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From God to Us, From Us to Others

Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen.  (Gal 1:3-5 NKJV)

I don't know why, but this time in my readings through Paul's letters, I have been intrigued by the nature of his introductions where in the past I have most likely skimmed them in order to get to the "good stuff".  But there is good stuff in all of God's Word, even in the salutations. 

Have you ever noticed how Paul often wishes grace and peace from God to his audience?  These are good things to wish for someone and I like to think Paul is wishing grace and peace to me as well.  However, what I would like to explore further today are not the aspects of grace and peace but the fact that they come from God and how deeply Paul must have been connected with God to feel so comfortable in relaying the message of peace and grace to all of us.   In the passage above from Galatians 1:3-5, I see three things about Paul that we would do well to mimick ourselves.

Paul knew God intimately.

Because of Paul's deep connection with God through the scriptures and prayer, he related to God as Father, knew Jesus as Lord and could pass on God's message of the gospel to others with authority.  Paul also knew of God's will.

Application: How well do I know God? What have I learned about Him or from Him today that I can share with someone else?

Paul cared for people deeply.

Paul's intimacy with God gave him the ability to care for people so much that he would risk everything to share God's message of grace, peace and salvation to them. How else could Paul have continued his work of spreading the gospel through all of his trials - the beatings, the prison terms, etc.? More evidence of Paul's love for his "flock" is seen in his letters by the prayers and thanksgiving Paul offers to God for them.  Because of God's grace in Paul's life, Paul was a thankful man.

Application: How deeply am I infused with God's love?  Am I spending enough time in His presence and in His word and allowing it to work in me so it can overflow to others in my life?

Paul gave God the glory explicitly.

There is no doubt that Paul was a humble man and no doubt as to where Paul got his strength, gifts and authority from.  Even in a simple letter salutation, Paul uses the phrase referring to God's "to whom be glory forever".

Application: How often do I give thanks to God for all of the good things in my life? Do I recognize each moment that all good things come from Him and share that fact with others?

Yes, we can all learn from Paul.  He was real and genuine, yet he was so intimately connected with God that he was able to give to others naturally out of the overflow of God's blessings in his life.   May all of us stay in touch with God in this way so we too, can pass on His blessings to others.


Is Hell A Real Place?

Each week in my hometown paper, the Kansas City Star, a question is asked of some selected religious leaders in the area regarding matters of faith.  Each week two of these selected readers address the weekly question in this column.  Today's question was this:

Is hell a real place where people are sent?

Let's hear a couple of excerpts of what our panelists had to say:

The Rev. Duke Tufty, pastor, Unity Temple on the Plaza:

"I believe the concept of hell as a destination where we may or may not go depending on whether we have been naughty or nice to be pure, unequivocal bosh.  To threaten people with the notion of hell,or even suggest it, is sinister manipulation and spiritual abuse of the highest degree.  Is there a single person reading this column that would sentence their child, sibling or loved one to hell?  I assume there isn't and I know God wouldn't.  Our creator is a loving, accepting and forgiving God and would never do, or allow to be done, anything that would cast us into eternal suffering."

The Rev. Pat Rush, pastor, Visitation Catholic Church:

"The Catholic Church teaches that hell indeed exists. The church does not teach, however that anyone is necessarily in hell."

"Actually Pope John Paul II sketched a different picture of life after death.  He stated that heaven and hell exist, but they are states of being and not physical locations."

"Hell is ... the pain of living forever without and outside of the love of God."

Before I go any further, please, please know that I am not trying to pick on or pigeon-hole any religion here with this post.  I am merely pointing out that what we read or hear by ANYONE, including religious leaders should be tested in light of what the Bible actually says.  Because the subject matter - our eternal destiny - is at stake, I felt that I had to address this topic of hell on my blog.  If my own denominational leader would have said these words, I would have had no choice but to address him as well.

With that said, I wish I could say that I was surprised at what I read today, but I must say that I was unpleasantly not surprised.   I was not surprised because it is a reality in our culture today that Christians are slipping further and further into biblical illiteracy.  The danger in this is that since the Bible is truth, truth is getting lost in the rage of experiential spirituality. 

What do you think about hell?  Do you think it is a real place or is it just an imaginary place conjured up to scare people into submission to authority?  Our Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is very clear in His belief that hell is a real place.  In the New Testament book of Matthew, Jesus is recorded as speaking of hell on nine different occasions (Mt 5:22, 5:29, 5:30, 10:28, 11:23, 16:18, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33).  The major prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel mention hell ten times between them.  John in the book of Revelation, mentions hell 4 times.  Is the Bible true?  Absolutely.  We cannot merely accept only the parts that we like and discard the rest.  Was Jesus telling the truth?  Absolutely.  Jesus is God and therefore cannot lie.  Therefore, if Jesus says that hell is a real place, then hell is a real place.  Who are we to question what God's Word says?

Hell is not just a tactic to me.  It is a real place that I sincerely believe in and do not want the people I love to endure because they chose to reject Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their souls.   I doubt that hell is a tactic to God either.  God clearly doesn't want anyone to endure the eternal torment of hell (2 Pe 3:9), but His perfect love demands a hell.  The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics describes this truth very clearly:

Hell.  God's Love Demands a Hell.

The Bible asserts that "God is love" (1 John 4:16). But love cannot act coercively, only persuasively.  A God of love cannot force people to love him.  Paul spoke of things being done freely and not of complusion (2 Cor 9:7).  Forced love is not love; it is rape.  A loving being always gives "space" to others.  He does not force himself upon them against their will.  As C.S. Lewis observed, "the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use.  Merely to override a human will...would be for Him useless.  He cannot ravish.  He can only woo" (Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 38).  Hence, those who do not choose to love God must be allowed not to love him.  Those who do not wish to be with him must be allowed to be separated from him.  Hell allows separation from God.

Hell is a real place where people are sent.  I don't like that idea any more than anyone else, but I must accept it as fact because my Holy Bible tells me so, no matter what anyone else says.   


Beneficial Boasting

And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV

Being boastful is not always a bad thing, but I think most often in our lives we do see boasting as a form of pride more often than not.  The apostle Paul, however, was not using the term "boast" in the prideful sense, when you consider the Greek definition of the translated word (kauchaomai: (make) boast, glory, joy, rejoice) as well as the context of the word in the passage.  Paul was not a prideful man, perhaps because of the "thorn" in the flesh that God allowed Satan to give him as indicated in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8.

The only good boasting is that done out of a pure, humble and thankful heart, which gives God the credit for all things overcome.  Paul definitely had a humble and thankful heart as we've seen in many of his letters to the churches of the new testament.  Paul loved to give credit to God for all of the things he had overcome in his life. 

As many of my faithful readers know, I have been doing some speaking lately for Stonecroft Ministries where I give my testimony as I share my journey in life of relying on God and accepting the realization that it is He who is in control of my life and not myself.  Honestly, I have had a hard time with sharing my testimony.  Surprisingly enough, the hard part has not been the public speaking aspect.  I'm rather enjoying that piece as God has somehow enabled me to forego my previous fear of public speaking to do what He has asked of me.  The hard part has not even been the telling of my story or the fear of what someone might think about me after sharing my testimony.  My story is not shocking nor shameful in any way, but rather just the story of an ordinary person going through the trials of life.  I merely wish that I could share more of the practical aspects of how I've allowed God to change my life and share the victories that God can give to all of us who place our lives in His hands. Basically, I want to leave myself and my story out of it.  I want for God to get the glory and not my story.  I want to boast about God's power to change a life.

Getting back to Paul, I admire him for his thankful heart.  I admire him for his courage to face life's challenges in total weakness and acknowledgement that without God he was nothing, so that the people he spoke to would only hear the words of Jesus coming out of his mouth.  Paul was a mighty man for God, because of his weaknesses, not in spite of them.  The power of Christ did indeed rest upon him, and it can rest upon us as well, as we get to know God completely and do and be what He expects of us.  Then, we can do some beneficial boasting.

Application questions:

1) What weakness do I have that will allow Christ to be strong in on my behalf?

2) How thankful is your spirit?  Do you realize that everything you are and have that is good is from God?  Write down a list of all of your good qualities/abilities/etc. and give thanks to God for them in a prayer.

3) How can you tell others about the things God has done for you in your life?  Can you effectively keep yourself out of the story?


Being Consistent

For some say, "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing."  Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.  - 2 Cor 10:10 NIV

Are you the same person at home as you are at work?  Are you the same person at work as you are at play?  Would people at your church see you the same way as the people you hang out with outside of church?  Questions like these get to the core of our character.  I recently spoke at a small women's event here locally and found myself chuckling upon hearing my introduction read to the group, knowing that there were some ladies there from a variety of areas of my life.  Some were there from my former church.  Some were from my new church.  A couple of ladies I play golf with as well as my hairdresser were there.  I also had a friend come whom I knew from former job.  I'll say here as I said when I took the mic from the emcee: "I'm glad as I stand in front of people who know me that those things she read were true, because they would know."   You see, most of my previous talks had been in front of strangers.

I am no apostle Paul, but I do believe that consistency in character is essential in all of us.  Just as Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he would be the same in person as the individual who penned the letter to them, I want to live what I believe as well.  I would hope that whoever reads this blog who knows me personally would not have any doubt as to the sincerity of what I express here and that I do live out to the best of my ability what I "preach".    

So now, as usual, I'm going to share my learnings and ponderings with you in the form of some "homework" questions.  :)  Please know, that most the time in these questions, I'm merely rewording the questions I wrote to myself in my own journal so more of can have "fun" with them. 

1) When was the last time you asked God to look at an area of your life to reveal areas that He wants you to change?   Is something coming to mind right now?

2) How can you conform more to God's will in your life than your will to provide more consistency in all areas?

3) What change are you going to make today? 

Follow the Leader

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. - 1 Cor 11:1 NKJV

Who do you follow?  Who do you look up to?  We all have someone or several people in our lives whom we look to for guidance in one way or another.  Are you that someone to a person in your life?  To be a leader is a big responsibility.  Paul, the writer of 1 Corinthians knew this.  He knew that people imitated him and heeded his teachings.  For this reason, Paul wanted to make one thing clear: that he should not be followed in word or in deed unless he was in accordance with what Jesus Christ would do or say.

I like this about Paul.  He humbly recognized his faults (Romans 7:14-25) but still took great care to do the right thing and he wanted to make sure that first and foremost people were following Jesus.  That is the essence of what Paul wanted.  He wanted people to follow Jesus.  I want to be like Paul.  If what I say or do does not line up with what God says in His Word, than I don't want to be followed.  Always test for yourself what I say, write or live, by the truth of God's word.

Following Jesus takes work.  Following Jesus is more than going to church and getting an emotional high with hands raised while singing a favorite praise song.  Yes, that is a part of worship, a part that I believe cannot fully take place without some relationship with God.  However, true worship is more than an emotional response to an inspirational message or song designed by the local church or a speaker to evoke a reaction in the hearers.  True worship is defined by how we lived our lives in the day to day grind.  True worship is seeking God through the pages of the Bible even when we don't feel like it sometimes.  True worship is reading a passage of scripture and applying it to our lives even though we don't like how it makes us feel. True worship is a life of surrender, following the true Leader, no matter the cost.

For further thought:

1) How is your walk with God?  Would someone following you be following God as well?

2) How many times per week do you examine your life in light of what the Bible says?  Following God means that we must know what He says to do.  How can we know if we don't read His word?

3) Who are you following?  Do you know for certain that what they do or preach aligns with God's ways?  Once again, we must know Jesus Christ to know if others are also following Him.  And how can we know this unless we dive into God's Word for ourselves?

Watch Your Step

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! - 1 Cor 10:12 NIV

It is funny how seemingly nothing can trip us up and make us stumble from time to time, isn't it?  I sure hope that someone else besides me has tripped over nothing in their path before when walking across a room!  :)  Just as in the physical world, we are no different spiritually.  It never fails that once we get clicking along in life that something appears to trip us up.  That something could be an emotion, an attitude, an event or even another person that challenges us and temporarily prevents us from being our best.  It could even be our "favorite" adversary, Satan, taking advantage of our weaknesses.  The key is to never think we are too mature or wise, etc. to ever stumble like "those other people" do.

Paul knew the dangers of becoming complacent in his Christian walk.  In 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13, he reminds the Corinthians of this very thing.  In short, Paul writes that their forefathers displeased God with their actions, in spite of being spiritually fed so that they could grow into mature believers.   From the text, here is what Paul says:

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Jesus Christ.  5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. (1 Cor 10:1-5 NIV)

It is interesting to me that Paul equates the power of faith in Jesus Christ to that of the power the Jews had in their relationship with God - the spiritual rock of Jesus Christ.  However, even with their access to the Rock, they strayed from God's ways.  This should be a sober reminder to all of us that it is imperative to stay intimately connected to God through His Word.  In order to deter them from following the same path of idolatry, sexual sins, and testing God, Paul exhorts his readers to remember the punishment God inflicted on the people of Israel due to their disobedience.  He tells them to be careful, lest they fall.

So how can we apply this passage to our lives?  We are really no different from the Christians in Corinth.  The good news is like them, you and I have access to the strength and power of Jesus in our lives.  The bad news is, we are also prone to the same sins as they.  To watch our steps and keep from falling, we need to stay close to our Guide by knowing God's Word. We need to heed the examples of those that went before us.  That's the best way of being "careful" that I know.

Unconditional Thankfulness

"Blessed be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name..."
- Matt Redman -
Lyrics from "Blessed Be Your Name"

When I saw the quote for "In Other Words" this week, I couldn't resist writing about it.  Ever since I heard the song from which the quote comes, I have been touched by its lyrics because of the thought behind them that so depicts what it means to be a mature Christian.  When we can thank God in whatever circumstance we are in, we are able to just love God for who He is and not just the the things He does for us.  In that, we can prove we have grown in our faith.

It is easy to praise God when things are going well, isn't it?  When we're in the land that is plentiful and things in our world are just as they should be it is so easy.  But when we're in that desert place or traveling through the wilderness of life with no end in sight, it gets a little harder to thank God for our situations.   I believe that Job had this concept down pat - thanking God no matter what.  Remember how he had lost everything but still praised God in the midst of His circumstances?  The verse below is most likely the foundation behind Matt Redman's lyrics:

Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.

Job 1:20-21

It takes spiritual maturity to praise God all the time - to give thanks in everything (1 Thes 5:18). However, as we grow in Christ, we can learn to give thanks to God even in our darkest times. We still praise God because through His love letter to us, He tells us that everything in our lives serves a purpose (Ro 8:28) and that He has promised us an awesome future in Him (Ro 8:18).  Most importantly, we can bless God's name through the praise of our words and our lives because He is good.  Purely good.  I am awestruck when I think of His perfection in all things.  Yet even in His perfection, He loves little ol' imperfect me.

Dear God, through all of life, allow me to consistently sing your praises even though I might find myself in a desert place or without complete understanding of what you are doing in my life.  You are my rock.  You are the water that quenches my thirst.  Thank You for just being who You are.  Amen.

Go for the Prize

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way to get the prize.  - 1 Cor 9:24 NIV

Whether we realize it or not, all of us are in the race of life.  Some of us are clear about the course to follow.  Some are not.  Some of us are running with ease because we have trained hard and have established some best practices to run the best race we can.  Others of us are wandering aimlessly because we can't see where we need to go.  Still others feel like dropping out because of their lack of stamina due to poor preparation.  Where are you on this race of life?  Are you running to get the prize?

Before I go any further, I should confess to you that I don't like to run.   But I do like and have played many other sports and I do like to win.  I am no different in life.  I want to succeed and I want to do it in the most efficient way possible.  I want the prize.  I want the victory.  I believe that the passage in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 shows us how to achieve it.  Let's dig in!

The Prize

We all must have something to strive for.  If we don't, it is hard to keep motivated day in and day out in the sometimes mundane duties of every day life.  The prize to which we all run for is this: to hear God say to us "Well done, my good and faithful servant."  All of our specific goals to achieve this prize are different, because God has made us all unique to be used for the purpose He has in mind.  However, all of our goals should include some means of furthering God's Kingdom on earth by sharing the good news of the gospel. 

What prize are you seeking?

The Winning Formula (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Run to WIN - As the passage above states, Paul tells us to "run in such a way to get the prize". (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Run with DISCIPLINE - How is your training regimen?  With the increasing demands of our fast-paced society, it is imperative that we stay disciplined in our daily time with God.  If we don't spend time in our bibles or in prayer, we end up like a marathon runner who never takes a drink of water...flat on our faces.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Cor 9:25 NIV)

Run with PURPOSE - Have you determined your course?  Are your actions aligned with your purpose?  Runners run the path they are told to run.   They complete the course assigned to them without wandering aimlessly around.  Just like the runner, if we don't have our course planned out, we will never win the prize because we will never finish the race?  Do you have a personal mission or purpose statement?  If you don't, first spend some time in prayer and in His word asking God to help you set your feet on the path He has intended for you.  If you have one, do your actions fall into line with your purpose in life? 

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. (1 Cor 9:26 NIV)

Run by the RULES - In any game we must play by the rules of the game in order to win the prize.  We don't want to get disqualified, do we?  In a life of service to God we must continually fill our minds with God's word so that we know the rules of the game.   Paul understood the importance of keeping his mind and body pure and under the control of God rather than his own selfish wants and desires.  We must strive to keep ourselves holy, as God is holy, so that we will not fall down and remain there, thus getting disqualified from the race.  How well do you know God's "rules"?  How willing are you to live by them no matter what the cost?

No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor 9:27 NIV)

Dear God in heaven, I thank you for allowing me to run in your race. Thank you for providing your word as water and as nourishment for my thirsty soul.  Thank you for your Words that not only comfort but convict as I look into the "mirror" of them to view how I really stack up to your idea of perfection.  Help me to put away my own desires so that I will not be disqualified from the work you have called me to do.  Teach me your ways and make them so ingrained in me that even my very impulses are godly.  Amen.

Let Us Live To Make Men Free

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.  1 Cor 15:58 NKJV

As I reflect on my past week of working on my website (which should be completed next week), my readings through 1 Corinthians and my coaching classwork which includes developing a life's mission statement, I find myself in an interesting place.  I'm tired, but from good things.  And I am motivated to keep moving forward because I know the direction in which I am going.  But most of all, I am encouraged by God's words to us, that our labor for Him is not in vain.  All of our labor for God is for one end - so that all people can have the hope of sharing an eternal life with God in heaven.   The hope for the believer is that one day our corruptible (earthly) bodies will be changed into incorruptible (heavenly) bodies.  As 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 so eloquently states:

54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."

55 "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?

56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (NKJV)

Fellow laborers, we are laboring for the "cause" of all time.  Our work is most assuredly not in vain, even if sometimes we can't see the direct results personally.  We must remain steadfast in it no matter how tired we become, knowing that God will give us the strength to do what He has called us to do.  (Is 40:31).

I have to share now a couple of stanzas (verses 3 and 4) from one of our country's most beloved patriotic hymns, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, now in the public domain.  The hymn is about Jesus, not a battle in our country, not about the USA, but about Jesus, His return and His power to change lives.  It challenges me as well to live my life as He died - to make men free.  May you be edified, exhorted, and encouraged to answer His call on your life today.  Let us live to make men free.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat,
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
O be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Glory! glory, hallelujah!  Glory! glory, hallelujah! Glory! glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.