Sound Advice

How many of these familiar sayings have you heard before? “They returned safe and sound”, or “their business has been built on a sound foundation” or “he/she is sound asleep”. Maybe you have heard something like, “that person likes to sound off their opinions” or “you have a sound understanding on the subject”.  In life, we all benefit from getting sound advice on buying the right investments, vehicles, homes, and making other significant decisions. 

When life and faith come together there is much sound advice that we find in scripture. In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul talks about sound doctrine, and being sound in our faith.

The word translated as “sound” in verses one and two of chapter 2 in this letter define a sense of “healthiness”, to be healthy or to be correct. Paul’s instruction or command to Titus was this, “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.” In other words, teach what is healthy and beneficial for those who hear your words. Paul, in an earlier letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:11) connects sound doctrine to the incredible truths laid out in the message of the gospel. 

The truth of the Gospel message is the foundation on which every Christ follower must find their feet firmly planted. Paul’s letter to Titus was written to encourage and instruct not just himself but the church of believers. This was a reminder for everyone to live by example, to live differently from the false teachers and the un-believing community they were a part of.  The sound advice given to Titus and the Christian churches in Crete was so much more than just knowledge and understanding of sound doctrine but living it out in their daily lives. 

To be sound in our faith implies that we as Christians understand and live according to the will of God. The promise of the gospel message for all of us is that we will one day be in the presence of our heavenly Father. By the grace of God our salvation is secured for us through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. 

Skillfully written into this letter given to Titus are references to more than a dozen teachings (doctrines) that help guide us in navigating life and faith in a culture that is seemingly counter-Christian. In many ways when we read the words of these letters to Titus and Timothy, we find ourselves facing much the same cultural influences that continue to distract people from the truths found in God’s word. 

The worldly distractions around us have the potential to deafen our hearts and minds from following this sound advice of living a healthy and productive life for Christ. So, what can we do to protect ourselves? 

First, embrace the truth of the gospel; through Christ’s death and resurrection and by the grace of God we have been brought into his family. 

Second, Pray & read. You and I do not have the power or the strength alone to live as fully devoted followers of Jesus on our own. Through prayer and scripture, we will grow into knowing the Lords will for our lives. 

Third, Live boldly for Jesus. Every day, live a life that sets you apart from the world. Be sound in your faith. 

Drawing Conclusions

Experience has taught me that during most of our lives we will automatically draw conclusions about what is happening around us. Our natural tendency is to decide if a certain fact or principle is true (or false) according to the information that we have been given. We often hear or read “facts” from a blender of outlets today. Whether it is social media feeds, radio, television, internet news sites or printed media, they all contribute to the mixed blend of facts that guide our own personal response or conclusion of them.  

We all have a responsibility as followers of Jesus to discern these facts through the lens of our Christian worldview. As one of Christ’s followers I believe that the Bible was inspired by the Spirit of God and is completely free from error. My faith is built on its authority and truth found in it pages from beginning to end. 

So, when I read from books like Judges (which I have been doing now for several months) it challenged me to consider the facts (the truths) found within its words. As I read through these inspired words, I often found myself wondering “why?” Why were these various accounts of “the good, the bad and the ugly” included for us to read today? 

Well, based on what I have read and with some careful examination I have drawn (as we all do) some conclusions. 

First, it is as evident today as it was then that sin has an incredible hold over the lives of all mankind. One of the common threads we see in the lives of the people during the time of the judges was the continuous cycle of sin, punishment, repentance, and rescue. Unfortunately, this is a trend that continues to play out in our lives today. 

Secondly, and in my humble opinion, the book of Judges reminds us of the incredible grace, mercy, and forgiveness that God has for all his people. The book of Judges points forward to the coming of the one true Judge and king that will overcome the hold of sin and death over us. 

Jesus is that one true king. John 18:37 records Jesus’ interactions with Pilate, “Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king? Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) given to us by God. Through his death and resurrection Christ overcame sin and death on our behalf because of his incredible love for us. 

Judges lays out for us the truth of failure that comes by living without the rule of God in our lives. All throughout scripture and plainly written for us in The New Testament we read how a life “in the world”, that is, “not in Christ” continues to bring disorder, immorality, corruption, and destruction into our daily lives. 

Just because I follow Jesus doesn’t automatically make me a perfect person. I, like every other follower of Jesus fail at living according to his perfect will. The incredible part of the truth (who Jesus is) written in scripture is that no matter who we are or what we have done he can and will forgive us. 

Some will disagree with my conclusions and that is ok. It is my hope and prayer that this truth becomes real in their lives one day. What truth are you holding onto today? 

One Little Part

The other day a good friend of mine was having some troubles with his vehicle. After some investigation, he found it was one small electronic component that was causing the problem. Now, he could have lived with the inconvenience of connecting and dis-connecting the battery every time he used his vehicle, but he chose to order the part and fix the problem. It is amazing how just one little part affected the whole operation of his vehicle. 

As I continue to read through the book of Judges, I realized just how many parts made up its whole. The “judges” chosen by God were all picked for a specific reason. While some only receive a quick mention in a verse or two, others have a couple of chapters dedicated to telling their story. Gideon was one part (one judge) out of many who God chose to lead his people back to him.

As we are introduced to Gideon (chapters 6-8), we learn a few things about him that help us understand who was as a person, a person most of us can relate to. While I cannot imagine what a face-to-face encounter with an angel of the Lord might be like, I can connect with his response to his greeting. Here is how it played out: “he said, “The LORD is with you mighty warrior.” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?”

For the past seven years the people of Israel had fallen into a pattern of sin and had been living under the oppression of the Midian nation. Life was hard, they lived in the mountains to hide as best they could from the power of the Midianites. Gideon lived through seven years of oppression along with the other people and, as most normal person would, he had doubts about where God was. Can you relate to the place Gideon was in his heart and mind? Do you sometimes have doubts that God is near to you?

Today we have the privilege of seeing the larger picture of God’s incredible provision of grace, mercy, and love as we read through the book of Judges. Each time the people fall into the pattern of “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord”, God is always near and provides a way back to him. God used Gideon (one small part) in incredible ways (more details in chapters 6-8) and led the people through 40 years of peace. 

Like Gideon, our faith in God can ride through valleys and hills. We all want to live on the “mountain tops” in our faith and life but inevitably there are times when we fall into the valley. The same God that heard the cries of the Israelites so many times is the same God today that hears our cries and gives us strength and power to climb out of the valley back to the top of the mountain.

God provided the judges in Gideons day to help bring them back to himself but today we have an even more powerful way back to him and that is through his son Jesus Christ. He died for our sins and is the one who presents us are pure and holy before our father in heaven. 

Gideon played his part in helping the people find their way back to God; we too are called to be a witness (one little part) in leading others to Christ. Where are you today? Are you walking through a valley or are you standing on the top of a mountain? No matter where you are, you are not alone, God is with you. Pray about how you can be a “part” used by him?

Tending to the Fire

One of my favourite things to do while camping is watching the burning fire. The sight of the flames dancing around, the smell and sound of the wood burning, and the comforting warmth all work together to help me slip into a mysteriously hypnotic state. Fires need tending, a constant supply of fuel to keep burning; without it, the fire slowly burns out leaving small burning embers or nothing more than a pile of ash in its place.

From the moment when Nehemiah first inspected the damage to the walls surrounding Jerusalem, to the time he returned to his position as cup bearer for the king (a span of 12 years) he had been tending “fires” of a different kind. Not only did Nehemiah light the fire of inspiration and drive of the people to commit to rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but he also re-kindled the fire and passion in the hearts of the people to fall back into a life that honored and glorified their Heavenly Father.  

Chapter 10 of Nehemiah outlines the elements of a binding agreement or covenant the nation and its leaders made and committed to follow together. At that time the priests and Levites were responsible for the continued spiritual leadership of the city. In many ways they were responsible to tend the “spiritual fire” that brought the people back into a right relationship with God. As we continue to read on, Nehemiah outlines for us in chapter 13 several things that, after he left, began to stifle the desire (the fire) of the people to stay on track with a life devoted to following the laws and commands given to them. 

If we fast-forward a few thousand years to today, we can see some similarities to our own walk of faith in the Lord. 

Many of you can remember the time in your life when you first accepted the good news of the gospel and made Jesus a part of your life. There was an excitement, a fire that burned inside of you as a new believer; you devoted your life to following and serving the Lord, loving him, and loving others. God’s word (the bible) became your guide for life, you immersed yourself in it and you surrounded yourself with others who lived with that same fire in their soul. 

I have seen in others and experienced for myself this incredible feeling as the fire burned bright in life. I will be the first to admit that there are times when the fire does not burn as bright as it should. There have been times when the fuel for the fire seems in short supply, and we only see a few burning embers. 

Nehemiah saw a fire in need of tending among the people of Jerusalem and once again did his part to help re-kindle the flames of life with God among them. Like Nehemiah, we must pray and seek God’s mercy and grace in our lives; confess to him our weaknesses and He will begin a work in us to restore that burning fire in life. Keep the fire fueled through the reading of his word. When you do, you will hear his voice, his direction for your life. Surround yourself again with those who share in the warmth and comfort of knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior. Consider these words of an old hymn that continue to inspire new life in Christ, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”. 

Lending a Hand

Have you ever felt like you needed a third hand? There are times in life when having that third hand would be handy. One of my hobbies requires some soldering from time to time and to make life easier I have what is called a third hand jig (also known as a helping hand). This adjustable device holds wires in place while I work with the soldering iron. Without that third hand the task would be difficult. 

Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is about helping hands. In many ways this chapter reads like one of those extensive genealogies found in other parts of scriptures. If you’re anything like me, I tend to just browse right past these types of passages because let’s be honest, we feel like they don’t have much to offer, plus all those names are hard to pronounce. 

Following his inspection of the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah began to assign workers to repair areas near where they lived or worked. Chapter three holds the blueprint to the reconstruction process. Starting in verse 2 we see the beginning of two repeating phrases that becomes the mortar between the bricks of such a massive project. “Next to him” or “next to them” is repeated in one form another over 20 times. As I read these words, I noticed a theme that connects to the many aspects of living and working in community both in Nehemiah’s day and here and now. 

Much like the situation Nehemiah and the people of the city found themselves in, we as followers of Jesus are living amid a similar but different re-building process. As the church gathers again after a challenging time of physical separation, many of them are starting to re-build. With what seems like an ever-changing blueprint in the process, there is one constant that remains and that is the message and mission of the Gospel. 

“Next to him” or “next to them” reveals to us a picture of a community committed to a purpose. In context, Nehemiah was writing about rebuilding the wall (phase two of his plan) so that God’s glory would be able to shine. In our context, it is about coming together again and working next to one another so that others will continue to see the glory of God shine through his people. 

Many leaders today are calling on the church (you and I) to come together, next to one another, to serve and love one another. No one person could have accomplished the work of repairing the walls around Jerusalem; the same stands for today as we work to rebuild. We must work together if we are to continue our God given mission. Our work is to glorify God, to love one another, to serve with the gifts we have been given and to share the good news of the gospel with those who don’t yet know the incredible love of God. 

So, how might you be a “third hand” in helping the church grow into a renewed passion and presence in your community? Who will you work “next to”? Not for your glory, but for the glory of our Father in heaven? In the words of Nehemiah, “Let us start rebuilding.”

High-Beam Headlights

Have you ever been driving at night and found your eyes momentarily blinded by the piercing stream of light from the high-beam headlights of an oncoming vehicle? Many of you have. What’s your first reaction? Do you give a quick courtesy flash of your lights back to the driver coming your way in hopes that they dim their lights and pass you by? Or, do you return fire with fire and burn your halogen bulbs at full candlepower until the other person gives in and relents to your stunning retaliation?

The apostle Paul has received word about a “high-beam” situation infiltrating the church in Corinth. Various groups within the church were beginning to “flash their lights at each other” over who they were following along with reports of sexual immortality, lawsuits and other troubling activities. Paul deals with the first issue of divisiveness before the others in chapters 1:20-4:21. He describes the problem in 1:12, “What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another “I follow Cephas”, still another, “I follow Christ.” 

The opening of Paul’s letter “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people” was a call to unity where disarray was brewing. “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you.” What was Paul’s plan? How in the midst of disagreement can the church come together in love for one another? 

Paul outlines four methods for us to “dim the lights” and foster an attitude and environment where unity can flourish. 

First and foremost, Paul instructs the people to focus on the cross of Christ. (1:18-2:5) Simply put, the Corinthians have lost sight of the cross, their “high-beam” focus on other leaders for power and authority has to be refocused, the need to return to the truth of the gospel message. It is not about them but all about Christ. 

Second, He speaks to the truth of spiritual wisdom. (2:6-16) Without the leading and guiding of the Spirit in all matters of faith in life as believers we will fail in our own weaknesses. He reminds us of God’s wisdom as revealed by the Spirit. “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” (2:10b)

Third, he speaks to the true equality of all believers. (3:1-23) Paul uses two metaphors, one of farmers in a field and another of construction workers building together. He stresses in verse 9 that we are “co-workers” (working together) in God’s service. 

Lastly, Paul speaks to the true nature of leadership. (4:1-21) Called by God, the leaders are his faithful servants; “This then is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.” (4:1) In short, Paul highlights the truth that Christ is to be exalted over his chosen leaders (servants), while at the same time given the respect they deserve because of their calling. 

Having been momentarily “blinded” by the powerful lights of an oncoming car I will admit I’ve responded to the situation with both a quick courtesy flash and more aggressive retaliation. For all of us, whether sitting in the driver’s seat or walking through other events in life, Paul’s timeless reminder to “dim the lights” and focus on the cross and listen to the leading and guiding of the Spirit will do us well.  

The Letters of Life

There are letters of recommendation, letters of acceptance, letters of commendation, letters of refusal, hate, inquiry, love, complaint or concern. Although very different in the nature of their content each of these letters has a common purpose, they are written to communicate a message or to its intended audience. When we receive one of the above letters we know there is a certain “tone” associated with them. For example, a love letter will have a much different tone than a letter of refusal and a letter of hate will communicate a message clearly different than that of concern.  
2 Corinthians is a letter written by Paul to the church in Corinth. His letter varies in tone and subject matter as he try’s to communicate a number of things to the people. This is a letter written to commend the Corinthian church for responding to his earlier plea to love one another in Christ’s name and to remember how much He loved them. Paul wrote in order to help prepare the people’s hearts to live and give generously and with joy so that the work of spreading the good news of the Gospel would continue. He conveys a specific message surrounded by urgency and warning about understanding and recognizing the teachings and tactics of false teachers and prophets that have made their way into this family of believers. Paul writes with incredible passion, deeply rooted feelings and divine inspiration. He is writing from the deepest depths of his heart, a heart that has been radically transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ.  

Preserved in the Bible for thousands of years, the words of Paul have been interpreted, read, taught, lived out and spoken to generation after generation of people. The message communicated to the people in Corinth is a message that continues to cross cultures even today. It’s timeless reminders and commands hold true to who we are called to be as followers of Christ. This letter and many like it in scripture have the power to transform lives. As followers of Christ who have experienced this transformation we must continue to “eat, sleep and breathe” these inspired words from God. What does that mean for you? For me, right now, it means that through the work of the Holy Spirit my life I must follow as close to that of Christ’s life as I possibly can.  

The Three C’s of Gospel Communication.

Web 1920x300

There are so many ways that we can educate ourselves about the art of communication. A quick Google search will list a variety of websites that gives us information like this: “The Three V’s of Communication” (visual, vocal and verbal), “The Three Dimensions of Communication” (miscommunication, attitude and mindfulness) and “Three Dominant Styles of Communication” (passive, aggressive, and assertive). All these tools can be helpful in understanding how to communicate effectively but when it comes to the gospel message the Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy gives us some great keys to communicating this life changing message. I will call the them the Three C’s of Gospel Communication.

Christ – “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead… This is my gospel, for which I am suffering.” (2 Tim 2:8,9)

Confidence – “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so through me the message might be fully proclaimed.” (2 Tim 4:17)

 Courage – “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Tim 1:7)

Without Christ, the gospel message would not exist. Knowing, trusting and participating in the absolute truth of the reality of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection is essential to communicating its significance and its transformational power. When we put our full confidence in Christ (knowing he is standing beside us) our lives become rooted in His word. With confidence, we can stand firmly on the promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. He works in us so that the message of his word will be proclaimed. We are given the power of the Holy Spirit through Christ and the confidence we put in Him. Sharing the good news of the gospel takes courage, a power that we alone cannot produce. God, through his son Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit gives us the courage (power) to stand against the forces of evil that work so powerfully to try and put a stop to the proclamation of the message of the gospel.  Through Christ, confidence and courage the message of the gospel will continue to be spread.

Communication

Communication


How do you communicate with others? I am thinking about how communication (written, verbal, nonverbal and visual) happens in our culture today. Of course, technology plays a big part in how we network with each other today. There are a multitude of companies and applications  like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype and Facetime help us communicate in our digital age. Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t know how I would survive without my phone, it connects me to everyone and everything.”

Reading through the book of Ezra I was reminded of the “roots” of communication. We still write letters (5:8-17), we issue decrees (7:21), send memorandums (6:2) enforce stop work orders (4:23) and issue proclamations (1:2). Each of these communication methods serve a purpose today just like they did centuries ago, only today we have a different system to employ them. Consider for a moment how you use technology today to communicate and then continue reading.

God’s Word, the Bible, is one of the ways that He communicates with us. As the grand author, He inspired each and every word that is written for us to read today. The book of Ezra begins with a proclamation given by King Cyrus, a declaration that came from the Lord as He worked in Cyrus’ heart that allowed His people to return to Jerusalem. “The Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing” (1:1) God inspires (moves our hearts) His people today in much the same way. Through His Word and the work of the Holy Spirit, God leads and guides hundreds of thousands of leaders across the world to bring the truth of His word alive so that people will know Him. We are called to be communicators of His word, called to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15). Technology has changed the way we communicate; the message of the Gospel has not changed, the call to go into all the world has not changed. The work of the Holy Spirit continues to inspire and help us work out how we can best steward what God has given us (technology) to spread the message of the good news.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Have you ever put the “cart in front of the horse?” This phrase is commonly used when someone breaks the conventional rules of order and does something opposite to what we would consider a proper order. A classic example might look like this: We just past tax time and some of us are waiting for that big refund cheque to come in. Some will likely spend the money before it comes in only to find out that there was some “minor” adjustments made to the numbers and we fall a little short of affording our new found treasure. Well, we have put the “cart before the horse”.

Adonijah was is one of those people who put the cart before the horse in life. Here is what scriptures says: “Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be King”. So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men ahead of him.” (1 Kings 1:5) Adonijah had a personal vision, one that he convinced a few others to follow and sets himself up as King. Adonijah was confident in his plan, he even went as far as throwing himself a party to celebrate the occasion. As David’s oldest surviving son, Adonijah may have had the right to become King one day, he may have even been looking to the best interests of his father and his people. As the narrative continues in 1 Kings we get a hint of the guilt and fear that surrounded Adonijah and his followers. Upon hearing the news of Solomon’s appointment as King “all Adonijah’s guests rose in alarm and dispersed. But Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, went and took hold of the horns of the altar.” (1:50) It is my opinion that Adonijah knew what he did was wrong and was seeking sanctuary or safety from the hand of Solomon.

There is no doubt in my mind that Adonijah put the cart before the horse in this account.He did what any visionary leader would do, he gathered people around him that would support his vision, only his vision was self-serving and had a very narrow focus. Leading and casting vision in the church today cannot be self-serving or narrowly focused. Our vision has to be Gospel-Centered, focused on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Our job as visionary leaders is to live out the command of the great commission found in Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Let’s not put our own plans before that of God’s plan, there is great wisdom in seeking God’s leading and guiding as we plan and cast a vision that ultimately leads people to Him.