Do it without grumbling!

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I Peter Chapters 4 and 5

This week’s reading is found in chapter 4:9. “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” When was the last time you had someone over to your house to eat dinner or lunch: sometime in the last 30 days, in the last six months, or I can’t remember. Which of these have you done in the last 3 months: I had a guest at my house for dinner, I went over to someone else’s house for dinner, or I had someone I did not know very well at my house for lunch. It is interesting that Peter says to be hospitable ‘without grumbling.” Being hospitable can be sacrificial and often we would rather not do it. Yet the command to be hospitable is unconditional. It does not say, “Show hospitality if you have time, or if it is convenient or, or if you feel comfortable doing it, or if you have a big enough house or if you have a complete set of matching dishes.” We are called to be hospitable no matter who we are and no matter what our circumstances are, and we are to do it without complaining.

The issue of hospitality is often overlooked when we study Christian discipleship. Think about it. If you were asked to identify which character traits a mature believer should possess, which character traits we should be striving to build into our lives, hospitality probably would not be high on the list. It seems like one of the less important, and perhaps even optional virtues, something akin to interior decorating, or flower arranging, or the art of making polite conversation. But that’s not how the Bible presents it. In both the Old and New Testaments, hospitality is seen as absolutely essential. For example, Paul identifies it as one of the basic qualifications for a pastor or an elder, a non-negotiable requirement for spiritual leadership. In I Tim 3:2 church leaders are to be “given to hospitality.” In Titus 1:7-8 ministers are told to be lovers of hospitality. Also in Romans 12:13 Paul wrote, “Give yourselves to hospitality.” The NIV reads “Practice” I like this idea of practicing hospitality, just like you practice an instrument! At first, you may not be very good, but as you practice you get better. For some of us, inviting people to our house can make us feel very uncomfortable. We may not feel very good at it. But with practice, we can get better.

Hospitality should occupy a place in every believer’s heart. It is not supposed to be something that only the South is known for. It is not something that only those who may have a special gift for entertaining are supposed to show. Hospitality can take the form of sharing a meal, an evening discussion, playing a game, watching a movie, etc. This is not talking about costly displays and big parties, but simple acts of love and kindness. There are a lot of lonely people in our community and in our church. Some have never been invited to another person’s house or it has been so long since they have been invited to another person’s house that they cannot remember it. We can show hospitality by reaching out to the broken, the poor, and the people in need. We can show hospitality by reaching out to our church family to deepen relationships. We can show hospitality by opening our homes to the internationals. We can show hospitality by inviting someone from church on Sunday over to your house.

While hospitality does not obtain salvation for anyone it is truly the result of salvation. The true measure of someone’s Christianity is not dependent on how they do on Sunday. The true measure of someone’s Christianity is not dependent on whether they speak in tongues, preach a good sermon, love to worship, carry a big bible, tell others about salvation, wear Christian jewelry, or listen to Christian music. Those who pray, study their Bibles, and never miss a Sunday service at church, but who never give themselves to hospitality, are missing out on what Christianity is all about. Peter is saying we should be open and intentional about being hospitable to the people we meet. It does not just happen. It means being willing to invite people over when they need a meal or a conversation, even if it’s not the most convenient time. Hospitality is not distinctive to Christianity. It has been a part of many cultures for a long time and in some, it is even considered a sacred responsibility. Yet, Christians, of all people, are to be hospitable. It is truly a mark of Christian maturity. It is not just a sacred duty but also rather an act of Christian love. The Christian is to have an open heart, open hand, and an open door. Invite someone to your house today, and do it ‘without grumbling!” You will be glad you did!

If I am healed how come I still feel sick?

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I Peter Chapters 1 through 3

This week’s reading is found in Chapter 2:24, “By whose stripes you WERE healed.” Peter is writing about what Jesus did for us on the cross. He mentions that Jesus took our sins onto His body on the cross and that Jesus suffered the consequences of our sin by suffering and dying. The conclusion that Peter makes then, is that we are no longer to suffer the punishment and consequences of sin, which would be death and disease. Yet we struggle with this because we still get sick. Many have rejected this simple truth because of their own personal experience, but this is dangerous. The Bible also says that because of Jesus death we are no longer under the power of sin, see Romans chapter 6, yet we know that we all still struggle with the power and temptation of sin. What are we to do about that, reject this truth also? No, this is true whether we experience it or not. Now, for sure we will all experience the ultimate work of Jesus death on the cross when we go to heaven. But what are we to do until then? I say we continue to believe what God’s Word says, and when we are confronted with sickness and sin we are to pray against it, believe that it is God’s will that we are healthy, whole and victorious over sin. I don’t think we need to go around saying we are healed physically when in fact we are not healed, or that we don’t sin when we do, but it is correct to claim God’s Word for our lives and whether we see it manifested or not, it is still true.

Sometimes there may be other reasons why we are not seeing God’s Word manifested in our lives. In the book of Daniel, we read a story about Daniel’s prayer not being answered because of some kind of spiritual warfare that was going on. In I Peter 3:7, men are told that if they don’t treat their wives right their prayers would be hindered. In Matthew 5:24 Jesus said that if we are praying and have some unforgiveness in our hearts or some unresolved conflict that we need to get that right before we continue praying to God. The point is, if we are not getting our prayers answered it might be more profitable to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to us and guide us and let us know if there is something that needs to be done. Maybe we should pray as David did in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my anxieties, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

If it be Your Will

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James Chapters 4 through 5

A man was expecting some relatives to spend a week’s vacation at his home. A portion of their letter read: “We will arrive at your home on Monday, God willing. We will certainly arrive by Tuesday in any event.” How true this is for many today. Out of respect for God, we may allow Him to tamper with our plans to the extent of one day more or less, but we will not tolerate His interfering any more seriously than that. This is a far cry from the Psalmist words, “You are my God. My times are in Your hand.” (Psalm 31:14-15.) There is an old Latin phrase, “Deo Volente” which means “God willing.” The abbreviations D.V. were often attached at the end of letters and statements written by the early Christians. Sort of like when we say, “God bless you,” after someone sneezes. Eventually, it lost its meaning.

This week’s reading is found in James 4:15, “If the Lord wills.” When should we pray this? According to James, we should be praying this on a regular basis, especially whenever we are making plans for the future. Life is uncertain and even though man’s knowledge is impressive only God’s knows the future. A simple word could precede most every event in our future: unexpected. Unexpected … surgery, transfer, change, accomplishment, loss, benefit, sickness, promotion, demotion, and death! The future is indeed uncertain. We read in Proverbs 27:1, “Boast not yourself of tomorrow for you know not what a day may bring forth.” We don’t know the future. Only God can see the future. You just never know what tomorrow will bring. God doesn’t play by the odds or according to the latest Gallop Poll. He makes the rules.

We need to listen to God instead of Wall Street. We need to listen to God instead of the pollsters or the evening bad news broadcasters. If Christians would take this to heart more seriously there would be fewer scams and pyramid sales plans getting rich off of them. When dollar signs get in our eyes we actually become blind and we absolutely need the wisdom of God to make right decisions when it comes to business and finances. Life is complex. It is made up of people, and places, activities and goals, days and years, and each of us must make many crucial decisions day after day. “What does God have planned for me today?” I find days that I ask this, are the MOST productive days, with good concentration and good vision. We don’t know the length of our lives. Many scriptures refer to the brevity of our lives, it is called a breath, a cloud, a flower, grass, a shadow. We must remember to number our days, not just our years. (Psalm 90:12) This is often our mistake, we forsake things today because we assure ourselves we can do them tomorrow. This was the mistake of the farmer in Luke 12:16. He had a bumper crop and instead of asking God what to do with it, stored it up for himself to guarantee himself an easy future. God called him a fool. There will be a day when there won’t be tomorrow for us, so we must live each day according to His plans for that day. God never guarantees us tomorrow will come. If we don’t pray “If it be Your will” then we will be inclined to procrastinate. To put off things we should be doing today until tomorrow. “I’ll serve when I get more time, I’ll give when I get more money. I’ll read and pray tomorrow.” Get things taken care of today. Ask God, “What is Your will for me?” then do it.

False faith!

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James Chapters 1 through 3

This week’s reading is found in James 2:20 “Faith without works is dead.” Many Christians do not understand that faith is an action word. There is a saving faith but after that there is action faith. Many Christians never get to this stage of their Christian life. They either get stuck on the overcoming temptations part or they get stuck on the fact that God wants them blessed part. But this part about doing something productive with our faith is not optional. James is saying that our faith without any measurable works is worthless! It is sad that some people never get past the issue of fighting temptations and trials, but Christianity is much, much more than overcoming temptations. James takes us to the next level which is; becoming doers of the word, active faith. When we gather together as saints for church it is like coming to practice, but the real game is out in the world, Monday through Saturday. Sometimes we think all of Christianity is practice sessions. We forget that we are supposed to be in the game.

There are really two kinds of faith, true faith, and false faith. False faith appears to be like true faith except it lacks practical concern for others. False faith is more interested in going to church and reading the bible and praying than it is in helping people in need. False faith has a hard time showing mercy. True faith involves obedience to God and practical concern for others. True faith is more interested in helping others in need. True faith is the willingness to take a risk, even for strangers. True faith rejoices in mercy. True faith in a person’s life can be observed not heard. It is exhibited in a changed life, a changed world view. One that actually does something to help others.

Faith without works cannot be called true faith and a dead faith is worse than no faith at all! True faith works, it produces, and it is visible. Verbal faith is not enough. Mental faith is insufficient. What kind of faith do you have?

I am surrounded!

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Hebrews Chapters 10 through 13

This week’s reading is in Hebrews 12:1, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” We are surrounded! We are surrounded by men and women who have made following God their one passion in life. Their lives can be such an encouragement to each of us as we are faced with our daily challenges. Hey, if they could make it, so can I! Oh, the power of being a good example. Take advantage of all the good examples that you can find in the Bible. Take a look at the lives of all the heroes of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11. They faced incredible challenges and overcame incredible odds because they kept their focus on God. Because of their faith in God, they were able to do the things He told them to do. Not only do we have great examples from the past, but we have great examples alive today, men and women who are walking it out all around us. This is one of the great benefits of Christian fellowship. Gathering together with other men and women of God and sharing our experiences is such a great opportunity to encourage others and to receive encouragement. Thank you God I am not on this walk alone, I am surrounded!

Why we should go to church

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Hebrews Chapters 10 through 13

This week’s reading out of Hebrews 10:25 is “Do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” This is a reference to a regular gathering of God’s people. I am amazed at how many people don’t have any hesitation when it comes to skipping church. “I am tired, the weather is too cold, I have a lot to do today, I don’t feel good, etc.” Many Christians today attend church on average about two times a month throughout the year. What we need to realize is that gathering together on Sunday is the one great opportunity we have each week for God to breathe new life into us. Sure we can seek to do this on our own, but God has made us in such a way that we do best when we are in community with others. People who miss church regularly tend to miss out on the blessings of God. It is that simple. I can say without a doubt, one of the best things I have ever done in my life is to make sure that I was in church every Sunday. Even before I was a pastor, attending church was important to me. It was my opportunity to truly connect with God, open my spirit up for healing, direction, challenge, encouragement and so on. Actually, I am six three and if I do the math correctly I have been to church every Sunday of my life except five Sundays. That would be about 3309 Sundays I have sat in God’s house, give or take a few when I was too young to know. I am grateful for each and every one of those opportunities and I can think of many of those Sunday’s where I had a true encounter with God’s Holy Spirit. Even on the Sundays which just seemed normal I know I exercised my spirit and left there stronger in my inner man, and better able to walk out my work week. Make it a point, establish this as a non-negotiable, attending church every Sunday should always be a part of your life. Your life will be better for it.

You only die once

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Hebrews Chapters 7 through 9

This week’s reading is from Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” It is clear from God’s Word that once we die we will be judged by God. This judgment is spoken of in many other places in the Bible. It means that once we die there are no second chances to change our minds. Some religions and even some Christians believe that after a person dies he gets a second chance. As nice as that sounds the Bible does not teach that. We have but one life to live. During that life, we get to make many choices and we have a free will. The choices we make regarding our relationship with God will determine our eternal destiny. The idea of coming back in some form of reincarnated being to get another chance is a doctrine of demons. The idea that a person may spend some time burning in hell or purgatory until they finally repent is a doctrine of demons. There is only one chance to determine where we will spend eternity. That chance is our life on this earth. Jesus came to show us the way to the Father and the way to life. He said He was the only way and that He was the life. The reality of there being a judgment after we die and the reality that we will be held accountable for the decisions that we have made during our life is something to be concerned about! You only die once and then the judgment. Make sure you are ready!

Razor Sharp

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Hebrews Chapters 3 through 6

This week’s reading is found in Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” I have written a book called, Ten Reasons You Can Trust the Bible. It is a great read and will strengthen your trust in the Bible. This passage is telling us that the Bible is alive and it can talk to us! It thunders like God, yet weeps like a man. It converts sinners and ministers to believers. It is razor sharp!

A common concern among many Christians is that they cannot recognize God’s voice. They struggle distinguishing if they are hearing God’s voice or their own thoughts. Here is the best solution and what has helped me through the years. Read God’s Word if you want to get to recognize His voice. It is the means that He most often speaks through. It is the most common way the Holy Spirit speaks. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the word of wisdom, is often accompanied with some scriptural revelation. God’s Word is often the source of Rhema, inspiration, and guidance for everyday problems. Since it is alive we can get fresh revelations, something new and exciting every day. I can honestly say even after reading this book for over 40 years it is still exciting! Without God’s Word, our lives can get in a rut, routine and boring. God’s Word is our most faithful friend. It never holds back rebuke. It will cut us when we need to be cut. God’s Word laughs with us, mourns with us, cries and experiences everything with us if we let it. It always has something to say for every occasion. We only need to enter into conversation with it and ask it its opinion. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, or razor blade. It is also called the “Sword of the Spirit” in Ephesians 6:17. The more familiar we become with the Word of God the better we can use it. We can be skillful in wielding it as we cut through all the confusion of today’s society. In Deuteronomy 6:7 we are told to talk about God’s Word every day. I have found many times in discussing the Bible in small groups, I have gotten a much deeper understanding of what it is saying.

If the Word of God is not speaking into your life then you can be sure somebody else is talking to you. The evening news team, the daily newspaper, friends on Facebook, some TV talk show host or the devil and his demons, but someone is speaking into your life, and I much prefer it to be God’s Word. It is simple to understand. You don’t need to know Hebrew or Greek. I have often heard people say that they are frustrated because they don’t understand everything in the Bible. You don’t have to worry about the stuff you don’t understand. The stuff you do understand will keep you plenty busy. It is divinely inspired because it has the power to change lives. Do you want your life changed! Read the razor sharp book, God’s Word!

Coincidences or divine intervention

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Philemon

This is a letter Paul wrote to his friend, Philemon. He was asking for a favor. Philemon had a slave whose name was Onesimus. It seems that Onesimus had run away and done his master wrong and somehow ended up in Rome, met Paul and became a Christian. This was not a coincidence since it just so happened that Paul knew Philemon as a close friend. Paul writes this letter to encourage Philemon to forgive his slave and receive him back as a brother. How did this happen that a slave runs away and goes to another country and just so happens to run into a friend of his master? This is no coincidence. This was divine intervention. There are no coincidences in life. God is active in each of our lives, whether we recognize it or not. He is always working on our behalf trying to help us and bring us into a place of recognizing His love for us.

The Bible is full of stories that seem like coincidences but are really the guiding hand of God. When the Pharaoh’s daughter just happened to find baby Moses in the river. When Ruth just happened to go into Boaz field to glean the crops and Boaz just happened to see her that day. When Philip ran to meet the caravan and just as he got there the Ethiopian eunuch just happened to be reading the Scriptures about the Messiah. My life is full of instances that were way more than coincidences! As I look back on these events my faith in God is always strengthened. Someone recently gave me a book, “When God winks at you.” It is a great read, all about how God can speak to us through the power of coincidences. These extraordinary events happen to us for a reason. They can change the course of our life or just reinforce the reality that God is working in our lives. They can strengthen our faith, be an opportunity to bless someone else, reassure us of His love and even be the answer to something we have been praying about. May God open our eyes to these ever frequent experiences when God is reaching out to us. They are not coincidences, they are divine intervention.

Good works, good works, good works.

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Titus Chapters 1 through 3

I became a born again Christian August 5, 1973. I joined a Jesus people commune. I went out witnessing the very next day, telling people that God had saved me! We lived together, worked together and studied the Bible together every night. By September I was told that I was ready to give my first Bible study. That’s how we did it back then! I chose Titus Chapter 3. It was a personal revelation that I had received about the importance of doing good works. There seems to be a lot of confusion about good works among Christians. This is not new. It has been around since the writing of the New Testament. There are some who think they will be saved by their good works. There are others who know they are not saved by their good works, yet they do nothing to help others. There are those who think that their good works make God love them more. Paul in this letter to Titus, chapter 3, mentions good works three times. In verse 1 he says, “Be ready for every good work.” Christians should be living a life that keeps them available to help others when there is a need. We should not be living a life that is so busy that there is no room to give our time or money to help others in need. Then in verse 5, Paul says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Here Paul is making it clear that even though good works are important, no matter how many good deeds we do, we can never save ourselves by our good works. Anyone who thinks that when they get to heaven God is going to let them in because they have done a lot of good deeds is in for a big surprise! No one is good enough to undo the death sentence that is in each of us because of our sins. It is only, “By the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,” (vs 5) that anyone will ever be saved. Then in verse 14, Paul mentions good works again, “Learn to maintain good works to meet urgent needs that they may not be unfruitful.” Here Paul is making sure that we understand even though we are not saved by our good works we should be doing good works. Paul is teaching that good works should be a regular part of every Christian not because we are trying to earn our salvation but as a fruit, as a by-product, as evidence of having God’s Holy Spirit living inside us. May good works, especially those that meet urgent needs, be the testimony of each of our lives.