Intentional Christians

It’s hot…really hot…and humid. The six o’clock weather reporter will tell us the heat index was 105 degrees that afternoon. I sit in my air conditioned car at the intersection, sitting in judgment of a panhandler. I question his sincerity – his honesty. Is he really hungry – is he really homeless? And then up ahead a car window opens and a lady’s hand is extended with a large cold drink from some fast food place.

This was no accidental show of charity or compassion; this was intentional. The lady had purposefully, willfully gone to Wendy’s or McDonald’s – someplace – and purchased this cold drink. I don’t know if the lady was a Christian, but she certainly exhibited the Christian attitude of love – not judging the man’s heart as I was, but feeding the Lord’s sheep.

I was immediately reminded of the passage in Matthew 25 (Matt. 25:41-45), where Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats and sadly I had to count myself among the goats on that day.

Judy and I have been attending a Nazarene Church in Palm City for some months now and several of the recent sermons have been on Intentional Christian Living. Much of the teaching has included Bible study, prayer, and Christian fellowship, but what has struck me most is the word INTENTIONAL.

Intentionality is the flip side of accidentally. We choose a lifestyle of love on purpose. We join a Bible study group knowingly, purposefully – not accidentally. We choose not to watch worldly and unholy TV programs and internet sites intentionally – deliberately – by design. We choose to forgive when worldly persuasions would have us hold onto the hurts and sorrows inflicted on us and our forgiveness is by design – intentional. We determine to follow Christ consciously – willfully – premeditatedly. It’s no accident.

Having stated all this we acknowledge the hand of the Holy Spirit in our choices. He is our guide to righteousness and also the source of conviction when we stray or stumble – yet we remain responsible for the choices we make and the consequences thereof.

Being an intentional Christian means you have considered all options in a given circumstance or situation and decided to act or respond as you believe Jesus would. That decision can sometimes be a bit daunting and uncomfortable; even challenging and costly.

It means you have established practices to deny the temptations of some addiction. It means you have purposefully harvested words from Scripture to employ when Satan comes calling. It means you pray for someone who you really don’t want to succeed or to heal, and to forgive when your sinful nature says, “retaliate”. It means you get up out of the easy chair and go and serve in your church or community, even when that serving is painful – either physically or financially or emotionally.

God will often call us to most uncomfortable and challenging ministries; ministries that we are sure are beyond our abilities, detrimental to our lifestyle, and contrary to our plans and purposes. Being an intentional Christian means we say “Yes Lord, send me.”

There are no 'accidental' Christians. Though we cannot take credit for our walk with Christ we do have a hand in how we walk by the choices we make in our daily life. Simply going to church on Sunday no more makes you a Christian than sitting in an airplane makes you a pilot. James taught us "…be doers of the word, and not hearers only". (James 1:22 NKJV)

There is intentional, purposeful, deliberate work to be done on a daily basis if we are to be all God has designed and called us to be and do. Our salvation did not come complete with all the tools and attitudes of righteousness necessary for Kingdom work.

There is faith to be increased; love, joy, and peace to be spread, the Holy Word to be learned and shared, charity, kindness and compassion to give, and prayers to offer – Everyday, Everywhere, and with Everyone.

When Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple He responded to their queries, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  (Luke 2:49 NKJV)

I pray we are all about our Father's business!!

Be blessed.

Your Alabaster Jar

There is the story of a man (we’ll call him Owner) who owned a most valuable jewel and how another man (we’ll call him Man) desired it beyond belief.

Man, “Sir, I must have that jewel!”

Owner, “What will you pay me for it?”

Man, “I’ll pay you with everything I have.”

Owner, “How much is that?”

Man, “I have $30,000 in the bank.  You can have it all.”

Owner, “$30,000, is that all you have?”

Man, “Well, he said as he pulled his wallet from his pocket, I have about $200, no $220. Here, you can have it.”

Owner, “OK, I’ll take that. Do you have anything more?”

Man, “Well, there is some savings put away at home.”

Owner, “Oh, you have a home?  I must take that too.”

Man, “My home? You have to have my house?”

Owner, “Yes, and everything that’s in it”

Man, “But where will I sleep, in my car?”

Owner, “You own a car?”

Man, “Yes, we have two of them.”

Owner, “I’ll have to have those cars, and who is ‘we’?”

Man, “My wife and children”.

Owner, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a family.  They must come with me too.”

Man, “But then I won’t own anything.  All I have will belong to you.”

Owner, “Yes that is true.”

Man, “Ok, I agree.  Could I visit my family from time to time?”

Owner, “I will make this bargain with you.  You may keep the jewel.  I have many of them.  I will also let you keep all your possessions and your family. But you must always remember that all that you have is on loan from me.  You do not own it, I am just letting you keep it for a while.”

I heard this story recently and I have probably not rendered it faithfully.  But I hope the lesson of ownership comes through.  All that we own, all the toys, all those things we would fight for are only on loan from God.

I was re-reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters recently.  In chapter 21 Screwtape advises Wormwood on how to take advantage of mankinds notion of ownership, even to believing that his time is his to spend as he would see fit. That “letter” was insightful as a reminder to me of how dependent on the Lord we really are.  Even the hours of the day are a gift from our God and He expects fruitful management of that gift.

I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30).  The ‘talents’ noted were not talents as we might think of them today.  In the Greek lexicon a talent was an extremly large amount of money; by today’s terms the ten talents given that first servant may have amounted to billions of dollars in value.  So these were no small amounts that the master was entrusting with expectations of a return on his investment.

You may not value the gifts and talents God has entrusted you with as being worth millions or billions of dollars, but He must.  Holy God has knit you in the womb, (Psalm 139:13) and has planned out a life for you (Psalm 139:16).  He had a plan to save you from the sin you could never save yourself from before time ever existed (2 Tim 1:9).  He sacrificed Himself for you (John 3:16). And He abides with you daily as the Holy Spirit lives in you, and guides you, and convicts you of wrongdoings so as to keep you on that straight and narrow path.

I count Gods gift of talents to me as more than the bank account, the house I live in, the cars I drive, and the toys I have accumulated.  I add to these gifts from God my good health which I must manage so that I may continue in His service.  I add to that the gift of a Godly woman as my wife who supports me, honors me, and yes even spoils me.  I count my church family, my children and grandchildren, and the circle of Christian friends who call me to accountability and lift my spirit as gifts from my Lord God. And finally I add to all these the very hours of the day, for each one is precious, designed and delivered by Holy God, and just as the master in the parable expected a return on his investment from the servants, God expects a return on the gifts He has entrusted me with.

And thus we come to the title of our lesson today – Our Alabaster Jar. Borrowing a note from Pastor Todd’s sermon yesterday – what of God’s gifts are you holding back.  The alabaster jar of nard that Mary poured out onto Jesus’ head was representative of what was most assuredly her most valued possession.  It was worth perhaps a years wages and may have been part of her inheritance and maybe her dowry which she would be required to have in order to marry. But Mary loved her Lord Jesus more than that most prized possession and poured it out on our Savior’s head with no prompting and no reservations.  Not part – the whole jar of nard.

What is in your alabaster jar?  What is that most prized possession?  Maybe its your ability to gain fortune or fame. That belongs to God. What about your home, your cars?  They too are His. Could it be your time? That too belongs to Him. He wants you to not only invest your time with Him, on your knees, and immersed in His Holy Word, but to be invested in your family, your community, and serving in His church.
Can we pour out our time, our talents, our gifts to Him.  I pray we can – and that we do.

I pray for you God’s abundant blessings, and that you may be a blessing to others around you.

Consequences

“Be sure your sin will find you out!”

Joe sat at his dying wife’s bedside. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Joe, darling,” she breathed, “I’ve got a confession to make before I go. I’m the one who took the ten thousand dollars from your safe and spent it on a fling with your best friend, Charles. And it was I who forced your mistress to leave the city. And I am the one who reported your income tax evasion to the government.”

“That’s all right, don’t give it a second thought,” answered Joe, “I’m the one who poisoned you.”

 

There aren’t very many free passes when it comes to wrongdoing.  The sinner often doesn’t ‘reap what he sows’ right away.  He may skate for a season, unaware, even uncaring of the wake his trespass has wreaked.  Sometimes it is years before he realizes the aftermath of his offense, how many have been affected, and how deep the hurt he caused.  But the fallout can be, and most often is both immediate and unending for the offended.  There are consequences to sin – both physical and spiritual.

Our best example of this is that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Their sin was both immediate and unending.

The initial result of their sin was their awareness of their nakedness. They had lost their innocence. Close behind had to be the first impression of fear and guilt.  Never before had they felt the need to hide from God.  And once they were exposed God’s punishment was both immediate and unending for both they and all mankind that would follow.

They were exiled from the Garden; their sin had introduced physical death into the world.  In fact in order for God to have provided them with clothing made of skins, (Genesis 3:21) an animal had to have been slain.  Prior to that Adam and Eve, and all animals were vegetarians (Gen. 1:30).  Most Biblical scholars agree that man was intended to live eternally in the Garden.  But now God decrees that man shall return to the dust from whence he came.

Famine and pestilence were now introduced as God curses the earth, (vv 17-19).  Never before had there been disease, crime, storms, or evil of any kind.  No poisonous beast nor plant populated Eden. Man would now labor ‘by the sweat of his brow’ for his sustenance. Woman would now suffer greatly in child bearing, from morning sickness, through agonizing labor pains, to postpartum depression.  She would be subservient to her husband, though many women would rail against this natural law, it was God ordained.

But the most dreadful and wretched consequence of sin would be mankind’s separation from God.  God is holy, ans as such He cannot abide with sin, and now man is sinful.  There would be no more walks in the Garden with the Creator.

But God, in His mercy, would provide mankind with a ‘get out of jail free’ card, an escape clause from our contract with spiritual death.  In His omniscience and wisdom He had planned our opportunity for salvation before the beginning.

Though we are forgiven our trespasses, that does not erase the consequences. God does not, nor can those afflicted, erase the outcome of trespass. Families are torn apart, lives are lost, relations are shipwrecked. I can personally attest to this.  Mistakes, self-serving attitudes, and selfish pursuits years ago by your author caused permanent scars for my family and friends. Though I have been the recipient of undeserved forgiveness, the wounds are permanent.  We need always remember that forgiven sins retain the repercussion. . . the fruit of that which we sowed.

The physical consequence to sin will vary with the sin that is committed. However, the spiritual consequence remains the same; for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The solution to the spiritual consequence of sin is revealed in the completion of the verse. . . “BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord“. Salvation from our sins does not remove the physical consequences of sin. If you drank too much and developed hardening or cirrhosis of the liver, it won’t go away. If you committed sexual sins and picked up a disease or became pregnant, those problems will remain. However, the long term problem, our separation from God and eternal life can be cured. In addition, learning to live life God’s way will give us the tools to handle the results of our past mistakes

I would encourage you to be quick to forgive those who have wronged you,.  You must know that you have wronged someone in your past and we all pray for grace regarding them, just as Christ Jesus provided forgiveness for our own sins.  We pray for their forgiveness and we trust the Holy Spirit has led us to repentance from those wrongdoings.

Forgive as you have been forgiven.  May the Lord God bless you abundantly, and may you be a blessing to those around you.

God bless,


Heavenly Rewards

God created the earth and all that’s in it and the universe that surrounds it in six days.  Now think about this – All that we know or can dream of He made in just six days.  Since the end of that sixth day, He has now had five thousand years to prepare our home in Heaven with Him.  Can you just imagine what lies waiting for us?

In the book of Revelations, Chapter 21, John relates what was revealed to him as a description of Heaven; streets of gold, walls decorated with precious gems, and each of the twelve gates made of a single pearl.  Don Piper, in his book ’90 Minutes  in Heaven’ tells of lights and sounds that were (are) too wonderful, too exquisite to put into words.  I personally wonder if the physical sights and sounds will begin to compare with how our hearts will burst with joy at the sight of our Savior.

I am reminded of Mercy Me’s song “I Can Only Imagine”:
“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine”

But what are the rewards awaiting the faithful?  Scripture is clear that not all will receive the same rewards.  “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Matt. 16:27.  See also Romans 2:6, 1Cor. 3:8, Hebrews 6:10, 2 John 1:8, Rev. 2:23 and 22:12

Whether or not we will be aware that some receive greater or lesser rewards is not clear but Jesus did promise that “…He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” (Rev. 21:4)

I have asked the question before – Will we be aware of the fact that our reward is not as great as it could have been had we been more fruitful, more charitable, or more obedient?  Will we recognize that others in Heaven have greater rewards than we?  And if we are aware will we be saddened for our lack of charity and obedience while on earth?

I find it hard to believe there would be anything even related to sadness in Heaven, so then the question becomes, if we won’t know the difference when we get there, what’s the incentive or motivation to do our best now?  Obviously some people are better equipped financially to give, but then Jesus was only impressed by the woman who gave her last two coins (Luke 21:1-4).  Some people are by nature more compassionate; God created them that way.  Does that mean that He created some people to have greater rewards in Heaven?  Again, I think not.

I am reminded of David’s words to Araunah, the owner of the threshing floor where he was to build an alter to God.  Araunah offered to donate the site including the oxen, but David told him, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:24)  God isn’t impressed by the size of our offering.  God is impressed by our giving our last two coins, by our sacrificing something of ourselves, something that cost us.

I remember a story of a very poor couple who at Christmas had no money with which to buy the other a gift.  The man loved to smoke his pipe, which he had carved himself.  It was a wonderful pipe, but he could rarely afford the sweet smelling tobacco he preferred.  His wife had long beautiful hair and she loved to brush it, sometimes hours at a time, but recently the old brush had broken and she found it very difficult to use the now handle-less brush.

On Christmas morning they arose to find on the kitchen table two gifts wrapped in plain paper, each gift marked with the names of the husband and wife.  She opened her gift first.  It was a beautiful new hair-brush, adorned with mother-of-pearl and other small gems.  She smiled at him curiously with a small tear in the corner of her eye.  It was the husband’s turn now to open his gift.  As he did he laughed out loud upon seeing a brand new tin of pipe tobacco.  He asked his wife where she got the money for such a gift.  They had no money.  She very coquettishly took the scarf off her head to reveal that her long beautiful hair was gone.  She had sold her hair to buy her husband the tin of tobacco.  He then had to tell her why he had laughed at seeing his gift – he had sold his beautiful, hand carved pipe to buy her the hair-brush.  Each had sacrificed something so very dear so that the other might be blessed.

Let me sum up what at first glance would seem to make some more likely to receive the ‘greater’ rewards.  It isn’t what you have been able to give of your finances, your talents or natural abilities, nor of your time.  It is that you have given till it hurts.

That is the kind of giving that impressed our Lord God.  That we sacrifice in our giving.  Our sacrifice determines our reward, and oh, how great those rewards are.  Paul borrowed something from Isaiah when in his letter to the Corinthians when he wrote. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9 – Isaiah 64:4)

I recall my first visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  My wife and I had traveled down from Reno and arrived at the canyon very late in the day.  I had seen many different photos and videos of the canyon and was sure it was going to be spectacular.  In my years in the U S Navy I had been privileged to visit much of God’s great blue marble.  I remember waking up and stepping out onto deck when up in Puget Sound and being impressed by how very green green can be.  I had the occasion to climb Fujiyama in Japan and remarked at its beauty and how beautiful yet different that mountain was from Mitre Peak on the South Island of New Zealand which rises to a height of one mile straight up from the coastline.  None of this prepared me for the Grand Canyon.  As I noted, we arrived around sundown.  I remember like yesterday my first view.  GASP!!  I could not have spoken if my life depended on it.  The beauty was just overwhelming.

The beauty of Heaven I foresee will be an eternal GASP.  The spectacle, the peace, the joy, the relationships will all combine to bring us everlasting days of GASP.  Let us all be ‘storing up for ourselves treasures in Heaven.’  God’s cash register is ringing up for us with each act of kindness, charity, and love.  Jesus tells us that “even a cup of cold water”, is counted as a reward; “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

Be blessed.

 

 

Unlovable Me

Sometimes life sends us a curve ball in the form of a person we may label as unpleasant, annoying, or rude.  You might ask yourself if you should just ignore them or give them a piece of your mind. To love the unlovable is not an easy task.  But we are so commanded by God.

Recently we spoke about how love is more than a verbal expression. In 1 John we read, “. . .let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Too often we find that the people we have directed our expressions of love to were family, friends, and neighbors.  But Jesus said that even the pagans do that!  However we are called to love even our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-47)  That’s where the rub comes; loving the unlovable.

The unlovable that we almost always fail to recognize as such, are the people we tend to prejudge and be intolerant of.  Young people, in particular, seem to get under my skin.  Their music, (as if my music didn’t rub my parents raw), their dress, and their cavalier and often disrespectful demeanor (was I ever like that?).  How dare they be so young and full of themselves!

But there are others too.  People that make me wait; wait in line, wait in traffic, wait for them to get out of my way.  I am impatient with them and in doing so I fail to love them.  I am oblivious to their needs or inabilities. . .I am thinking only of myself.

Another group of unlovables are foreigners.  If they don’t dress, talk, and act like we do, then we judge them, and are intolerant, impatient, and critical of their ways.

Sadly I have to add to the list the old and the infirm.  How dare they burden me with their infirmities, their challenges, their frailties and weaknesses.  We find them often numbered among our enemies.

One last group of unlovables is the down-and-outers of the world.  The homeless, the addicted and afflicted, all those who we’ve thrown out into our back alleys, and onto our human garbage dumps.  Dirty, disgusting, smelly, ugly people; surely all of them unlovable.  Oh, God, help me to remember that but by Your grace these same unlovable ones would be my peers!

So it would seem that we find most everyone who is not just like me, or admired by me, to be my enemy.  Now enemy in the Lord’s interpretation here is not someone we wage war against. . . although God may not agree with me there. . . but the enemy in this case is all those with whom I find sufficient fault that I choose not to love them, and that’s where I get in trouble with Him.  Another reality that I must now recognize and acknowledge is that by my attitude, ‘I have become the unlovable one.’

Jesus disregarded traditional belief barriers associated with sex, status, and sickness.  He knew that people believed lepers to be unclean and untouchable, but he reached out anyway and touched a leper and extended healing (Luke 5: 12-14). Jesus knew that public opinion held tax collectors to be unworthy of inclusion, indeed worthy of exclusion, but he called Levi anyway making him one of the twelve apostles.  Jesus knew what people believed about men and women talking together in public, but he allowed a woman, “a sinner,” to touch him in public anyway, “kissing his feet and anointing them with ointment.” When criticized, Jesus pronounced forgiveness for the woman and commended her great love.  Belief certainly has a place, but for Jesus, the Rule of Love was paramount.

We could  quote numerous scripture passages that deal with loving our neighbors, including those we would label unlovable.  The aforementioned verse from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43-47, is most explicit.  Additionally, Jesus was rather succinct in His parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 saying, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” and “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (vs 40 and 45)  The consequences for those who ‘did not do’ was exile “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (41b)

I think the most disturbing and worrisome passage for me though is found again in Matthew 5.  It’s only two verses, 23-24, but the implications are very unnerving for this author.  Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

We know that when a  passage begins with ‘therefore’ there is something before that we need to relate to.  In this case it was Jesus associating anger and hate with the commandment that we shall not murder….to hate or to be angry with someone is equal to murder in our heart.  Now Jesus tells us that if we have that anger or hate for any brother/sister/neighbor/ENEMY, we need to be reconciled with them before we will be welcomed at the altar.

God doesn’t want to hear our prayers until and unless we are at peace with our brother!!!!  Our charitable gifts and our good works are of no consequence to God as long as we are not LOVING our brother.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that though we may speak in tongues, have the gift of prophecy, or have faith that can move mountains, if we don’t have love, all these things are worthless. (1 Cor. 13)

As I have learned of God’s love for me, I have grown toward loving some of who I previously would have labeled unlovable.  There are still those who trouble me, but by His grace I know that I am on the Potter’s wheel, being transformed into what He would have me to be, and that includes loving some that I could not do so without Him.  I know that of myself and on my own I am unable to love all mankind, but through Christ and with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, I am able, and so are you.

Let Christ’s love shine through you,  He’ll do all the work if you let Him.