Relationship with Others


2 Peter 1-3

Discover His heart:  “God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.”

Tom and I are celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary this week, and yes, we did get married when we were twelve.  I thank God every day for the love that we share and the blessing that Tom is in my life.  There was a time back in our early years of dating, however, when I couldn’t foresee this long and happy union because Tom just wasn’t perfect, and this was troubling to me.  I had a friend offer wise counsel when she advised, “God created woman to be a helpmate.  If you’re looking for the perfect man, he doesn’t need one.” Husband and wife, working as a team, bringing their strengths to the union – great advice!  But it took a little admonition from the Lord to finally straighten me out. 

@ 2 Peter 1
One particular day back then I was talking to God about Tom and his imperfection.  I didn’t think that I had accomplished perfection in my own life, but for some reason I felt I needed it in the one I loved. Thankfully, because God is so merciful, He chose not to smite me on the spot but instead sent me to 2 Peter 1:3-7: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life… And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature…In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.”

After reading these words, God suggested that I contact Him again regarding any criticism of Tom after I had achieved all these godly attributes in my own life.  Ouch!  Well, needless to say, we’ve never had that conversation.  I took God’s correction to heart that day and have done my best to remember that we all are a work in progress.   Every day the Holy Spirit is working on developing His divine nature in my life and in Tom’s life as well. 

Faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, love for everyone – I’ve got my work cut out for me, and there’s little time to be criticizing someone else.  As far as reaching perfection on this earth, chances are…well, there are no chances.  Only One has lived a perfect life, and He died for it.

Moving Forward:  Living this day as a work in progress, seeking to share in His divine nature and looking forward to a perfect eternity in heaven. 

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 16-19

Acts 15-16 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He guides our decisions through His Word and godly leadership

I really look forward to the biennial meeting of the ministers in my fellowship from churches all across the United States.  It’s a great time to visit with old and make new friends from all over the country.  We eat together, shop together and talk for hours about our lives, the ministry and the future.  The evening services are inspirational, encouraging and they challenge us to reach more souls with the gospel. What I must admit is that I don’t enjoy the business sessions, a primary purpose of the General Council meeting.

In these business meetings as well as those on a state level, I’ve observed a few men and women through the years act in a way that should have been an embarrassment to them.  Fortunately, I’ve seen godly leadership respond with grace and wisdom in these situations, and decisions were made in a calm and friendly atmosphere…for the most part. That being said, I still rather spend my time visiting with a friend over a cup of coffee or walking around the huge exhibition hall receiving free pens, mints and other good stuff, but I guess somebody has to do the business. 

@ Acts 15
Well, a little altercation had developed in the early church, and it was causing some dissension within the body of believers.  Some were insisting that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised like the Jewish Christians.  They were calling for a strict adherence to the Old Testament laws.  Paul and Barnabas, who were out on the front lines, strongly disagreed with this requirement.  “So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.  At the meeting, after a long discussion…” (6)  Yes, welcome to the first General Council!

The main contributors to this discussion were James and Peter, elders of the church in Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas, missionary evangelists.  Paul and Barnabas, who were in the trenches ministering to the Greeks and others, had come to accept the Gentiles as is.

Peter’s very liberating experience with Cornelius earlier in Acts 10 had softened his heart to the acceptance of Gentiles, “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” (8-11)  According to Peter, circumcision was not going to change God’s love and acceptance of the Gentiles.  Let’s hear it for sound reason in a business meeting!

James, who had been a strict Palestinian Jew and who was obviously the leader of this Council, could have been the sticking point in this discussion, but instead he only proved his godly spirit-led character.  “When they had finished, James stood and said, ‘Brothers, listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself…And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.’” (13-14,19)   All were in agreement and the matter was settled.  Letters confirming the agreement were delivered throughout the church world. “And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.” (31)

This agreement not only affected the church world at that time, but also right up to today.  Godly men discussed and reasoned together according to scripture. (16-18) From what we read, it appears there were no politicians or agenda-driven dialogues to cloud the issue or bring division.  I think I could have handled this business meeting and would have been blessed for having been there.   However, at this juncture in church history, I wonder if women were welcomed in the dialogue.  Just as the decision that day, change and acceptance can be good. 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful for our early church leadership and for leaders today who listen to all sides and make godly decisions to bless the church.

Tomorrow @ 2 Peter

Ecclesiastes 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  God takes care of the injustices in life so that we can live free

I remember a discussion I had with my dad many years ago regarding World War II and Adolph Hitler. In a study about Hitler, my teacher at school had left room for the possibility that Hitler had not died in the war. I’m not sure how much disgust and ire a 5th grader can muster about a past war, but I know that I was very upset.  That this monster could possibly still be alive and breathing was more than I could handle, and I immediately approached my dad about it when he got home from work.

Without a doubt, dad’s answer revealed his heart on the subject.  He thought there was enough proof that the evil man had died in the war, but if he had not, Dad hoped that the Jews had imprisoned him and that they were dishing out the kind of judgment he deserved.  My dad was not a vindictive person at all, but no one wants to see crimes of this nature left unpunished.  From our conversation, my indignation dissipated somewhat because I believed that justice had been served one way or another. 

@ Ecclesiastes 8
“I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other. I have seen wicked people buried with honor…In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!” (9,14)  Solomon was disgusted as well that people seem to get away with evil at times, and the injustice of it made him feel as though life was meaningless.  It’s not so much a matter of wanting revenge, but it’s our nature to want to see people get what they have coming to them, whether they deserve good for their good deeds or evil for their evil deeds.

“But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off. The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God.” (12-13)  Well, they may prosper here on this earth, but without repentance, eternity doesn’t look good for them.  The godly, however, look forward to the joy of eternity in heaven, and eternity is a very long time.

To counteract these injustices that occur on occasion, Solomon had a suggestion, “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” (15)  From all of Solomon’s writing, we understand that he was not suggesting that we act irresponsible in response to the unpunished evil that we see, but rather that we change our focus to the good things in life.

We have to let go of evil and injustice over which we have no control.  I’ve known too many dear souls that have allowed this very thing to eat at them until they are ill and depressed.  I’ve always believed that we allow evil to win when we let it diminish our joy and peace in life.  Evil that is out of our hands is punished best when we disregard its future and leave it to God to handle.  Our hurt and disgust will roll off of us like water off a duck’s back, and as Solomon suggested, let’s enjoy life. 

Moving Forward: I’m so thankful today that I don’t have to carry the weight of injustice and unpunished evil over which I have no control.  God will handle it all.

Tomorrow @ Zechariah 1-7

Psalms 131-133 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He blesses our unity with life everlasting

Olive oil has been an important commodity since early civilization and it’s still an lucrative product in Italy.  Imagine the excitement for this Italian girl to be taken by dear missionary friends to a castle in the hills of Tuscany, one with a working olive grove and press.  The kind workers allowed us to watch the oil making process from start to finish.  Yes, be still my heart!

The process was lengthy, beginning with a thorough rinsing to remove soil, then the olives were crushed and pulverized into a paste.  At the end, the paste was pressed under pressure, the vegetable water extracted and the finished product was the fragrant liquid we know and enjoy as olive oil.  Olive oil doesn’t just happen – it’s a process under pressure. 

@ Psalm 133
“How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!  For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe.” (1-2)  This anointing oil not only went through the pressing process, but it was also combined with pure fragrances, producing an extraordinary aroma to the Lord.  In this same way, heaven is filled with a pleasing fragrance when God’s people live together in harmony and peace.  But just like the olive oil process, harmony most often results from a process under pressure.

The harmony that believers experience is the result of a process that involves lives that were once soiled by this world but are now cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  Their individual agendas and selfish goals are surrendered to the breaking or crushing process of the Holy Spirit to where their hearts are contrite to God’s desires and plans. This pressing, this process under pressure, produces a precious aroma of unified worship that pleases the Lord.  “And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.” (3)

I like to visualize the anointing of Aaron as the oil was poured saturating his hair, down his face and beard, filling every crevice, every fold of fabric and all the way down to his hem.  The oil saturated and marked the fabric, as oil will do, and left an amazing fragrance that filled the nostrils of God and everyone around Aaron.  All this was a visual and sensory reminder of God’s anointing on him. When God’s people live in harmony with love toward one another, we are marked and fragrant in a way for all those around us to sense. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)

Just as the best perfumes today attract people to them, our fragrant harmony will attract to us those who have never experienced it.  They will wonder, what is that? Where can I find it?  Just as Jesus prayed for unity in John 17, when we live together as believers in harmony, God blesses our unity and lost souls are attracted to it because they find it nowhere else.  No wonder David sang, “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” 

Moving Forward: Along with all believers, my goal today is to be saturated and marked with the oil of harmony, so fragrant that others will be attracted to us. 

Tomorrow @ Ecclesiastes 7-8

Acts 11-12 (NLT)

Discover His heart:  He calls us to be His followers regardless of the cost

I really dislike labeling, for the most part. Of course, I don’t mean the labeling on my files or canned goods, and I must admit I enjoy an upscale label or two on my clothing.  I don’t appreciate labeling people or people groups because our labels are often judgmental and confining.  However, there is one label you can give me all day long and that is Christian.  A Christian by definition is a believer in Jesus Christ as Savior. Unfortunately in the jargon of today, I’m not certain what is meant by the term Christian.

“Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)” (11:25-26)  To many, the term Christian has become a generic term for anyone who is not a pagan, but the New Testament Christian was much more than a label, “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church.  He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter.” (12:1-3)  In the early church, professing to be Christian was life-threatening!

I remember reading the interesting conversation between Jesus and the Sons of Thunder, James and John, “Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do us a favor.’ ‘What is your request?’ He asked. They replied, ‘When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You don’t know what you are asking!  Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?’…‘Oh yes,’ they replied, ‘we are able!’” (Mark 10:35-39) And, of course, they did drink from that cup.  Peter said to Jesus, “I’m ready to die for you,” (John 13:37) and he did.  These disciples were Christians to the death. There were many early Christian martyrs who were tortured for their faith, like Stephen and like Polycarp who declared to his death, “I am Christian!”

There are individuals in this century, too, who know what it means to be Christian. I met a young woman from a Muslim country who accepted Jesus as her Savior.  She was forced to run to save her life because her father was ordered to kill her.  She was now living in foreign country, no home, no job, but said to me in her broken English and with tears in her eyes “I love my Jesus so much. I never forsake Him.”  She is Christian.

Jesus explained the walk of a Christian in Matthew 10:37-39, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”  The words of Jesus beg the question, “Am I Christian?”

Moving Forward:  More determined than ever, I declare today I am Christian.  I understand the meaning.  No wavering, no hesitation.  I am Christian. 

Tomorrow @ I Peter 1-3

Acts 9-10 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: God uses our difficult experiences to touch the hearts of others

When we receive salvation and follow the Lord, we make a decisive break from the old way of life, the old way of doing things.  We become new creatures yet we bring along with us memories from our experiences in life to date.  God is faithful to help us move past the difficult moments we’ve experienced so that we can look forward to better days ahead, but He doesn’t always remove all painful memories and feelings.  He has a purpose in this.  Paul is a great example of how our past experiences can serve God’s greater purpose for our lives. 

@ Acts 9
“Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.  So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.” (1-2)  When we think about hateful leaders and individuals throughout history who murdered Christians for their faith, we might as well throw Saul into the mix because he was one of them.  Talk about painful memories and feelings.

Better than just about anyone, Paul understood the hearts of those who were blinded to the truth about Jesus.  Highly educated and qualified, Paul made his appeal for Christ to the Jewish leaders, to government leaders and to Jews and Gentiles alike.  He understood their hatred, their confusion and their doubt because he had lived it.

Just as the scales fell off of Paul’s blinded eyes after his glorious conversion, we read throughout Acts how he was so very capable to open the blind eyes of others to see their need for salvation. “Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.” (22)

Paul remembered enough of his painful past to make this statement to Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.  But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”(I Timothy 1:15-16) God used Paul’s hateful past to serve a greater purpose of which we, too, are the recipients today through his written words.

Remembering our difficult experiences in the past makes us more sensitive to others who are walking through similar trials.  We understand their fears, their broken hearts and sometimes even their anger at God and everyone.  Like Paul in his day, we are able to help them and convince them to believe in God.  “[God] comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

We can fulfill His greater purpose to touch others who walk where we have walked only through opening our hearts and eyes to see their need of Him.  Our understanding of this walk and our victory through Christ challenge us to share with them that “they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life.”

Moving Forward: My prayer today is that God will open my eyes to see those whose pain I, too, have felt so that I may lead them to Him. 

Tomorrow @ James 4-5

James 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He reveals Himself through our salvation and our good works

Most of us have encountered the wheeler dealer, the pitchman, who makes promises but doesn’t deliver.  Our dealings with them often result in difficult learning experiences.  Years ago we planned a mission’s trip to Paraguay with 200 youth and leaders.  A travel agent approached us with the best price on tickets we could find, and more importantly, he was the only agent who found seats on the days we needed to travel.  We sent him the money with the understanding he would meet us at the airport with the tickets – lesson #1.  And indeed, he met us at the airport on our day of departure, but could not produce the tickets because…well, at that point it really didn’t matter.

There we sat with 200 eager students on a mission and no tickets. Through a series of miracles, and I mean miracles, we reached our five cities of ministry in Paraguay and those churches we helped to plant are still reaching the lost today.  God is faithful when others are not.  That travel agent could say he was a travel agent all day long, but until he produced the tickets, it really didn’t matter what he said – lesson #2.  We have to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  James, one of the Jerusalem church leaders, was all over this one. 

@ James 2
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless…You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.  Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?” (14-19) Show me the tickets!

To prove a contradiction in scripture to James 2, Bible skeptics love to point to Romans 1 where Paul teaches, “‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’…people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” (3,5)  Good works do not save us, only the blood of Jesus can do that, but good works are an indicator that we have received salvation.  Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (2:8-10)  Show me the tickets!

God sees our faith, our belief in Him, because He sees our hearts.  Man sees our faith through our love and good deeds.  Many of us have begun the Christmas shopping tradition and what a great opportunity to show our faith to those without food or clothing.  I know a family that first buys Christmas with all its trimmings for a needy family, and then with the money that is left, they buy gifts for each other.  I see Jesus all over them.  However, our good deeds should reveal our faith to others all year long.  We don’t want to be like the useless travel agent who never proved to us that he was a travel agent.  Show them our good works! 

Moving Forward: I plan to do some good works today because of the great work He did for me when He saved me. 

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 4-6

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