Finding Lost Hope

“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more” (Psalm 71:14).

I have a confession to make.

I lost my hope.

I had hoped in a dream that I believed was God’s plan for me – it was exciting and I was filled with anticipation.  But when my life turned in a different direction, I set my backpack full of hope down and shuffled off on this unwanted new path.  It all seemed more like a heavy burden – just another unfulfilled longing.  It was easier to leave it behind than to continue carrying it around like so much dead weight.

The Bible mentions quite a few people who stood at the same crossroads.  Moses, Elijah, and Naomi come to mind.  Peter and several of the disciples, uncertain of where their lives are going after Jesus’ death, dejectedly went back to fishing (John 21).  And then there are two of Jesus’ followers  walking on the dusty road to Emmaus when they encounter a stranger.  They tell him about Jesus (isn’t that a kick), sadly saying: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They saw their lives going in a completely different direction than they expected.

Part of the problem is our understanding of the word “hope.”  We say, “I hope it doesn’t rain out the picnic today.”  “I hope he asks me to the prom.”  “I hope you feel better soon.” – but these are spoken like “wishful thinking.”  That’s a “cross-your-fingers” kind of hope.  The Bible portrays hope as “an attitude of confidently looking forward to what is good and beneficial.”  It’s a hope that serves as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).  It’s not a hope in circumstances, but rather a hope in the One who called us and sustains us and guarantees a good outcome.  It’s a hope that we can carry with us no matter what twists and turns life takes.  Better yet, it’s a hope that carries us no matter what.  That’s the kind of hope you and I need.

Remember Peter and those disciples on the road to Emmaus – the ones who had lost hope? Their stories didn’t end there.  At the end of that fishing trip was breakfast with the risen Jesus and restored hope for Peter.  At the end of the Emmaus road was the joyful realization that the stranger in their midst was the resurrected Lord Himself.  In the end their hope was renewed, in fact, it was even stronger than before.

One of my favorite verses in seasons like this is Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and joy.”  I believe this is an assurance that our God-given dreams don’t get cast aside when life takes an unexpected turn.  Because God expected that turn, even if I didn’t, and somehow my dreams will make the turn too. And when He brings them to reality, they may not look exactly like I envisioned, but they will be full of life and joy.  And hope.

Holy Father, I’m picking my hope back up and I’m going to walk this new path with the assurance that “He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).  My hope is in You.  There’s no better place for it to be.  Amen.

In the Mother’s Prayer Room

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:27).

I’ve found a real connection and draw inspiration from some of the mothers in the Bible and in Christian history.  In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share my Mother-Heroines with you. Maybe you will find a connection and inspiration too.

I’ve long had a special place in my heart for Hannah, the mother of Samuel.  Hannah’s story is found in 1 Samuel 1-2; she endured many years of barrenness – what I called infertility for seven years.  Hannah prayed fervently for a child – and God granted her prayer and she gave birth to Samuel, who became a great leader of the Israelite nation.  I, too prayed for many years for a child and God granted my desire as well. Hannah and I kept praying until God said yes – we both had sons after many years of waiting. Our key verse is her words to the priest Eli, when she and her husband presented baby Samuel at the Temple.

Bathsheba is an example to me of a mom who sinned greatly, yet God forgave her, blessed her and used her in His plan. Her story is told in 2 Samuel 11-12. Bathsheba was another’s man’s wife when King David initiated an affair with her, then murdered her husband to cover up his sin when she discovered she was pregnant.  Though her child died, God forgave her and blessed Bathsheba with another son, Solomon, who followed his father on the throne of Israel and ruled (for a time) with godly wisdom.  I am a mom who messed up more than once, and, just as God forgave Bathsheba and redeemed her life, He has done the same for me.

There is a mom and grandmother I truly aspire to be like: Eunice and Lois, whose godly lives and teaching shaped young Timothy, who became the Apostle Paul’s “right-hand man” in ministry.  Paul said of them: “I have been reminded of your [Timothy’s] sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).  What a legacy!  That’s the kind of mom I want to be, one who models a “sincere faith” that influences my child and someday, my grandchildren.

At this stage in my “parenting career” I most identify with a mother named Monica who lived in a.d. 300-400.  Monica was a woman who loved God passionately and also loved her son deeply.  Monica’s son was a young man with a – shall we say – “zest” for all the world had to offer.  He pursued his own pleasures and made choices that broke his mother’s heart.  He loved his mother, but he was determined to live his life on his terms.  Monica prayed fervently and faithfully for her son.  She wept and pleaded with God to bring her son out of the world and into His Kingdom.  She sacrificed for her son and endured his misbehavior and the consequences that followed him around everywhere he went.   Her son later wrote these words about her, “I cannot adequately tell of the love she had for me, or how she continued to travail for me in the spirit with far more anguish than when she bore me in the flesh.”[1]  As Monica sought godly counsel for her son, she begged and pleaded with the local bishop.  “Finally the bishop, a little vexed at her persistence, exclaimed, ‘Go your way; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.’”[2]  Monica and God won the battle for her son’s soul and he came to salvation at the age of 32.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him – Saint Augustine of Hippo – one of the greatest fathers of the Christian faith.  I also have a grown son whom I pray for continually.  As he struggles to find his way in the world, I pray that he will be caught up in the enormous love of God and will live his life as a follower of Christ.

Motherhood is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.  Maybe this Mother’s Day the sun dawns on a broken heart, a longing unfulfilled, an unimaginable loss, a strained relationship, or a struggling child.  I want to encourage you to take a look at the mothers of the Bible and the Church.  The one common denominator in every one of their stories is a mother on her knees for her child.  Come join me in the Mother’s prayer room – we’re all in this together and best of all – God is in it with us too.

Dear Father, I think the heart of a mother comes closest to Your own heart than any other on earth.  I pray for my son to know You and to love You with all his heart, mind, soul and strength.  I pray for my fellow moms – give us endurance to stay on our knees and let us rejoice together when our children say “I belong to the Lord” (Isaiah 44:5). Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions of Saint Augustine, Edited by Tom Gill. (Alachua, Bridge-Logos,2003),117.

[2] Augustine, 72.

Reposted from “A Mom Like Me” 5/12/2015

Child of God

Antonio Allegri’s Head of Christ – Public Domain

“Now if we are children then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (Romans 8:17)

The story is told of a wealthy husband and wife who traveled around the world collecting wonderful and costly works of art.  Their home was filled with the finest sculptures and paintings.  In time the wife passed away and their son grew up, joined the military and went off to war.  One day a knock at the door brought the terrible news that his son had been killed in battle.  The man shut himself away, alone in the house with all his valuable treasures.  Years later, another knock at the door brought a surprise visitor, a friend of his son from the military.  He held a brown-paper-wrapped package in his hands and told the old man that he had been searching for him for many years to give him a portrait he had painted of his son shortly before he was killed.  The father thanked the friend and unwrapped the package with tears in his eyes.  The painter-friend had captured the essence of his son, especially in the eyes.  He took down his prized painting from above the mantel and placed the painting of his son in its place.

When he finally died his estate announced a great auction and the most important art collectors and dealers from around the world came.  The auctioneer gaveled the auction open and displayed the first painting – the simple portrait of the man’s son.  The auctioneer asked for a bid. No one said a word.  He asked again, who will give me just $25 for this painting?  No one moved.  They weren’t there for sentimentality, they were there for the great sculptures and beautiful paintings.  Finally, one man in the back raised his hand, “I didn’t come here to buy anything, I just wanted to watch, but I’ll take the painting for $25.”

“Going once, going twice, sold to the gentleman in the back for $25.”

Then the auctioneer rapped the gavel on his stand and announced, “The auction is now closed.”

“Closed! How can that be?”  “What about all these paintings and sculptures?  There’s a whole house full of treasures to be sold.”

The auctioneer put down his gavel, “The old man’s will declared that only one painting would be sold – the painting of his beloved son.  Whoever takes the son gets it all.”

God set His beloved Son to redeem lost souls and bring them into His family.  He said that whoever chose to believe in His Son would instantly become His child and would have rights to all He owns – which is heaven and earth and all the universe and eternal life.  The Son is the Way to all the treasures of God – actually, the Son is the greatest treasure of God.  And those treasures can be yours if you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.  It’s an incredible offer – you trade your sinful life for the glory of Christ.  Don’t pass it up.

Whoever takes the Son gets it all.

Lord, You are far and above the sinful creatures on earth, but in Your great love for us, You gave Your Son so that we could have it all – redemption, hope, joy, peace and eternal life in heaven with You.  Only a fool would pass up such a wonderful offer.  I chose Jesus.

The “Perfect” Christian

“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

 

Perfectionism is the preferred disease of the twenty-first century and it’s killing us.  Ever said or heard one of these?

“I want my wedding day to be perfect.”

“This proposal has to be perfect – dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

“Get this mess cleaned up! Our guests will be here in an hour and this place has to be perfect.”

“I stayed up all night to work on my paper – it has to be perfect if I’m going to get an “A” in this class.” (That would be me.)

Or maybe this one sounds most familiar to you:

“Why did I do that/say that/think that?  I’m a Christian – I’m supposed to be perfect!”

I thought you would recognize the last one – I know I’ve heard it in my own head countless times.  And we have the mandate of Jesus in our key verse to back up that relentless voice.  “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) “Be perfect – be perfect – be perfect.”   Yet we know that only One was perfect – the speaker Himself.  Does that mean He was setting up an unrealistic standard for us?  Not exactly.  When Jesus used the word “perfect” He was not saying be flawless – He was speaking of maturity – the word (in Greek) teleioo and its root telos mean “to reach a goal, to finish or complete.”   Jesus was saying we need to continually strive for maturity as the goal of our faith.

What’s interesting is that while the Bible uses the word “perfect” just forty-two times,  the word “good” appears more than six hundred times.[1]  Like in the creation account when, after completing each day’s creative work, God examined what He had done and “saw that it was good.”  In the original Hebrew this means that God found His work “pleasing, favorable and satisfactory.”  Think about it – if God, at the zenith of His creative work, was content with “good” shouldn’t “good” be good enough for us?

There’s more:  He promised a good land to the Israelites when they escaped Egyptian bondage (Exodus 3:8), Jeremiah told the people to “ask where the good way is and walk in it” (6:16).  Jesus said the Father gives “good gifts” (Matthew 7:11), He proclaimed the soil with the greatest harvest good ((Luke 8:8) and Paul tells us to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) – not perfection.[2]  Even the Gospel that saves us is called “the Good News” (Acts 5:42).  Why then, are we trying so hard to be perfect?

God didn’t saddle us with this obsession for perfection – it was the enemy who planted that impossible seed.  But we have watered and nurtured it until it has become a weed of gigantic proportions and, as weeds so often do, it has choked the life out of us and the “good works” we were created to do (Ephesians 2:10).  It’s his way of keeping you distracted, dissatisfied, frustrated – and fruitless.  Perfectionism will drive us to the point of exhaustion as we push ourselves to reach for an unreachable standard.  Or, on the flip side, it will leave us in a state of paralysis, fearful of even attempting anything because we know we’ll never measure up.  I’ve been both – and it’s no way to live.  You and I will never pull off perfection this side of heaven.  And that’s okay.

My friend, only God is perfect and making you perfect is His work alone, through the blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.  But you won’t see the perfectly finished product until you stand before Him in heaven.  So hang all your perfectionist tendencies on Him and be free from that burden you were never meant to carry.  Being good is good enough.

Holy Father, You didn’t ask me to measure up to some perfect standard, but it’s what often demand of myself.  Please help me to rest in the knowledge that good is good enough for You.  Amen.

[1] I am using the NIV – New International Version, other translations may have a different word count.

[2] All Scripture emphases were added by me.

The Man in the Middle

“Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left” (Matthew 27:38)

It was just like Jesus, who was born in poverty in a filthy stable, who hung out with fishermen, tax collectors and women of ill repute, to die in the company of the lowest of the low – common thieves.  Surely a king should be born in a palace and die on a royal bed.  But He was not that sort of king – He was a ruler from another Place, and He chose to denigrate Himself that He might raise up the lowly.

There is a beautiful picture of that very act recorded in Luke’s gospel, in the account of the crucifixion.  All four of the gospel writers note the presence of two others with Jesus when He was crucified.  They were thieves – most likely “career criminals” to be put to death for their crimes.  Jesus was the “Man in the middle.” Matthew tells us that these thieves joined in the crowd’s mocking and jeering against Jesus; they “heaped insults on him” (Matthew 27:44).  But at some point, something changed for one of the men.

Luke reports that “one of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!’” (23:39). But we see that the other criminal had a change of heart saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong” (23:40-41).  This enlightened criminal realized that Jesus was an innocent man, falsely accused and wrongly crucified.  That in itself would be an amazing turn around, but he understood even greater things than that.

He tells the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (23:42).  There is so much revelation packed into that sentence, and none of it came from this man’s own understanding.  He recognized, by a divine knowledge, that Jesus was, in fact, a King and he knew – only through the Spirit – that there was life – eternal life – after death through Jesus.  What an amazing revelation!  And it wasn’t given to the wise and learned religious leaders – it was bestowed on a lowly, wretched thief!

He also knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus in return for this gift of eternal life – but he asked anyway.  Perhaps he had heard of Jesus’ teaching on the mountainside where the Lord had said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).  If anyone was “poor in spirit” it was a dying thief.  And Jesus made good on His promise.

“Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43).  All that was required was understanding who Jesus was and believing on Him for eternal life.

We don’t know what was happening in the mind and heart of this man, but I believe, as he turned his head to gaze upon Jesus, his eyes were opened to the Truth.   I believe he witnessed the intensity of Jesus suffering under the weight of mankind’s condemnation – including his own.  I believe he heard Jesus’ plea to His Father for forgiveness for the ones who nailed Him to the cross.  I believe he saw past the blood-matted hair and bruises and looked beyond the skin shredded to ribbons and saw a glimpse of who this Man in the middle truly was.  And a divine glimpse is all he needed.

On this “Good Friday” may I encourage you to put yourself on the thief’s cross?  As you envision yourself hanging there, will you turn your head and look at the Man in the middle?  Witness the bloody, battered figure beside you and see Him suffering under the weight of all your sin.  Now, look closer – do you see the King who rules over an eternal kingdom?  Look at His hand, held fast to the cross by a nail, as it reaches out to you, offering you what you cannot earn for yourself – forgiveness, redemption, salvation, eternal life.  Beloved one – He died for you.  He suffered for your freedom.  He was forsaken by His Father so you would not be.

The thief on the cross went from sinner to saint because of the Man in the middle.  He can do the same for you.  Will you let Him today?

Lord Jesus, when I think of what you endured for me, I am awed and grateful.  I am no less of a sinner than the thief on the cross, and You offer me the same eternal life you promised to him.  I can never thank you enough, but I’ll spend the rest of my earthly days trying.  I love You – my Savior and my King.

Missing Out

“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).

I was cleaning out my purse last week and found something I had forgotten I had – and I missed out on a special treat.  I presently work at Publix and every month our corporate bosses give us a coupon for a free something in the store.  Last month is was for a delectable new dessert item that I was looking forward to trying.  But I got busy with other things and the offer expired while the coupon was folded up in my purse.  I missed out on a sweet treat because I was distracted and not paying attention to what I had been given.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.  God gives us so many blessings, so many wonderful treats and delightful surprises, but we are often fail to notice.  We miss out on so much He wants to give us because we are too busy and distracted by life and the world.  We run in frantic circles trying to accomplish all we think we must while the Lord invites us to sit at His feet and hear His heart (Luke 10:38-42).  We have peace summits, peace talks, and peace marches that offer little to no peace; Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you” (John 14:27).  We give our hearts and bodies to others in search of love – all the while God is proclaiming, “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” (Jeremiah 31:3).  We search for something solid and sure in this unstable world, failing to recognize that “there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).   And when we get lost in this world filled with fake news and “alternative truths,” Jesus is “The Way, The Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

What’s the key to not missing out on God’s good blessings?  James said it best, “Come near to God and He will come near to you, (James 4:8).  Draw near to God through time in His Word and through prayer every day. That is undistracted time (I’m preaching to myself here).  Time solely and intentionally devoted to God.  You may have to turn off your phone, shut down FaceBook, close out your emails – even (shudder) get up a little earlier.  “But I’m so busy, I don’t have time to give, and I’m too tired every day to give up sleep!”  I get it – I’m busy too, working full time, going to school, taking care of my home and family (including a husband recovering from shoulder surgery), teaching Bible Study, and serving in Women’s ministry at my church and I’m lucky if I get 6 hours of sleep a night.  But drawing near to God isn’t something we should try to “fit in” – it is a necessity, something we must consider a priority.  Dear friend, imagine how much time and trouble you and I would save if we approached our day with a peaceful, calm, assured spirit.  Wouldn’t you like to face your workplace filled with the peace of Christ?  How might it change your relationships if you knew God loved you with an everlasting, sacrificial love?  Might your day go a little smoother with a rock-solid foundation under your feet?  How comforting would it be to be able to sort out the truth amid the lies and deception of the world?

God is offering you all these blessings and so much more.  Don’t miss them.  Don’t get so busy and frantic that you forget what God has already promised to you.  Draw near.  Breath deep.  Listen.  Meditate.  Soak.  Then go out and face your day with the peace, love, assurance and wisdom that comes from God alone.  Don’t hide His promises out of sight and mind.  Claim what is yours today.

Holy Father, I know Your blessings never expire like my coupon, but I give up so much when I fail to “cash in.” I miss out on so much – especially Your sweet presence – when I get frantic and over-busy.  Call me to sit at Your feet.  Remind me every morning to draw near so that I can face my day filled with Christ.  Amen.

When You’re Weary

“We are had pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed”  (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

 I am tired.  Weary-to-my-bones kind of tired.  Needing-more-than-a-day-off kind of tired. The tired that drains you physically, emotionally and spiritually.  It’s really easy to sink into fatigue and cry “Woe is me!” and post my feelings all over social media.  But how does that serve the cause of Christ? 

In our key verse, Paul, who had every right to whine, choose instead to look at his life from a different perspective.  He acknowledged that his circumstances were hard – he was being pressed from many different directions by people with very different agendas.  He was perplexed; he couldn’t understand why his own people were rejecting the Messiah they had so long sought.  He was persecuted – his life was often in danger, his ministry was detested by the Jewish leaders and even by certain factions of the church.  He was struck down – beaten and stoned more than once for his dogged devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Despite all that, he refused to give in to misery.  He knew that no human could crush him because he belonged to the Lord.  He chose not to give in to despair.  He reminded himself that his Lord and Savior would never abandon him, and had even come to stand beside him in prison (Acts 23:11).  He knew that the Lord he served with all his heart would not allow him to be destroyed.

Beloved – this is YOUR testimony too if you are in Christ.  You are not a victim—you are a victor!  Yes, life gets very hard sometimes, but you and I need not give in to despair because our Lord will not let us be crushed or destroyed. He has promised to never abandon His own, not even in our darkest, hardest moments.  Like Paul, we must learn to hold fast to Jesus and trust Him despite our circumstances or feelings. 

I am tired, but the Lord promises to give me strength.  I am overwhelmed, but He will carry my burdens for me.  I am weary, but He will sustain me.  I can focus on my fatigue, or on my faithful Father.  The choice is mine.  The choice is yours too.  Where will your thoughts take you today?

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

mirror-effect

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” Genesis 1:27.

I have a beautiful old mirror that I rescued it from an abandoned church that had become a “relief station” for transients (yes, I got permission to take it).  The room was filthy and the mirror reflected (pun intended) the condition of the room.  It smelled so bad I took it home in a doubled plastic bag and set it on the porch to let it air out a little.  After a couple of weeks I examined it more closely.  It was covered in grime and tar from cigarette smoke.  The felt backing had rotted away and there were scratches to the silver on the back, but the Art-Deco design on the front was still intact, so I cleaned it up the best I could and hung it in my study.  It wasn’t useful at all as a mirror, but it was a pretty piece that added a touch of character to my room.

A friend came by one day and saw the mirror, and after I told her to story, she recommended someone she said could possibly restore it.  I took the mirror to him and left it in his care.  A few weeks later, he called to say my mirror was ready, and he thought I would be pleased with the results.  He underestimated my reaction.  My mirror was beautiful!  He had cleaned it better than I ever could, restored the silver and recovered the back with new felt.  He had refreshed the paint in the design and polished the whole thing up until it more than shined – it glowed!  Most of all, it was restored to its original purpose, an instrument of reflection.  I re-hung it by the doorway and checked my hair and makeup everyday as I left for work.  It was truly a mirror now, not just an interesting decoration.

You and I were created to reflect the Imago Dei – the image of God.  In His original design, God could look at His human creation and see Himself in us.  But just as that mirror had been covered over with filth and no longer served its purpose, sin has covered over the beautiful image of God in mankind and we no longer act as the reflection of our Creator.  We are stained with the filth of the world in which we live.  We are useless as the image bearers of God, and we know we are not living up to our divinely ordained purpose, so we try to clean ourselves up – just as I tried to clean up that mirror.  I did my best, but my efforts fell far short of bringing my mirror back to its original condition.  It took a professional restorer to finish the task.

It takes Someone far more capable than you and me to restore us to our original purpose.  It takes a Savior.  It takes a great sacrifice – a divine sacrifice – to clean off all the world’s filth.  It takes a great power – Holy Spirit power – to bring the Imago Dei back to its original condition.  Beloved, you and I were not meant to reflect the world around us, we were fashioned to reflect the God of the Universe, our Creator.  Will you trust yourself to God and allow Him to restore you to the beautiful purpose for which you were created?

Holy Father, I could have left that mirror in that filthy place, but I saw the beauty under the grime.  You see the hint of Your own image in us, and You have given everything to rescue and restore us to our original condition.  Thank you Lord.  I surrender my life to You – cleanse me and make me once again a reflection of You.  Amen.

Secret Faith

peekaboo

“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself  . . .” Daniel 1:8

He was part of a group of athletes from out of town.  He and his teammates were seated across the pizza parlor and it was obvious they had been drinking for a while.  Their conversation had been punctuated with profanity and sexual comments, and this young man had been a full participant.  He hoisted his beer above his head and toasted their victory with a few choice expletives.  With his arm raised high, I could see the WWJD bracelet he wore.  It was faded and dirty, but I recognized it right away.

I shook my head as we stood to leave, just as the young man walked to the restroom.  As my husband paid our bill, he walked out and I commented, “You guys must have had a great day today, you’re doing a lot of celebrating.”

“Yeah, we beat everyone today – we’re the CHAMPS!”

“May I ask you a question?” I queried.  He nodded his assent.  “What’s that bracelet you’re wearing all about?”  He glanced down and his wrist and quickly pulled his shirt sleeve down over the bracelet.

“Awe, it’s just something I got at church a while back.  My mom likes for me to wear it.”

“What does it mean?”

“It says WWDJ I think.  It just means . . . well I guess it means I’m a Christian.”

“Really?  Wow, that’s great! I didn’t know Christians could get drunk and cuss like that!  I guess it’s no big deal anymore is it?”

He shifted his weight back and forth on his feet.  “Hey, I’m still a Christian in my heart, isn’t that where it matters?”

“I don’t know.  Is it?”

In contrast to the young man in the pizza parlor, consider Daniel and his friends.  They were part of the exile to Babylon and had been taken with a group of elite young men to be indoctrinated into the culture of their captors.  They were given “royal food and wine” (Daniel 1:8), food which was forbidden for a Jew.  They asked to be excluded from the meal plan in favor of foods that would not compromise their faith.

Now you might ask, what harm would there be in eating and drinking the provided food as long as they remained true to their faith in their hearts?  As the young athlete said, “Isn’t that where it matters?” Couldn’t they set aside their convictions since they were captives, just go along with the others who had no such qualms?  While they chowed down they could tell God, “This doesn’t change who I am. You know I’m still a Jew at heart.”

Or when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were ordered to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue, what harm would there have been to go along on the outside, as long as they still claimed their Jewish status in their hearts?[1]  Maybe Daniel could have outwardly pretended to pray to the King, but kept his heart for God?  It sure would have kept him out of the lion’s den.[2]

Jesus gives us the answer: “By their fruit you will recognize them,” (Matthew 7:16).  Fruit in Scripture is evidence of what is inside.  If a tree has the sap of a peach, it’s not going to produce a pear.  Likewise if we are truly Christians in our hearts, we will not exhibit ungodly behavior.  That’s not to say that Christians don’t occasionally stumble in their walk.  But they feel the sting of conviction and repent in sorrow for their failing.  A Christian cannot be comfortable living like the world.  I would even go so far as to say, it you can live like the world while claiming to be a Christian, you might want to re-examine your relationship with Christ.

Secret faith – faith that only exists in your heart but not in your words and actions – is a contradiction in terms.  Genuine inward faith has an outward expression.  It can’t be kept hidden away or tucked up under a shirt sleeve when it’s not convenient or popular to be a Christian.  Faith has to be lived out loud.  I don’t mean standing on a street corner with a Bible and a sign, but rather standing apart from the culture and the influences of the world.  I mean not participating in ungodly behavior.  I mean saying “No” when you are enticed to compromise your faith.  I mean making choices that may seem odd to others, but that reflect Christ in your heart.

Had Daniel and his friends compromised with the food issue, it would have been easier to give in with the statue or prayer.  They would have blended in to the culture and had no influence for the Lord.  They certainly would not have encouraged us with their example of uncompromising faith.  Likewise, the stand you take today in small things will determine the stand you take tomorrow with larger issues.

In other words, your outward faith matters.  It really, really matters.

[1] Daniel 3

[2] Daniel 6

Jesus – the Friend of Sinners

angry

“Those who oppose [the Lord’s servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

“Your “god” is a bunch of bunk! He’s just your imaginary friend in the sky!”

“Well, we’ll see who’s right when you are burning in hell buddy – God hates wicked, evil people like you!”

I sat at the table in shock as I listened to this ugly exchange.  It began when I contacted a man who was an atheist because I needed to do several interviews for my apologetics course in seminary.  We were sitting at a sidewalk table of a coffee shop.  I had a series of questions to ask him about life and God and as he answered them, a couple from a nearby table listened.  As they got up to leave, the woman stepped over and asked about our discussion.  I explained about my class and that Rob was kind enough to help me with this assignment.  Then her husband stepped in and began to berate Rob for his lack of belief.  It quickly escalated to the exchange you just read. 

As they walked away – well the man stormed off – I apologized to Rob and told him we could discontinue our interview if he preferred.  He laughed and said he enjoyed the argument, he loved to get Christians flustered and angry.  Then he asked me, “Why haven’t you given me a piece of your mind about my disbelief or try to convince me to believe in your God?”  I told him, “I’m not going to attack you, but I have been sharing my faith all along.”  He looked at me with a puzzled expression that began to soften as he said, “You really have, haven’t you?  You’ve been kind and respectful as we’ve talked, you’ve shared pieces of your testimony and your faith without shouting or pointing a finger at me.  You actually unnerve me more than that other guy did.”

In the verse just prior to our key verse, Paul says that “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful,” (2 Timothy 2:24).  In these verses Paul is saying that as believers, our character should be the same as Jesus: kind, gentle, helpful and sympathetic.  Why?  Because they have been taken captive by the devil.  They have been deceived, let astray, fooled, and fed lies to the point that they can’t recognize the truth of God’s existence and His love.  They are under the influence of satan, and they deserve our pity rather than our hate.

If you look in the gospel accounts, Jesus saved His harshest words for the religious crowd who rejected the lost, the poor, the lonely and the wounded – and Him. They were the self-righteous scholars who diligently studied the Scriptures, but missed the whole point of God’s plan.  They shut out the very ones God loved, but Jesus welcomed them and loved them.  It’s no wonder He was called “a friend of sinners,” and I believe He bore that title with delight rather than shame.  I know I would never have been accepted by the religious elite, but Jesus accepts me just as I am.

If you are a Christian, you have a call to be “salt and light” in the world.  Salt to preserve the image of God in your fellow man and light to lead the way to the cross and redemption. Finger-pointing, harsh words and belittling attitudes will never win anyone to Christ.  But a kind and gentle spirit will.

If you are not a Christian, let me assure you that Jesus does not look at you with hatred or disgust; He does not see you as His enemy – He died so that you could be His friend for eternity.  He loves you with an everlasting love that will never turn you away.  Please come and see for yourself that He is a gentle King and a kind Savior.