Hardships and Struggles

Hardships and struggles don’t need to take full control of you They don’t need to dictate how you view life. They don’t need to decide your attitude. They don’t need to be what affects your faith in the moment. Hardships and struggles are temporary. They force us to look at a brief moment in time in order to see what seems to be our life at its ugliest and most painful. Hardships and struggles are most powerful when they demand we ignore the big picture. When we finally take our focus off one singular moment in time we can wonder how we could ever have ignored how ginormous the picture really is.

Jesus tells us a good deal about avoiding anxiety. We are often told not to worry. God loves us and wants to care for us. Our needs will be met. Perhaps not always in the way we expect, but He will give us what we need to carry on in our mission. Jesus understands hardships and struggles. He had no place to sleep. He had nowhere to truly call home while walking on this earth. It was difficult. You never saw Him complain. You never saw him concerned. Christ was able to look at the bigger picture.

Have you ever been incredibly sick? So sick that you were unable to focus on anything but the pain? In those moment we feel the sickness will last forever. We feel we will never get out of this awful feeling. The sickness passes though. I was born with a kidney blocking. For six years we had no idea what was wrong with me. I would get sick often and the pain would feel unbearable to me as a little kid. It felt like it would last forever. It didn’t though. It passed.

Hardships and struggles. They force us to ignore the bigger picture. What is this bigger picture? It is the best picture the world could ever know. A picture with Christ as the center taking on every feeling of pain and hardship we face. A Christ nailed to a cross over every sin we have ever committed. A Christ at the center who did all this to make way for the grandest story the world has ever know. A Christ who painted a picture bigger than we could have ever dreamed.

You see, our hardships and struggles are only temporary. Christ sees us through them. We do not live in ties of crisis forever. We will be able to move forward. One moment of hardship in life pales in comparison to the bigger picture of our whole life. It nearly disappears when we look at the even larger picture of eternity. I can take a life of however many years with hardship in it. I have an eternity without out them to look forward to. Until then I can face the hardship to carry on in my missions. I can bare through it a while longer to know Christ and make Him known. All the while I will keep my eyes on the far bigger picture. These hardships and struggles never stood a chance.

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Luke, Demas, or Mark?

Traitor. Coward. Fake. Hypocrite. Loser. Failure. Evil. All these are words we might use to describe a man mentioned a very small handful of times on Scripture. I could count the amount of times this man is mentioned on just one hand. His name is Demas.

Demas is mentioned three times in Scripture. The first two are found in Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24. Very little is known about Demas in these passages. The two things known are that has was a close disciple of Paul and he wanted to be a part of encouraging other believers. Demas is mentioned three times in Scripture. In each of those instances he is mentioned with another name. That name is Luke.

We know Luke well. This is a man not quite so foreign to the average believer than Demas is. He wrote one of the gospels, preached God’s word, and followed Paul around often as his personal physician. We all like Luke, but what about this Demas fellow. Why would all those word in the beginning of my post be used in the heat of the moment against Demas?

We hear the most about Demas in Paul’s last letter. “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” – 2 Timothy 4:10. Paul is reaching the end of his letter by explaining to Timothy that he is alone. He is putting urgency on Timothy to come to him quickly. She lists people who have been sent away like Titus he mentions Demas very specifically. Demas was not sent away. Demas has abandoned Paul. Paul says he has become in love with this present world.

Our gut reaction is to use some of those words I just mentioned. It would be easy to lay judgment on Demas. We should be careful though. This verse was not thrown in for us to judge Demas. That was never Paul’s intent. I would even argue that was very much not his intent for Timothy. I believe Paul wrote this as a warning. This entire letter is written to Timothy as a hope to strengthen him and give him courage to continue spreading the Gospel despite Paul’s circumstances. Paul is mentioning Demas to explain his personal discouragement of abandonment, but also to remind Timothy the price for loving this present world.

I love the wording of that phrase. Demas was in love with this present world. Not even a world of the past or the future. He set his eyes on the present. He saw what was right before him, and chose to make all decisions and life choices based off of the present. The present world held a hardship for Christianity. That is hard for westernized Christianity to grasp. Love for the present world did not match up with a love for God.

I mentioned before there was another name mentioned with Demas. In truth there are actually two. One is Luke and the other is Mark. Paul mentions that Luke has remained with him. Forever faithful and dedicated Luke. Any Christian reading this passage should hope to stay a Luke. However, if we are to be honest we more than likely feel like a Demas at times. We have fallen in love with this present world. We have put more happiness in wealth, possessions, relationships, acceptance, etc.

There is encouragement for you Demas people out there. There is another name mentioned close to Demas. It is Mark. Mark is mentioned with Luke in the very next verse. What is surprising is Paul mentions him in a very positive light. Mark and Paul did not always get along. During a Missions journey Mark left Paul and the rest of the group. He could not handle the hardships of taking the Gospel to foreign places. When it came time for another trip Paul would not let Mark join them. Paul felt abandoned by Mark. For a brief period Mark had becomes a Demas.

We do not know what happened in =between. We do not know what Paul saw in Mark over time that made him see a heart change. All we know is Paul reached the end of his life valuing Mark’s worth in ministry. Mark had come back. He had turned his back on the present world. Mark was sold out for the Gospel.

Some of you may be reading this, and feel you are not like a Demas. You feel you have remained faithful. If that is you then thank God. You are currently a Luke. Be diligent to remain a Luke! Demas in the moment never believed he would turn from the Gospel. Luke’s must be ever vigilant to keep the faith. Others may read this and realize they have become Demas. They have fallen in love with this present world. They care more for something on this earth than God. Their passion for following Him just isn’t there. They have chosen an easier route. If that is you please listen to the encouragement we find in these two verses. You don’t have to remain a Demas forever. You can always become a Mark.

Obscure Bible Characters That Pump Me Up: Stephen

I’m thrilled to get in a new entry to my section of obscure Bible character. This next man is not quite as obscure as the Roman centurion. Anyone who has read their Bible enough will recognize Stephen. I want to write on him though because few realize his importance, and just what kind of a man Stephen had to have been. If you know anything about Stephen it is probably about his death. We will get to that in a moment, but first I want to go back to where we first learn about this wonderful man.

Stephen first shows up in Act 6. He is introduced in the midst of internal conflict for the church. There were people in the church who grew frustrated over favoritism that was coming up. You see, in the church you had the Hebrews and the Hellenists. The Hellenists were individuals who immersed themselves in the Greek culture. They were often of Jewish heritage, but they followed more of a Greek culture rather than the culture of their ancestors. The Hellenists were feeling particularly neglected in comparison to the Hebrews in terms of “pastoral” care. There was a lot of friction between these two groups. This is where we see Stephen enter the picture.

The apostles had the church pick out from among them a group of men who could care for the physical needs of people in the church. Stephen was the first one chosen. Scripture tells us he was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. This was a man picked and agreed on by both sides of this conflict. Stephen had enough respect from both sides that the church body was comfortable having him in this position. This had to be a man that was loved and respected by the people in the church.

This is the introduction we receive of Stephen. This is a man with a bright future before him. A man loved by people from all sides. I should point out how difficult it is to accomplish that. Often you are either loved by one side or hated by all. People in the middle ground are rarely respected by people from all sides. Stephen is a leader.

We rapidly go into what many might consider a tragedy for Stephen. Maybe you watched the Bible series on the history channel. If you watched the episode with Stephen’s death I should mention that that was done completely wrong. The demeanor that actor portrayed was not the vibe we receive from Stephen when we read what is going on. Stephen was a man who spoke with real authority.

Stephen finds himself in trouble for preaching about Jesus Christ. He gives a speech full of power and truth. He points the finger at those responsible for crucifying the son of God. Stephen gives a history lesson to these religious men leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. His speech ended with him seeing a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God in heaven. Upon speaking of this vision these religious men went into a rage. They stoned him. They stoned Stephen because they couldn’t take it anymore. They couldn’t stand him speaking the same blasphemous words Jesus spoke of. It was that same phrase spoken by Jesus that made the Pharisees determined to crucify him. Thus Stephen died.

That can’t be right. How can this obscure Bible character pump me up so much? How can such a depressing end to such a promising man fill me with courage? We meet Stephen in chapter sic and in chapter seven he is murdered. What a waste! Why would God let such a promising man die so early in his career of servanthood. How could this character possibly pump me up so much? Stephen’s death teaches me something powerful about servanthood. True servanthood to God can have an impact beyond death.

Stephen died because he was a loyal servant to God. He did not shy away from the truth. He spoke with boldness. He became the first Christian martyr. His death started off the first persecution of Christians. God used the murder of Stephen to make history. God used Stephen’s servanthood to the death to bring about the expansion of the Gospel.

A man was present for Stephen’s murder. His name was Saul. Saul carried out a full on persecution. This lead to Christians dispersing. They went off into varies lands, but shared the Gospel wherever they went. Stephen’s death gave them the push to move forward. His death became a war cry for believers. They did not keep silent when they saw their first martyr. If anything evangelism exploded after that point.

This martyr would lead Saul himself down a road where he would meet Jesus Christ and become one of the greatest servants for the Gospel. I see a man full of promise in life accomplish more form his death. This is why Stephen pumps me up so much. He gives me courage to face death. He gives me hope in realizing that a true servants work will live on.

Stephen’s life puts in me a desire to be a man worth the respect of opposing sides. His death gives me the courage to speak truth boldly. His legacy gives the joy to know my work can continue on. We look at Stephen’s death and think it is one big waste, but look at it closer and we realize God made more out of Stephen’s death than he ever could have hoped to accomplish in his life.

Just how far will your servanthood take you? What legacy will your servanthood leave behind?

A Global Impact

I’ve changed the plans for my post today. Tomorrow I will pick back up on recognizing a fool, but it would seem wrong not to acknowledge the tragedy that took place yesterday. The bombing yesterday plays into the idea of folly in a way. We often look at foolishness as something negative, but never drastic in nature. In truth, events like these are the ultimate results of the fool. Foolishness leads to no hope and taking drastic action. A fool is incapable of seeing the light.

We look at tragedies like this and wonder how they can be prevented in the future. No doubt there will be discussion after discussion on how we can better secure our nation. There will be debates over how to keep things secure, but not infringe on the rights of the people. Debates will rage all in the name of preventing such tragedies. It’s not wrong to plan to prevent these tragedies. I even hope these discussion happen, but we still cannot lose sight of the bigger picture.

I spoke similarly when we were faced with the tragic school shooting in Newtown. In the end we leave with one simple question. How do we keep this from happening? We will look to different people for the solution. Many will look to the government to fix these problems. The reality is that the government can only treat symptoms to the real problem.

What if this man responsible for the bombing had received the gospel? What is he was completely sold out to the good news? His life would have been completely changed. His actions would have looked completely different. We know nothing about the person who did this. Perhaps he heard the gospel and rejected it. Perhaps he had never heard it at all. We cannot play the “what if” game t0o much. There is only one “what if” that I know would have brought about a drastically different result. What if this man had become a Christian?

We often focus on the change to the individual that receives the gospel. It is understandable since that is where we can recognizably see a difference. An individual who becomes a true believer will change his ways. He will live for God rather than himself. He will be sold out to a higher calling. The change to the individual is drastic, but the change does not end there. We often fail to realize the impact the gospel has on the individual’s encounters. The gospel does not just impact the individual. The gospel has an impact on how that individual behaves and treats others.

If this man had received the gospel before this bombing then hospitals would have been a little emptier this week. A mother and father would be tucking in their eight year old boy tonight rather than making preparation to lay him forever in the ground. Countless lives would not have changed for the worse in a single moment. The gospel does not just impact lives for the positive, it also prevents negative impact to countless others.

The truth is we cannot prevent every bombing. We cannot prevent every instance where a man walks into a crowded place to fire a gun. We cannot prevent terrorists from doing suicide bombings. We can share the gospel though. We can witness God’s power in the life of the individual, and thus be thankful that one more individual can go out in this world to bring about a positive impact in the lives of others. We can be thankful that we were not the man that made bombs to kill innocent lives. We can be thankful of the incredible power the gospel has on a global scale.

The gospel is not simply necessary for the individual. The gospel is the only thing all of creation needs. It is the only thing that can bring about change for the good of all. We live in a world where chaos often seem to reign supreme. A world where walls come crashing down. A world where even an eight year old boy cannot be safe at a family friendly event. The gospel can bring a little hope to this world though. It can remind us of the end game. An ending where all will be set right when the king takes his throne. An ending that marks a brand new beginning. A beginning where tears of sorrow will no longer be welcomed on faces. A beginning where hope is vindicated. A beginning where the gospels impact is recognizable to all. As we wait for that beginning let us cling to the gospel, and share it with all who will listen. It won’t just impact the individual who receives. The gospel will change the world.

Answering the fool

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Proverbs 26:4-5

In these two verses we face what appears to be a contradiction. Any well-meaning Christian who studies these verses could struggle with its implications. Do we answer a fool or not? Tomorrow I will write about how to recognize a fool, but first I wanted to deal with these two verses that appear to be contradictory. Just what is the protocol for answering a fool? Is it ever acceptable? Is it acceptable sometimes, but not others?

Let’s look at this first verse. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” In this verse we are given a warning. We are told not to answer a fool according to his folly. We need to grasp the why though in order to deal with this apparent contradiction. We are told not to answer a fool by looking just like him. Acknowledging a foolish argument with a foolish point will not help anyone. All it will do is put you on the same level of foolishness as the individual you are arguing with.

This is a warning about how not to interact with a fool. Don’t let the foolish man bring you down to his level. Don’t let your judgment be clouded by his insulting methods of arguing. Don’t let his name calling bring you down a notch. Don’t let your anger get the best of you. I have heard the arguments of fools against me with every name under the book. Elitist, legalist, liberal, etc. The foolish thing to do would be to let my anger get the best of me in those moments and respond foolishly rather than pointing out the apparent foolishness of the individual. A wise man sheds light on foolishness rather than adds to it.

That is where the second verse comes in. “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Scripture tells us there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with the foolish person. Answering with folly is obviously the wrong way. However, we can respond in a positive way by pointing out the folly of the foolish person. Not only is this a god thing to do, but it is also necessary. If the fools folly is never pointed out then he will go through life believing he is a wise man who wins everyone argument. He will believe his foolishness is so full of wisdom that no one would dare even try to respond to it.

Sometimes calling out a fool can feel harsh though. People do not like it when it becomes apparent they have done or said something stupid. They don’t like being proven wrong. Answering a fool wisely is going to get ugly. They are going to want to drag you down with them. They want your response to be foolish because a foolish response does not have the impact needed to make a difference.

We are confronted with a choice when interacting with a fool. We can respond with anger. We can become quick tempered. We can become more focused on humiliating the individual rather than seeing truth come to light. That choice won’t get you very far though. A Godly response to the fool requires proper motivations. Our goal should not be to humiliate the fool. Will he feel humiliated? Yes, but that should not be our purpose. Our purpose should be to help the fool grasp his folly, and develop wisdom for the future.

This is honestly difficult for me when. I have little tolerance for the fool. It is easy for me to desire humiliation towards the fool. The “easiest” way to do that is to respond foolishly. Even if my response may not appear foolish to the outside world, my heart’s desire brings me to the king of fools easily enough. This is something I have had to work on, and continue to work on. It’s easy to mock the fool. I’m ready for change. I still want to respond to the fool, but I want to do so in a way that is going to being about true change and keep me from being the bigger fool.

Age has nothingto do with it.

The verse I’m writing about today is one who has been a victim of multiple hijackings. It is a verse that has been adopted by the teen community. One that they often tend to use for a sense of entitlement. Prof that they are just as valuable as an elder. Proof of equality in age amongst the body of Christ. Prof that the youth in our churches have value.

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12) We like this verse. It tells us that the youthful should not be ignored. It tells us that we have a voice. It tells us that we have something to offer. We often forget that it explains how to do this though.

A few things to understand about this verse. This was not written to a teenager. This was written to Timothy who was helping run a church in his mid-thirties. A young adult can be intimidated when he is leading others who are older than him. How does he do this? Should he demand respect because of his title? Should he demand respect because of His devout relationship with God? Should he demand respect because Paul tells him his age should not be a factor?

This verse makes me laugh. Paul gives Timothy some wonderful advice that is painful to hear? Seriously, this verse is an incredible painful verse to follow once you grasp what it is saying. Paul is essentially telling Timothy that people can’t look down on him for being a kid so long as he does not act like a kid.

Want to be treated as an adult? Act like an adult. Want to be treated as wise? Be wise. Want to be treated as a leader wroth following? Be a leader worth following. Want respect? Earn it. We are plagued with a generation leaving college who believe their circumstances required them to be treated like an adult.

As a young college student we used to have goals in mind on leadership to help these boy becomes men during their time at school Looking back on all that I can’t help, but feel it was all a little silly. The goal was sound. We should want boys to become men. However, I was not really a man myself. How could I help others become men when I was not one?

Here is the simple truth. We should have no reason to worry about our age. Our age should not keep us from making an impact in the lives of others. Our age should not keep us from leading. It should be the qualities of a character that define our capability. Do you want to be worth listening to? How is your speech? Do you speak with truth? Do you abstain from crude joking? Do you speak with love? DO you know how to listen or do you just control the argument? Are you quick tempered or do you know how to control your tongue? Age has nothing to do with it.

Want to be an example? Be someone with integrity. Let your actions be worth emulating. Do the things that make others desire to be like you? Being an example comes from actions that are worth emulating. Age has nothing to do with it

Do you want to be trusted and valued? Be someone who shows compassion and care for others. I never have pity one someone who gets angry when they feel their voice is not being heard when it is clear they have given no effort to listen to anyone else. We all feel entitled to receive a sense of love, compassion, and respect from others. Adulthood absent form age demands a much higher toll though. It demands a requirement to be the mature one in leading the charge for compassion, love, and respect on others. Age has nothing to do with it.

Do you want to be looked at as a strong Christian to exemplify? Do you put your faith in Christ? Do you base your value on what other think or on the price God has already paid for you? If you want to be treated as a spiritual mature Christian then you need to start being a spiritual mature Christian. Some people complain how they are still being treated as a child when their behavior tells me that all they are doing is being treated as a child. Age adulthood tells us adulthood means independence. True adulthood tells us the further we go in life the more we must depend on our creator. Age has nothing to do with it.

Do you want to have a serious adult relationship? Do you want to be someone worth confiding in? What are you like when no one is watching? How strong is your discipline when you are giving the opportunity to do something where you know you will never get caught? Age adulthood tells us we are capable of more responsibility. It tells us we are capable of making age adulthood decisions. True adulthood tells us being a man has more to do with whether or not we have been with a woman. It tells us a relationships depth is not defined on the physical elements of the relationship. It tells us that purity is something that extends even beyond sex and takes place in our minds and hearts. It tells us that a life worth emulating is a life that has innocence.

I struggle with all of this. There are times in my life where I feel I am being treated like a child. In those moments I need to stop, and think on this verse to see what I am doing wrong. That is just it. We often take this verse, and believe that anyone who treats us like a child clearly has something wrong with them. The simple truth is this, if you are being treated like a child it is because you are acting like a child. It has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with character.

Who is this man?

“Who is this man that even the seas and winds obey him?”

A profound question that is ultimately the one question constantly repeated in the gospels. If you have to form the point to the gospels in one questions it would be “Who is Jesus?” This was a question asked following a traumatic experience for Jesus disciples. Stuck on a little boat in the middle of a storm. They panicked. They feared death. They thought they had reached the end. In the midst of the fear they saw Jesus sleeping through this storm. They doubted Jesus. They doubted His power. They doubted His care for them. They doubted the very essence of who Jesus is. Here were a group of men who doubted this Jesus compassion. This same Jesus who would later die on a cross for them.

I think we all have a tendency to ask this question in moments of doubt. Who is Jesus? The answer to this question often depends on our mood and circumstances. During depressing and dark times we may behave as though Jesus was a man from those stories long ago at best. At worst Jesus is a careless God who has no interest in our sufferings. During good times we believe Jesus to be our best friend. We may feel we know Him well, and feel well known by Him.

Our circumstances and moods should not define who Jesus is in our lives though. Jesus is who is no matter our feelings in the moment. Our feelings and circumstances can produce doubt that has no business being in our hearts. Jesus responded to these disciples question by telling them they lacked faith. If this response doesn’t hit you hard then you need to meditate on it again.

Doubt in who Jesus is means we have an issue of faith. Doubting God’s provision is a faith issue. It’s embarrassing how often I do this though. Who is Jesus? He is my savior. He died on the cross for my sins. He paid my debt. He was nailed to a cross where he bled and cried out in pain.

Who is Jesus? He is a servant. He was the most humble man to ever walk on this earth. He humbled himself so much that he took the form of a man who was tired, hungry, thirsty, felt pain, and even cried. His servanthood is the epitome of service that I hunger to emulate in my work, as a friend, as a father, and as a husband.

Who is Jesus? He is my king. I am created to be His servant. I am called to follow Him no matter the cost. He is the only one truly worth following. He is Lord over everything. Nothing I possess does not already belong to him. My very body is His possession. He may have been a sacrifice, but He is still a king. He may be the greatest servant of all, but that only enhances is status as king of kings.

Who is Jesus? Well I guess you could say He is my everything. He is the reason that I live. He is the reason that I do anything good on this earth. No circumstances or moods should change that truth. Nothing in life should change who Jesus is. Christ is unchanging. Why should we ever let our circumstances change that? Anything less is a lack of faith.