Picture-In-Picture

The picture-in-picture feature on our televisions, computers and smartphones allow us to view more than one “channel” or “window” at a time. Typically, you have your main program running on the big screen and off in one of the corners you have another screen streaming something else. At times, the little window in the corner distracts us from what is happening in the big picture, and we miss what is happening.

This past week while I was reading Paul’s letter to Titus, I was distracted by some thoughts that pulled me away from the bigger picture of what Paul was trying to communicate. The first two verses of chapter 3, particularly the opening words captured my attention and preoccupied my mind for some time. Here are the words, 

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” (Titus 3:1-2)

Still fresh in the minds of many are the orders given to us by our governing authorities in response to the recent pandemic. Personally, I did my best to live within the confines of the instructions given. While there were many different opinions and choices made during that time, I felt convicted to live and act in a way that was honoring to the words of scripture and to those in authority. 

For a little while I was stuck in a spiral of questions and thoughts trying to understand how we as Christians should live, how “to be subject to” our modern-day rulers and authorities. 

My distractions and focus in one area of life temporarily blinded me from seeing the bigger picture of why I choose to live for Jesus, Paul had much more to say to me through these words.

These two verses (3:1-2) speak volumes into the life that we are live as Christians and ultimately why. Not only is obedience required along with a readiness to do good, but we are also to treat others in a way that builds them up not tear them down, to be peacemakers, to put others before ourselves and to have a gentle spirit toward those around us. 

Why the reminder? What then is the bigger picture? 

The lives we live (as believers) are to reflect who Jesus is so that others will see him through us. Our lives are to point people toward Jesus. We need the reminder because we do get distracted, and when that reflection becomes more about us or the world than it does about Jesus the focus in no longer on the big picture, which is the love of Jesus. The message of the Gospel is Christ’s love for us, communicated through our lives as we live according to God’s word. 

We were never promised that living for Jesus was going to be easy. Distractions, no matter what they are or how they come into our lives have the power to draw our attention away from living up to the words Paul speaks to Titus and you and me.

What is distracting you from experiencing the incredible love of Jesus today? When we live a life for Him, we become a part of the big picture, sharing, and showing the love that he has for all his people. Don’t be a distraction for others, be the picture of Jesus in how you live your life. 

You! Who, Me?

Have you ever had someone single you out in a crowd? It can be an uneasy feeling depending on the circumstance. Oftentimes, this pointed exclamation is followed with a message of accusation or blame. “You”, makes things personal; it narrows the audience of its subsequent words to a single intended subject, you! Whether through spoken or written word, the use of “you” should draw your attention to listen or read carefully as there is a message to follow.

The Apostle Paul uses an emphatic “you” in his letter to Titus that helps us to understand the importance and contrast between living for Jesus and living for the world. Titus chapter 2:1 reads “You, however…” or as some translations might say, “As for you Titus…” must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 

In the last several of verses in chapter 1 Paul talks about the “many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception… by teaching things they must not teach”. This contrast to what is true and faithful to the life of a believer outlines the charge Paul gives to Titus, “to teach what is appropriate” in life in faith. 

Titus was chosen by Paul to lead the charge in teaching or promoting the truth and transformational power of the gospel, to live a life that reflected the correct behaviours and attitudes that would be an inspiration and model for the leaders of the church and ultimately the church itself. 

Paul does not leave Titus empty handed in his given task. The words that follow help identify some of the foundational truths and heart and mind attitudes that will help people separate and protect themselves from the false teachings that were being taught. Speaking to a society distant from how the world defines culture today Paul’s words still stand as good practice in our lives today. 

The central themes of self-control, respect, reverence, love, purity, kindness, and integrity are part of the instruction given to the older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves.  These actions are not just empty directives that only help us live better lives, each speak into a greater purpose and motivation. In the following verses Paul gives us the answer to the question why we should live this way, 

“so that no one will malign the word of God” (2:5); “so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” (2:8); “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (2:10)

You might ask, how it is possible to live in a way that truly reflects God while the world around us becomes more resistant to recognizing who he is? Paul reminds us about the incredible grace and salvation God has given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. “It teaches us to say” NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled lives in this present age”. (2:12)

How are YOU, yes YOU, leading the charge to teach or promote the truth and transformational power of the Gospel in your life? My prayer for you, (something I pray for myself) is that you would continually experience the incredible grace of God in your life. “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. (Matthew 5:16)

On Purpose & for a Purpose

The product development team behind the design of the French’s Mustard bottle have done something very much on purpose and for a very specific purpose. You will notice a tiny yet noteworthy feature on the base of the lid, a seemingly insignificant dimple of plastic. This small yet useful feature is there to hold the hinged bottle tip back from messing up the stream of mustard as it is squeezed onto your food. (Go ahead, get up and check it for yourself, your mustard plying experience will never be the same). 

In my last post I shared some thoughts about the confidence Paul had in his role as a servant of God. This Spirit filled confidence gave him a purpose as he lived out God’s will for his life. In the opening words of his letter to Titus he highlights this purpose, 

“…to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness…” 

If you have been a part of a church, you will likely be familiar with its mission and vision statements. These short yet powerful statements give direction and purpose to the life of the church. With hope and trust in God, everything the church does is to help further the mission and vision laid out before them.

In these opening words to Titus Paul has stated for us his personal mission statement. A personal mission statement defines who you are as a person and identifies your purpose. It explains what you will do to pursue that purpose.

Paul is a man of action, his words “to further the faith of God’s elect”, give us a sense of movement or growth in our faith. The word “further” gives us a picture that he is extending something toward us, leading or guiding us forward down a particular path. That something is the “knowledge of the truth”. Simply stated, the knowledge and truth Paul describes here is hearing and understanding the message of the gospel in a personal and transformational way. 

Paul does not just stop there; he goes on to explain further the purpose of this action. The destination of that path Paul leads us down is a lifelong journey to godliness. If you read on in Paul’s letter to Titus, he begins to break down the appropriate behaviors and responsibilities of those who are involved in leading the church (to be an example for others). His words describe how a life transformed by the gospel should reflect the love of Jesus and his Father in heaven so that others will see him. 

Do you have a personal mission statement for your life? Does it challenge you to take action in your life and the lives of others? Is your mission Christ-centered? What is your goal, your destination in life? What have you learned from Paul’s words?

It is my hope and prayer that these questions and Paul’s words inspire you to think about your mission in life. Pray and ask God to help you know and understand his will for your life. Live life on purpose and for a purpose, let the truth of the gospel be the center of your life on mission with Jesus. 

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? 

Yo-Yo’s, Life & Faith

I have never been able to master the skills of tossing a yoyo, in fact, I gave up the practice many years ago after sustaining some self-inflicted bruises and having to sweep up some freshly broken pottery. This seemingly simple toy, when placed in the hands of a skilled yoyo master can both mesmerize and inspire the inner child in all of us.

As I started reading through the book of Judges, I felt a bit like a yoyo spinning and moving in what seems like an unpredictable direction. Following the death of Joshua, the nation of Israel was without a leader, someone who could keep them focused on moving forward in their life and faith in God. The absence of a leader set into motion an up and down cycle of sin, punishment, repentance, and ensuing rescue. Their rescue came when God chose for them a “judge” or leader who led them back into knowing who God is and into his endless grace and mercy for them. 

Chapter by chapter as we read from a distance about the lives of the Israelite people, we find ourselves spinning through this yoyo like cycle of ups and downs with them. The final words of Judges lay out for us the cause of all that happens through the rest of its narrative, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit”. (21:25)

Judges chapter 2 highlights the foundation of why “everyone did as they saw fit”. The generations of people who followed that of Joshua had lost sight of who God was and what he had done for the nation of Israel in the past. Chapter 2:11-12 recounts what happened next, “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them”. This, as we see throughout the book is the beginning of the cycle (sin) that leads into punishment, repentance and rescue of a God who continued to love them. 

The seemingly unpredictable direction I mentioned earlier becomes more and more predictable as we read along. God himself was always in the picture. The people may have been blinded to his presence at times, but God never left them. Each time the nation cried out for help, he rescued them by providing a judge, a leader to draw them back toward him and live in peace once again. 

As believers today we live and serve the same God that was looking over the nation of Israel, a God who loves and cares for every created being. At times, the lives that we live today fall into a similar cycle lived out in the pages of Judges. When we do as we see fit for our own lives, when we let the heart of the world overtake the heart of Christ in us, we draw ourselves further away from God our Father. What do we do when things come crashing down around us? Well, as the cycle continues, we cry out to God (who has never left us in the first place) and He restores our heart, our soul and mind through his incredible mercy and grace. 

Our rescue is forgiveness and restoration through Christ’s love, a love that has no limits. Life will sometimes become tangled and spin out of control like a yo-yo, but in the hands of a master (our Father in heaven) comes beauty and inspiration. Do you need to cry out to God today? He is near to you; He will answer the call from your heart with love and forgiveness.

A Journey in Time

I remember the moment with vivid clarity, it was early January 2016, I was awkwardly crammed into the back of a vibrantly decorated Jeepney with a mission’s team and several new Pilipino friends. One of our new friends was a local pastor with a propensity for telling jokes. While we were nervously weaving in and out of traffic, he shared this joke: “Who was the shortest man in the Bible?”. Not knowing the answer, he regaled us with this witty response, “Nehemiah” but with a twist… (Knee-High-Miah).  

I share this with you because every time I turn in my Bible to the book of Nehemiah this memory floods back into my mind. This past week I spent some time reading through Nehemiah’s words and one of the themes I have been considering is that of “time”. This remarkable story recounts Nehemiah’s incredible leadership and reliance on God in completing the re-construction of the wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days. Yet, there is another important segment of time that precedes the building of the wall that was critical to its success. 

Chapter 1:4 records these words, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” While it takes us less than two minutes to read these words and transition to the next events of Nehemiah’s story we must stop and understand that “For some days” was a span of time that was approximately four months long. Today, living in a culture that thrives on instant gratification, high achievement and quick solutions four months might feel like a lifetime. 

After receiving news about the trouble and disgrace of what was transpiring in Jerusalem three things occurred in the months following for Nehemiah. First, he mourned over the circumstances surrounding the lives of the people and the city that was their home. Second, he fasted and third, he prayed day and night before the God of heaven to help the people of Israel. 

Something I need to ask myself and one thing I can ask of you is this: In the light of a difficult situation or experience do I/you take the appropriate amount of time to mourn, fast and pray for God’s direction in moving forward?  While some difficult experiences in life may not require a lengthy period of time to navigate, others will. Who we are will often influence the length of time each of us needs to work through life’s challenges, the important part is how we start the journey. 

The book of Nehemiah is filled with examples of his dependance on God through prayer to accomplish the tasks that God called him to. The meaning of the name Nehemiah is “Yahweh comforts”. In times of mourning, in times of fasting, and in times of prayer, God is our comfort. He is our hope, and he is our guide in life. Paul, in Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”. My prayer is that no matter what life brings our way, easy or hard, positive or negative, that we are on the journey together with a God who loves us. 

Building Your Own Jesus.

Recently a good friend of mine shared an illustration during a Sunday sermon that stirred up some creative juices that inspired me to start writing in my blog again. While this mouthwatering illustration has been simmering in my mind for the past couple of days, I just had to share it with you.

Burger King introduced the world to the Whopper in 1957 along with a revolutionary concept that changed the way we order fast food. For the first time you could customize your burger to fit your personal taste. Don’t like pickles, no problem, like a little extra ketchup or mustard, of course. Aptly named, the whopper was a big hit, especially because it outsized any of the competitors burgers and you could order it just the way you wanted. Burger Kings mantra continues to ring out as, “have it your way”. 

Today this might not seem like a big deal as we tend to customize everything, burgers, pizzas, computers, cars, ringtones, music playlists, water bottles, watch bands and so much more. Over the passage of time our mantra has become “have it our way” While I am sure you can come up with a long list of things that you can customize, have you ever considered how this tendency to tailor things to our own taste/needs may intersect with our relationship with Jesus? 

Admittedly, like my friend, I have over time “customized” my relationship with Jesus to suit my own needs or wants. I have ordered off the “menu” choosing what I need or want and leaving out the rest of who he is. As we all face a multitude of different circumstances in life we sometimes slip into a false sense of who Jesus is thinking we can “have him our way”. 

Sometimes in life we choose to create a Jesus that works for us. We like the idea that Jesus loves us and watches out for us, that he leads, guides and protects us. And then on the flip side there are things we don’t like. It might be something he taught that stands in the face of a lifestyle choice we are living comfortably in or something that we want to do. We want to live life our way and fit Jesus into that life. As we check out the menu and build our own Jesus, we might like my friend order the following:

“A super-sized Jesus with extra grace, double forgiveness, hold the truth, with an order of don’t make me feel bad about anything that I want to do on the side.”

Throughout the ages individuals and groups of people have viewed Jesus through their particular lenses, building a version of him for themselves. Even his closest followers, the twelve disciples, didn’t fully understand who he was. The truth of God’s word holds the keys to truly knowing who Jesus is. The grand narrative of scripture reveals to us bit by bit the incredible truth of hope we can have in Jesus as we draw closer to him. 

When the disciples asked Jesus about which is the greatest commandment he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” When we invite Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we must commit to the “full meal deal”, every aspect of our heart, soul and mind must be given over to him. It’s not “have it your way”, “have it our way” or “have him our way”. In life and in death, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that we must follow. 

To listen to message that inspired this blog entry click here

The Great _ommission

An omission is defined as “the action of excluding or leaving out someone or something”. Today, I have purposely left something out in my title, did it catch your attention? I feel it is befitting of the mysterious tendency that creeps into the ordinary day-to-day pattern of life we as believers can sometimes drift into. The exclusion or omission of clear instruction in our spiritual life has an impact on our mission as followers of Jesus Christ. We all tend to drift without continuous reminders of who we are called to be and what our mission is as believers. 

Like the disciples, we have been given a clear and concise mandate as believers, it is recorded for us in Matthew chapter 28: “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is the mission we chose to accept when we entered into a personal relationship with the Son of God. His words to us, his clear instructions are central to the life we are to live as his disciples.  We are called to be disciple making disciples. So, what does this look like for us today, in what context are we to “go”?

The first thing that we must consider as we walk in obedience to this command today is the promise that follows it; something that we often forget when we begin to slip into that mysterious tendency I mentioned earlier, Jesus says: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” There should be incredible encouragement found for each one of us in this promise, not just in the beginning as we are fired up and ready to go, but right through till the end. He is with us, (think about that for a minute). “Go” in this passage refers to the act of going in a particular direction. Figuratively, it refers to taking a particular course of action, and in this case has an effect on someone becoming a disciple (a follower of Christ). The Great Commission is not only meant to cross borders (all nations) but is a call for all believers to be active in their own little parts of the world. This means we are to actively influence those who are close to us, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community members by living out our faith in a way that brings about change (transformational change) in their lives. 

Have you been living in omission to the Great Commission? Has life shifted your focus to a different mission? One of the best ways to build your confidence in sharing your faith so that you can fulfill your God given mission, is to immerse yourself in His word. The Bible is full of incredible testimonies of God’s amazing mercy and grace. His word has been inspiring believers for centuries to be on task, to be ready for action and to go out into the world on mission for him. It is my prayer for you that you are a disciple making disciple. 

Strength (integrity)

A quick online search for “strongest material on earth” results in a storm of websites listing Graphene as number one. Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon 200 times stronger than steel. One engineer said that It would take an elephant balancing on a pencil to break a sheet as thin as Saran wrap. Incredible when you think about it isn’t it? 

When I think about the strongest man in the Bible my first instinct is to think of the mighty Sampson. Called and gifted by God, Sampson displayed some miraculous feats of physical strength. Yet for me, another man jumps to my mind when it comes to a different picture of strength, and that is Job. Job’s integrity as a faithful servant of God withstood some of the most painful personal hardships that one man could ever face.  

Job 1:1 (NIV): “This man (Job) was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. The whole book deals with the realities of suffering and righteousness, something many christians continue to struggle with today. Verse one of chapter one describes Job as “blameless”, not necessarily sinless. Romans 3:8 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of the Lord.” Job’s integrity and devotion to God was tested through the unfathomable loss of his family; his good health was stripped from him and every material thing he had was taken away. In the midst of all these things Job utters these words, “he tests me — I shall come out like gold” (23:10)…“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. (42:5). 

We are given a picture of Job’s integrity in heart, soul and mind as we read his story. There is no doubt in my mind that Job struggled with sin in his life, he was human just like you and me.  His story tells us that his suffering was not because of any sin that he may have committed (despite what his “friends” try to tell him). Job’s integrity came out of his fear of God, it was an attitude of respect, obedience and upmost trust that guarded his integrity of heart from failure.

Job’s life, his experiences, should not drag us down, it should build us up with hope as we continue to live in a world filled with suffering and injustice. It has the power to encourage and inspire each of us in our own lives. This life of integrity lived by one man is and has been a model for many generations of believers.