jewish people from the Roman occupiers.  Others expected a religious show.  Still others expected someone who followed perfectly the Jewish law as it had been interpreted over the thousand years before Jesus was born.  Which is why they couldn’t understand why Jesus would touch people with leprosy, not perform ceremonial washings before he ate and stuff like that.

 

When God became human and returned to earth, he didn’t act the way people expected.  Maybe because he knows us too well.  If Jesus came as a powerful political leader, we would believe faith in God involves political power.  If he had put on a traveling miracle show, we would we would be drawn to flashy signs and wonders and not to simple faith.  And, if he had followed meticulosly the Law as the Jewish religious leaders had interpreted it, we would think the gospel requires religious perfection and not simple obedience.

 

So, what approach did God take and what can we learn from it?  He appeared in weakness as a baby.  When God entered the Temple this time it was not in glory, Mary and Joseph carried him in.  We learned faith includes weakness and recognizing we can’t do it ourselves.  Jesus performed miracles that made broken people whole.  We learn the gospel includes healing and restoration.  Jesus showed us that the way to God’s heart is through obedience, prayer, and humble service.  We learned God is not looking for perfection, he is looking for people who follow the way Jesus taught and modeled for us.

 

Let me close the year with a blessing.  In 2019, may you witness God’s glory in your life and grow in your relationship with Jesus.

 

Press On!

David

 

To read this post on The Digital Disciple blog please go to: www.thedigitaldisciple.net.  When you are there, you can sign up to receive the posts by e-mail.  The other posts in this series are:

The Shepherds: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-shepherds/

The Angel: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-angel/

The Glory: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-glory/

 

The Glory

 

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  Luke 2:8-14 (NLT)

The last two posts on this passage talked about the two obvious subjects, the shepherds who were tending their flocks and the angel whose appearance terrified them.  It was only a few years ago I came upon what may be the most important subject, translated here as “the Lord’s glory.”  To understand the significance of this glory that surrounded the shepherds, let’s look back at some events in the Old Testament.

You all remember when Moses led the Israelites in their escape from Egypt?  Sure, you’ve seen the movie version with Charlton Heston, right?  They crossed the Red Sea and camped at the base of Mount Sinai.  The writer of Exodus tells us, “Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud.  To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire.” Exodus 24:15-18 (NLT).  This is the first time we hear about God’s glory or “shekinah.”

Later, the Israelites built the Tabernacle, as God had instructed Moses, to be the place where they would offer their sacrifices to God and where God would talk to Moses face-to-face.  When they dedicated the Tabernacle, “the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” Exodus 40:34-35 (NLT)

Around 500 years later, a new generation of Israelites witnessed God’s glory when Solomon dedicated the Temple, “When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord, the priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of the Lord.” 1 Kings 8:10-11 (NLT)

On these three occasions, when God showed up, it was evidenced by his shekinah glory.

What we see in the years following the dedication of the temple is a steady decline in the Israelite’s devotion to God.  Finally, about 400 years after it was dedicated, the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Israelites were led out of Jerusalem into captivity in Babylon.  The temple was rebuilt under Zerubbabel, but God did not show up in glory.  King Herod also built a temple for the Jews.  The main building of Herod’s temple was completed around the time Jesus was born.  But, again, when the temple was opened, God didn’t show up in glory.

So, what was God waiting for?  That’s what the Israelites wanted to know.  They had not heard from God for 400 years.  Solomon’s temple was destroyed, the Ark of the Covenant was gone, the prophets were silent. They had lost hope.

But then it happened.  God showed up.  This time it was not in the desert around a tabernacle built by Moses or in Jerusalem at a magnificent temple built by Solomon.  God met a group of shepherds in a field outside a place that, a thousand years before, had been King David’s home town.  The third subject in this passage I had missed for all those years was God himself.  God was there when the angel announced that God was coming back to earth as a baby in a manger.  And, as before, God’s appearing was accompanied by his glory.  The glory, that covered Mt. Sinai, descended on the tabernacle, and filled the temple, had come to Bethlehem.

May you experience God’s glorious presence this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

David

 

To read this post on The Digital Disciple blog please go to: www.thedigitaldisciple.net.  When you are there, you can sign up to receive the posts by e-mail.  The other posts in this series are:

The Shepherds: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-shepherds/)

The Angel: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-angel/

The Angel

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  Luke 2:8-14 (NLT)

We talked last week about the shepherds.  (http://thedigitaldisciple.net/the-shepherds/)  This week let’s about the angel.

You have seen paintings of the angel telling the shepherds the good news of Jesus’ birth.  In ones I have seen, the angel looks like a guy in a bath robe.  Based on their reaction, I doubt the shepherds were greeted by a guy in a bath robe.  According to Luke, the shepherds were “terrified” by the angel.  Now, that says something because these guys had seen a lot.  They lived in the wilderness and fought off wild animals to protect their sheep.  They had to be strong, self-reliant, and brave to do what they did every day.  Yet, this experience on the hills near Bethlehem left them terrified.  What did they see?

The shepherds saw a real angel, not some artist’s interpretation of an angel.  So, what does a real angel look like?  The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of information about angels.  We are told that angels are spiritual beings who, like people, were created by God.  Angels are superior to humans in strength and intelligence.  In the Bible, when people have seen angels, they usually appear in human form.  There are times, though, their appearance results in awe or fear.  Like when the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb saw the angel who rolled away the stone (Matthew 28:2-4) or here, when an angel appeared to the shepherds.  This angel probably looked like a warrior in the “armies of heaven.”  Whatever he looked like, his appearance captured the shepherds’ undivided attention.  God sent an awesome and unforgettable messenger to deliver an awesome and unforgettable message.

This leads to a point I didn’t make about the shepherds last week.  The shepherds weren’t just delivery boys.  The shepherds were called as prophets and given a message from God along with a sign from God to verify its truth.  The message is that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. The sign?  “You will find the baby wrapped snuggly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

The story of Jesus’ birth is full of rich theology and reflects a pattern we see first in the Old Testament, with an important exception.  The main characters are not Judges, Kings, Priests and other powerful and important people.  Joseph was a carpenter.  Mary was a young woman who, people believed, was pregnant before she was married.  The shepherds were a motley crew who were unwelcome in polite company.

In this dramatic scene that begins Jesus’ time on earth, God sent heaven’s most awesome messengers to earth’s most humble characters.  Don’t miss what this means for you.  God wants us to see that we don’t need a special title or position to be part of his redemption story.  He has written us into the story just as we are.  He gives us the angel’s message and invites us to go with the shepherds to Bethlehem to worship the child in the manger.  Go now and welcome him.

Press On!

David

 

To read this post on The Digital Disciple blog please go to: www.thedigitaldisciple.net.  When you are there, you can sign up to receive the posts by e-mail.

 

The Shepherds

 

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  Luke 2:8-14 (NLT)

Shepherds were  common people.  They were social outcasts doing work-a-day jobs.  Probably they were shepherds because they were following in their family’s footsteps and there was no other option for them.  If you asked them whether they were important to anyone besides their family and their sheep, they would laugh.   I’m sure they smelled funny and they probably talked funny.   I grew up in a place where the folks were mainly “shepherds.”  Good, hard working people that city folks couldn’t live without but would ignore if they could and would laugh about if they couldn’t.

Shepherds lived a pretty solitary life in the fields with their sheep.  They would come together at night to camp, pen their sheep with other flocks and join the other shepherds for company and safety.  When this scene begins, they were sitting around the camp fire trading stories and finishing their dinner.  Soon they would be kicking out the coals and going to bed.  What happened next would change the shepherds’ lives forever and make them the center of conversation when someone asked the ice breaker, “What the wildest thing you have ever seen while out with your sheep?”

Judging by the shepherds’ response, the angel’s appearance was dramatic.   The message the angel delivered was even more dramatic.  The Jewish people had been waiting hundreds of years for God’s Messiah.  And who did God choose to first hear the message that the Messiah had come?  The shepherds.  Why the shepherds?   I’m sure they knew about God’s promised Messiah.  If they had time to go to their local synagogue when they were in town, they may have heard the words of Isaiah announcing the coming of the one who would be called Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God and Everlasting Father.  But, when the shepherds thought about the Messiah’s coming, they probably believed he would  go to Jerusalem first.  He would go straight to the temple so he could introduce himself to the religious leaders and important people and make plans for the restoration of the nation of Israel.  The shepherds would be among the last to find out the Messiah had come.

The shepherds didn’t know that, this time around, it was going to be different.  This time around, God was going directly to the people.  The ordinary folks were the first to receive a most extraordinary message.    By telling the shepherds first, God made it clear that the message of the Messiah’s coming is for the common folks; the people who are not highly regarded, the left out and the laughed at.  The message of Christmas is for people like me, and you.

As you go through the week, finishing up your shopping, cleaning the house, and wrapping gifts, take some time to think about the message, “The Messiah, the Savior, has been born.”  And, remember, the angel’s message of good news is also to you.

Press On!

David

To read this post on The Digital Disciple blog please go to: www.thedigitaldisciple.net.  When you are there, you can sign up to receive the posts by e-mail.

But

 

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

 

Years ago, I heard some simple advice for interpreting the Bible, “When a passage begins with ‘therefore,’ you should ask what it’s there for.”  The point is, the word “therefore” tells you

the writer is completing a discussion and is about to give you the summary.  While the summary is important, you can’t appreciate it without first reading the discussion.  You should apply the same approach when a passage begins with the word “but,” like today’s verse.  The word is a signal you are about to get a negative “bookend” to a point the writer has just made.  You can’t understand and apply what follows the “but” without first understanding what comes before it.

 

Let’s test that principle of interpretation on today’s verse.  This verse is at the end of Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia.  They had fallen back into the practice of legalism, or the belief that their salvation was based on how well the followed the Old Testament laws.  Paul has spent most of his letter telling them why they don’t need to live that way and has begun his summary.  He concludes the letter by reminding the believers that they are free from the law and its condemnation.  And then Paul reminds them that they are not free to do whatever they like even though the law no longer condemns them.

 

If you read Paul’s entire discussion, you will get today’s verse and the “but” in context:

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.  The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.  But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.  Galatians 5:16-26 (NLT)

 

You may have noticed that the fancy calligraphy version of this verse on coffee mugs and inspirational posters leaves off the word “but.”  As a result, if you don’t know there is an important discussion leading up to Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit, you are left to believe Paul’s message is all love and sunshine: we become believers, our life is transformed, and we walk about exuding love, joy, peace, patience, etc.  That is great sound-bite theology.  It is not Paul’s message and it is not what we experience in real life.

 

Our experience, and Paul’s message leading up to “but,” is that the acts of the flesh are at war with the fruit of the Spirit, for example, hate is at war with the Spiritual fruit of love and fits of rage are competing with the Spiritual fruit of peace.  He doesn’t set up a one-to-one correspondence, but you see the tension he is describing.  When you read only the list of the fruits of the Spirit, you feel guilty because your life isn’t perfect you don’t exhibit all the fruits of the Spirit all the time.  When you read the part that comes before the “but,” you see that Paul wasn’t writing about living a perfect life.  Instead, he is describing the life you live every day.  When we are faithful and allow God to work through us, we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.  When we fall back into our old ways, we exhibit the works of the flesh.  This tension is always with us.  The Galatians were saying it was OK to fall back into their old ways because God’s grace would save them in spite of what they did.  Paul’s response to this point was clear and sobering, “Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21 (NLT))  Verse 21 will never make it on a mug or lovely poster.  But it is essential to understanding Paul’s message.

 

I am encouraged when I read today’s verse with the “but” in it because it reminds me that all the things I do when left to my own devices are balanced by the things that God will do through me if I let him.  The battle between good and evil believers fight all the time tells s that God is at work in our lives changing us into the people he wants me to be.

 

I am finishing the year and my list of Bible verses.  Would you like to suggest a verse or passage for a post in the new year?  Please leave a comment.

 

 

Press On!

David

 

To read this post on The Digital Disciple blog please go to: www.thedigitaldisciple.net.  When you are there, you can sign up to receive the posts by e-mail.

 

Love

 

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  1 John 4:7-8 (NLT)

 

As someone who grew up in the 60’s, my first response when I read this verse is to have a “Kumbaya” moment where we all sing around a camp fire and strum a guitar.  I don’t think John was humming Kumbaya when he wrote this letter.  When John wrote his letter, the church was about 60 years old.  From its start in Jerusalem with Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost, the message of salvation from sin made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection had spread throughout the Mediterranean rim.  But it was not an idyllic society.  The church was made up of people from different nations, languages, cultures, faith, and race.

 

I don’t think John would have admonished his readers to “continue to love one another” if they were doing it already.  That’s the Kumbaya interpretation of the passage.  Instead, John was seeing outside influences break down the gospel message that he and the other disciples had given their lives to spread.  The letter covers several important doctrinal issues woven around a framework of love.  His conclusion is this, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.” 1 John 4:20-21 (NLT).

 

The believers to whom John was writing were not very different from believers today.  There were divisions in the church over a new teaching called Gnosticism.  There were divisions over race, the religion a person held before becoming a believer, social status, and gender.  If John were here today reading the news or social media, he would likely say things had not changed much.

 

But, as I read John’s letter and reflect on the history of the early church, there is something that seems different and it concerns me.  The believers in John’s time seemed to do a better job of applying the simple command to love one another when they disagreed with each other.  For example, the first church dispute recorded in the Book of Acts was an allegation that the Greek widows were not being treated fairly when food was distributed among the believers.  They were accusing the church leaders of race discrimination.  The Apostles didn’t get defensive, issue a press release denying the allegations or kick the Greeks out of the church.  They told the believers to do what they thought would make it right.  The people selected a group of men to oversee the distribution of food to the widows, all the men were Greek.  As far as we know, no one complained of bias and the widows were fed.

 

Later, when there was a dispute over whether Gentiles could become followers of Jesus, the Apostles talked to people on both sides of the dispute, concluded that Gentiles could become followers of Jesus, and sent a group of Jewish believers to deliver the message.

 

This new movement cut across many traditional barriers and caused friction and outright disagreement between the followers.  The believers didn’t respond with rejection and angry memes.  They talked to each other.  They prayed. They studied the scriptures.  They talked some more.  They reached a decision and went on.

 

My heart breaks when I see how believers are responding to each other today.  We have allowed political affiliation, race, gender, wealth and social status to become points of separation rather than opportunities to work through hard issues for the good of Church and the believers.  If John were here today, he would resend his letter to us.  But he would first underline all the sections about loving each other.

 

This week, you will encounter someone with a different point of view on a subject that is vitally important to you.  Before reacting, take time to talk, pray, study the scriptures and think about your response.  Can you use this as an opportunity to demonstrate the love you have received from God and bring healing and not division?

 

Press On!

David

 

To read this post on The Digital Disciple blog please go to: www.thedigitaldisciple.net.  When you are there, you can sign up to receive the posts by e-mail.

Fruit

 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  James 1:22 (NIV)

 

In the gospels, we get a few descriptions of the Jesus’ relationship with his family.  His mother, Mary, knew from the beginning that Jesus would be different.  The angel Gabriel told her Jesus was the son of God.  She knew Jesus was conceived while she was still a virgin.  God had sent people from a foreign country to welcome Jesus when he was a child. God led Joseph to protect Jesus by taking him to Egypt when Herod the Great wanted to kill him.  Mary relied on Jesus to resolve family problems, like when the wedding party ran out of wine at the wedding in Cana.  She didn’t know that Jesus would resolve the problem by turning water into wine, but she knew Jesus was her oldest son and he would do something.  (John 2:1-11)

 

We don’t know what Jesus younger brothers and sisters thought about him.  In talking about a time at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John says his brothers didn’t believe in him. (John 7:3).    I suppose that’s not so hard to understand, they had spent their lives thinking of Jesus as their big brother and it was hard to think of him in any other way.  We know that Jesus’ brother James, the person who wrote this letter, did become a believer at some point.   James must have been hanging out in the crowd when Jesus was teaching – or he later talked to someone who took pretty good notes – because we find in James’ letter a good summary of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  Take a minute and read James Chapter 1 to put this verse into context (www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=NIV).

 

In this section of his letter, it seems James is thinking about Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15).  James reminds people to “humbly accept the word of God that has been planted in their hearts, which has the power to save their souls.” (James 1:21) Then, he reminds them they need to go beyond just hearing the word.  They also must do what it says.  Back to the parable of the sower.  All of the people in the parable heard the word, which is represented by the seed falling on the ground.  But only a few people provided the good soil where the seed could grow, which would have been demonstrated when they did what it said.

 

It is important to know the “listeners” James is addressing in his letter were church folks.  They were meeting on the first day of the week to worship and break bread together.  They were good people doing all the right things.

 

When I read the letter, I like to think, “I’m glad I’m not part of that group.  James isn’t talking to me.”  Then, I think about what I do in response to my faith.  I go to church.  That’s listening.  I have a Christian radio station on in the car.  That’s listening.  I listen to podcasts of great Bible teachers.  OK, that’s obviously listening.  I lead a Bible study once a week.  That’s listening and a little talking.  It turns out I spend a lot of time letting God throw seeds on me.  So, how can I tell when the seed has begun to grow?  James tell us that too.  He gives three examples of what it will look like when the seed begins to bear fruit, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27 (NLT)).

 

What?  I thought living out my faith would be more – I don’t know – dramatic than that.  If I want to be a real believer, shouldn’t I be slaying dragons and fighting giants?  James would say, “OK.  But do that after you have mastered the basics: caring for widows, caring for orphans, and living in the kingdom of God.  When you feel like you have those things down, you can move on to dragons and giants.”

 

I have written a lot lately about living in the kingdom of God.  Here are a few links: thedigitaldisciple.net/the-pop-culture-commentary/, thedigitaldisciple.net/this/, thedigitaldisciple.net/choices/, thedigitaldisciple.net/the-desires-of-your-heart/.

 

How can we apply James’ admonition to care for widows and orphans?  The people James was writing to knew plenty of widows and orphans.  Women in that culture were generally young when they married, and their husbands were older.  It was not unusual for a woman to outlive her husband.  Becoming a widow could be financially devastating if there were no family to help care for her.  Orphans, too, were common.  When a child lost both her parents, there were no social nets in place to help.

 

Most of us probably don’t know many widows and orphans.  But you likely know people who make up the widows and orphans for our culture, they are the singe moms and children with absent parents.  Also, if you get to know organizations like World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse and Back2Back Ministries, they will give you opportunities to care for widows and orphans all over the world.  Your involvement can be simple, like packing a box for Operation Christmas Child or sponsoring a child through World Vision.  It can be more involved, like going on a mission tip or helping a single mom start a business to support herself and her family.

 

This Christmas season is a great time to get started.  Find a place where you can volunteer or donate food and clothing.  Maybe you can mentor kids after school.  Want to give a gift that keeps on giving?  Get the World Vision catalog and buy a goat for a fatherless family in Africa.  When you drop off your box at the food bank, stop and listen, that’s not thunder in the distance, that is a giant falling. When you walk to the mail box to send the check for the child you are sponsoring, watch the horizon for the vanquished dragon flying away.  You’re bearing fruit.

 

Press On!

David

 

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The Pop Culture Commentary

 

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

 

If there were a popular culture commentary for the Bible, the illustration for this verse would be the genre of body snatcher movies.  I haven’t seen enough body snatcher movies to point you to a particular title as the best example.  You probably have never thought there was a need for a pop culture commentary and you don’t want to talk about body snatcher movies this close to Halloween.  But, before you click on to the video of the cat catching a dinosaur, let me explain.

 

Think of the common theme of most body snatcher movies.  People are going along living normal lives and something takes them out and moves into their body.  The person may look the same on the outside, but they act differently.  To make body snatcher movies scary, the “snatchees” usually try to maim or kill other people whose bodies haven’t been snatched.  Therefore, the goal of the unsnatched is 1) avoid being snatched and 2) avoid the snatchers.  The movie’s resolution usually includes mayhem.

 

I imagine the idea of people dying and coming back to life was no less scary to people in Paul’s time than it is to us.  It must have seemed strange to them that Paul would present the idea as a good thing.  And, especially strange that he would claim that is what happened to him and he would like the same thing to happen to everyone.  Paul is suggesting that people seek out the body snatcher and allow themselves to be snatched.

 

The big difference between the world that Paul envisions and the dystopian world of the body snatcher movies is the conduct of the “snatchees.”  Instead of the snatchees trying to maim and kill other people, they begin to act like Jesus.  Now imagine that.  No really, take a minute while you sip your coffee and imagine that.  Imagine a world where your good friend dies and comes back to life.  Now, instead of trying to eat your brain like in the dystopian movies, she loves you unconditionally.  You begin to follow her around to see what other strange things she does.  You catch her caring for sick people and feeding hungry people.  This is really strange because before she was snatched, she was never without hand sanitizer and poor people made her uncomfortable.  She begins to think differently, she talks differently, sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes not.

 

You see, in the world Paul envisions, the body snatcher is God.  When people decide to follow Jesus, they die and come back to life as Jesus.  In the movie version, you would have a utopian society.  All these little Jesuses living in the world: men, women, every race, color and nationality working together to restore the world.  Instead of ending with mayhem, this movie ends in with heaven on earth.  That’s not such a far-fetched idea.  I understand that the word “Christian,” which was first used to describe the believers in Antioch, means “little Christs.”  My guess is that the label came from those outside the church and not from within it.  You can imagine their surprise when their friends started listening to this Paul guy and, the next thing they know, there friends start acting like Jesus.  They warned their other friends, “Don’t hang out with that Paul guy or you will become a little Christ.”  They didn’t mean it as a compliment.

 

As you might imagine, the movie version of the utopian body snatcher world is much better than the real version.  Paul’s goal was that he, and all believers, would die to themselves and be like Jesus.  The problem is, we die figuratively and not literally.  Instead of going away completely and letting Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, take over our bodies, we continue to live in our body and fight for control.  Paul talks about that in other places.  He laments that he is always doing things he doesn’t want to do and he doesn’t do the things he would like to do.  He warns others of the same thing when he tells them to stop living like they used to live and to let God change them into the people God intends them to become.

 

Are you snatched by God?  Don’t fight the changes.  Seek them.  Be sensitive to where God is trying to change how you think, talk, and treat people and, rather than fighting, cooperate.

 

Press On!

David

 

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This

 

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

 

Many of you are familiar with the more common translation of this verse, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”  That translation has been pulled out of context and used to support endeavors ranging from good and righteous to completely absurd.  After all, if I can do all things through him who gives me strength, I should be able to grow a full head of hair and run a four-minute mile.  If you know me, stop laughing.  You get my point.  When Paul wrote these words to the church in Philippi, he was not envisioning that believers were about to become the next generation of super heroes.  But, if you just bought a T-shirt with this verse on it to train for your first marathon, don’t throw it away yet.  Paul’s words are much more encouraging than simply “naming and claiming” you will finish your 26.2 miles in under five hours.

 

There are references in Paul’s letter to the Philippians indicating that he wrote it from prison, probably when he was under house arrest in Rome around 61 AD.  In this section of the letter, he has just thanked the Philippians for the gift they sent to help take care of his needs.  He goes on to make this remarkable statement, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

 

The Philippians would have been familiar what Paul had been through for the five years or so before he wrote this letter.  In case you’re not, I’ll give a quick review.  Around 57 AD, he had finished his final missionary journey and returned to Jerusalem.  While there, Jews from the province of Asia recognized him and accused him of taking gentiles into the Temple.  That caused a huge riot in Jerusalem from which he was “rescued” by a Roman centurion who promptly placed him under arrest.

 

Immediately following his arrest in Jerusalem, a group of men vowed they would not eat until they killed Paul.  The centurion heard of the plot and moved Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea under a heavy guard.  Paul spent over two years in prison in Caesarea while the current governor tried to decide what to do with him.  When a new governor came to Caesarea, he heard Paul’s case and decided to send Paul back to Jerusalem, where Paul would have faced certain death.  Paul asked for his case to be heard by Caesar and the governor sent him off to Rome.  The trip to Rome took over a year because the first ship he and the centurion boarded was caught in a storm and wrecked in Malta.  When he finally made it to Rome, he was placed under house arrest and waited for a trial.  When Paul wrote this letter, he had not been a free man from the time he was arrested in Jerusalem five years earlier.

 

In spite of all that had happened, Paul doesn’t dwell on the hard times.  Instead, he says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  And we ask, “Paul, how did you do it?  How did you find contentment in such difficult circumstances?”

 

Paul’s reply is our verse today. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  Paul knew trouble.  He knew hunger, hardship, suffering, loneliness and betrayal.  But more importantly, Paul knew Jesus.  He didn’t just read about Jesus, think about Jesus, or believe Jesus was a good person and wise teacher.  Jesus gave Paul a peace that passes understanding, which we also call contentment.  (www.thedigitaldisciple.net/the-peace-that-passes-understanding/)  Through the good times and bad times over the 30 years since Paul first met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul found his peace and contentment in his friend and savior, Jesus.

 

What is your “this”?  As you look back over the last five years, have you encountered a string of trials and hardships?  Are you facing problems now?  Write them down. At the end of the list, write, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  As you go through the week, when you face problems and difficulties, instead of saying, “How will I ever get through this?”  say, “I can do even this through him who gives me strength.”

 

Press On!

David

 

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