Hold The Rope

 Hold The Rope

Don Bond
In this season of uncertainty, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you who have “held the rope” with us for so long. At Orchard, we have had a monthly gathering of men for a long time called Hold The Rope. This is a gathering where the men of the church fellowship over a meal and spend time together as men. I don’t know all the when’s and why’s of how it started, but not being able to meet with my friends and mentors due to the Covid Crisis has been sorely missed on my part.  It has been on my heart for a while now, and thoughts about why do we call it Hold The Rope have been floating around my mind.  I have been doing some reading.  I came across this book by John Piper and I would like to share an excerpt from it.  Mr. Piper shared in his book Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission, that the commitment (and the oath) to “hold the rope” was wonderfully demonstrated by a band of mission-minded pastors from the 1700’s.  Here is an excerpt from John Piper’s book:

“Andrew Fuller, more than anyone else, felt the burden of what it meant that William Carey and John Thomas (and later, others) left everything for India in dependence, under God, on this band of brothers. One of them, John Ryland, recorded the story from which came the famous “rope holder” image.

He wrote that Carey said:  Our undertaking to India really appeared to me, on its commencement, to be somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating into a deep mine, which had never before been explored, [and] we had no one to guide us; and while we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said “Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” But before he went down . . . he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us, at the mouth of the pit, to this effect—that “while we lived, we should never let go of the rope.”

This struck me hard.  I don’t know if this is what the founders of the Hold The Rope ministry here at Orchard had in mind when they named it, but it sure describes the ideal it has come to represent.  As men, but especially as believers, have a mission.  That mission can be summed up quickly as: To Know Christ, to Grow into his likeness, and to Show him to the world. According to scripture, men are to be the leaders, both physically and spiritually, of the home and family. We are the backbone, if you will.  We can’t do this alone though.  We have Jesus, but we also need the strength and wisdom of other Godly men to help hold our rope while we are holding the rope for our family.

I was reading in Acts chapter 9 and came across the story of Paul’s conversion.  With the light of “hold the rope” image, I saw something that was there all along, but had never clicked before.  Saul (better known as Paul) had been persecuting the church in Jerusalem for some time and he got permission to hunt for Christians in Damascus. On the way there, Christ met him in a blinding flash of light, and Saul was struck blind. You’ll remember, God’s assurance that Saul had become a believer to Ananias—behold, he prays. He knew Christ. After being restored to sight, some experts say that Saul spent the next several years in the dessert studying the faith. Whether or not that was the case, however, is irrelevant. At some point, he began to preach to the Jews about Jesus, and he grew bold and powerful (he grew into Christ’s likeness and began to show him to others)—so much so that the Jews in Damascus decided it was time to kill Saul. But some of the other believers found out about the plot and they lowered Saul in a basket during the night, allowing him to escape unharmed. I want to focus on those other believers for a moment. You see, we hear a lot about Paul’s ministry, but it would never have happened if it weren’t for some folks willing to hold the rope for him. If we are going to be engaged in ministry for the Kingdom of God, we need to have a system of support, i.e., believers who are willing to hold the rope for us.

At Camp Whispering Pines, there is a high ropes course. For those who don’t know what high ropes are, picture a series of obstacles set 35 to 40 feet up in the air. It is definitely a faith-growing experience. When you were getting ready to go up that tree and when you got up there, there was one very important question that became very, very important: Who is holding the rope? In fact, there were a series of verbal commands that the climber and the rope holder would go through to make sure that the climber was safe. I remember a story from one of the youth groups that was on the course. They had a guy who played football—a big offensive lineman. When he got up to the catwalk, he asked, “What happens if I step off?” He was told he would drop a little bit and then come to a stop. So he stepped off. And he dropped a few inches, stepped back onto the catwalk, and walked across as calmly as if he were on the ground. You see, he knew someone was holding the rope.

I have been asking myself, “What does it mean to Hold The Rope (or be a rope holder)?” At least three different jobs that are needed sprung to mind. Some people may have more than one job, but other times, it may take three different people.

The first category of rope holders are Intercessors: Those who will stand in prayer and lift that person, group, or situation up on a daily basis. Gen 18:20-33. Abraham is an intercessor not only for his nephew Lot and his family, but for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. When you read this passage, you can see the spirit of the intercessor. He is full of holy boldness. Not timid in the requests. Also, he is not irreverent towards God, but has a reverent humility. Finally, the intercessor needs a bit of importunity (I know, that’s a $5 word that basically means to solicit in a pressing manner; think of a pushy telemarketer). Each time Abraham asks, he pushes a little further. Are we willing to respectfully but boldly press God for the needs of others?

The second type of person needed is someone with the gifts of helps and service. If I were to describe this with one word, it would be support. These are important, since being a believer doesn’t come with an easy button. The gift of helps is seen in that person who is able to work behind the scenes to relieve others of detailed or routine jobs. They relieve them so they can focus more fully. (1 Cor. 12:28, Romans 16:1-2, Acts 9:36, Mark 15:40-41) Service is the ability to see things that need done. This person is a doer, not looking for praise, but just wanting to make sure things are done and the mission can continue. (2 Tim. 1:16-18, Romans 12:7, Acts 6:1-7, Titus 3:14, Galatians 6:2,10). Now I began to ask God, “What is the difference between these two?” And what God showed me is that a person with the gift of helps always works behind the scenes. He is away from any form of public service. On the other hand, the person with a gift of service will do whatever needs done. They don’t seek out the public eye, but they won’t shy away from it either. I also need to say that these gifts are not mutually exclusive; i.e., you may have both gifts.

Finally, we all need some Encouragers. These are persons with a gift of exhortation, that ability to reassure, strengthen, encourage, and affirm others. This can simply by praising what is already going on, or by helping them move from their problems to a resolution to that problem. (Romans 12:8, Acts 14:21-22, Heb. 10:25)

When this crisis is over and it is safe, I am praying that we can continue this ministry of Hold The Rope. Without the support of other believers on a regular basis, we are much more likely to fall prey to the attacks of the enemy.



More Jesus!

As this new year begins, it appears that this year won’t be any different that the last one, and that’s ok.  Crazy, I know, but I have realized that we don’t need a new President to make everything better.  We don’t need a Democrat or Republican to make all the sorrows of the world go away.  What we need is more Jesus!  Not just as a nation, but personally.  If we have more and more and more Jesus, the rest of the world’s cares and concerns don’t have near as much of an impact.  When you look back at His time here with us, you realize that He didn’t let the cares of this world cause Him stress.  The reason He didn’t let stress get to Him sounds very simple, but it is powerful nonetheless.  He knew who is in control of it all. He used the scriptures to demonstrate and show who controls all things. God is in control and none of what happened back when Jesus was on Earth or what is happening today has caught Him by surprise.  The lyrics to an old song from my younger days keeps ringing through my head: “When you don’t understand, When don’t see his plan, When you can’t trace his hand; Trust His Heart.” 
 
 
How do I get more and more of Jesus & how can I get closer to Him?

I have learned that the closer we get to Jesus, the stronger and happier we become. Sometimes in life we may not have that certain someone to encourage and push you forward, but when we experience radical intimacy with Jesus, every aspect of life seems to just fit in and fall into place. Getting closer to Jesus is an ongoing process that involves any number of steps.  Now, I am not claiming to be an expert on the subject by any means, but here are four simple things that the Lord put on my heart:

  1. Spend quality quiet time with Jesus. Quiet time can involve reading various gospel oriented books or listening to devotionals or even Christian music. Just taking some time off to sit and think about certain verses or passages from the Bible would also amount to quiet time. It’s frankly just isolating ourselves from this noisy world and letting God know that we are waiting on him. So quality quiet time would surely make us feel closer to Jesus.
  2. Attend church regularly. This doesn’t mean just taking up space in a pew hoping that Jesus will seep in through osmosis.  We need to be sure that we try to actively engage ourselves in the worship. When songs are being sung, sing along from the heart, when the Word is being preached, we need to listen intently and open our hearts to the message He has for us. Being engaged in church can have you leaving Spirit-filled and closer to Jesus.
  3. Read the Bible. The Bible is the inspired Word of God himself.  Consider, if you will, the following verses:
    1. John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” KJV
    2. John 1:14 “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
    3. Since we refer to the Bible as the Word of God, and the above verses tell us that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” & “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” it is my humble opinion that the Bible is a manifestation of Jesus. Keep in mind that I am not a biblical scholar by any stretch.  The way I figure it, the best way to have an intimate knowledge of Jesus and to be as close as humanly possible to Him is to, not just read, but ingest, dwell on, meditate on Jesus, the Word of God.
  4. Talk to Him. The best way that I have found to get to know more about someone is to talk to them.  It is the same way with Jesus.  Jesus is our friend.  No, He is more than just a friend.  We are His family. We should talk to Him like He is in the room with us.  Jesus is always listening and will never leave us or forsake us.  Regular, meaningful conversations with Jesus are the best way to get closer to Him.


Believers Shouldn’t Worry About The Election

The election of the President has stirred up both anger and celebration. The media, both social and traditional, are fanning the flames on all sides.  As a believer, I am finding it hard to watch or read. Much of what I see on social media is coming from “Christians”. Many are worrying about the outcome to the point of stressing themselves to a frenzy.

On November 1st, our pastor brought a message entitled “Commander And Chief” dealing with this very issue.  Almost a week after the election, we still are not certain who has been chosen to be the President.  It looks like it will be a while longer before we know for certain.

Everyone is quite concerned. This is very understandable with the world situation and the stakes high. We wonder who might be able to keep things on a steady course.

Believers must participate in the election process. Now that doesn’t mean we have to vote for someone in every office even if we cannot find enough common ground.  It just means that in general we are to take part in the government as requested.

But even though we are to vote, believers shouldn’t worry about the election results. Here are four reasons why:

  1. God is in control

God is sovereign, meaning He is ultimately in control of everything, including election results. No matter who is elected by human vote, God is also in control. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

I came to this realization of biblical truth recently. When I finally did, it brought great peace to know that while people do things, God is still in control.

There is no situation where this is better described than in the issue of political leaders. Romans 13:1 says, Every ]person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” NASB

Whoever becomes President, Senator, Governor, Mayor and so on, is elected ultimately under the direction of God.

Sometimes we might think He made a big mistake, but nonetheless, He is in control.

Perhaps God uses some leaders to judge people, or to humble people so that they look to Him.

We may never know why God has placed the leaders in office until we get home. But one thing we do know is that He is in control.

This gives us peace.

  1. Worry is always wrong

Sorry to be so blunt, but the Bible is really clear about this.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NASB)

If you are a believer and worrying about election results, you are disobeying God’s Word. It’s as simple as that.

Of course, knowing this, I never worry about anything, I just get “concerned.” The problem with this explanation is that word translated “worry” means something akin to “concerned.”

  • too many hours watching political channels or listening to talk radio
  • fretting about the election results
  • debating or arguing with the “other side”
  • constantly posting our viewpoints on social media

Staying involved is not wrong unless it gets out of balance—an obsession. In fact, we should participate. But we should not be involved to the extent that the election, politics and government become our passion.

I have strong political and moral views. But, hopefully, I don’t allow those opinions to become my focus.

What should be my focus? The answer is in the latter half of the verse cited above.

Again, it says, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NASB)

Instead of worrying, we are to turn our concerns over to God in prayer and thankfulness. The result is wonderful peace.

Don’t you love the promise, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

  1. Believers are citizens of Heaven

Philippians 3:20a states clearly, For our citizenship is in heaven”

Sure, we are citizens of a country on Earth. But ultimately, we are foreigners here. Our real citizenship is in Heaven.

So why would we get worked up about election results here on Earth? Every one of us will soon be leaving to spend eternity on the other side.

The Leader of the Eternal Kingdom is the KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16).

Our lives in a country here are a flash-in-the-pan compared with our lives in eternity. Thus, worrying about this life is not only futile, it’s silly.

Why do we fret? Because we get our eyes off the goal. So we must do as The Apostle Paul wrote about earlier in this chapter:

Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14 NASB)

  1. Our real hope is in Christ

If we are worrying about an election, it’s a sign we’re trusting in the wrong thing!

Our hope must NOT be in:

  • Politicians & political parties
  • Money
  • Positions of influence
  • Family members
  • Occupations
  • Education

Each of these have their place, but it is not their place to be our ultimate hope!

Soon all these will be gone, as a result of the next election, retirement, financial reversal, deaths or our own death. None are permanent and reliable.

There is only One who is permanent and reliable: The Lord!

Certainly every person walks around as a fleeting shadow;
They certainly make an uproar for nothing;
He amasses riches and does not know who will gather them.

“And now, Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in You.”
(Psalm 39:6-7 NASB)

 

For nearly four decades I’ve watched election results, elected officials, political parties and political movements come and go. Through them I’ve come to affirm what the psalmist wrote 3,000 years ago: “My hope is in You.”

 



Looking For The Light When All You See Is Darkness

Looking For The Light When All You See Is Darkness

 
Everyone knows that one person who always sees the bright side. They’re sickening, aren’t they? The ones who pipe up in the dark moments with the obscure silver lining that’s absolutely true and positively irritating? They are unfailingly cheerful to the point of living in denial.
 
It’s true that those overly positive people can make you want to claw your eyeballs out or plug your ears (or at least stuff a sock in their mouths), but the reason they’re so irritating is that we know they’re right. Especially if you’re a believer, you know there’s always a bright side. Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t be sad. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grieve. But it does mean that grief and sorrow shouldn’t ever get the better of us, because God is stronger.
 
We don’t have to live in darkness, because if you follow Jesus, you can always look for the light.
 
But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation.
My God will hear me.
Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy.
Though I fall I will rise;
Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.”
 
 
What is light anyway? It’s all well and good to talk about light and darkness in symbolic terms. It’s very poetic, but I’m practical. What does it even mean?
 
All throughout the Bible, God calls Himself the Light. Jesus calls Himself the Light. The Word is called the Light. What do all those things have in common? Well, one major thing is that They’re all 100% true. God can’t lie. Neither does Jesus, neither does the Bible. God’s truth is light that shines in the darkest moments of our lives.
 
Even when we’re surrounded by the darkness of fear and uncertainty or loneliness or sorrow or pain, what we need to remember is that all those things will lie to us. Fear and uncertainty tell us we’ll never be good enough. Loneliness and sorrow and pain tell us that this life is all there is. And that’s not true.
 
In those moments when the darkness threatens to overwhelm you with its lies, remember the truth. Let God’s light in. Stop hunkering in the shadows, letting our enemy whisper his devious lies to you to break you, to stop you, to scare you. That’s what he’s doing. Don’t let him.
 
Instead, get up and look for the light. Look at your situation and try to see God in it. If you’re a believer, He’s there. He may not be obvious, but He’s present. He probably won’t be where you expect Him to be, but He’s there. But you don’t have to acknowledge Him for Him to work. He’ll do His part without your knowledge, but if you can see Him, it makes life a lot easier.
 
On one hand, it’s irritating to be around people who always see God working. They just have this cheerfulness that nothing seems to touch. And in some cases, that’s bad, because humans need to feel. We all experience sorrow and sadness, but if we don’t allow ourselves to feel it–to admit to feeling it–and to learn to manage it, we’ll run ourselves into the ground.
 
Even negative emotions have a purpose, and you should never ignore them. Just don’t try to face them without God’s help. You won’t get through life without falling. Everyone falls, but you don’t have to stay there. Get up. Look for God’s light, and don’t stop until you find it.
 
So don’t let the darkness slow you down. Don’t let the lies break your spirit. God has plans for you, friend.


The Beauty Of The Broken

The Japanese Art of Kintsugi

 The Beauty Of The Broken

God never throws away the broken pieces of our lives; He redeems all of them.

Not too long ago, I dropped one of my favorite coffee mugs and broke it into several pieces. I was quite frustrated because it happened to be a sentimental heirloom to me—one that I purchased on our honeymoon twenty years ago. I swept up the shards in frustration and tried to piece the cup back together. That disappointment led me to a discovery into the 500­year­old Japanese art of kintsugi.

In Japan, rather than tossing broken pieces of ceramics in the trash, craftsmen often practice the art of kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” which is a method of taking broken pieces and restoring them with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.

The story of kintsugi is said to have begun in the 15th century when Japanese military commander Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke one of his beloved Chinese tea bowls and, disappointed with the shoddy repair job it was treated to, urged Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more pleasing method of repair. Thus the art of kintsugi was born. Collectors soon became so enamored with the new art that some were accused of deliberately smashing valuable pottery so it could be repaired with the gold seams of kintsugi.

As an art, kintsugi will make a mended vessel look more aesthetic and become more valued than it was before it was fractured. As a philosophy, kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, something of a redemptive beauty, rather than something to disguise, cover up, or replace altogether. It has similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi­sabi, an aesthetic worldview that sees beauty in the flawed, the damaged, or the imperfect. The idea behind the technique of kintsugi is to recognize the entire history of the object, with all of its cracks and flaws, and to visibly incorporate the repaired fissures into the new piece. It beautifies the breakage and treats it as an important part of the object’s history, thus valuing the fractures instead of disguising them or glossing over them. The process typically results in something far more beautiful and elegant than the original.

To throw the broken pot away is to destroy its unique story. To repair it the kintsugi way is to continue its tale of adventure, triumph, and redemptive beauty.
 
The world is full of people with broken hearts, broken spirits, and broken relationships. We see damaged goods all around us. And we see it in ourselves when we are courageous enough to go there.

In fear of rejection, we’d rather cover up the damaged parts of our lives and work harder at putting our best pieces out front for others to see. We feel ashamed of our weaknesses and fear that if people really knew us they wouldn’t have anything to do with us. This is because we are keenly aware that we live in a culture that rejects broken things too easily rather than one that embraces the value of damaged goods.

Think about some of the cracks and fractures in the lives of the men and women God used throughout the Bible: Moses had a speech problem. Jonah was self-absorbed. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Samson was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. The Samaritan woman had a whole string of divorces. Zacchaeus had engaged in extortion. Peter was hotheaded, impulsive, and temperamental. Naomi was a bitter widow. Elijah was suicidal. Leah wasn’t attractive enough. Joseph was abused and abandoned. Jacob was a liar and a schemer. Martha worried about everything. Timothy had an ulcer and Noah got drunk.

What’s significant is that none of these things defined these people. What defined them was their relationship with God. But what I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t omit their weaknesses and their failures when it describes their victories. Just like in the art of kintsugi, the broken pieces weren’t something to be thrown out, they were a part of the whole redemptive story—one that God gracefully wrote despite their flawed personalities, their broken humanity, and their obvious weaknesses.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul was struggling with an antagonizing “thorn” in his life. We’re not sure exactly what it was but we do know that it bothered him so much that he pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away. But the only response he got was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That response caused Paul to become good with the weaknesses in his life because he realized that Christ would be glorified in all of them. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

There is truly a beauty waiting to be discovered when we begin to realize that God is using everything in our lives, including our brokenness, our pain, our failures, our weaknesses, our fractured relationships, our shattered dreams, our disappointments, and our cracked personalities, to bring about a very, very, beautifully redemptive story. He assuredly is making all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Remember that as you take time to abide in Him today.



3 Things Christians Do That Non-Christians Despise

3 Things Christians Do That Non-Christians Despise

By Carey Nieuwhof

                Spend two minutes talking to almost anyone outside the Christian faith and you’re almost certain to hear a list of complaints they have about Christians. The problem has been around awhile.  As Mahatma Gandhi famously (and sadly) said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He’s not alone. The problem with many non-Christians isn’t that they don’t know any Christians. The challenge is they do.

                So what gives? Many Christians would tell you we have an image problem: we’re treated unfairly, we’re being persecuted, or we’re just badly misunderstood. I’m not so sure. It’s not so much that Christians have an image problem. It’s far more likely that we have an integrity problem. Do we get misunderstood on some issues? Of course. But that’s outside our control. There are more than a few issues entirely within our control that give us a bad name with people outside Christianity.

                Here are 3 things Christians do that non-Christians despise.

  1. JUDGE:
    1. It doesn’t take long for non-Christians to tell you how much they hate the way Christians judge other people. Another two minutes on social media will reveal Christians and preachers condemning unchurched people for their sexual habits and preferences, life-style choices and even political views. I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind when he gave his life in love for the world.
    2. Disclosure: without the mercy and intervention of Christ, I’m very judgmental. And years ago, I realized how devastating judgment and criticism can be to others. So I’m waging a life-long battle against it. Confessing it, repenting of it almost daily.
    3. I realized years ago that very few people get judged into life change. Far more get loved into it.
    4. It also occurred to me that the presence of judgment almost always guarantees an absence of love. Think about it through the lens of your marriage, a friendship or even someone you work with: it is virtually impossible to love someone and judge someone at the same time.
    5. But wait, you ask: what if they’re making a mistake and I need to correct them?
      1. First of all, look at your mistakes and the depth of your sin, and deal with your issues first. In the process, you’ll encounter a loving God who forgives you despite your rather egregious sin.
      2. And having been loved, you can love others.
    6. I try to remember this rule: If I’m judging someone, I’m not loving them. You can’t judge someone and love them at the same time. What would happen if Christians stopped judging the world (isn’t that God’s job?) and started loving it instead? I believe that’s what Jesus did.

 

  1. BE HYPOCRITICAL:
    1. There’s a word for Christian who say one thing and do another. The word is hypocrite. It’s far easier to call someone else a hypocrite than it is to admit you’re one.
    2. The truth is, that as much as I hate it, I’m a hypocrite. My walk doesn’t always match my talk. That’s why I don’t have a fish on my car. When I’m in a hurry and my natural impatience surfaces, the last thing some person God loves needs to see is a Christian cut him off. Of course, it’s worse than that. I’m not always a loving husband, kind father, steadfast son, patient boss, or even compassionate friend. Like you, I’m a mixture of good 
    3. What did Paul say? Nothing good lives in me. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:18). That could be a life-verse for me. Well, actually, it kind of is.
    4. Sanctification is a process that never ends. I am not who I want to be (yet). I am not who God wants me to be.  But I’m different. I’m changing. And Christ is at work in me. I believe that’s the reality for every person who calls Jesus Savior.
    5. So what do imperfect Christians do? I mean just deciding you’re not going to make mistakes never keeps you from making mistakes. I think the answer is simple: you watch what you say. Don’t pretend to be something or someone you’re not. I find the more humility I add to my words, the smaller the gap is between who I am and who I say I am.
    6. When you admit your shortcomings, you build a bridge between you and others. Owning your sin is different than living in it; confession is never an excuse for complacency.
    7. So, what do you do if you live in the tension between what you usually say or want to say and what you do? I think you change both. You change how you live through the power of Christ day by day (getting better), and at the same time, you change how you talk about your faith, yourself and how you live (adding more honestly and humility to your words).
    8. Want a quick fix for hypocrisy? Accelerate your walk. Humble your talk. Nothing closes the gap between word and action faster than that.
  2. STINK AT FRIENDSHIP
    1. Friendship is hard. We all have ideas of finding the perfect friends with whom we’ll never disagree, share 1000 common interests and ride off into the sunset with.
    2. Well, very few human relationships ever work that way. Even in marriage, the best marriages are almost always ones in which people have overcome deep and real obstacles to find a powerful love that’s far deeper than emotion.
    3. Perhaps the first obstacle between non-Christians and Christians is that relatively few Christians actively pursue meaningful friendships with people who don’t share their faith. Between churches that offer programs 5 nights a week (leaving little time for Christians to make friends outside the church) and Christians who are afraid of the world, many Christians don’t pursue authentic relationships with non-Christians. Which means much of the interaction non-Christians have is situational and observational rather than truly relational. They observe Christians in life and at work, notices traces of judgment and hypocrisy and draw all kinds of conclusions. I get that.
    4. But Jesus went so much deeper than that. Jesus pursued friendships with people who were different than him. Whose lifestyles were far different than anything God had in mind for them (or for people in relationship with him). Yet Jesus was their friend. He went to their house for dinner. They traveled together. They shared moments and meals and life. It scandalized the religious leaders of Jesus day, and sadly, when it’s practiced authentically, it still scandalizes most of us today.
    5. Think about it. When was the last time you hung out with a sex-worker? When was the last time you had someone who’s not your skin color, not your political persuasion and doesn’t share your value system over for dinner, or when was the last time you broke bread with an addict (who’s not in recovery)?
    6. Often when Christians do pursue ‘friendships’ with people far from God, it’s more of a project than it is a friendship. But people aren’t projects; people are people. People can smell it a mile away if you see them as a project, not a person. Even as you think about expanding the ministry of your church, if you see people as a means to an end, that’s a problem.
    7. Which leads us to another tension in our friendships with those outside the Christian faith. Some Christians do have a relationship with unchurched people. So: how exactly do you talk about faith? Great question!
    8. Most of us swing to one extreme or the other: either we always talk about faith, or we never talk about. Both are mistakes. Always talk about faith, and you’re turning the relationship into a project. Never talk about, and you miss the most important thing in life.
    9. Real friendships always drill down on real issues, and few things are more significant than the meaning of life. How do you talk about? Naturally, organically, in the context of your story is a great place to start.
    10. Real friendships are like that. Want a simpler place than that to begin? Try this. Just like the person. As much friend Reggie Joiner says, people will never believe you love them if they feel you don’t like them.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Anything you see that people who are not Christians despise about Christians?  If you’re a Christian, what helps you overcome these issues, and what other issues do you struggle with?



When Times Are Tough

When Times Are Tough

Many of us may be feeling oppressed these days.  With the global pandemic, hurricanes in the Gulf, and all of the unrest and division in our country; it is hard not to feel overwhelmed.  There is great news.  We have a place of security and safety we can run to.  Actually, it is not a place.  It is a person – Jesus Christ!

“The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, A stronghold in times of trouble;” Psalm 9:9 NASB

What is a stronghold, exactly?  According to Webster, a stronghold is defined as 1) a fortified place; 2) a place of security or survival[1]. Jesus is our stronghold! When times are tough and we feel overwhelmed, Jesus is right there with us.  He is in those times of trouble with us and will help us come through the tough times.               

Did you notice the verse said, “times of trouble”, not just “time of trouble”? It’s because tough times come to us several times during our lives – it is not just a one-time event. Wouldn’t that be wonderful, if we only experienced trouble once in our lifetime and never faced it again! Unfortunately that’s not how this fallen world works. Trouble can come to us daily, and even many times a day. Trouble often comes unexpectedly, and at times it seems to be waiting for us around every corner.

Times of trouble come for all of us – no one is exempt- but when these times do come, we are not at their mercy. We know that He is also our stronghold, our refuge at all times.  Jesus does not  pick which troubles He will help with. He is a refuge to us each and every time we face trouble.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the things going on around you? Are you facing financial difficulties, relationship issues, feelings of depression and hopelessness?  There is a place of refuge, a stronghold you can run to for help. Jesus will make His presence your place of refuge. Go to Him and find help, safety, comfort, strength, guidance, whatever you need to make it through these times.  You can’t seek His help too many times! There is no trouble too small for Him! It doesn’t matter how many times you go to Him because He wants you to come to Him.

So, again, if today you are in one of these tough times, remember you have a stronghold- Jesus!

 

[1] Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Stronghold. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stronghold



What Would Jesus Do?

            Do you remember the “WWJD” bracelets of the 90’s?  Those letters stood for the question: “What Would Jesus Do?”  Thirty years later, some think the answer is rioting, looting, and burning.  A tweet from comic book artist Dean Trippe equating the violent riots to Jesus overturning the tables in the temple has gone viral and is (for some bizarre reason) gaining a lot of traction among Christians.

            To make his case, Trippe referenced the accounts in Matthew 21:12-13 and John 2:13-17. When Jesus arrived at the temple in Jerusalem, he found it in bad shape. Money-grubbers had overrun the house of worship and turned it into a marketplace. In response, Jesus drove them out, saying, “My house will be called ‘a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

            There is no similarity between that and the violence happening today.  The comparison is ignorant on a number of levels.  Trying to compare Jesus pointing out and removing the corruption from His temple to what is happening today shows an ignorance of what the Bible teaches completely.  He is God and has every right to clean His own home. He didn’t violate anyone’s rights. It’s Jesus’ house He was cleansing!  The idea that we could then turn that into looters going into other people’s houses and businesses and destroying them is absolute insanity and it shows a total ignorance of the biblical worldview. It was His house. 

            When we see people, that profess the name of Jesus, inciting riots and looting and trying to help with that and trying to put a Christian veneer over it, it breaks our hearts.  God abhors racism and His Word is very clear about victims’ rights.

            The only answer is Jesus!  God is holy; we are sinners. We are rebels against a holy God. We deserve hell. And all these things we see in our nation right now is an expression of the evil and wickedness that comes from within people’s hearts. It’s coming from deep down within and the only escape from that is through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

            Would you join with us in praying for a spiritual awakening and revival in the hearts of His people?  Here is a list of Specific Prayers For Revival and Spiritual Awakening:[1]

  1. Ask God to bring deep conviction of sin, spiritual brokenness, a holy fear of God and genuine repentance among His people. There will be no revival without these elements and only God can produce them in His people. After all we cannot program or work up genuine brokenness and repentance. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
  2. Pray for deep cleansing, genuine repentance, and spiritual power to engulf pastors and Christian leaders. Revival and spiritual awakening are extremely unlikely without a mighty move of God in pastors and Christian leaders. Renewed pastors are absolutely crucial to a move of God in our day! (Ephesians 6:14-20)
  3. Pray for God to bestow spiritual hunger in His people and draw them to fervent intercession. God has to grant people the genuine faith and the fervent desire for prayer. With all our promotion and programming, we cannot “produce a genuine prayer movement. (Philippians 2:13)
  4. Pray that God will bring loving unity in our churches and a deep harmony between our churches. Many churches need healing among members and many churches need to stop competing jealously with other churches. (John 13:35)
  5. Pray for God to fill His people with a passion to see people saved. (Only God can give a genuine burden for souls.) Until God’s people intensely pray for the lost and do aggressive soul winning revival will tarry. Be sure you are constantly praying for many lost people by name. (Romans 9:1-3)

[1] https://www.absc.org/articles/10-specific-prayers-for-revival-spiritual-awakening/



“Tune My Heart”

           I have been thinking.  Having been a Worship Leader, I realized that we could get away with a lot in the first song each Sunday, if I really wanted. Very few would even notice.  People are coming in late, trying to settle their kids, silencing their phones, checking their phones, wrapping up conversations, or just generally disoriented.

            The truth is many of us walk into worship not quite ready to worship. We need a little time to center and focus ourselves. Some of us are frustrated with our kids. Some are disheartened about our work. Some are stressed about the demands of school or the deadlines of our jobs. Others are depressed or apathetic about life. Yet others are fearful, distraught, or mourning. Weekly worship calls us back into a story with the emotional highs and lows of sin and salvation, so we all need to recalibrate.

            The beginning of worship is a critical moment when we release everything else demanding our attention into the capable hands of the very One we are preparing to encounter.

Tune My Heart

            Some historic hymns seem to run on an endless tank of fuel. No matter how many times we sing them, they speak to us, stir us, and lead us to worship. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is one of those hymns for me.

Come, thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace.

          Tune my heart. It’s like guitar in its case, or left out on a stand, it’s not the same guitar. When it is picked up a few days later and strummed, it’s out of tune. Because of forces inside (wood, tension, aging strings) and forces outside (temperature, humidity), a guitar left alone will always fall out of tune.

The same phenomenon happens in our hearts. Between Sundays, we get knocked around, and the forces inside and outside of us — our sin, others’ sin, and the fallenness of the world — send our hearts in all kinds of directions. When we come back to worship together, and the Holy Spirit begins to strum the strings of our hearts, we hear dissonance. Hearts always require re-tuning.

            Because this kind of calibration is critical, but can be difficult, consider a few tips for how to prepare your hearts well for worship.

Worship starts before you enter.

            As many have said before, we don’t enter into corporate worship and begin to worship. We come into the space already worshiping. Our hearts have been loving and desiring in all kinds of directions this week. The first step is to simply recognize and confess that fact, praying that the Holy Spirit would increasingly narrow the gap between the worship offered on Sundays and the worship offered Mondays through Saturdays. The worshiper who grows in orienting their heart toward God Monday through Saturday (whole-life worship) will find themselves more calibrated for Sundays (gathered worship).

Center your heart before worship.

            Before a worship service, all of us can do things that make entrance into worship easier. We can meditate on a verse or two in Scripture or pray through a psalm. We can listen to music that stirs and orients our hearts. Perhaps just ten minutes of quiet is what we need. Certainly turning our phone to “do not disturb” (or even off) can be a helpful, intentional practice to calm our frayed, distracted minds.

Arrive early.

            Few things make it harder to fully engage in worship than arriving just on time or late. Arriving early gives us plenty of time to find a place to sit, and then center our hearts through the word and prayer.

            We’ll also have a chance to prepare for worship by greeting others. Some people think the only way to prepare for worship is to quietly pray and ignore everyone else. That’s a one-dimensional way to approach worship. Because worship is both vertical (us and God) and horizontal (one another), greeting the people worshiping next to you is a wonderful way to calibrate your heart for corporate worship.

Make the most of the first moments.

            Jump into the deep end. Let the call to worship and the opening hymns or songs flood your mind and heart. Sing loudly, breathe deeply, feel passionately. Sometimes, participating physically actually leads our affections to engage spiritually. Recognize that the opening of worship is meant for our calibration, and let it prepare our hearts to worship.



Pure Worship

Going organic has become all the rage now.  People are more than willing to drive the extra mile and pay the extra money for it. The dictionary defines organic as “constitutional or inherent in the basic structure of something; fundamental.”1  So those who take those extra steps to get it want to be assured of getting a product that is as close to nature as possible from a source they trust. They also, more than likely, handle it in such a way as to protect its purity.

This got me thinking; “What if we applied this “organic” concept to our worship – what would it look like? How could we have worship that’s pure, untainted – as God intended?”

Organic worship would be a worship that is grounded and nourished in the Word of God.  It is where we experience His love, learn His ways, and discover His purposes. It’s where we hear the story of His pursuit of us and His call for us to pursue Him.  It is also where we learn how to live a life that is pleasing to Him.  Allowing the Spirit to guide our day-to-day life, including our worship.

God’s Word is also where He reveals His purpose for us.  It is where we can learn from the first worshipers.  We can hear their hearts and see their faith.  It is also where we get a glimpse of His amazing response to their worship.  If we take in all that His Word teaches us regarding worship, we won’t want to just settle for anything less than what He desires.  The attitudes of ignorance, apathy, or callousness would be wiped away.  We will come to the realization that, a focus on ritual, self, or anything else other than our Almighty God just work.  We will not want to “go through the motions” anymore.  Once we get a taste of true, organic worship, and realize that it is so much better and accomplishes so much more, nothing else will do.  We will not get hung up on the things that do not matter or that seriously hinder us.  We will just want to get to the feet of Jesus.  Remember – the WORD is ALIVE! (Hebrews 4:12) It pierces our hearts. It diminishes the glories of this world and raises the glories of our King – giving us a greater passion to worship Him!
 
“What is the cost?” you may ask.  It does cost a little more.  If we haven’t had to go the extra mile to get there, chances are it is not organic. True worship involves sacrifice.  Once we understand the value of true, organic worship, there is no cost too high or sacrifice too great.  We know that He alone is worthy!  We know that His sacrifice was far greater.

“How do we pursue this organic worship?”  Here are a few steps that will help:

  1. Do our homework: Know what the Bible teaches regarding God, your relationship to Him, and worship.
      1. “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” 1 Pet.2:2 NASB.
      2. “O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places” Psalm 43:3 NASB.
  2. Pay attention to the source: Allow the Holy Spirit to reign in your life and trust His guidance of your worship.
      1. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” Romans 12:1 NASB.
      2. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” John 4:23-24.
  3. Don’t taint it: Pursue a pure, singular focus on God Almighty in worship.
      1. “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the LORD And righteousness from the God of his salvation” Psalm 24:3-5 NASB
      2. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” Romans 12:2 NASB.
      3. “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” Philippians 3:3 NASB
  4. Pay the price: Sacrifice the time and attention necessary to pursue an intimate relationship with God and to worship Him.
      1. “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” Hebrews 13:15 NASB.
      2. “Willingly I will sacrifice to You; I will give thanks to Your name, O LORD, for it is good” Psalm 54:6 NASB.

1 – https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/organic

 


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