I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Is your life hard right now? When you look at others, do you sometimes wonder why they’re not struggling like you are, why things seem to be going better for them? Worse than that, are your disappointments and difficulties causing you to start questioning God–whether He really loves you, whether He’s seeing what’s happening, whether He even cares?

“Always be joyful. Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.” (‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:16-18‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

God definitely sees what’s going on with us, He loves us, and He cares. But we sometimes misunderstand our relationship with Him. He is the God of the universe and beyond. He does not exist for us, to grant our every wish; we exist for Him, to serve Him, worship Him and glorify Him. He is the Lord and Master of all, and this means He gets to do (or allow) things in our  life as He sees fit, and He doesn’t have to answer to us, or explain why. Job, who lost wealth, children, and his health, didn’t get an explanation; we may not either. What Job did get, however, was a better understanding of God and his relationship to Him:

“Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. 

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’ 

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? As the light approaches, the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal; it is robed in brilliant colors. The light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence.

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depths? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Have you seen the gates of utter gloom? Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know! 

“Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Do you know how to get there? But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced! 

“Have you visited the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of hail? (I have reserved them as weapons for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war.) Where is the path to the source of light? Where is the home of the east wind? 

“Who created a channel for the torrents of rain? Who laid out the path for the lightning? Who makes the rain fall on barren land, in a desert where no one lives? Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground and make the tender grass spring up? 

“Does the rain have a father? Who gives birth to the dew? Who is the mother of the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens? For the water turns to ice as hard as rock, and the surface of the water freezes. 

“Can you direct the movement of the stars— binding the cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion? Can you direct the constellations through the seasons or guide the Bear with her cubs across the heavens? Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth? “Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct? Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? Who is wise enough to count all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the parched ground is dry and the soil has hardened into clods?

“…Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?”” (‭‭Job‬ ‭38:1-33‬, 40:2 NLT)‬‬

God says so much more, but Job understood, and we must too.

God does love us–more than our human minds can fully comprehend:

“We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. They are the people he called, because that was his plan. God knew them before he made the world, and he chose them to be like his Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters. God planned for them to be like his Son; and those he planned to be like his Son, he also called; and those he called, he also made right with him; and those he made right, he also glorified. So what should we say about this? If God is for us, no one can defeat us. He did not spare his own Son but gave him for us all. So with Jesus, God will surely give us all things. Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one, because God is the One who makes them right. Who can say God’s people are guilty? No one, because Christ Jesus died, but he was also raised from the dead, and now he is on God’s right side, appealing to God for us. Can anything separate us from the love Christ has for us? Can troubles or problems or sufferings or hunger or nakedness or danger or violent death? But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed his love for us. Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:28-35, 37-39‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

“God planned for them to be like His Son.” The reason God allows disappointments and difficulties into our lives is to conform us to the image of Christ–to make us more like Jesus. 

“God is the One who made all things, and all things are for his glory. He wanted to have many children share his glory, so he made the One who leads people to salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

Jesus was perfected through suffering, and we are too. Remember that the Father “…cuts off every branch in…[Christ] that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (‭‭John‬ ‭15:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬) The pruning hurts and we would prefer not to experience it, but it is exactly this which perfects us.

And that is why we are instructed to, “Always be joyful. Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.” (‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:16-18‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

The truth is that your life may be hard now; others might really be having an easier time of it. But rest assured that God has a plan and He knows what He’s doing. 

So how should we respond? Should we complain and grumble and accuse God of not having our well-being at heart? Should we be ungrateful like the Israelites who didn’t trust His purposes and provision in their lives, and were judged for it? Or, should we understand that “…our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all,” and “…fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:17-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Dear Lord,

Help me not grumble, but give thanks in all things! Amen.

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Matthew 24:9-13

Are you surprised by the increasing hostility toward Christianity in our country today? Has it taken you aback?  Those of us who still cling to faith in Christ are increasingly being made to feel foolish or backward for our beliefs, to the point that discrimination is an imminent possibility; even actual persecution in the not too distant future is no longer an absurd concept.

“…They will hate you because you believe in Me [because you’re being stubborn and won’t “get with” the “progressive” program]. At that time, many will lose their faith [“no one” believes it anymore–how can it be true?], and they will turn against each other and hate each other [not surprising; that’s what happens without the Holy Spirit’s influence in us]. Many false prophets [yeah–they’re not going to stand up and call themselves prophets; these are the voices our culture hears in the media, academia, politics and popular science]  will come and cause many people to believe lies [something that IS NOT TRUE–remember the old advertising adage, “if you repeat it enough people will believe it?”]. There will be more and more evil in the world, so most people will stop showing their love for each other. BUT THOSE PEOPLE WHO KEEP THEIR FAITH UNTIL THE END WILL BE SAVED. (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭24:9-13‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

This generation doesn’t have a monopoly on sin–just listen to the lyrics of some seventies or eighties pop songs! But the situation does seem to be going south. One of the first things you notice in even a superficial study of the decline of Ancient Israel (you knew there was a reason all of that “boring stuff” is there!), is that they didn’t hit rock bottom instantly. A godly ruler was followed by a bad one, then a good one again and so on–until eventually, the downward cycle hit bottom and it was over. Defeat and conquest come, but typically after a period of decline. It’s the same with any nation; there is a longer downward moral progression before the end–which I believe we in the U.S. are in right now.

Recently, Netflix remade the highly popular (yet nonetheless very dark) Japanese anime “Death Note.” The original was a classic moral dilemma: a successful young man who has it all happens upon a magical notebook–one in which simply writing a person’s name causes them to die. It was an examination of our fallen human nature–how an initial misguided but well-intentioned desire to punish criminals who’ve “gotten away with it” grows into a god-complex that is sin for sin’s sake. 

The American version was significantly rewritten from a behavioralistic perspective, however–presumably, because we wouldn’t be able to comprehend how someone who “has it all” can fall into moral decline. The protagonist is now an underdog with the deck stacked against him from the start, so when he acts wickedly we find ways to excuse and rationalize his behavior instead of simply recognizing that he has chosen to do what is evil. Christians, of course, understand that sin is not merely a result of our outward circumstances; these can certainly tempt us and make it easier to do wrong, but at its root, the problem stems from our fallen sin-nature, and anyone can sin. 

What about the popular Game of Thrones series? An entire season was devoted to a character’s brutal abuse, yet even more amazing is this was never in the book–IT WAS WRITTEN IN PURELY FOR THE VIEWING TV AUDIENCES! But what do examples such as these have to do with hostility toward Christianity? And how is all of this related to today’s verse?

The point is that as we, as a people, walk away from the knowledge of God in Christ, we walk increasingly toward various forms of evil. Sins like rebelliousness, dishonesty, even adultery are no longer enough to satiate our cravings; more and more we crave violence and every other other form of perversity and wickedness. Popular media created for our audiences is merely a reflection of this.

Of course, there has always been violence and perversity, but it has been generally isolated to the location where it occurred. Now–with the amazing technological advances of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries–evil that is done anywhere is publicized everywhere–and it is becoming increasingly difficult to isolate yourself from it without removing yourself from society at large.

And, as society is exposed to increasing godlessness, it looses its understand of good and becomes increasingly hostile to it–initially, this leads to condescension toward those who adhere to Biblical beliefs, then to intolerance of those beliefs, discrimination, and eventually even to outright persecution.

We’re not there yet, but neither do we typically hear people openly talking about God in non-church settings anymore. Yet Jesus Christ calls us to do just that–to be the salt and light of this corrupted world–but how do we do that if our convictions and faith are “secret?” To the degree that we remain anchored in the Bible and God’s words remain in us we MUST speak out. As we interact with others in our daily life, we must not be timid or afraid; when appropriate and as His Spirit urges us, we MUST refer to Him, quote Scripture, and speak freely as if God and what He says is a natural part of life–because, after all, ISN’T IT?

Dear Lord,

Help us not lose our faith as the world gets worse; rather, help us be salt and light to those around us as You intend us to be! Amen.

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 Hebrew 13:15

Do you give voice to your faith? Do you actually speak up to attest to the fact that you trust in God? Or do you stay silent when the opportunity presents itself, fearful of giving yourself away as religious? In our ever-increasingly hostile-to-Christianity environment it may seem odd to mention God in a typical secular situation in anything but a blasphemous context. But it is exactly this kind of vocalization of  our faith that honors Him and reminds those we’re with that God is, and that there are still people who believe in Him.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭13:15‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Our culture is increasingly secular–so much so that it seems strange to mention the words “God,” “Jesus,” or “Christ” aloud in many social situations; it just isn’t typically done. About the only times our culture utters these words is as an expletive. Sadly enough though, you can talk about almost anything else–you can even get away with discussing generalities about religion in very non-specific terms–but say something of substance that identifies you as one of “those” kinds of people and you’re pegged.

Yet Jesus Christ–our Savior and heavenly Boss–wants us to get pegged. He wants us to speak up–about Him, about what is true and right and good, about the fact that He exists, and is in charge and very much worthy of the utmost honor, obedience and reverence from us. And, He wants it to come from me. When I might be embarrassed. 

And while I’m on the subject of possibly being embarrassed because someone may find out I trust in Him, here’s what Jesus Himself said about that:

“If anyone is ashamed of Me and My message [words, NKJV] in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark‬ ‭8:38‬ ‭NLT)‬‬

Yeah. I’m NOT ashamed to be associated with Jesus in front of sinful human beings.

“Context is everything” is one of the basic rules of correctly assessing any situation, and we need to recognize that our current world seems to be set to default to an ungodly perspective. When we listen to the news on tv or our car radio, when we scour the internet, when we read a book or watch a movie or attend a play–unless otherwise indicated, we must assume it comes from a place of rejecting God. Some years ago the opposite was true–most people went to church, so you could at least know they knew what God says–whether or not they personally obeyed. Now the reverse is true. And these are the people I’m embarrassed to confess Jesus to?!

I worked Saturday. I’m not a perfect person and my attitude isn’t always either, sadly. I was late, and missed out on a couple of customers, so when I finally got to work with a customer but couldn’t take the actual sale because another associate had gotten them first, in declining I muttered (honestly, I almost didn’t, but something seemed to prompt me to say it) “It’s okay; God will provide!”

I thought nothing more of it, but that day I ended up earning more than I had in a while. I came home to find a message from a customer that remembered me from months earlier who two days later bought twice my Saturday sales! God did indeed provide!!

I’m not saying I’ll have lots of sales every time I say, “God will provide,” but He is honored when those of us who claim to follow Him identify with Him publicly–when we “offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess His name.” 

Dear Lord,

Help me continually “offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess…[Your] name.” Amen.

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John 15:4

How can you remain faithful and functional in Christ until you breathe your last breath? Is it enough to just know you’ve accepted Christ at some point in the past and personally identify with Christianity? Or do you need to do more, such as coming to church regularly, praying and reading your Bible? What is the key to hearing Jesus tell us at the end of our life, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”‭‭ (John‬ ‭15:4‬)

While all of these are important, I cannot stress enough how essential it is for us to abide (or stay, or remain) in Christ, as those who trust Him for forgiveness and for being saved from our sins. But what, exactly, is “remaining in Christ?”

Remaining in Jesus involves continuing in everything God teaches us in the Holy Bible, but the way we specifically do this is by faithfully and regularly reading it. 

Do you remember how John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit begins his gospel? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became 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.”‭‭ (John‬ ‭1:1, 14‬)

Jesus is identified as the Word of God. He is the faithful representative of all God is in human form, “…the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person…” (Hebrews‬ ‭1:3‬) And the Bible is the written revelation of God, the one document provided by Him for us to understand who He is and what He requires of us.

Jesus Christ is no longer physically present in bodily form with us. We cannot sit at His feet and absorb what He says. But we have something even better–we have His Spirit who “guide[s]…[us] into all truth.” (John 16:3)  

Specifically, Jesus said of the Holy Spirit: “…He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”‭‭ (John‬ ‭16:13-14)

Because we know that, “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” (Romans‬ ‭10:17‬) the Holy Spirit teaches and works in us as we read and study God’s Word!

But why, again, should I remain in Jesus–why should I faithfully and daily read the Word of God? Jesus explained the Christian walk perfectly:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away [in verse 6 He says, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” This is not a good thing!], and every branch that bears fruit He prunes [involves cutting back so the plant would be more fruitful–God allows or brings into the lives of His faithful ones difficulty or even pain to focus their thoughts on eternity so they would be more fruitful for Him], that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you [it is God’s Word that makes us holy!]. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me [we cannot do anything of eternal value unless we stay in God’s Word]. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (‭‭John‬ ‭15:1-8‬)

So, how can you remain faithful and functional in Christ until you breathe your last breath? Did you catch it?? Jesus just answered this question! 

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

The key to hearing Jesus tell us at the end of our life, “Well done, good and faithful servant” is to remain in Him every single day. We must read and study His Word daily, because that is how God teaches and transforms us into Christ’s image, and empowers us to bear much fruit, which in turn, glorifies the Father!

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you;” if you get into the Bible every day and God’s Word stays in you (you remember it)–and it will, once you start spending time in it–“you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” 

This, by the way, goes beyond Christianity 101–this is the Master’s Degree curricula–the George Mueller type of Christianity (he’s the Christ-follower who ran an orphanage and believed Jesus so much that he would sit the children down to give thanks for the next meal that literally was not there yet–and God provided!).

Once we live in God’s Word and God’s Word lives in us, our hearts are changed. We see so much more as God sees and desire so much more what He desires, so He is pleased to give us the things we ask. This enables us to bear much fruit for His kingdom, which brings glory to the Father!

Do you see? Do you get it–what/how our lives are to become??? Are you there? Is that what your life is like? Or are you a dead branch about to be cut off? God forbid!

Dear Lord Jesus Christ,

Help me remain in You–in Your Word–and Your Words in me, so much so that I ask for the things that bring You joy and bear much fruit for Your kingdom, thereby glorifying the Father. Thank You that You TOLD US how to be Your disciple! Amen.

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Proverbs 31:8-9

How do you respond to injustice in the world? Do you sit idly by, or do you rouse yourself and actually do something about it? Insensitivity within mainstream Christianity toward societal ills is a lightning rod among many younger people today because they tend to feel more motivated to become involved in various causes. Demonstrations, protests, riots and even rebellions and insurrections–all tend to historically be heavily comprised of a younger demographic. Following Jesus can, at times, seem simply like an older person’s excuse to sit back and do nothing when the situation is crying for action. But is this what God teaches us–what are those who follow Christ to do when confronted with injustice in the world around us?

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” ‭‭(Proverbs‬ ‭31:8-9‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Even a precursery study of world history demonstrates that from the beginning the United States has been the exception rather than the rule. Ever since Europeans arrived on these shores, devout people of God sought to institute rules of governance that honored Him and followed Biblical principles. We may argue about whether the founding fathers were true Christians or merely deists, yet it is undeniable that they were highly influenced by the general Christian principles of the day–hence the success of our Constitution, which has governed this country for over two hundred years. Yet according to John Adams this document “…was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The Founding Fathers prayerfully conceived a form of government for a moral and godly society, but is that what we still are today–or are we something else entirely?

When a people–any people–give up on God, He gives them up to their own ways–to the misguided and sinful desires of their hearts. Romans 1 tells us:

“People did not think it was important to have a true knowledge of God. So God left them and allowed them to have their own worthless thinking and to do things they should not do. They are filled with every kind of sin, evil, selfishness, and hatred. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, lying, and thinking the worst about each other. They gossip and say evil things about each other. They hate God. They are rude and conceited and brag about themselves. They invent ways of doing evil. They do not obey their parents. They are foolish, they do not keep their promises, and they show no kindness or mercy to others. They know God’s law says that those who live like this should die. But they themselves not only continue to do these evil things, they applaud others who do them.”‭‭ (Romans‬ ‭1:28-32‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

When a society rejects God is it loses its knowledge of Him–of what godliness is and how to solve problems without stepping outside the construct and protection of God’s will. Jesus voiced this principle when He said, “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew‬ ‭25:29‬) When we read, study and implement Biblical precepts we thrive personally and as a society, and things get better; when we reject God’s ways even the good we once had is eventually lost. Human solutions to societal ills might be well-intentioned, but they are invariably ill-conceived.

Moses is a wonderful example of someone who meant well:

“Moses grew and became a man. One day he visited his people and saw that they were forced to work very hard. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man, one of Moses’ own people. Moses looked all around and saw that no one was watching, so he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. The next day Moses returned and saw two Hebrew men fighting each other. He said to the one that was in the wrong, “Why are you hitting one of your own people?” The man answered, “Who made you our ruler and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses was afraid and thought, “Now everyone knows what I did.” When the king heard what Moses had done, he tried to kill him. But Moses ran away from the king and went to live in the land of Midian…”‭‭ (Exodus‬ ‭2:11-15‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

God had not forgotten His people, nor was He indifferent to their suffering or oblivious of His promise to rescue them, and forty years later He did just that–through an older and better-prepared Moses. This time, however, God called the shots and the results were good.

The lesson of this story is that although Moses’ heart was in the right place–he was grieved by an injustice–he tried to fix it the wrong way–through murder. James tells us, “…the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James‬ ‭1:20‬)

The problem is not in doing something when confronted with injustice–GOD SAYS WE MUST STAND UP FOR THE RIGHTS OF THE UNFORTUNATE–it is in doing it the wrong way, rejecting God’s solution in favor of a sinful one. We must seek correction of societal ills through legitimate God-honoring means. I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–and the countless legislators and officials who work within our legal system to effect a change–got it right, while Malcolm X, for example, did not.

Look to Russia in the early part of the twentieth century: a small aristocracy controlled the country’s wealth and the masses were starving. Lenin led the communist revolution which resulted in the execution of the last Czar, murders and deportations to Siberian camps of countless innocent people, untold destruction and a complete upheaval of the society before the resultant USSR recovered even marginally.

We cannot stay silent in the face of injustice or oppression, but our response must be of God, not from our sinful inclinations, or it will not end well. The Bible says, “All of you must yield to the government rulers. No one rules unless God has given him the power to rule, and no one rules now without that power from God. So those who are against the government are really against what God has commanded. And they will bring punishment on themselves.” (Romans‬ ‭13:1-2‬ ‭NCV‬‬) We must work within the construct of our democratic form of government to effect a change. If there is a societal wrong that is not being adequately addressed, or which you feel strongly about–get educated about the issues and work toward a solution! Run for public office and get elected, if you are in a position to do so. If you cannot, sign petitions or collect votes for referendums. Do not engage in rioting or violence–do not try to accomplish good through bad means; it will not end well.

Various other countries have suffered insurrections, revolts, and coups as a result of people trying to fix societal ills without a regard for what God says. We have, up until now, been blessed with relative stability because we have worked through legitimate means to solve our problems. May we continue to do so!

Dear Lord,

Help me stand up for the rights of the unfortunate, but–as with everything I do–help me do it in a way that not only legitimately effects change, but also honors You! Amen.

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I Corinthians 1:27-29

Are Christians weak? Is following Jesus the same thing as assuming a defensive posture of inactivity or defeat? This may seem like a ludicrous question because of course it isn’t, but the truth is that God’s ways are not human ways and following Christ simply makes no human sense at times.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians‬ ‭1:27-29 NIV‬‬)

Christianity–because it really is God from whom it derives its existence–is difficult for the non-believing to understand. Those who don’t know Christ recognize and value physical and political strength, aggression and conquest; the way of Christ is foreign to them and–quite honestly–they don’t know what to make of it. Jesus said:

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:38-42‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

This seems like submission to injustice to some, but listen as Jesus explains WHY we are to do this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on good people and on evil people, and he sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong. If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends. So you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:43-48‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

The reason we are not to respond in kind when someone mistreats us, why we are to pray for them rather than wish–or even actively plot–them ill as others would is because God, our Father, gives good to all and as His children we are to be like Him–regardless of how hard it is.

And while this in no way excuses another’s bad behavior, what this means is that our disposition of heart and mind when we are wronged must be such that we are completely resolved to respond with good toward them–not because we can’t figure out how to get back at them or because we are too weak, physically or mentally, to do so, but because by doing good to those who do evil to us we are reflecting the nature of God who made and called us. And who knows, but that perhaps this will cause that person to recognize His existence and authority over him and come to saving faith?

Listen to Jesus again:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit [those who aren’t arrogant, but think of themselves as God sees them], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:3-12‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

And why is this so–why do we act in such counter-cultural seemingly nonsensical ways? Because:

“You are the salt [the Christlike distinctiveness; the preservative] of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:13-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

We engage in counter-intuitive seemingly self-disadvantaging behavior so that those who do not yet know their Maker and Savior will see our good deeds and glorify their Father in heaven–and possibly, “…come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭2:26‬ ‭NIV‬)

Dear Lord, 

Help me, through the counter-intuitive Christlikeness You work in me, be used of You to help those who do not yet recognize Your authority over them “…come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” Amen.

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I Thessalonians 4:11

Do you identify with the Alt-Right, Alt-Light, white nationalism, or even white supremacy? Are you part of the Black Lives Matter Movement, or do you lean more toward what President Trump termed the Alt-Left, or the Antifa? If I’ve lost you, you might want to take the time to Google some of these terms because our country has no shortage of political movements to align itself with today. This is not say that a cause is not right or even good, but regardless of what’s going on around us, as people of God we need to consider what He says.

“Do all you can to live a peaceful life. Take care of your own business, and do your own work as we have already told you.” (1 Thessalonians‬ ‭4:11‬ ‭NCV)

Years ago a Facebook friend posted a link to a three-page list of what to pray for your children, which I’ve since used as a structural guidepost for my prayers. The last item, “give their country peace in their lifetime,” initially seemed almost redundant–we do live in the United States after all–but as we as a people drift away from an unadulterated adherance to Scripture, we lose our exceptionalism and become as vulnerable to social unrest as any other country.

I am reminded of Moses–before God called him. When he saw an Egyptian harshly beating an Israelite slave he took matters into his own hands and killed him. Because of this Moses had to run away from Egypt and start a completely new life elsewhere, and it did nothing of note for the plight of the enslaved Israelites. So it goes, each time we take matters into our own hands to humanly right a wrong rather than doing things God’s way. It may be well-intentioned, but is ill-conceived. Protests foment civil unrest; God wants His people to live peacefully!

Let’s take a look at God’s Word, because He is not silent on the issue (this, by the way, was the prayer Jesus prayed right before going to the cross for our sins; it’s long, but bear with me because it tells us so much that we need to know about who we are in Christ and our current situation):

  “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.’” (‭‭John‬ ‭17:1-26‬ ‭NIV‬‬) God’s ways are really not our ways!

“I pray…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” This is not an artificially contrived unity; it borders on the incomprehensible and is of supernatural origin because only the Spirit of Christ in us can accomplish it; Jesus prayed that those who are His be one even as He and the Father are one!

Although what various groups try to accomplish may be worthwhile–some might even insist they are necessary–the problem with causes is that they divide people into different camps. Christ, however, unites. I may not be black (or Asian, or Hispanic, etc.) but my African-American brother in Christ and I have the same Holy Spirit in us and are both part of Christ’s body, His church. How can I then not love him?

So, what cause do you identify with? If you have the Spirit of Christ in you, it will be the cause of Christ and all that entails!

Dear Lord,

Help me do all I can to live a peaceful life, remembering that you tell us to “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews‬ ‭12:14‬) Amen.

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