Thursday, December 23, 2004

Holiday Rules

Remember that Jesus is always worthy of celebration! Despite the higher regard for church attendance, this time of year brings with it temptations that we must resist.

First, resist the temptation to be wild. Drunk driving arrests will go up in the next couple of weeks. Wild parties will increase, and the Christian is to avoid the works of the flesh prominent at such parties. Practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and especially, self-control.

Next, resist the temptation to argue, and determine to be kind. Family time is intended to be fun, but we often end up fighting and being harsh. Put away the hurt from years past and develop happy traditions for the future.

Finally, put away self-indulgence and put on generosity. It is so easy to be jealous of the gifts of others. It is easy to think mostly of yourself. I want ... I want ... I want.... That is the theme of the day for so many. Is it what you are teaching your children? Be diligent to turn your thoughts away from yourself, and be generous to others. That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Play it Again, Luke!

Grammar rules don’t change much. There was a time that in a formal article like this, using a contraction like I did in that first sentence would’ve been taboo, but it isn’t anymore. The need for subject/verb agreement, the proper use of pronouns, the form of an infinitive, are all the same. When we were in school, we reviewed them year after year! That was most obvious in high school for me when we spent half the year reading literature we had never read, then half the year in grammar studies reviewing what we had always reviewed.

In Acts, Luke does some repeating. I suggest he repeats for the same reason we repeat: to reinforce something that is important. After Luke told the story of the conversions of Peter (to be willing to go the Gentiles with the gospel) and Cornelius (to the Way), he used the report of Peter to the critical, circumcised believers in Jerusalem to repeat the message to the readers of Acts. What message did Luke want his readers to get? He wanted them to know that God intended for the gospel to be preached to non-Jews. He wanted them to know that God wanted to save all of the lost.

Notice the effectiveness of Peter’s explanation: “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’”

Praise from their lips was not all they offered, though. Luke tells us that those who had scattered in connection with the stoning of Stephen only told the message to the Jews. Now, however, “Men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord."

Be careful not to read Acts simply from an historical perspective. If you read this as simply an historical account, you will conclude, “The gospel really began to be preached to the Gentiles here.” If you read it like you need to, you will conclude, “I need to be telling the message to all the lost.”

Luke will play this same song again. Look for it. But don’t just look for the message - do what you see! The poor and the rich, the majority and the minority, the regular and the not-so-regular people need the gospel that you’ve received.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Don't Weary God

I’ve seen the look of weariness in the face of people that I’ve disappointed – again. I’ve seen the look of weariness as I’ve looked in the mirror after someone disappointed me – again. I’m not talking about weariness that comes from a ten mile uphill walk to school in the snow. I’m talking about the weariness that you feel when the physical and emotional investment that you’ve made in the life of someone else seemingly fails. When you are this kind of weary, the energy scale in your heart, your mind, and your muscles registers zero. Your shoulders stoop and the brightness in your eyes fades like it has been overcome by spiritual cataracts. Most of us have experienced that kind of weariness. Did you know that God has, too?

God’s people spent seventy years in captivity as punishment for their idol worship and immoral lives. Yet when they returned home through the intervention of God in national affairs, they married people in the land who were idol worshippers, the priests practiced corruption, and the general population followed sinful paths. God sent Malachi to call the people back to God. He told them that they had wearied God.

“How have we wearied him?” they asked.

“By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’” (Malachi 2:17).

You don’t want to weary God, do you? You don’t want him to feel like his investment in you – which is huge, by the way – is lost. Don’t close your eyes, then, to what God wants so that you call good evil and evil good. God has told us what is good, and now he has shown us what is good through Jesus. Don’t confuse evil with good. Second, don’t question whether God is just or fair when you experience some difficulty in your life knowing that self-evaluation would reveal that you haven’t had a mindset for doing his will. It wearies God when those who are supposed to follow him, don’t; and then criticize him because they experience the pain of their path. That’s Life at Work!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Don't Reduce God

I heard a guy on the radio say that OU and USC uniforms are “universally known across the country.” Then he listed something else and said that was “universally known across the country.” Now, I’ve messed up plenty of sentences in radio work myself, and I’m confident that I’ve inadvertently made some boneheaded phrase faux pas in my sermons. This comment, though, “universally known across the country” hit me funny. The universe became the United States! I realized that we reduce our God to something smaller than what he is. In fact, we do that a lot.

1. He can save the world, but my sins are too many to forgive.
2. He can cause nations to rise and fall, but he can’t rescue me from my distress.
3. He can give “life abundant” and he can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…,” but he can’t use me for very much in the kingdom.
4. He can raise the dead, but he can’t revitalize my marriage.
5. He can be the Father of the faithful, but he can’t offer anything to help me bring up my children.

You get the point, don’t you? God is bigger than you. God is bigger than your abilities. God is bigger than your trouble. God is bigger than your sin. God is bigger than the United States. God is bigger than the universe. No one – nothing – is bigger than God. Yet, he cares for you. That’s Life at Work.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Everyone Needs

Paul had the incredibly religious background, but in ignorance he attempted to destroy God’s work. Because of his blasphemous and violent past, he considered himself the chief of sinners. The beginning of his story just precedes the story of Cornelius.

Cornelius was a Gentile – a race of people whom Paul described as “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Cornelius was all that, but he was devout and generous.

So there are people with strict religious backgrounds and those without them. There are those who are so interested in the way of God that God sends someone to them knowing they will hear. There are others so opposed to the way of God that God has to blind them to make them see the error of their ways.

What people need, regardless of their past or present, is Jesus. What if your upbringing was far from godly like Cornelius’ likely was, and you are now blasphemous and violent like Paul definitely was? What if you had a strict religious background like Paul, but are devout and generous like Cornelius was? You need Jesus.

When you tell a doctor your health history, he listens carefully, evaluates, and then prescribes the medicine he believes will work. When God examines you, he prescribes what he prescribes to every other person – oneness with Christ. For your sin sickness, which all of us has – or had – there is one cure, the precious blood of Christ. No evaluation. No questions about potency. No consideration of other cures. Jesus is the Life.

Where you’ve been doesn’t change what you need. Where you are doesn’t change what you need. What decision will you make today about life with Jesus?