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What does submission to God look like?

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Recently, I came across a used copy of John Maxwell’s book The Difference Maker, a book about taking control and personal responsibility for our attitudes. I am very familiar with Maxwell’s works as they are particularly popular in management circles,  and I have read several of his bestsellers. After skimming through a few pages, I decided to bring the book home with me.

I have to say that I loved 99% of this book. Within its pages are numerous examples of the type of person that we all wish we were, the type of person that society elevates and the media promotes. The successful and always smiling, a.k.a. the beautiful people.

You know the type I’m sure: the person that chooses to be positive and sees good in practically every situation. The person that makes a conscious decision to not allow discouragement to defeat them. The person who takes charge of the situation. The upwardly mobile fighter that will not accept the status quo.

Yes…that person. The “I’ve got it all under control” person.

Which brings me to the 1% I did not like about this book. Reading it brought me face to face with the harsh reality that I am not always the type of person I just described. Truthfully, in some ways I seem to be very far removed from it.

And therein is the problem. None of us are perfect. All of us have flaws. We all fall short at times. In reality, there is not one person alive that is always happy, always successful, always positive, always in control of every situation.

Yet most if not all of us will inevitably compare ourselves to this impossible, unreachable standard. We can’t help ourselves because the pressure is on for all of us to conform. After all, who wants to be on the outside looking in?

Maybe I’ve been in denial, or perhaps I’ve been afflicted with the ‘ostrich syndrome’. In either case, I didn’t fully realize it until now. No, scratch that. Who am I kidding? I’ve known it for some time now. I am that person on the outside looking in!

Lately, I’ve been asking myself if any of this within my grasp. Can we reach the lofty status of the “I’ve got it all under control” person, or should we even care? Is it really possible to find that place of perfect contentment? Because if the Apostle Paul learned to be content in whatever state he found himself in, why can’t you and I? [1]

My brain says that I should give myself a pass. After all, I am now retired, and as my dear wife often reminds me, there’s nothing wrong with letting myself enjoy this next chapter. In fact, she refers to it as “having joy in the journey”. No deadlines, no stress, no performance reviews, no monthly reports, no business plans, and no budgets to worry about (except for my own).

So where is this seemingly mythical place called ‘contentment’? Having enjoyed it on an occasional basis (at best) , have I have given up the fight for it and chosen instead to simply walk away into the sunset? Have I gotten sidetracked? At times I truly wonder, and the very thought that this might be true scares the daylights out of me because this isn’t who I am!

I am NOT a “just going through the motions” kind of guy!

Now you may be asking yourself what all of this is about, so I guess I should explain. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a real servant, or follower of God. In a sense, I’m trying to better understand where I am on this journey, where I think I should be, and how I fit into God’s plan. [2]

Of course, many will say that at my age what does any of that matter. Why be concerned about where I fit into God’s plans, let the younger people deal with that. After all, isn’t that what so many do when they reach the magical ‘senior adult’ age? Why bother comparing my life to the lives of other people? Isn’t that just setting yourself up for disappointment?

For example, when I read the life stories of incredibly passionate men of God such as David Brainerd, George Whitefield, D.L.Moody, and Leonard Ravenhill, I am struck by their lack of care and concern for the things of this present world.

While it is true enough that these men had their share of faults and shortcomings, meaning none of them ever reached perfection this side of heaven, their singleness of purpose and devotion to God alone is almost ‘other-worldly’.

So I wonder, is this what submission to God looks like? If it is, I am in serious trouble, because I don’t measure up to such lofty standards.

Like so many of you, I can be pretty hard on myself, believing that if God has some sort of celestial balance scale in which we are all weighed, my missed opportunities and times of outright disobedience far outweigh any positives that might be recorded somewhere to my ‘heavenly bank account’.

In truth, I simply want to finish well. I want to come to the end of my days content in the knowledge that my last years were my best years of service to our Lord. I do NOT wish to be just another person in the pew. The thought of just going to church, singing a few songs, listening to yet another sermon, and that being my Christian “experience” makes me want to run out the door screaming NOOOOOO!!!

I want my life to count. I want others to know that I cared enough to fight the good fight. I want to be an encouragement to others, especially to those who are desperately struggling for their spiritual survival. Mostly, what I want is for my life to be an example to others of what God can do when He takes a hopeless young man and completely turns his life around. I desperately want people to know about God’s plan of redemption.

Maybe that’s what submission to God looks like!

Ron

[1] Philippians 4:11

[2] Luke 9:3

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice”! Philippians 4:4 NKJV

The numbers don’t lie

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It’s hard to believe that we are just a few days away from the start of another decade, proof that “time flies” is more than just a catchy saying. So much has happened over the course of the past ten years that it is almost mind-boggling, and it’s not a stretch to say we’ve seen a little bit of everything in the 2010’s.

From Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to scores of earthquakes and hurricanes, as well as the never-ending threats of terrorism, the events of the past decade have certainly captured our attention.

Time stops for no one, and if there is one thing that will always be inevitable it is change. Speaking of change, something changed during this past decade that most of us are unaware of, yet it impacts all of us in one way or another. This change has to do with the Church in America. The 2010’s were, unfortunately, a decade of steady decline in the Church.

The following graphic from the Pew Research Center illustrates these changes.

 

Whether we realize it or not, these negative changes affect all of us. If you don’t believe that, just look around you. The signs of moral decline and decay are everywhere, and there are precious few areas of our society that do not reflect this. This is true of our government, our schools, our workplaces, and yes even our churches.  The numbers don’t lie!

Now here is an interesting fact about this. According to the Pew Report,“the nation’s overall rate of religious attendance is declining not because Christians are attending church less often, but rather because there are now fewer Christians as a share of the population.” emphasis mine

This should cause all of us to take notice. As the numbers of unchurched, “none’s”, and non-religious Millennials continue to grow, this means that the percentages of active Christians continue to decline.

And that, I fear, spells trouble for this nation. As Christianity continues to decline, this leaves the door open for the enemy to step in and implement his own plan for America. Let’s face it, can any of us seriously argue that we aren’t seeing this plan being implemented already? Being a Christian in America today ranks near the top of the most despised groups of citizens. Categorized as intolerant, bigoted, hateful, and unloving, Christianity is under attack like never before.

Of course, none of this should take any Christian by surprise. The Bible is very clear that this is what would happen before the return of Jesus Christ.

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God”. [1]

Yes, it’s true that the numbers don’t lie. We are firsthand witnesses to the beginning of what Paul called “the great falling away”. Do you know what else is true? God will sustain His people even in the darkest of days. We are the church, the body of Christ, and Jesus himself said that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it“. [2]

This goes hand in hand with Paul saying that even as we see these things happening all around us, we should remain steadfast and not allow ourselves to be troubled. “Let no one deceive you by any means” the Apostles states.

Wise words that all of us would do well to listen to.

Be blessed on this Lord’s day,

Ron

 

[1] 2nd Thessalonians 2: 1-4  NKJV  emphasis mine

[2] Matthew 16:18  NKJV

 

 

 

 

Why we must resist spiritual pride

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Pride is one of those things that all of us possess in one form or another. Having pride in one’s appearance, taking pride in a job well done, or being proud of your children are all different types of pride that are looked upon as favorable.

Having a sense of pride however that borders on arrogance and superiority are not thought of as admirable traits, as most of us are not drawn to individuals possessing them.

When those traits creep into the church they lead to spiritual pride, or thinking too highly of ourselves. When we allow such pride to overtake us, we become unreasonable, rigid, self-serving, and see ourselves as nearly infallible. This does not reflect the nature of Jesus Christ.

For the Christian, this is a very dangerous place to be in because we become hardened to the Spirit of God. We are no longer malleable in the Masters hands, having convinced ourselves that “I’m in complete control, not God”.

Additionally, any Christian, especially one in leadership who operates under the guise of “it’s my way or the highway” is headed for a fall because the scripture makes it clear that “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble”. [1]

When those in church leadership positions allow spiritual pride to enter their hearts, they seek honor for themselves and not God. Under the cover of their position or title they exalt themselves (the creature) instead of the Creator. [2]

You may be thinking that this is an extreme example, but I can assure you that it is not. As a matter of fact, there was a time in my past when I found myself in this very predicament, and I don’t think I’m too far off by saying many of you have struggled with this issue at some point in your life as well.

All of this matters because God has a divine plan for each of our lives, a plan where there is no room for a “haughty spirit”. [3] Part of that plan is to mold and shape us so that we conform to His image and not our own. God calls this a “transformation”, which the Apostle Paul spoke of to the church at Rome.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2  (emphasis mine)

When we become a born again Christian, a mighty transformation begins to happen in our lives. Because we live in this world and are a product of its ways, thoughts, and practices, this ‘conforming nature’ has to go if God is going to have his way in our lives.

In order for that to happen God has to first chip away at the “world” that has enveloped all of us. How does He accomplish this? This is accomplished when we are placed on the potter’s wheel as mentioned in Jeremiah. [4]

As the Lord deals with us and we begin to grow in our relationship with him, the transformation becomes visible for all to see. In essence, we are not the same person we were before we found Jesus. Old things pass away, all things now become new. [5]

During this process we must take care not to become spiritually proud and to think more highly of ourselves than we should. Again, the Apostle Paul speaks to this as well.

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. Romans 12:3 (emphasis mine)

Paul is warning us here not to over-estimate ourselves. Don’t allow pride to enter your heart and cause you to become puffed up in your own eyes. This is a clear warning to be mindful of the dangers of spiritual pride.

We must not judge ourselves by our talents, our title, or our position in the church. Instead, we should measure ourselves by our Christian character. If Christ has been at work in our hearts, our character will be transformed, just as our minds are being renewed.

Anything less is not acceptable.

Be blessed, in Jesus name!

Ron

 

[1] James 4:6, 1st Peter 5:5

[2] Romans 1:25

[3] Proverbs 16:18

[4] Jeremiah 18:3

[5] 2nd Corinthians 5:17

 

 

This demon named “Regret”

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Is there one among us who has lived their life in such a manner that they can look back upon it and say “I have no regrets”?

I can state categorically that I am disqualified from being able to make such a claim. When we think of regrets we see images of things we wish we had not done, or at the least done them differently. I stand guilty as charged.

We remember conversations we’ve had with family and friends that did not turn out well, and we wish we had spoken with more kindness. Perhaps what we remember most is that conversation we meant to have, but never got around to having.

The voice of my wife on the night that her father passed away serves as a reminder to me about how it should be when we do things in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. As we drove away from her fathers home that night she looked at me and said this: “I have no regrets. There is nothing left unsaid between us. He knew how I felt about him and I knew how he felt about me because we often told each other”.

There it is…no regrets. Nothing left undone or unsaid. For the rest of her days on this earth my sweet wife can live peacefully knowing that there is no reason to look back and wonder ‘what if?’

The pain of regret for the rest of us is very real though isn’t it? That is why I refer to it as a demon. It brings with it pain and suffering over what might have been…what should have been.

Regret is relentless in its goal of keeping our eyes fixed on our rear view mirror. The enemy knows that as long as he can keep us looking back, we will never be able to look ahead. Up ahead awaits victory, while behind us lies a minefield of defeat.

Past mistake and failures of every sort are hurled at our minds at warp speed, rarely giving us a moments respite from the battle. Oh, and the enemy doesn’t care a bit that a past regret wasn’t your fault. You see, even if it wasn’t your fault he wants to transfer ownership of it to you because once you own it, he will use it against you at every opportunity.

Do you see how diabolical Satan is?

The enemy doesn’t even care that when you became a Christian that you were made a new creation. It doesn’t matter to him that the Bible teaches us that ‘old things are passed way’. He has no regard for the fact that as followers of Jesus Christ we now have ‘the mind of Christ’.  [1]   [2]

None of that matters to Satan. All that matters to him is that you keep looking backwards and not forwards, back to the path of destruction carved by an endless array of regrets.

So what is the child of God to do about this demon named “Regret”?

One of the first things we must do is acknowledge that we cannot undo the past. We get no ‘do-overs’. The best we can do is try to make amends where necessary, but the fact remains that what’s done is done.  [3]

Another thing we must do is to turn the situation over to the Lord in prayer. Peter explains it best here:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you”. [4]

When we give it to God we are to leave it with Him. Of course, this is easier said than done because the enemy will never accept this as the final word on the matter. As I said earlier, he will bring this up to you time and time again in an effort to turn your attention to the past and not the future.

The Apostle Paul went so far as to suggest that we forget those things that are in our past. Paul knew of course that if he was to ever fulfill his destiny in Christ, it would be because he steadfastly looked ahead and not behind him. [5]

Forgetting our past sins and mistakes is not easy. It never is. I’m sure many of us have forgotten our past sins and mistakes many times. No doubt, we will forget them many more times before we leave this life.

When Paul says to forget those things which are behind us, he wasn’t trying to say that they are zapped from our memories never to be drudged up again. What he meant was that we should be so forward-focused that the past stays in the past.

That is how we get the victory over this demon called ‘Regret’. We leave it in the past and focus on running the race that is before us. Regret is a crippling, joy stealing invention of the devil that has no power over us unless we give it power.

As for me and my house, we choose to look ahead to the future that God has ordained we should have. We are free, having been set free by the blood of the Lamb.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”. [6]

Keep looking straight ahead,

Ron

 

[1] 2nd Corinthians 5:17

[2] 1 Corinthians 2:16

[3] Matthew 5:24

[4] 1st Peter 5:6,7

[5] Philippians 3:13

[6] John 8:36

The next BIG thing

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I’ve been studying 1st Corinthians 2 where the Apostle Paul speaks about the gospel being presented in a demonstration of Spirit and of Power. I’m sure most of you are familiar with this subject matter, but for reference sake I’ll post a few key verses.

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1st Corinthians 2:1-5

Knowing the capabilities of Paul to more than hold his own in any theological debate, I find it interesting that he would start this letter by saying he wasn’t coming to them using excellency of speech or wisdom.

We know that this man Paul studied at the feet of Jewish scholars, and was well versed in the Old Testament scriptures. He most certainly had attained a high level of wisdom, and his knowledge of various languages gave him the ability to converse with nearly everyone. He disputed with the Jews and Greeks frequently, clearly demonstrating to all that he was on their level, so to speak.

Yet he said that he pretended not to know anything except for Jesus and him crucified. In other words, Paul’s heart was for winning souls. He knew that the key to winning these people was to become one of them. So he left his superior knowledge, education, and skills at home so that he might be received by these Corinthians.

Do you think there might be a lesson here for all of us today? Might we be better soul winners if we were to lose the attitude? Is it possible that if we humbled ourselves and got down on the level of those who are so desperate for hope, that we might actually have something to offer?

Paul went on to say that his preaching was not done with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power.

What he meant by that is that he did not come to entertain them as though he were some great orator. The people were accustomed to hearing speeches given by politicians, sages, philosophers, and other learned men of the day. As such, they were always on the lookout for the next BIG thing.

If Paul had come to them as one of these, it is likely that they would have paid him very little attention. Paul, however, was hardly in the ‘entertainment business’.

The Apostle knew that the Corinthians had many voices vying for their attention. There was one voice, however that they had yet to hear from. This voice not only spoke at a level they could appreciate, but it was accompanied by a demonstration of God’s power.

These passages remind me of how desperate the Church is today for a demonstration of the Spirit and power of God. When I say that, I am making a clear distinction between the Spirit and power of God as Paul knew it, and that which is passed off today as being from God.

We have a lot of voices in the world today who claim to speak for God and to operate in His power. Sadly, these voices are nothing more than con men(and women), who have figured out that desperate people will shell out millions of dollars in hopes of receiving their miracle.

This is not, however, the power that Paul spoke of. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul would have soundly rebuked each and every one of these modern day deceivers.

Unfortunately, the Church isn’t aware of it’s desperate state. Instead, she is only too willing to continue down the path towards capitulation to the gods of this world.

Such is the price that must be paid when the Church embraces the world and its standards, instead of proclaiming herself as the standard bearer of Biblical truth and righteousness.

Oh how I wish that pastors everywhere would once again teach this to their congregations. Instead, what we have is a modern day system of idolatry, where pastor worship has become the norm.

Beloved, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God”(1st Cor. 3:19). Do not allow your hearts to be deceived by placing your faith in man. Whatever wisdom man has, it is temporal. It is fleeting, destined to pass away.

The power of God however is from everlasting to everlasting. It transcends the wisdom of man, indeed the natural man cannot begin to understand such power.

Paul desperately wanted the Corinthians to understand that their faith must not be in the wisdom of men….but in the power of God.

Instead of always searching for the next BIG thing, my earnest prayer is that we who know Him as Lord and Savior will come to experience His power in a very real and tangible way.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

What is your worship dependent upon?

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Worship: reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred. [1]

I asked the question ‘what is your worship dependent upon’ because I wonder if we believe that our worship is dependent on something we do or think.

For example, if our worship is dependent upon something we ‘do’, what is it that we must ‘do’ before we worship the Lord?

  • Do we have to dress a certain way?
  • Do we have to act a certain way?
  • Do we have to say certain words?
  • Do we have to belong to a specific church or denomination?

Perhaps it is something we must think, instead of ‘do’.

  • Do we have to think certain thoughts?
  • Do we have to think like everyone else?
  • Do we have to think about our frame of mind?
  • Do we have to think at all?

Maybe none of that matters. Maybe what matters most is the environment.

  • Is the music too loud?
  • Is the music the ‘correct’ style?
  • Are the lights dimmed?
  • Are the seats comfortable enough?

Can I be honest with you for a moment? Every single one of the things I mentioned so far has at one time or another negatively impacted my worship.

Want to know something else? That was very difficult for me to admit.

If worship truly is “reverent honor and homage paid to God”, can I honestly say that I was reverently honoring and paying homage to God when I allowed anything to negatively impact my worship?

Honestly…no I was not.

You see, there are times when this flesh rises in me and wants to show me that it is still in control, and it usually happens shortly after I have experienced the goodness and grace of God in a tangible way.

The ability to hinder our worship is one of the most effective tools in Satan’s toolbox. Jesus referred to this in a manner of speaking when he said that “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” …[2]

The thief of course is Satan. He is a thief and a liar, and he comes to steal many things from us. If we permit him to do so, he will steal our joy, our love, our compassion for others, even the victory we enjoy in our souls.

What he is most wanting to steal however is our worship. That is because Satan knows that if he can steal our desire to worship God, he has gained a foothold in our lives. The devil knows all too well that if he can get us focused on external conditions and circumstances, he can negatively impact the internal, or our heart.

The Apostle Paul also understood how important it is for the Christian to not allow the devil to steal anything from us, and we find him telling the Ephesian church to “neither give place to the devil”. [3]

What Paul is telling us here is that we are not to give the enemy any access into our lives. Closing every door of opportunity so that the devil will find no entrance into your home or life means just that. Do whatever it takes to keep him out.

If you will remember, Paul was known in Hell [4] and was locked in a battle with Satan that lasted until he drew his last breath. He knew this adversary well, and understood the ramifications of ‘playing with fire’.

So determined was Paul that Satan would not steal his worship that we find him and Silas singing praises to God at midnight while both were in prison! There feet may have been bound in the stocks, but their worship could not be chained! [5]

Beloved, our worship is not dependent upon any external circumstance or situation. It doesn’t matter if the lights are too bright or the songs too fast. All that matters is that our hearts are engaged with our Creator.

When that happens, all external hindrances fade into obscurity. Those voices telling us not to worship because this or that is not to our liking are silenced.

This is when we fully understand what David meant when he said this prayer:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. [6]

All of us, especially me, need to approach the Lord with a clean heart and a right spirit, or attitude. This is what opens the door to our worship.

Be blessed everyone,

Ron

 

[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/worship

[2] John 10:10

[3] Ephesians 4:27

[4] Acts 19:15

[5] Acts 16:25

[6] Psalm 51:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Why can’t people just be nice…?”

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That was the comment I received from my wife this morning as we were out enjoying a nice Christmas day walk, relishing the sunshine and warmth of 73°. Sorry, I couldn’t resist…IMG_20180612_055103

I had asked her if she had given any thought yet to 2019, and if there was anything she had hopes for in the coming year. True to her nature as the kindest, most gentle person I’ve ever known, she just wants people to treat one another with kindness.

As she pointed out to me, there is so much anger, malice, and evil in this world today that Christians can’t just talk about love any longer, but must demonstrate love for one another.

Listening to her this morning, I was reminded of a preacher by the name of Paul who gave us an entire chapter on the importance of love. You can find this amazing teaching in 1st Corinthians, chapter 13.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1st Corinthians 13:1-7   ESV

Understanding that Paul was given great faith and power, whereby he did many great miracles, only serves to heighten the importance of his teaching about love.

You see, Paul the Apostle understood that the foundation of the Church was love. Going back to John 3:16, we know that to be true because of these words that Jesus spoke.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.

Jesus came because of love, served God and man in love, and ultimately gave his life out of love for you and I. Jesus is the head of the Church, and he built, and continues to build his Church on love.

To treat people with respect, to love them as Jesus does, or as my sweet wife would say “just be nice”, requires us to walk humbly before the Lord. It requires us to live our lives in daily submission to Him who gave his best for us.

I hope that going forward all of us will see the importance of being nice, treating one another with respect, and living our lives in a manner that brings honor to our God.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

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