Tag Archives: Christian Living

Criticism: Nobody Likes It

Know what? It’s really easy to be critical. Why that’s so is a mystery to me. It seems like people would enjoy talking about good stuff, concentrating on nice things, searching for the good things to talk about – but they don’t! If something new comes along, or something different, or someone says a word out of place, some people just can’t wait to have at it. They can’t seem to wait to be offended or to become angry.

Even Jesus, who was the finest man who ever lived, sinless before God, and caring and compassionate toward others even to the point of laying His life down for them, suffered from the vicious tongues of His critics:

  • He was called a glutton and a winebibber (a drunk);
  • He was accused of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons;
  • He was called a sinner and Beelzebub (the prince of the devils);
  • He was accused of being demon possessed Himself;
  • He was called the worst thing imaginable – a “Samaritan”;
  • He was charged of profaning the Sabbath;
  • He was accused of being a deceiver and a blasphemer.

Nothing appears to be safe from criticism’s damning influence. Those who attacked the Lord were those rejecting Him and bent on destroying Him. A short while later, after the church had been established, critics popped up there, too, spreading their venom throughout the newly planted churches. One of the reasons Paul wrote 2 Corinthians was to answer the criticism being leveled against him by some in the Corinthian church:

  • They accused him of being a coward, strong with written words when he was gone but backing down and using weak words when he was with them;
  • They said he was not eloquent – a lousy preacher;
  • They called him a schemer and accused him of being stingy;
  • They said he was unstable, always changing his plans;
  • They claimed he was not a real apostle like Peter or John.

Isn’t it sad (it’s sad when anyone does it) when Christians fall into the ugly habit of criticizing. Let’s don’t let that happen here – instead let’s make Ephesians 4.29 our constant companion: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Psychologists tell us when our own self-esteem is low, we tend to blame others for our problems. On the other hand, when one is secure in Christ, there is less criticism of others. Our criticism is frequently a projection of our own dissatisfaction with ourselves; hence, the one criticizing is often saying more about himself than the other person.

Here’s a short list to help us beat the criticism habit:

  1. Don’t expect perfection out of people. We all make mistakes. (It’s just that mine aren’t as bad as yours.) No one is perfect! We need to learn and practice a little patience and forbearance. “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…” (Colossians 3.12-13).
  2. Don’t use a double standard like – my little vices, inconsistencies, and mistakes are okay – but yours aren’t so little, you need to shape up. Jesus cautioned us: “And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7.3).
  3. Extra care should be directed toward those whom we know the best and love the most. It’s unthinkable for a husband to be considerate of those he works with but harsh and impatient with his wife. And it’s certainly not right for a wife to be the nicest lady in the neighborhood and a nag at home. Again, the Lord teaches: “And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way” (Luke 6.31).

Someone said, “Only God can form and paint a flower – but any child can pull it to pieces.” That’s the ugly work of thoughtless criticism – let’s just don’t do it!

–Bill

By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13.35

 

 

A Simple “Yes” Will Do

We hear people say, “I swear by all that’s holy” or “I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles.” Stack of BiblesWorse still, we hear them invoke God to damn this or that – to cry out in expletive, “Jeeeeezuss Kuuriiist!” Ever wonder why? A bad habit to be sure. But there is something deeper.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.33-37) Jesus cuts right to the heart of why people swear oaths. He says people do it to impress others with their sincerity or intensity. The point is to get others to believe what you’re saying by emphasizing it with a “By God” or “God knows!” It’s simply a device to manipulate or intimidate, to control the conversation in one’s own favor.

The problem with “swearing” or making oaths is not just that it involves taking the name of God in vain or using it lightly without love or respect for Him. It’s that it’s an inherently wrong approach to take toward another human being. The essence of swearing or making oaths is to try to use something – the name of God for instance – that is irrelevant to the issue at hand in order to get others to believe you and let you have your own way. That’s wrong. It’s selfish and self-centered. It is unlike God. It violates the righteousness – sincerity, humility, and integrity – of the Kingdom of God.

For those who are “poor in spirit,” “meek,” “hungering and thirsting for righteousness,” “merciful,” “pure in heart,” and “peaceable,” a simple “yes” or “no” will do.

 – Bill

(see The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, pp. 173-74)

And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

  (Matthew 5.33-37, The Message, by Eugene Peterson)

 

 

Jesus Calls Us…

…o’er the tumult of our life’s wild restless sea…

Restless SeaThere’s never a convenient time to volunteer for service in the Kingdom of God. Satan wants to make it as inconvenient as possible. After all, you’re busy people! You have jobs to do, farms to manage, patients to see, classes to take, customers to serve, crops to plant, assignments to complete, people to shuttle.

And that doesn’t take into account your responsibilities at home. There are always projects at home needing attention – the faucets, the filters, the floors, the fascias, the garage, or the garden – you name and it probably needs some kind of attention. Even simple maintenance takes time.

Then there’s the family – it’s not like they’re unimportant. They’re what the job and the house are all about! It’s essential to make time for the wife or husband – and the kids and grandkids. Then there are all those school related events – sports and band and science projects and reading lists and math homework and parent/teacher conferences and musicals and one-acts and…whoa! It’s a wonder we ever get anything done.

Stop! Take a breath and think about this: God created the universe. He is the Originator of everything, the Source of all knowledge. He placed the earth in a twelve-month orbit around an energy source, the sun. Tilting the earth on its axis, He gave it a one-thousand-mile-per-hour spin so that it completes a rotation every twenty-four hours – folks, that’s called “time.” God invented it and He created us to live within its boundaries.

So He knows – He knows how much time it takes to live and make a living and He’s provided us with all the time we need. The key is to budget and use our time wisely.

God calls us to serve Him when we don’t have time – especially when we don’t have time. In the midst of life’s most intense pressure cooker is the place where true faithfulness is forged. You see, devout Christians lead by example; they are able to demonstrate by their own busy schedules that time can be managed. We’re its masters, not vice versa, and we must understand clearly or it will be gone and wasted before we know it.

There’s never a convenient time for service in the Kingdom of God – there’s only the right time – and that time is now.

…Day by day His sweet voice soundeth, Saying, “Christian, follow Me.”

 – Bill

 

“Persecuted for the Sake of Righteousness…”

The first seven beatitudes describe the kind of people we ought to be. The final beatitude is different; it is not a characteristic but a consequence! Discipleship involves suffering.

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).

“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man” (Luke 6.22).

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6.26).

“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10.22).

To seek persecution and to behave in such a way as to encourage it is not what Jesus meant. Some people believe the degree of their suffering is a measure of their devotion and spirituality. That is wrong. Persecution for “righteousness sake” is what is commended. Our suffering must mirror the suffering of Jesus, “who when He was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2.23). “If any man suffer as a Christian let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4.16).

“For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus reminds us of the faithful before us. Our reward is the same as theirs! Therefore, our attitude toward suffering must reflect the same as theirs, not to seek persecution as a badge of our holiness, but a willingness to endure it if it comes.

The Holy Spirit is clear on this subject, Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12). May God grant us grace in the hour of trial.

“Happy are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

 – Bill

 

New Year’s Message from Paul

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,

“Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Ephesians 5.6-17

This text calls our attention to a number of vital points –

  • Christians can be deceived.
  • There are Christian leaders and teachers who are deceivers.
  • There is sound biblical teaching and there is false teaching and false teachers.
  • We are responsible for discerning between truth and error.
  • We are responsible for exposing deceptive teaching and teachers.
  • We are to be careful how we “walk” – that is, how we live, who we listen to, what we believe, who we listen to as teachers.
  • We are not to waste our time listening to false teachers no matter how believable or sincere or convincing they may sound.
  • We are to give our full attention to understanding what the will of the Lord is – and how do we do that? By being “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2.15). Study the Word of God for yourselves – know what the will of the Lord is.

– Bill

 

The Gospel for the Poor, the Crippled, the Blind, the Lame

Marginal people they are — the poor. They’re easily overlooked and ignored. They’re not “like” us. They make us uncomfortable.

Well, folks, I think it’s time for us to get uncomfortable. I encourage you to turn back and read again and again what Jesus had to say about the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind — all those we tend to neglect, overlook and forget. Just look around our church building on any Sunday morning. How many of “those” people are present?

The Bible speaks often of God’s concern and care for the poor, the fatherless, the widow, and the oppressed. We need to retune our ears to hear this biblical concern for the poor and the neglected. In turning to serve and help them we feel the heartbeat of God.

The Old Testament reveals a number of significant facts concerning God’s attitude toward the poor. The LORD especially loves the poor and hears the needy (Psalm 69.33). God’s anointed one delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy (Psalm 72.12-13). The LORD doesn’t forget the cry of the afflicted (Psalm 9.12). And furthermore, God is a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress (Isaiah 25.4).

Under the Mosaic order the poor received certain economic advantages. The people were commanded to loan to the poor freely without interest (Exodus 22.25; Deuteronomy 15.7-11). Part of the wheat and grape harvest was to be left ungathered for the benefit of the poor (Leviticus 19. 9-10; 23.22). And a portion of the tithe was to provide relief for the poor (Deuteronomy 14.29; 26.12-13).

The Old Testament insists that God requires justice for the poor and will judge those who oppress them. Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor (Zechariah 7.9-10). Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy (Proverbs 31.8-9).

The Old Testament teaches God’s people bear a special ethical responsibility for the poor. The memory of their own experience of slavery in Egypt was supposed to motivate the Israelites to show mercy to the oppressed and afflicted (Deuteronomy 24.17-22). The faithfulness of God’s covenant people was continually measured by their treatment of the poor.

Like the people themselves, these are biblical lessons we’ve neglected, overlooked, and forgotten. Well, maybe it’s time we changed all that — what do you think?

 — Bill

 

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous…

Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses.

The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.”

So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”

Luke 14.12-14, 16-24

 

 

Known by Reputation

Years ago I studied under a man who was held to be a great teacher and preacher. Because of his reputation I eagerly anticipated his classes, but for some reason he had stopped studying and had ceased pursuing knowledge. He had found a little niche for himself where he thought he could “coast” and still be the fine teacher and preacher he was reputed to be without having to make any further effort. He couldn’t hide what he’d become – lazy – and his reputation began to suffer.

Remember Dorcas (Acts 9.36-41)? We know very little about her, only six verses in all the Bible, yet she is continually held up to be among the most noble of God’s people. Why? She probably looked upon her work as taking care of “the little things.” It was said she abounded “with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.” She was so loved and respected that when she died her reputation brought tears to the eyes of those who showed her handiwork.

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, he got right to the matter of their reputation – “I’ve heard that there is division among you…” (1 Corinthians 1.10). Likewise, when he wrote to the brethren in Thessalonica, their reputation received early commendation – “…constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Thessalonians 1.3). The simple difference between these two statements was the action – the behavior – of the people involved.

What kind of reputation do you have? Are you known for your kindness and concern for others; your graciousness and dependability; your helpful, cooperative, and unselfish spirit?

Or are you frequently embroiled in conflict? You know some people who seem to live continually in the eye of a storm; a certain amount of dissension and divisiveness accompanies them wherever they go. Are you missed when you’re gone, or do others breathe a collective sigh of relief when you’re not around?

“Known by reputation” can certainly be said of all of us (individually and as a church). What is it? I pray it’s good. I pray that we’re all earnest in living what we profess to believe before a watching community. I pray we have a growing reputation for good.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the sermon He used to begin His ministry, Jesus said,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5.14-16).

That’s the reputation by which we want to be known.

 – Bill

 

It Takes Time to Be a Christian

Did you hear about the guy with severe appendicitis? He ran to the hospital, grabbed the first doctor he saw and demanded an immediate operation. He also said he was in a terrible rush and could only allow the surgeon ten minutes of his time. The doctor just shook his head, chuckled, and told him if he were in that big of a hurry he might as well go on and die because if his appendix didn’t get him, something else would, and soon!

Impatience is deadly. But it’s a chronic way of life for a lot of people in our country. We’ve all become accustomed to instant stuff – all that’s easy, convenient, and quick. But it has its price. Things easily acquired are just as easily discarded. They lose their value quickly and probably aren’t very durable, either.

The same principle applies to the spiritual realm. Most people want their religion in quick, short spurts – when they need it. A little Bible verse here, a little talk with Jesus there, and everything will be alright. Religion is reduced to a lucky charm – a medallion worn around the neck, a bracelet on the wrist, a figurine glued to a dashboard, a little family shrine in the corner bookcase, and the God stuff is in place, ready when needed.

How vastly different the Bible portrays Christianity – it’s a “slow” religion! It makes no provision for impatience. People cannot become instantly spiritual. It takes time to study and to learn the Bible. It takes time to enable the Scriptures to change lives and renew minds. It takes time to become like Jesus. It takes time to worship acceptably. It takes time to help others come to know, love, and obey the Lord. It takes time to build a family on God’s foundation. It takes time to raise up godly men to be spiritual leaders. It takes time to go to heaven.

God has given us all the time we need. But it’s up to us to spend the time wisely. Remember: It takes time to be a Christian. Please don’t try to cut it short!

– Bill

 

Abundant Life

On the night Jesus was arrested, Mark records that “a certain young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him.” But the young man tore himself free of his assailants and leaving the linen sheet in their hands, ran off naked into the night (14.51-52).

That strange incident of long ago reminds me of the lives of all those who turn and run away from Jesus – they are naked and empty. Mylon Lefevre poetically captures the futility of life without Christ:

Without Him I would be nothing;
Without Him I’d surely fail.
Without Him I would be drifting,
Like a ship without a sail.

A life without Jesus as its model and guide is one that is empty and without meaning. How sad that so many people live apart from Him. Granted, such lives may be happy and worthwhile by human standards, but that soon ends. Then what?

Often, when a well known personality dies, the media extols and lauds their earthly achievements. The person may have been a great statesman, a compassionate physician, a gifted composer of songs or sonnets, famous and lamented for their accomplishments. Yet upon reading such eulogies another question always comes to my mind: “Were they Christians, born of water and spirit, redeemed from sin by the blood of Jesus? If they were not, regardless of all they accomplished and for all they are remembered, their life was tragic and meaningless.

Physical life on earth without spiritual life in Christ is absolutely empty, meaningless, and void of hope. Jesus fills us abundantly with cause and meaning and purpose for this life, with hope and confidence and assurance for the life to come.

Well did Joel prophesy of the abundant life in Christ when he wrote,

“And it will come about in that day that the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and the brooks of Judah will flow with water, and a spring will go out from the house of the LORD to water the valley of Acacias” (Joel 3.18).

God loves and cares and provides richly and abundantly for His people, both now and in eternity.

– Bill

 

How Then Shall We Live?

God is good. God is love. God is strict. God will not tolerate sin. How then should we live?

The greatest gift ever given was given by God: “…His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  How then should we live?

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “He took upon Himself our sins and suffered death in our place.” “By His stripes we are healed.” How then should we live?

We have been called “out of the domain of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His dear Son.” Our lives are to be “worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” We are an “elect race, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” How then should we live?

We are “the light of the world.” Our bodies are “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” We are being molded into the image of Christ. God abides in us. How then should we live?

Jesus is coming again. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” “…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” 

How then should we live?

– Bill