Monday, December 31, 2018

Goodbye 2018, you were a year of great change

Every new year brings the prospect of new beginnings, a chance to have a fresh start and hope for the future. As Christmas ends, many turn their attention to New Year’s Eve which for many is a party night. For me, it is a chance to reflect on the year past and anticipate the year ahead. When 2018 dawned, many, including myself, called it the year of change. And what a year of change it has been. It was filled with the changes I was expecting and a few changes that I wasn’t expecting at all. It has been a year of tremendous joy and a lot of tears. 2018 has brought a new baby, a new home and new personal growth.

Right off the bat, an unexpected change was that my husband and I learned that we were expecting a baby. After many miscarriages in recent years, our hopes were cautiously optimistic. Cautiously optimistic may be an understatement. We were excited but feared getting too excited.  We looked to our due date as if it was so far away. Given our loss history, my doctor recommended a cerclage and weekly progesterone shots, which I did. I had the cerclage placed in March and started the shots shortly after for 20 weeks. With each shot and each doctor appointment, our baby was growing, thriving and it looked as if we would hold another precious child in our arms. Even though things were going well, I still looked forward to my due date with trepidation. I was still afraid to let my hopes get too high. However, God had us in his hands and on August 22, our beautiful baby girl was born via c-section at 36 weeks 1 day. And despite being born late preterm, she is a healthy four-month-old. She is the greatest, happiest and joyous unexpected change of 2018. I look forward to watching her grow in the future.

An expected change of 2018 was that my husband and I moved our family to a new home. We knew we wanted to move and finding a new home proved to be more difficult than we anticipated. We settled on an area which some would consider to be undesirable. However, we found a small but beautiful complex hidden among the “weeds” of the area. We have met amazing and very welcoming neighbors who are quickly becoming friends. Our oldest daughter is thriving in her new school and she enjoys going to school every day. I want to shout out to the family and friends who helped us with this change in our lives. As many know, moving is a great undertaking and no one moves without help. There are so many people who offered help especially with the heavy lifting since I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. I know they wouldn’t want me to name them directly, but they know who they are. “Thank you” sometimes just doesn’t cover the gratitude my husband and I feel when we remember the help and support we received.

2018 has been a year of great personal growth on my part, particularly with my commitment to establishing boundaries. It hasn’t been easy to set those boundaries and I have been met with anger, guilt and silence at my boundaries. However, I realize that I cannot control how others react to my boundaries, I am only responsible for my reactions and responses. I have also learned that many people talk about boundaries but when you set a boundary with them, they get angry as if to say, “boundaries with others, not with me.” Everyone gets boundaries from me, yes everyone, and I have learned to respect boundaries set by others. If you haven’t read Boundaries by Drs Henry Cloud and John Townsend, I highly recommend it. It has been an eye-opener for me and I have learned where I let others take control of areas of my life without really realizing it. It is easy to talk the talk and difficult to walk the walk, but once I started to walk it, the easier it became to continue. Personal growth is always a work in progress and it is important to learn from any failures, pick myself up and move forward.

In conclusion, every year has the potential for great change in our lives. With each new year, we can make the decision to better ourselves, to learn from the year’s mistakes and treasure the achievements. 2018 has been an amazing year with extreme highs and happiness to extreme lows and sadness and everything in between. However, life is about enjoying the happy days and learning from the sad days. I look forward to 2019 as it will bring continued growth and happiness. One of the many things I have learned in my life is that happiness is part of the journey and not a destination. I’ve learned to deal with the things in life that I can change and leave the ones I can’t to God.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Revelation: more than just end time prophecy

The final book of the Bible is the book of Revelation. A book which has many interpretations through the centuries. Its purpose is to reveal the full identity of Christ and give warning to nonbelievers and hope to believers. It was written by the apostle John. According to tradition, he wrote it while in exile on the island of Patmos. While the book is filled with imagery and prophecy, I do not intend to discuss the possible meanings as it would take far too long. And there are countless books on the market if anyone is interested. I will discuss the messages and lessons we can take from the seven churches. Each church either has a praise and/or reprimand which are qualities we need to seek and those we need to avoid as a church and as a believer.

First, the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) is praised for its hard work and perseverance. The ancient city of Ephesus was located in present day Izmir Province, Turkey. It was a very important port of trade and a center of early Christianity. Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians to the church and church tradition claims the Gospel of John was written there. The church did not tolerate wickedness and tested those who claimed to be apostles and found those who proved false (verse 2). They endured hardships and did not grow weary (verse 3). However, they have forsaken their first love (verse 4). They had lost their enthusiasm and zeal for Christ which is common for many believers as years past from the moment they first believed. Christ calls them to remember and repent (verse 5). Many new believers have love for God without knowledge but with time, many have knowledge of Him without the same love. To be effective for God, we must have both. Unfortunately, for many Christians as they study God’s word, they tend to focus on pointing out the sins of others rather on their own. We must remember the joy of forgiveness as we gain knowledge of God through studying of his word. It is when we have both that we can teach others about the love of God and the joy we can have in Him.

Second, the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) is praised for suffering persecution and poverty (verse 9) and there is no reprimand. The city of Smyrna was located on the western coast of Asia Minor at the head of the gulf which the Hermus River (today is known as the Gediz River) flows. The church is told to be faithful and do not fear coming trials (verse 10). To remain faithful in difficult times is, well, difficult. It is easy to turn away from God when all you see is pain and suffering. But when you turn to God and focus on His promise of hope and joy, the difficult times will not last. As tests to our faith develops perseverance for future trials (James 1:2). The lesson we can take from the church of Smyrna is to remain faithful, trust God and seek Him as we face difficult times. I understand that when amid turmoil, it can be easier said than done. When faced with extreme difficulties, we often forget to turn God. I know I have. I have learned in recent years to pray first. A quick prayer of “Lord, help me” is sometimes all the words that are needed. The Lord knows what is going on and He knows what needs to be done and what He wants to us to turn to Him. The church of Smyrna is a great example of this reliance on God.

Third, the church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) is praised for their faith. They remained true to his name; however, they compromised in other areas. Pergamum was the capital city of the Pergamenian kinds until Rome took over in approximately 133 B.C.E. The city was a sophisticated city, a center of Greek culture and education with a library of over 200,000. However, it was also home of four cults centered around Zeus, Dionysius, Asclepius, and Athene. The politics of the city was deeply entwined with the religious practices and the Christians there would have been heavily pressured to compromise which according to Revelation they did. One man, named Antipas, is mentioned as a faithful witness who was “put to death” in the city (verse 13). There is little information known about Antipas except that he refused to compromise. The specific sins listed were eating foods which were sacrificed to idols and sexual immortality (verse 13). The lesson for us here is not to tolerate sin by bowing to the pressure to be considered open-minded. Sin is still sin regardless if it is accepted by society. Pressure to compromise will be fierce; however, we need to stand firm and avoid practices which Christ opposes. We don’t have to avoid association with non-believers; however, we need to be careful to avoid any type of alliance, partnership or participation can lead to immoral practices.

Fourth, the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) is praised for their deeds, love, faith and service. Thyatira was a working man’s city with many trade guilds in pottery, cloth making, and dyes. The They continued to do more than they did when they first began (verse 19). However, they were reprimanded for their immorality. They tolerated Jezebel who called herself a prophetess and were misleading the church members to eat foods sacrificed to idols and sexual immortality (verse 20). The woman’s name may not have been really Jezebel. John may have used this name to invoke the story of Jezebel the pagan queen who was considered the most evil woman in history (her story can be found in 1 & 2 Kings). Whoever this woman was, she refused to repent (verse 21). Christ says that she will be casted on a bed of suffering along with her followers who refused to repent (verse 22-23). Christ says that he will search “hearts and minds” and will repay according to our deeds (verse 23). We cannot keep secrets from God. He knows our thoughts and hearts. He loves us and all we need to do is repent from all sins and we will forgive us.

Fifth, the church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) is praised for being effective and reprimanded for being superficial. Sardis was the capital of the Lydian empire and one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. This church had the reputation for being alive, but they were dead (verse 1). They are told to wake up and strengthen what is left before it dies (verse 3). Despite being so good on the outside, they were spiritually dead on the inside. They were urged to get back to the basics of Christian faith. We need to grow in our knowledge of God, to deepen our understanding through study; however, we are urged not to abandon the basic truths about Jesus. Not everyone in Sardis were spiritually dead, Jesus says that few are worthy, dressed in white and their names are written in the book of life (verse 4-5). To be dressed in white means to be set apart for God and made pure. The book of life records the names of all believers and symbolizes God’s knowledge of all who belong to him. The lesson from the church of Sardis is we must be spiritually alive inside as well as physical active in our faith.

Sixth, the church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) is praised for being faithful and had no reprimands. The city of Philadelphia sat on the Cogamus River and was named in honor of the brother of the Pergamon king, Eumenes. The church is praised for having little strength and yet kept His word and had not denied His name (verse 8). They endured his command patiently (verse 10) and are told to hold on to what they have so that no one can take their crown from them (verse 11). Each Christian has different gifts, abilities, experience and maturity; however, despite these differences, we are each told to hold on to what we have and persevere and use our resources for him. The Philadelphian church was commended for doing just that and was encouraged to continue to hold on. We can remember their example and hold on to His word, to His promise and to our gifts in Him as we persevere through our trials especially when we feel physically, mentally and spiritually weak. When we feel as if we cannot go on, we can remember the faithfulness of the Philadelphian church who had little strength and yet persevered.

Lastly, the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) had no words of praise and only reprimands for being lukewarm. Being lukewarm is worse than being hot or cold. Jesus says he will spit them from his mouth (verse 16). In verse 17, Jesus describes them as claiming to be rich, acquired wealth and in need of nothing; however, they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” The city of Laodicea was the wealthiest of the seven cities known for its banking industry, wool manufacturing and a medical school. They also had a problem with water and by the time water came to the city from the aqueducts, it was distastefully lukewarm. Jesus is using this imagery to describe the church. The members wouldn’t stand up for anything and their indifference had led to idleness. Jesus is saying that there is no middle ground when it comes to faith and belief in him. You either do or you don’t. You are either fully devout Christian or a non-believer. There is no middle. Being lukewarm is the same as being a non-believer in Jesus’ eyes. He’s about to spit them out unless they repent and be the church for the community that they needed to be.

In conclusion, each church is an example of what do to right and what not to do as believers in Jesus. The church of Ephesus had forgotten their first love in Christ. The church of Pergamum had compromised their convictions. The church pf Thyatira were participating in immoral acts. The church of Sardis had become superficial Christians. The church of Laodicea were lukewarm Christians. For these churches, the course of action was to repent. For the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia, they were praised for their faithfulness despite their suffering and were told to: do not fear, be faithful and hold on. We can read about these churches and learn from their examples. Remain faithful despite our sufferings, remember our first love in Jesus Christ and keep our zeal for Him and follow his commands. If we do these things, we can avoid the sins of the five churches and follow the example of the two churches.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude: encouragements and warnings

Today’s study is on 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John and Jude. These short books have a common theme of recognition of false teachers and true believers as well as the need for constant vigilance and perseverance. Peter wrote 1 Peter in order offer encouragement to suffering Christians. 2 Peter was written as a warning against false teachers. The books of 1, 2, and 3 John were written to give warnings against and counter false teachings, and to recognize true believers. Jude, brother of Jesus and James, set to remind believers of the need for constant vigilance, to keep strong in the faith and oppose heresy.

Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t a reward. Sometimes it brings suffering and sadness. Peter wrote to encouragement believers who were suffering for doing good. In 1 Peter 1:3-5, we are reminded that we have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus, an inheritance which cannot be taken from us. It can never perish, spoil or fade. No matter what happens in life, our hope in God’s promise cannot be taken away from us. We have been rejected by men but chosen by God. We are precious to him (1 Peter 2:4). Peter tells us that even if we are to suffer for what is right, we are blessed (1 Peter 3:14) It is better to suffer for doing God’s will, for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:17). Therefore, we can’t be surprised when we suffer for doing what is right. 1 Peter 4:12 says “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” As Christians, we need to remember that we may suffer for doing what is right. We may be insulted, ridiculed or demeaned. We may lose friends, family, jobs or even our lives for standing firm on God’s words and doing his will in our lives.

False teachers have been discussed many times in the New Testament. Peter also warns against false teachers. In 2 Peter 2:10-22, Peter describes false teachers as bold, arrogant and not afraid to insult celestial beings. Celestial beings include angels and demons. False teachers will usually mock the supernatural and especially take Satan’s power lightly. False teachers will blaspheme in matters they do not understand (verse 12). They will often pay back harm with harm (verse 13). They will seduce the unstable and they are experts in greed (verse 14). They will speak empty and boastful words which appeal to our sinful natures (verse 18). Unfortunately, I think we can think of many church leaders who may be described by these verses. Often, men and women in positions of power will be intoxicated by that power and greatly influence those below them. How do we defend ourselves against false teachers? First, allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us. Some may call it a “gut feeling.” If a statement doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Second, do not take their statements are truth. We need to test their statements against God’s Word. If the statements contradict scripture, then they are false.

John’s letters also focus on false teachers and false believers which John refers to as “antichrists.” John warns if someone says “I know him [Jesus]” yet doesn’t live by his commands, then he is a liar (1 John 2:4). While there is the Antichrist who will come in the end times, but an antichrist is anyone who contradicts Jesus’ message either by their words or their lifestyles. To John, antichrists are those who call themselves Christians but do not truly belong (1 John 2:19). These are people who may call themselves Christians as a matter of family tradition or it serves their purpose in some form, but they do not truly live a godly lifestyle. Even though as Christians, we may fail to always be Christ-like, John is warning us against those who’s behavior is a consist pattern of ungodly behavior. In 2 John 7 states that antichrists are those who deny the foundations of Christian faith. There are churches which claim to be Christian and yet deny the deity of Jesus. 3 John states that true believers are generous with their resources whether its time, money or other forms of hospitality for the good of those who help spread the Gospel.

The book of Jude reads like a sermon. While he begins his sermon with the sin and doom of godliness, his call for perseverance is what stood out to me. He reminds us that we are told that people will scoff (verse 18) and people who intend to divide believers (verse 19). I see division in today’s society. Believers see themselves divided by denominations, by race, and by political belief. Believers will often attack other believers because they differ in opinion on various topics despite our common belief in Jesus Christ. However, we are to build ourselves up with faith and prayer (verse 20) and to keep ourselves in God’s love (verse 21). Most importantly, we are to show mercy to those who doubt (verse 22). We are to witness to believers and non-believers with compassion and kindness. The adage of “You catch more flies with honey then with vinegar” is very true. If we want people to listen and pay attention, we cannot be cruel, demeaning or speak with condemnation. We must find common ground when witnessing to others. We must remember that we were once lost, and God opened our eyes to his love. We must also have patience as we witness and remember that we do not open their eyes to God, God does. We are merely the tools in which God reveals himself.

In conclusion, false teachers were as much of a problem today as it was in the early church. We must be diligent to recognize false teachers and true believers. Looking to God’s word and prayer as we seek guidance to recognize both. 1 Peter reminds us that it is better to suffer for doing what is right than to aid in evil. False teachers are the topics of 2 Peter and the letters of John. We must be careful to examine all statements given to us by those in leadership. Lastly, Jude calls believers to persevere, to witness to others with compassion and allow God to do his work in his time.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Titus, Philemon, Hebrews and James: responsibility, forgiveness, faith and perserverance

Today’s study is on four short, and often overlooked, books. In Titus, Paul writes to Titus, a young Christian who had become an important representative on the island of Crete. He writes about the responsibility of Christians as citizens of the world. In Philemon, Paul writes about the need to break down walls that once separated us and create unity among believers. Hebrews is written by an unknown author and presents the importance of faith. The book of James is written by one of Jesus’ brothers which discusses proper Christian living through trials, faith and actions.

In Titus, Paul writes to remind us that we are “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 to show true humility toward all men” (Titus 3:1-2). As Christians, our first allegiance is to Jesus as Lord and Savior. However, we are still citizens of a country and we are to obey the civil laws. It is our responsibility as Christians and citizens to participate in our government and society. This includes voting or even holding office. It includes participating in our community functions and volunteering. We are not to hide isolation away from the world. How are we to spread the gospel and be an example of Jesus’ love to the world if we are hidden from the world? We can’t. We are to be in the world, just not of the world (John 17:14-19). We are to be a light in the world (Matthew 5:14). So, obey the traffic laws, pay your taxes, vote in the elections, and do good in your communities. There are many examples that can be done in your communities. It doesn’t matter how big or small. What matters is your participation.

Philemon is a very short book, no chapters just verses. Philemon is believed to be a wealthy individual who once owned a slave named Onesimus who had ran away after stealing from his master. He meets Paul in Rome and becomes a believer in Christ. Paul is now sending his letter to Philemon, as well as Onesimus. Paul pleads with Philemon to welcome Onesimus as a brother in Christ and forgive him (verses 8-16). Paul writes “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good – no longer a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother (verses 15-16). Slavery was widespread in the Roman empire, but no one is lost to God or beyond his love. Slavery was a barrier between people, but Christians can break down that barrier with love and fellowship. We need to remember that in Christ, we are all family. Unfortunately, many Christians today separate themselves according to denominations. Someone will be looked down on by other Christians because they are Baptist or Catholic or even in churches designated as non-denominational. We allow man-made traditions and rituals, which may or may not be Biblically based or inspired, to separate us and forget the fact that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

My favorite chapter in the book of Hebrews is Chapter 11, commonly known as the Hall of Fame of Faith. The author gives us examples of faith throughout the Old Testament. The author defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (verse 1). He proceeds to list the amazing things men and women did by faith. From Abel to Abraham to Moses to the prophets, men and women displaying their faith despite the uncertainties, the ridicule and even in the face of their possible deaths. Noah built the ark despite never seeing a drop of rain before (Hebrews 11:7). By faith, Abraham became a stranger in a strange land to become the father of nations (Hebrews 11:9). God rewards those who live by faith and earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6); however not everyone received those rewards on earth. Many did not live to see what was promised (Hebrews 11:39). Abraham did not live to see his descendants be as numerous as the stars, but he believed God would do as he promised (Hebrews 11:12). Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the entire staircase” and that’s what these individuals did. They took the first step even though they didn’t see the whole picture. We can look to the examples listed in Hebrews 11 and remember that by faith, we can do great things for God. We may not live to see the results but by faith, we believe that it will happen.

The book of James is often referred to as the how to book on Christian living. Right off the bat, James tells us to consider our trials with joy as our faith is deepened through perseverance (James 1:2-3). He writes “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12). Many times, when we are going through hard times, we ask “why me?” We try to think of what we did or didn’t do to deserve the trial. Sometimes a trial is the result of sin or a decision we made that opened the door for the situation. Whatever the reason, the trial can hone our faith, deepen our reliance on God and gives us wisdom in the end. James also tells us to do what the word says, not just listen to it (James 1:22). Many Christians read the Bible but do not put it into practice. It is hearing “do unto others” and doing the opposite. Unfortunately, many Christians treat others, believers and non-believers alike, with malice and animosity.  It is one reason why many people distrust Christian and even turned away from God.

In conclusion, the book of Titus reminds us that we are not to ignore our responsibilities as citizens of our country. We are called to be an example of Jesus in the world in order to show the people his love and we must among the people of the world to do so. The book of Philemon is an example of reconciliation through forgiveness. In the book of Hebrews, we are given examples of faith which can remind us that sometimes we must step forward by faith in order to see the whole picture later. Lastly, the book of James tells us that faith in honed through perseverance and we must act on the Word, not just learn it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

1 & 2 Thessalonians and 1 & 2 Timothy: instructions for daily life

Today’s study will be on the letters of 1 & 2 Thessalonians and 1 & 2 Timothy. As with all his letters, Paul had a purpose, a lesson, to instruct churches and his companions. In 1 Thessalonians, his purpose was to strength the Thessalonian Christians in their faith and give instructions for their daily lives as many weren’t working for their necessities and relying on holdouts. In 2 Thessalonians, he warns the church again about idleness and urges others to practice tough love to those who are idle. In 1 Timothy, he wanted to give encouragement and instruction to Timothy, a young leader. Instructions which he would need as a leader in the church, particularly with false teachings. In 2 Timothy, he wanted to give final instructions and encouragement to Timothy, now a pastor at the Ephesian church. Encouragements to be bold and remain firm in the message of Jesus.

Paul instructs the Thessalonian Christian on how to live a life which was pleasing to God. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, he writes, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Some of the Thessalonians had begin to lead a life of idleness which led to depending on others for handouts. Paul knew that to be effective in sharing the Gospel, one must be respected but how can someone be respected when you lead a life dependent on others. Paul urges believers that whatever you do in life, do it faithfully and as a positive force in society. I think society today needs to hear this as many high school graduates are urged to pursue degrees which could make them money and ignore the part in which they would enjoy doing the job. Whatever your job may be, whether it is as a janitor or a car mechanic or as a CEO or doctor, do your job faithfully and contribute to society. When you are contributing to society, working faithfully at a job and living a life which gives the example of Christ, people will be more willing to listen to your story, to the Gospel and to the message of Jesus.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul confronts, once again, idleness. Apparently, they did not listen as Paul reminded them, and us, that while Christ can come at any moment, we must still work for our food, our homes and other necessities of life. In Chapter 3, verse 6-13, he warns to stay away from everyone who is “idle and does not live according to the teaching you received” (verse 6). Paul reminds them of his examples as well of the examples of those who traveled with him. They were not idle, they did not eat without paying for the food (verses 7-8). Paul even gave them a rule “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (verse 10). There had become the attitude on the church that since Christ was returning, Christians did not need to work because why bother? Why would I need a home when Christ was coming? While early Christians believed that when Christ said he would be returning he meant within their lifetimes. Despite Christ’s warning that we are not to know the time or date of his return, only the Father knew that (Acts 1:7), some Christians lived as if today would be the day and they did not work to provide for their well-being and relied on the handouts from others. Paul wanted the church to practice tough love when it came to its members who were idle. In verse 15, he says “Yet do not regard him as an enemy but warn him as a brother.” In many ways, Paul was telling the church to have boundaries. To say “no more” to the person who will not help themselves.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul warns against false teachers. First Timothy 1:3-4, Paul urges Timothy to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies” which “promotes controversies rather than God’s work which is by faith.” The church at Ephesus was plagued with teachers who promoted ideas that believers need to discover hidden knowledge and worship beings other than God in order to be acceptable to God. These false teachers would often confuse believers with endless and irrelevant questions. False teachers are still active today. Unfortunately, there are many examples of individuals who like to think they have special knowledge beyond others. These individuals will often use language and facts to engage in religious speculation and pointless theological arguments. I remember when I was a young Christian, still very new to my faith, was on my way to a weekend retreat. On the way up there, one young man was having a one-sided discussion about Calvinism. I was unfamiliar with Calvinism, so I asked him to explain it. After a brief pause, he told me I wouldn’t understand. It wasn’t until years later after being a bit more mature in my faith and studying further I realized that that young man didn’t truly understand it and therefore couldn’t explain it. Was he a false teacher? No; however, he acted as if he was an expert and used what he did know to portray himself as an expert. I learned my lesson. Do not take anyone’s word about the Bible (or about anything) without researching it for yourself. When in doubt, go to the source and find out. Turn to God and the Bible. If the statement contradicts Jesus’ message in the Gospel, it is a false teaching and should be ignored.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wanted to give Timothy encouragement to be faithful in all times especially in difficult and trying times. 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Timothy was a young pastor in a church which gave him opposition to his leadership. Paul encouraged him to be bold and remember from whom we get our power. When people intimidate us, we lose our effectiveness for God’s work. The power of his Holy Spirit can help overcome the fear we experience when we think of what others might say or do to us. Paul urges Timothy to keep to “sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13) and to pursue “righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). There are times when people will turn to those who tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). They will turn away from the truth they know to indulge their own selfish wants and desires and we are to remain in the truth, to boldly and lovingly spread the Word of God. However, being bold isn’t being in someone’s face which is annoying and obnoxious and will most likely turn that person away from the message you are trying to reveal. Being bold is to stand firm in the message, despite the opposition, and do so with love. Always with love.

In conclusion, Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are examples to us about how to live a life pleasing to God. We are work for what we need and only give to those who truly need help. Do not give to individuals who refuse to work for what they need. There are people who work very hard and still need assistance now and then. There will be times in our lives when we are a day late and a dollar short. It is laziness we need to avoid in ourselves and from encouraging in others. The letters to Timothy were instructions to a young pastor who did not have the experience to deal with people who would challenge his authority. We are to be on the lookout for false teachers who would confuse and undermine the true message of the gospel. We are to be bold in our faith and stand firm against those who may try to intimidate us.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Philippians and Colossians: encouragements and instructions

Today’s study is on the books of Philippians and Colossians. Paul’s purpose in writing the letter of Philippians was to thank the church of Philippi for their gifts they sent to Paul as he was in a Roman prison at the time and to strengthen believers everywhere by showing them that true joy comes from Jesus Christ alone. It is a letter of joy and encouragement. For the letter to the Colossians, Paul’s purpose was to combat errors in the church and to show that believers have everything they need in Christ. The church had been infiltrated by religious relativism and Paul confronts these false teachings and urges to let go of harmful behaviors that poison us and seek behaviors which build us up.

One of my favorite verses is Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God began a good work in us when Christ died on the cross and we believed in him and accepted his gift of salvation through faith. That good work will continue until we meet God face to face either through death or the second coming of Jesus. The focus on this verse is that we aren’t done yet. Many people who are Christian believe because they have accepted Christ, they are done and perfect in Christ. While yes, we are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17); however, we are still human, with human failings that need help, guidance, molding and reminders to overcome those failings. The Holy Spirit comes to us, enabling us to be more like Christ every day as we seek him through prayer and studying God’s word. It is a process that begins when we accepted Christ and as long as we are breathing, will continue. While we are on Earth, we aren’t done yet. So even you have been a Christian for many years, there’s always room for improvement. There’s always a new lesson to learn or an old lesson to relearn.

Another one of my favorite verse is Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” A simple phrase with a great meaning. Being in union with Christ has sufficient power to do God’s will and face the challenges that arise with our commitment to him. It is not superhuman abilities we receive to accomplish anything we want but strength through Christ as we seek him through faith as we face troubles, pressures and trials. It is not a verse about personal achievement but reliance on Christ for strength to endure whatever circumstance may come our way. For example, praying for strength to do God’s will if it be talking about a topic that is uncomfortable or a forging a new path that may takes us from what we know and love. It is strength to endure whatever circumstance you may face when doing God’s will. It may be the loss of a friend or loved one due to your commitment to God. It may be leaving home for a country far more dangerous and puts your life in danger. When we read this verse, we need to be reminded of where Paul was when he wrote these words. He was in a Roman prison. He wasn’t living the high life of prosperity but in chains due to his commitment to the message of Christ. God is the God that can do anything (Job 42:2). There isn’t anything on earth or in heaven that is too difficult for God (Jeremiah 32:17). Therefore, we, as believers, can do anything, through God’s strength.

The church of Colosse had a lesson to learn and Paul’s letter is filled with love as he strives to correct the errors in their thinking and teaching. In Colossians 2:8, Paul warns about hollow and deceptive teachings. These teachings depend on human traditions and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ. Teachings or philosophies which credits humanity with being the answer to life’s problems, an approach that becomes the focus of many false religions. There are many man-made approaches to life’s problems which disregard God. For example, attacks on Christ and his teachings. Laws, rules and handed down regulations that have no biblical basis or are no longer needed. Paul uses the example of circumcision throughout his letters. While the practice of circumcision was first commanded by God to set his people apart, it had become so ingrained in the lives of the Jewish people that many early Christians who were of Jewish heritage held on to the practice even though Christ died on the cross to fulfill the law and thus had done away with the need for circumcision. These same Jewish Christian were insisting that Gentile Christians follow the same tradition to be a true follower of Christ. Paul writes to focus on Christ, on his truth and not on human preference. A true follower of Christ starts unseen in the heart and mind which translates into one’s actions of love, kindness and spreading the gospel, not the physical changes to one’s body.  

Paul writes that we need to put to death to whatever belongs to our earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (Colossians 3:5). Like a tree with dead limbs, we need to remove these things before they poison us and destroy our lives. We need to make a daily, conscious decision to remove anything that supports or feeds these practices. It’s easier said than done, I know, especially when the behavior is such a habit that we are often cannot fight the urge. It was easy to lie, cheat, steal, anything to satisfy our desires. He also writes that we need to rid ourselves of anger, rage, malice, slander and lying to each other (Colossians 3:8-9) as these things disrupts unity and destroys trust. Relationships are torn down and leads to serious conflict. It is a very human response to lash out in anger and plot revenge when someone hurts us, to make them feel the same pain we did from their actions. It takes great discipline and God’s strength to turn away from such a response. As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12) and these practices are bound together with love (Colossians 3:14). Loving someone doesn’t mean we let them continue to hurt us but when we response in anger and seek revenge, we hurt ourselves far worse then the payback hurts the offender. The best response we can do sometimes is pray, let go and let God.

In conclusion, the letters to the churches of Philippi and Colosse are great reminders and lessons for us. In Philippians, Paul reminds us that we aren’t done yet. Christ is still molding us in his image. We will fall. We will fail. But when we look to him, we can move forward, learn from our mistakes and improve. Paul also reminds us that our strength to do God’s will comes from Christ. We do not do it with our own power. In Colossians, Paul confronts false teachings that was prevalent in the early church (and still today, unfortunately). We need to focus on Christ and his teachings when confronted with new teachings. We also need to focus on getting rid of behaviors which harm ourselves and others and focus on those which build us and others up.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Galatians and Ephesians: faith, freedom and life in Christ

This month’s study was on the books of Galatians and Ephesians. In Paul’s letter to the Galatian church, he writes to refute the claims of some teachers, who taught that Gentile believers had to follow Jewish law in order to be saved. As well as to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul writes to strengthen the believers in Ephesus in their Christian faith by explaining the nature and purpose of the church, the body of Christ. I will focus on his instructions to wives and husbands as well as his imagery of the full armor of God in order to fight of spiritual battles.

In Galatians 3:1-14, Paul writes about the importance of faith over the Law. The Galatians were being influenced by teachers called Judiazers who claimed that the Law still had to be followed. Paul stresses that believers received the Spirit through faith not by observance of the Law. In verses 2 and 5, he repeats the same question, did the believers receive the Spirit by observance of the law or by believing the message that they heard? By asking these questions, Paul wanted to remind them, and us, that faith is founded in Christ, not the law. We grow spiritually because of God’s work in us by his Spirit, not by following special rules. The reasons that the Galatians felt they still needed to follow the law is the same way people today still believe there needs to be special rules to follow. Receiving God’s Spirit and blessings by faith alone is too simple, too easy. While studying the Bible, prayer and service in the church helps us grow, they do not take the place of the Holy Spirit which we all receive at the moment of acceptance. Paul even brings up Abraham who many agreed kept the law and therefore received salvation. However, Abraham was a man of faith and preceded the law by generations. So how can Abraham be a man of the law when the law hadn’t been written yet? (verses 6-9). Christ died to rid the curse of the law as breaking even one commandment condemned someone (Deuteronomy 27:26). Paul continues his argument that if righteousness and salvation were achieved by observance of the law, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21). Would God send his only Son to die for us if his death was meaningless? Therefore, the law is importance to know as it helps be moral compass; however, it is not the source of our salvation. Faith and faith alone in Christ is.

In Galatians 5:19-26, Paul lists acts of a sinful nature and tells readers that those who live in these acts will not inherit the kingdom of God. He says these acts are obvious (i.e. sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, etc.) (verse 19-21). He then terms his attention to the Fruit of the Spirit, by products, acts as one lives for God. These acts are just as obvious: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (verse 22). These acts are characteristics found in the nature of Christ. We obtain these traits by imitating him, loving him and knowing him. As a result, we fulfill the intended purpose of the law: to love God and our neighbors. A person who exhibits these fruits fulfills the law far better than a person who observes the rituals but has little love in his heart for God or others. Paul warns us in verses 24 and 25 that we have crucified our sinful natures with Christ; however, we still have the capacity to sin which is why we need to stay in step with the Spirit and commit daily (emphasis mine) to rid ourselves of our sinful natures. Daily crucify our sinful natures and draw on the Spirit’s power to overcome them. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (verse 25). His final words are: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (verse 26). After speaking about the fruit of the Spirit and committing ourselves to walking with the Spirit, why would Paul end with a statement like that? As humans, we are social creatures and we often seek approval of others. And when we seek the approval of others, rather than God’s approval, we become conceited and envious. Keep your eyes on God and you won’t need the approval of others. I also want to mention that there are some Christians who become so confident in their relationship with God that they become conceited and forget that they too were once a broken person who reached out for God for salvation. Remember where and who you were when you accepted Christ’s gift of salvation as you deal with others who need him too.

In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul turns his attention to wives and husbands and gives instructions on how they should act with each other. First, he addresses the wives. He tells them to submit to their husbands (verse 22). The dreaded word “submit.” It has been misinterpreted and misused throughout history and even in today’s modern times. Submitting to one’s husband does not mean being a doormat or a slave. For a wife to submit to her husband means to be willing to follow her husband’s leadership. A husband is the spiritual leader of the family just as Christ is the spiritual leader of the church (verse 24). A wise and Christ honoring husband does not take advantage of his leadership role and a wise and Christ honoring wife will not try to undermine her husband’s leadership. While Paul instructs wives in two verses, he has much more to say to husbands. He instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (verse 25). He is to love his wife as he loves himself (verse 28) and unite with her to become one flesh (verse 31). Uniting as one flesh isn’t just through sex, it also includes being of one mind and discuss any disagreements. For example, with my husband and I, we discuss everything together: money, budget, our children’s education and discipline, etc. My husband listens to and considers my position and opinions, while I accept that as the head of our family, he has the final say in any decision and we usually come to an equal agreement on many topics; however, sometimes, as the leader, he may decide something different. Going back to verses 25 and 28, how should a husband love his wife? First, he should be willing to sacrifice everything for her as Christ did for the church (verse 25). Second, he should make her well-being a priority as Christ did for the disciples (verses 26-27). Third, a husband should care for her as he cares for his own body (verse 28-29). With a husband who does these three things as Christ as his example, no wife needs to fear submitting to her husband’s leadership.

In Ephesians 6:10-18, near the end of his letter, Paul discusses the armor of God for protection against the devil’s schemes (verse 11). These schemes could come in the form of unseen forces or as the attacks from nonbelievers. First, the belt of truth (verse 14) helps us remember God’s truth and defeat Satan’s lies. Second, the breastplate of righteousness (verse 14) to protect our hearts which safeguards our emotions, self-worth and trust. The breastplate reminds us that God loves us and sent his Son to die for us. Third, the footgear of the gospel of peace (verse 15) is the motivation and readiness to spread the Good News of Christ and the peace found with him. Fourth, the shield of faith (verse 16) to protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks. These attacks come in the form of insults, setbacks and temptations. The shield of faith reminds us of God’s promise of love and salvation. Fifth, the helmet of salvation (verse 17) protects our minds from doubts about God, Jesus and our salvation. Lastly, the sword of the Spirit (verse 17), as the only weapon of offense in the armor of God, it is the Word of God. Our best weapon against spiritual attacks and helps the other pieces of armor do their part to protect us. Along with putting on the full armor of God, we are to pray on all occasion and with all prayers and requests. We are to be alert and pray for all the saint (other believers the ones we know as well as those around the world) (verse 18). The image of the full armor of God reminds me of a song by Twila Paris called The Warrior is a Child. In the song, the narrator discusses being a child who runs to God when the battles become too much to fight. We came to the Father for rest, comfort and encouragement as we go through life fighting battles for God.

In conclusion, the letters to the Galatian and Ephesian churches are filled with importance lessons. I just touched on a few. Our salvation does not depend on the observance of the law but rather with faith in Christ. A true believer and follower of Christ can be identified by the fruit of the Spirit he displays in his life. Wives are to submit to their husbands, while husbands are to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Believers are called to put on the full armor of God in order to defend ourselves against the attacks against spiritual forces as well as fight battles against those who fight against God.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

1 and 2 Corinthians: lessons about gifts, love, giving and false teachers

This month’s study is on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Paul wrote letters to the church in Corinth, a major cosmopolitan city, seaport and trade center of Achaia. The purpose of the first letter is to identify the problems in the Corinthian church, to offer solutions and to teach the believers how to live for Christ in a corrupt society. The second letter’s purpose is to affirm Paul’s ministry, defend his authority as an apostle and refute the false teachers in Corinth. I will discuss four points in these letters. Spiritual gifts, what are they and what purpose to they serve in the Body of Christ? What love is and isn’t. I will discuss what it means to generously give and what to look out for when dealing with false teachers.

First, spiritual gifts are often a controversial topic in churches even today because so many denominations define them differently. First, let’s look at what Paul says about the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. He tells us that each gift is given by the same Spirit (verse 4), the Spirit of God. It is also something he repeats several times. Each gift is given for the common good. There is the gift of wisdom, the gift of knowledge, the gift of faith, gift of healing, the gift of miraculous powers, the gift of prophesy, the gift of distinguishing between spirits, gift of tongues, the gift of interpreting tongues (verses 8-10). Each believer is given a gift which he is to use for the good of the Body of Christ (i.e. the church). The problem in the Corinthian church is they were treating some of the gifts as superior to others and thus elevating that person as better or higher than someone else simply because they have a certain gift. Paul says this is not right. Since all the gifts are given by the same Spirit, the gifts are equal. They may serve different purposes but each one is special and needed. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 that each gift is given to certain believers to serve a function in the Body of Christ. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (verse 27). Some are teachers, some are musicians to lead worship, some are missionaries, some are fundraisers, some are prayer warriors, the list can go on and on. No one is more important than the other just because they serve a different purpose. The individual who helps clean the church building is just as important as the pastor who teaches from the pulpit.

Second, Paul discusses what love is and isn’t and it is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Just 13 verses long, it speaks volumes about what true love looks like. People today are confused about what love truly is just as they were in the Corinthian church. In verses 1-3, Paul talks about how he could have all these wonderful gifts but without love, it is nothing. With all the spiritual gifts that people are given, if they do not use them with love, then the gifts are useless. Love is: patient and kind (verse 4), always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres (verse 7). Love is not envious, is not boastful, or proud (verse 4). It is not rude, self-seeking, or easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs (verse 5). “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (verse 6). Love is one of the greatest human qualities and it is one of God’s attributes (1 John 4:8). Love involves unselfish service to others. To show love gives evidence to others that you care. Unfortunately, many people today use love as a bargaining chip. “To do this for me and I will love you” but love should be given without conditions, without a price and without thought of what one gets in return. Yes, sometimes we all act without love. We are still human and sometimes other emotions get the best of us. When we are hurt and angry, we lash out without love. One of the most quoted verses is verse 13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Faith is the foundation and content of God’s message. Hope is the attitude and focus and love is the action. Without love, you cannot have faith or hope. If you need an example of love, look to Christ.

Third, in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Paul speaks about giving generously. However, this isn’t about the amount one gives but the attitude in which one gives. God doesn’t look at the person who gives $1,000 dollars and says “wow” and looks down at the person who only gave $100. He looks at the attitude and the spirit in which in was given. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly, or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Generously giving isn’t just about money but our time as well. When one serves with their time in the church, he or she should do so cheerfully as God will increase that gift with rewards but when the spirit of service isn’t there, the rewards will be small. If you feel like you do not have the spirit of service, do not be afraid to say “no, I can’t right now.” Sometimes when the spirit of service is small, it could mean that you need to reenergize yourself. It’s okay to have “me time.” No one can give 100% of themselves, 100% of the time. And if you ask someone to service and they say no, do not think badly of them or think that they are backsliding in their faith, it may be because God is telling them to rest and when they are ready to serve again, they will. Give where and how you can give. If you can give money, then help provide the funds that the church can use to serve the people. If you can’t give money, but can give of your time, then serve in a ministry whether it be in the teaching a Sunday school class or rocking the babies to sleep in the nursery, so the parents can fellowship. This is just a few examples of how someone can generously give to the church.

Lastly, false apostles or false teachers was a big problem in the church of Corinth just as it is now. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-15, Paul speaks about false teachers. He warns the church to be mindful of what teachers are teaching. If they are teaching something other than what Christ taught be careful be to be led astray (verse 3-4). Paul says not to judge a teacher by how much money he demands to teach (verses 7-8). A great teacher isn’t determined by their fee. Paul says “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (verses 13-15). False teachers deceive others by appearing to be good and moral. Many unsuspecting believers have fallen into the trap of a smooth-talking, Bible quoting teacher, but we are warned to look beyond their outward appearances. To ask ourselves questions. For example, do the teachings confirm Scriptures as stated in Acts 17:11? Acts 17:11 states that the Berean church examined the Scriptures every day and very careful to see if what Paul said was true. If a pastor or teacher says something about God or Scripture, go into the Scriptures. Do not take the pastor’s word for it, simply because he is a pastor. Another question could be: Does the teacher affirm and proclaim that Jesus Christ is God who came into the world as a man to save people from their sins (1 John 4:1-3)? Is the teacher’s lifestyle consistent with Biblical morality (Matthew 12:33-37)? If the answer to these questions, or any questions you may have, gives you pause, then it is time to consider if this individual is a false teacher.

In conclusion, there are many lessons in the letters to the Corinthian church. First, we are all special and unique to God and we are all called to a special purpose within the church. Look to God and ask Him how you can use your gifts for his glory. Second, love is often misunderstood. Do not look to the world’s definition of love with all its conditions. Remember that love is the action in which faith and hope is built on. Third, attitude is more important when it comes to the giving of our time and money, much more important than the amount we give. Lastly, be very discerning with pastors and church leaders. Look to the Bible and use it to verify what is being taught.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

How to Walk Away: a beautiful story of how to leave one life behind and begin a new one

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center is the story of one woman’s journey from one life to another. Margaret’s life had been plagued with the fear to fly. Her boyfriend, Chip, had earned his pilot license and to celebrate, much to Margaret’s dismay, he decides to take her for a flight. During the flight, Chip proposes, she accepts, then tragedy happens. The plane crashes and Margaret is left horrible injured. As Margaret spends months in the hospital recovery, her estranged sister, Kitty, reenters her life to support her. During her stay, Margaret learns of deep secrets which were kept from her and threatens to tear apart her family. Meanwhile, she is assigned to a surly physical therapist, named Ian, who’s sour demeanor hides a a deep hurt. Will Margaret fully recover? How will she accept the information she learns about her family’s past? And how will she look to the future?

I enjoyed How to Walk Away a lot more than I thought I would. I requested to read this book based on the brief description which I can say didn’t do the story justice. It was so much more than the description gives it credit. It was deeply emotional, dramatic, inspirational and proof that sometimes life has to give you a tragedy to open your eyes to its beauty and a life so much more than you had planned. I highly recommend How to Walk Away.

How to Walk Away
is available in hardcover and eBook

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The book of Romans: the power of grace

Romans is an illustration of how people have turned from God and God’s response and his offer of salvation through faith and grace. Pastor and author Max Lucado has a great book on the book of Romans. In the Grip of Grace (1996) begins with the Parable of the River which helps describes how people have turned from God. Briefly, the parable is about five brothers who disobey their father by getting too close to a powerful river. They are caught in the currents and swept away, fair from home. They began their long journey home and one by one, a brother stops the journey and turning away from the hope of seeing their father and home again. Leaving two, the oldest and youngest brothers, to continue the journey. I will use this book and the parable as I discuss different aspects of Romans.

The first brother is an illustration of an individual who turns from God and seeks his own pleasure in life. Hedonists are people who believe that the most important thing in life is pleasure. Their goal is to satisfy themselves, their passions with a disregard to God. They believe that no one is guilty of sin and what each person does is their own business. Paul describes this person as having no excuse for the things he does. In Romans 1:20, Paul says that men have no excuse “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what being made.” Therefore, nature itself is a testimony, evidence to the existence of God and his role as the Creator. But because they choose to ignore God and claim he doesn’t exist, Paul tells us that God gave them over to sinful desires (Romans 1:24). Hedonists believe that since they haven’t seen God, therefore there is no life beyond what we life, there’s no ultimate truth beyond this world and there’s no purpose in life beyond one’s own pleasure. He has no concern for the eternal and refuses to acknowledge a Creator (Lucado, 26). Hedonism has made its way into Christianity through the prosperity gospel. Prosperity Gospel is a belief among some Christians that financial blessings and physical well-being are always the will of God for them and that faith, positive speech and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. However, many Christians criticize this idea as contrary to Scripture as God never promised a wealthy life here on earth.

The second brother is an illustration of an individual who becomes the fault finding judgmentalist. This person compares himself to others as “Well, I’m not as bad as they are!” He is the finger pointer, the “record keeper” of others’ wrongs for God. This person is often bitter and proclaims himself the watchdog for God. Paul tells this “watchdog” that he has no authority to judge (Romans 2:1) and cannot escape God’s judgment based on others’ wrongdoings. Romans 2:3 says “So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” The judgmentalist doesn’t realize that the wrath he is storing up against others will be used against himself at his own judgment (Romans 2:5). Paul tells us that God doesn’t show favoritism. Those who do evil will face trouble and distress and those who do good will receive glory, honor and peace (Romans 2:9-11). We do not need to keep tally of the wrongdoings of others, God already sees and already knows. Focus on your own wrongdoings as you alone will stand before God and your list of others’ transgressions will not help your defense. It is one thing to have an opinion about one’s actions but its entirely another thing to pass a verdict. Romans 2:1-2 is a prohibition of standing in judgement of other people and failing to condemn ourselves (Stott, 82). There are two reasons we are not in a position to judge: we aren’t good enough and we don’t know enough. 
Therefore, leave the judgment to God and focus on your own wrongdoings and rightness with God.

The third brother to leave the journey is an illustration of a legalist who believe that works will save him. This individual will write a list of accomplishments that he hopes will settle his debt with God. He acknowledges that he is bad, but he will make it up to God by doing `good works on earth. Paul tells us in Romans 4:5 that man doesn’t have to work to be saved, he only needs to trust in God who justifies him through his faith and credits him with righteousness. The legalists are the ones who usually become stuck up and think they are the only ones who will make it because he has done many works and looks down on others who haven’t. These people are the ones who criticizes other Christians who may not go to church every Sunday while they faithfully sit in the same pew every week. They go to every weekly Bible study and volunteer for every activity the church may organize. The problem is the motivation behind it. They are doing so in order to win brownie points with God rather than the heart behind the act to show God’s love to others. They may give their ten percent tithe every month and not feel the pinch and yet they will scuff at the individual who puts in a few dollars not realizing that it’s the last dollars that person has until payday. This reminds me of the story of the poor widow who gave all she had to the temple while others gave large amounts. Jesus proclaims that the woman had put in more than the wealthy did because she gave out of her poverty and others gave out of their wealth (Mark 12:41-44). The difference? The value of the gift isn’t in the amount but the spirit in which it was given. Therefore, when you give of your time or money, make sure you are doing so in the right spirit.

This leads us to the Grace-driven Christian. The brother who stayed on the journey, leaning on the strength of the older brother. This person actively seeks God, who acknowledges that he is bad but knows he is forgiven though his faith in Jesus Christ. You may ask what is grace? Simply, grace is unearned and undeserved favor from God. We receive grace through our faith (complete trust) in Jesus Christ. Through grace and faith, we can stand before God as not guilty as Jesus took our guilt upon himself on the cross. Romans 10:10 says “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Faith comes from our hearts and we are saved through grace as we confess our sins. We are made right with God through faith alone, not through obeying the law (Romans 3:28), not by the works we do or passing judgment on others. Grace gives us peace with God (Romans 5:1). Grace gives us a place with God and a share in his glory (Romans 5:2). We are saved dispute our struggles. Even after becoming a Christian, an individual still struggles with sin. Sin just doesn’t disappear from our world and our lives. However, God still claims us as His child and he still guides us through his word. “The same One who saved us first is there to save us still’ (Lucado, 148). This statement reminds me of the Avalon song Always Have, Always Will. In the song, the narrator reflects on his sinful nature as he struggles to follow Christ and follow his own selfish desires. “I always have, I always will. You saved me once you save me still.” The fact is we do not need to be perfect for God, as long as we have faith in Jesus and look to his Word for guidance, his grace and forgiveness will always be given to us.

In conclusion, as we go through life, we can sometimes find ourselves acting like the three brothers who left the journey. We become the hedonist who focuses on our own desires. We become the judgmentalist who criticizes others and ignores our own wrongs. We become the legalist who looks at our list of accomplishments and forget the heart and spirit of the service we can called to do. But we refocus on God and the gift he has given us in his son, we realize that we all have fallen short. We are not called to be perfect. We are simply called to love him, to trust in him and he will help us with our human struggles. Every other approach to God is a bartering system: If I do this…(works). If I feel this...(emotions). If I know this…(knowledge). Christianity has no negotiation. Every person is made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22-24). That’s it.

Lucado, Max (1996): In the Grip of Grace. Dallas, TX: Word Publishing
Stott, John (1994): Romans: God’s Good News for the World. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press