The Great Promise of Matthew 5.8

Last Friday, my wife Becky and I enjoyed a “Netflix” night together and watched a movie from our childhood, E. T. This was, perhaps, the greatest movie of the 1980’s and held the record for gross amount of box-office revenue for over a decade.  It had been at least 25, maybe 30 years since I last watched it. While I remembered the main plot, there were many details from the movie I had forgotten. As I watched, I found myself moved with nostalgia. I remember watching the movie at the old RITZ theater in my hometown of Malvern, AR sometime in 1982 with my grandparents and mom and dad. (It’s the only time I remember Poppa and Doll going to the movies. They’re both gone now and I do miss them.)

E.T. was filmed in the fall of 1981 and it seems like a much simpler time. In the shots of Elliot’s room, I paid close attention. I had some of those same toys in my room. There was a complete absence of electronics in his room. There were no cellphones. Kids played outside and rode bikes around the neighborhood. Eliot’s older brother Mike and his teenage friends sat around a table on a Friday night playing board games. And as I watched, I kept thinking that if this movie were made in 2017, instead of 1981, the plot would not have had such a family-friendly theme. In our modern sophistication, a director would feel compelled to spice up the language with four-letter words, include a revealing love scene, bring in a gay character, pursue some item promoting the leftist social/political agenda, or have turned E. T. into a sick, twisted alien who has some kind of perverted behavior.

As I went to bed, I’m not sure if it was just the memories of my childhood or something else, but I found myself sorely missing simpler times and less provocative entertainment. (This is not to say that the 80’s were morally perfect, but we have drifted far, far away from where we were 35 years ago.) There’s a part of me that wishes we could, somehow, go back.

At the Kettering Church, we’ve recently been studying the beatitudes in Matthew 5. Jesus said, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God, Matthew 5.8. I don’t know about you, but as I move forward in life, more and more I look forward to an eternity that is free from the cares of this life.  I long to be free from temptation and perversion. I long to be in a place completely free from sin.

Did you see the glorious promise at the end of verse 8? Those who are pure in heart will see God. So, how can I make sure I’m living with a pure heart? It begins with a commitment trust in God’s power to save. Titus 2.11-14 teaches that He has set us apart from sin so that we can live exclusively for Him. But there’s more. Purity in heart happens when we commit to resisting evil and serve God. I once read that holiness is both a state of existence and a commitment to action. I like that. It’s following through on the application of passages like 1 Peter 1.13-16. It’s living with a sense of profound reverence. Your sin has been paid for with Jesus’ precious blood, 1 Peter 1.18-19.

Keeping a pure heart does not happen by accident. It’s not always convenient, nor is it easy. It is a call to sacrifice and will not be pain or struggle free.

As much as we might like, we can’t get into a time machine and go back to the days of our childhood, the time when life seemed simpler. But we can, even in this day and age, live with a pure heart and total trust that one sweet day we’ll be free from every trapping this world offers.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name, Psalm 86.11

Christianity is Life

I absolutely love the directive given to the apostles by the angel in Acts 5.20. They had just been set free from the temple jail, having been arrested by the Sadducees for preaching Jesus. Upon their release, the angel doesn’t instruct them to run away, hide, or cower in fear, but to go right back in to the domain of their enemies and preach! They were told to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20, ESV).

Christianity is life.

In 2 Corinthians 5.14-17 Paul speaks of our new life in Christ.

What does the new life look like?

It is a life that is motivated by the love of Christ, 2 Corinthians 5.14. The love of Christ overwhelmed Paul. He stood condemned before God because of sin. But, through His great love, Jesus served as the substitute for Paul’s death, by dying on the cross. It is the same for us. When we consider where we were and where we are now, it should move us to fully surrender to Jesus. Because Jesus has loved us so greatly, we love in return. The thought of His sacrifice should fill our hearts with gratitude. Now we no longer live for ourselves, we live for Him, Galatians 2.19-20. By sending Jesus, God intends to transform us into pure and righteous people, Titus 2.14. His goal is not just to save us from the fires of hell, it is to have us dwell with Him as blameless and holy people.

It is a life that is completely separated from our past, 2 Corinthians 5.16-17. God doesn’t care about our past – He cares about our future. What will we do in the present to take advantage of His blessings? No matter who we are, no matter how much wickedness we once committed, we are being remade. God delights in taking our life and making it a new creation. This describes a life that is new in quality, lived at a new level of excellence. All that we were is gone. If you are still holding on to your old life, values, and passions – you have not completely surrendered to God. He will free you from the chains of your past and provide you with the freedom only found in Christ. Will you surrender and allow God to recreate you in Christ, Galatians 6.15?

It is a life in the midst of a transformation process, 2 Corinthians 5.17. Paul says the new has come. The verb tense in this part of the verse indicates a “continuing condition of fact.” As we grow in Christ all of the world’s standards, motives, and values begin to lose their hold on our life. God’s perfect standard of holiness is before us and to it we look. While we will never be perfect in this life, God’s truths serve as the guide on our path to transformation. By the power of God, each one of us can become more like Jesus.

How about you? Have you elevated your perspective? Are you living the new life? What motivates you most as you journey toward heaven?

Light Shining Enthusiasm

Scripture Reading: Philippians 2.14-16

In our studies on evangelism this quarter, we’ve all seen Brother Alan’s powerpoint slide that says, “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.” I like that, don’t you? Did you know in the Greek language this word means God in you, or Full of God? In a handout given in our afternoon Bible class today, we learned that we can take the last four letters in enthusiasm and come up with the acronym “I. A. S. M.,” which means I Am Sold Myself. When it comes to living for Jesus, if you are convinced, convicted, and have sold yourself about God and His word, it will shine brightly and bring instant credibility in your efforts to share the gospel with others.

It was Paul who said, Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain, Philippians 2.14–16 ESV.

Your godly life, demonstrated by purity, devotion, and enthusiasm for Jesus, is as a bright light in a dark world. In the original language, “lights” comes from the word “luminaries.” Like the sun, moon, and stars, you do not shine for your own sake. God has recreated you for the purpose of providing light for others to see Jesus.

Don’t ever forget the power of your example. Others are watching. Each day you have an opportunity to reveal your faith by the way you live and how you react to life’s situations. When others see your resolute trust in God, fairness in the way you treat others, and faithfulness during life’s storms, your influence will naturally shine through.

In these times of growing uncertainty, God can bless each one of us with opportunities every day to bring His brightness to someone who needs him. It may be in a kind word spoken, a good deed done, or our pleasant, optimistic demeanor. Our evangelistic work doesn’t have to be thought of in terms of a program, it is just the natural result of a changed life.

Praise God for redeeming us and using us as His vessels of mercy, demonstrating the power of His redeeming grace.

Where’s Your Priority?

Scripture Reading: MALACHI 1

If we fail to recognize God properly, our spiritual lives will falter. We can take God’s blessings for granted. In the Old Testament, 100 years after God’s people returned to their homeland, Israel faced a huge problem with apathy. Their priorities were mixed up. They took God’s providential care and continual blessings for granted. It’s just an amazing thing to consider. What happened to all the nations who had previously been around them? What happened to their forefathers? Most of their ancient national enemies were long gone, having been swept away in relentless waves of Assyrian and Babylonian aggression. What had become of their grandparents and great grandparents generations? They died in exile. Yet, here this new generation was back in the homeland, having been returned by God and preserved by His providence. During Malachi’s time, the nation as a whole failed to appreciate God’s grace and blessings. Their spiritual lives were in serious jeopardy because of their misplaced priorities.

They were not the first generation to experience this problem. And, they aren’t the last. Three hundred years before Malachi’s time, Isaiah said, “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,” Isaiah 29.13. When individuals offer half hearted service, God is displeased.

In our Wednesday 1pm class today, I asked what causes apathy among modern Christians. An answer from a 98 year-old brother summed it up well: distractions. Too many are distracted with the modern amenities of this world and lose sight of their spiritual priorities. Yes, we have the best of intentions. Yes, we know we’ll get around to it, eventually.  And, before you know it…time marches on…and the spiritual is somehow left out.

We’ve just spent the three previous months taking a hard look at the present reality of life in America during 2016. Things are bad. People are hurting. Many are struggling with self inflicted wounds of sin and have no idea where to turn. They’ve looked at fulfillment in all the wrong things. Will we have the courage to share the hope that we have in Jesus? God has blessed us with so many wonderful blessings, most especially the gift of salvation. Let’s turn our focus outward and seize the opportunities God will provide. Indeed, His word will not return void, Isaiah 55.11.

Join us every Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at Kettering Church of Christ as we explore ways to fulfill the mission to which God has called us.

The War Between Flesh and Spirit

Scripture Reading: Romans 7.13-25

The second half of Romans 7 is certainly no stranger to disagreement in interpretation. How can we better understand Paul’s personal struggle between the flesh and spirit?

Previously, Paul has argued that salvation does not come through the law. In fact, Christians are married to Christ so that we may bear fruit for God, 7.4. I think verse 13 holds the key to understanding the rest of the chapter. In it, Paul argues that sin, not law, brings death. The law (in this context, the Law of Moses) is good. In fact, Paul describes it as holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good, 7.12. Sin, on the other hand, is bad. It can work through what is good (law) to produce death. Everything from verse 14 to the end of the chapter should be understood as a defense of this premise.

To bolster his claim, Paul begins to describe his personal struggle. I think there are flashbacks to when he practiced the jewish religion and its demands for law-keeping. But, I also think he accurately describes the human condition, even the battle the Christian faces with temptation and sin. Note the “I” statements in 7.14-24. Paul:

  • is fleshly, 7.14.
  • is captive to sin, 7.14.
  • is lacking in his ability to carry out God’s will, 7.15.
  • delights in the law and wants to keep it, but is unable to do what he desires, 7.18.
  • realizes the power/allure of sin can be stronger than his strongest desire to do right, 7.20.

How often does sin work through your body to get you to do what you do not want to do? Like Paul, our desire and delight may be in living God’s way, but sometimes the flesh gets its way. There is truly a war going on between our spirit and our flesh. That is why he says “wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” That is why he would later say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” Philippians 1.21. How would dying be gain for Paul? How would it be gain for us? Answer: the absence of temptation and sin. That has to be one of the biggest attractions about heaven.

So, what do we do in the meantime? We keep resisting the flesh. When the flesh takes over, we pick ourself back up and get going along the spiritual path. We move forward in total trust. That’s how Paul could say there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Romans 8.1.

You can learn more about Romans and practical applications from it every Tuesday at Kettering Church of Christ. Our Tuesday Bible study is at 1 pm. Join us! You’ll be glad you did.

Consider Your Ways

For seven decades, the land of God’s people stood desolate. The few physical reminders from their previous existence lay in ruins. Where once sons and daughters of God roamed, now foreigners dwelled, Ezra 3.3. When God’s people returned to Israel from Babylon in 536 BC, they must have experienced every emotion. Jubilation, exhilaration, and praise coupled with sorrow, regret, and fear. Eventually, their faith gave way to fear and they stopped rebuilding God’s temple, Ezra 4.4. Opposition by their adversaries led to sixteen years of inaction, 4.24. God patiently waited and when He could hold out no more, He sent two prophets to call his people to action.

Haggai is one of those prophets. He comes onto the scene with an abrupt and challenging message. Consider your ways, he says in Haggai 1.5. After more than a decade-and-a-half of apathy, it was time for self examination. While God’s people dwelt in comfort, God’s house sat in ruins, 1.4. There had been no demonstration of faith. There were no bold initiatives. Their vision went only as far as they could see. And, what they could see was only opposition and uncertainty. For these jews, the status quo centered around fear, not faith.

What about us? Today we face growing opposition toward Christianity. It feels as if people are becoming more resistant to our message. Most Americans seem to be satisfied with where they are religiously. We’re told people are no longer interested in doctrine. We’re told our ways are too narrow and too old for the newer generations. And so, we turn inward. We tend toward defensiveness, negativity, and cynicism. Once these attitudes have taken over, its easy to throw up our hands and say, what’s the use? So, we often allow precious time to go by, while we maintain what we have and get away from the mission God called us to, Matthew 28.19-20.

Maybe it’s time for us to consider our ways! Times of difficulty call for bold initiatives driven by faith. What will you do to get out of your comfort zone and share the gospel with someone? What will local churches do collectively to reach out into their communities with the message of grace? Will they be open to newer methods? Will they be willing to shift their paradigm in order to be effective? Times like these are not for pessimism and shrinking away from the mission. Just like God told the people in Haggai 2.4-5, we can be strong, …and…. work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts.

Will we trust God enough to move forward by faith?

Nothing is New Under the Sun

Christians, along with their Biblical values derided. God denied. Jesus mocked. Immodesty and sexual innuendo at every turn. Abortion rights. Gay Marriage and the homosexual agenda. Transgender Issues. Deteriorating race relations. Mass shootings. Murder on live television. Everyday, news headlines mark another battle lost in the great culture war. As one reflects over the last decade or two, our nation’s descent into a moral abyss feels like it is picking up speed. What was viewed as risqué in the 1980’s, now looks almost innocent and tame. But, are we the first nation to experience moral depravity? Are these the worst of times? Or, could things get much worse?

Scripture has the answer. God’s people have always been subject to the ramifications of living inside a world broken by sin. During Noah’s day, the earth was filled with violence and the wickedness of man was great, with every intention of the thoughts of the heart was only evil continually, Genesis 6.5, 11. Do you remember what is said about the time of the judges when everyone did what was right in his own eyes, Judges 21.25? As the northern kingdom slid into oblivion, it was filled with those who do not know how to do right and store up violence and robbery in their strongholds, Amos 3.10. During its waning years, the nation of Judah stumbled under the leadership of godless men. Jeremiah records Zedekiah’s burning the scroll that contained God’s warning and a final promise of mercy if they repented, Jeremiah 36. Think of the Greco-Roman world during the time of the first Christians. Christian virtues were mocked, regarded as foolishness, 1 Corinthians 1.18-31. They were subjected to heavy persecution and death, Revelation 2.8-10, 12-13; 3.7-13; 6.9-11.

In every age, Christians have experienced difficulty in the world. We need to remember this: No matter what, God’s sons and daughters move forward with hope. This hope is not that the America of the 1950’s will somehow return, rather it is a mindset full of confidence and determination to keep one’s spiritual garments unstained and get home to be with God, forever. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself,” Philippians 3:20–21.

Expect More Out of Your Kids

Have you ever heard someone make a remark about teens and alcohol and say, “Well, they are going to do it anyway, so we might as well accept it”?  In the past, I have been personally acquainted with a parent who constructed an area in his backyard in order for his son to have “parties.” He said, “at least I know where my son is, and I do not have to worry about him driving home drunk.”  At the time, his child was well under the legal drinking age.

The idea ofits going to happen anyway” is everywhere in our society. Not only do we hear this regarding teen consumption of alcohol, but we hear it in other areas as well:

  • Sex. We are told since it is going to happen we better supply our youth with so-called “safe-sex” alternatives. Some parents allow their children to have their boyfriend/girlfriend over to sleep together at home, because “it’s going to happen anyway.
  • Drugs. A couple of years ago, Oregon legislators passed a needle exchange law for heroin addicts. This is so they can turn in their dirty needles and exchange them for sterile ones in hopes of suppressing the spread of HIV. It’s going to happen anyway, we’re told and because of this some now even lobby to legalize drug use in America.

The “they’re going to do it anyway” mentality is scary because it places our culture on an extremely slippery slope. Could we not apply it to cheating?  Lying? Reckless driving? Anything and everything? There is no end to it!  We must not give in to this line of thinking. Why?

It suggests a defeatist mentality. Parents need to expect more out of their kids. They need to be held to high standards of morality and conduct. Peter wrote, “do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior,” 1 Peter 1:14-15.  We need to believe in our kids – they are capable of doing incredible things for God.

It suggests a certain degree of parental laziness. It takes time and effort to train our children in the ways of righteousness. It is the job of the parents to bring their childrenup in the discipline and the instruction of the Lord,” Ephesians 6:4. Too many parents have let their careers and hobbies steer them away from raising their children. How many children in America are forced to raise themselves – even with both parents living inside the home?

It suggests that some parents fear being called hypocrites. Some parents operate under the mentality that if they once engaged in bad behavior that somehow they are forever disqualified from holding their children accountable for reckless behavior. The idea is that they are a hypocrite. If the parents have ceased the behavior and have learned from their mistakes, they are not being hypocritical when they forbid their children from unacceptable behavior.

Parenting in today’s world is hard. This no different from any other generation. If you have children at home, raise the level of expectation. Live by example in holding your kids to God’s standard and teaching them to trust in God’s ways. “He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death. The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord, but the blameless in their walk are His delight,” Proverbs 11:19-20.

Handing Down Your Faith

We are first introduced to Timothy’s family in Acts 16. His mother was a believer. His father was not. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1.5 that Timothy’s early spiritual training came from his mother Eunice, and grandmother Lois. They taught him the word of God from the earliest of days. Later, Paul speaks of the result of this teaching: Timothy had become wise for salvation and did much for the Lord. This teaching blossomed into a faith that spanned at least three generations. How can we do the same?

We need a convincing faith. This is the type of faith that is not just talk, but touches life in every dimension. This is a real, authentic faith that moves without hypocrisy. It is the type of faith that is revealed in the total structure of who we are. It can be seen in our devotion to daily prayer, our resolute trust in God, and in our love demonstrated to those around us. We will never hand down our faith to the younger generations if we first haven’t convinced ourselves of the need to truly serve God. Is your faith convincing?

We need a consistent faith. When speaking of Lois, Eunice, and Timothy, Paul said faith dwelt in them. “Dwelt” is significant. Paul used that word throughout his writings to describe what it means to be a Christian. Christians are like a building whose inhabitant is faith. When faith dwells in us, it is alive. It has staying power and performance. It will remain in our heart, regardless of the circumstances. Our children learn about our faith in good times and bad. But it is during bad times that the test will come to see if we have a lasting faith. Is the faith we talk about real? We must not let faith come and go instead of allowing it to dwell in us.

We need a contagious faith. Timothy’s family had a passion about God. As soon as Timothy was old enough to understand, they began pumping faith into him. Our faith must be just as contagious. We need to be eager to share our faith with our children. When we are excited about Jesus we can convey a spiritual commitment to our kids that they cannot possibly ignore. We need to always learn to look for open doors to speak about Jesus. We need to look for spontaneous moments to relate the commonalities of life to God. When we do this, we make faith real to our kids.

We need a confident faith. Faith is the “promise of life which is in Christ Jesus,” 2 Timothy 1.1. This is the type of life that is centered in Jesus and lived on the promise of heaven. Faith was never meant to be just a mental assertion, but a living faith. If we are not sure what we believe, how will we make anyone else certain? How can we pass it on to someone else? The confidence of God’s people is in Jesus Christ. What God has promised is true. He wants us in heaven. When we live by God’s promises day by day we will possess a confident and optimistic faith that will speak volumes to our children.

Project yourself into the future. Go past your children and your grandchildren. What do you see? Will your faith survive your children? Is your faith convincing, consistent, contagious, and confident? Allow the beauty of Jesus shine in your life and you will leave a spiritual legacy for the younger generations to follow.

Needed: Leaders With Integrity

I have an unwritten rule for my social media posts that I sometimes break. It is, “Quit posting things about politics.” After Donald Trump’s remarks regarding FOX News personality Megan Kelly last Saturday (8/8), I wrote this:

Those temptations I’ve had to get on the Trump bandwagon are diminishing by the day. Like many Americans I’m fed up with the way things are in our nation’s capital. We need wholesale change in the political leadership in the country, especially with the Republicans. But, Donald Trump is not the man we need to do that. At this point I like Rubio, Huckabee, Walker, Perry, and Cruz … in no particular order. Kasich is high on my list because of what I’ve seen him do in Ohio. Carson is a great guy that I wish would get a little more traction, but I just don’t see him going far. The next 15 months are going to be long, but very interesting.

To this, someone responded that they’re all untrustworthy and more committed to their own causes than restoring our country.

If that’s the case, there is no hope. Our nation is doomed. That may be the case. Why?

Integrity is a basic foundational element missing in many of today’s leaders. Without it, they are bound to experience setbacks, embarrassment, and even failure. It is all too common to hear of some moral failing or “indiscretion” of a prominent figure in politics and religion. It is all to common to see a politician stonewalling and obfuscating when charges of impropriety are made.

No wonder we find ourselves battling skepticism and cynicism. It is as if we are waiting for the other shoe to drop. We ask, “What are they hiding?” When our leaders tell us that “they really care about us”, the little voice inside our mind says, “Yeah right, they only have their best interest at heart.”

We are not the first generation to experience these things.

The Old Testament prophet, Amos, identified leaders of his day who “trampled on the poor,” exacted heavy taxes on those who could least afford it, “afflicted the righteous”, “took bribes,” and “afflicted the needy in the gate” (Amos 4.11-12). These political and religious leaders took every advantage of the power and trappings of their position. The record says they “built houses of hewn stone,” and “planted pleasant vineyards.”  They lived in luxury by taking advantage of those who were less fortunate.  Sound familiar? There has never been a time when corruption and dishonesty were not present in some form in the leadership of society.

God’s people have been called to live in integrity in the midst of a corrupt society. A great example is seen in the life of Daniel. When his enemies looked for ways to discredit and remove him from his leadership position, they ran into a significant problem. They “sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him,” Daniel 6.4. By this time, Daniel had overseen the kingdom of Babylon for many years, and yet he was found blameless. His commitment to personal purity and integrity speaks volumes. When it comes to faithful living by God’s standard, Daniel stands as a great example to follow.

Daniel’s life and character testifies to our ability to live in integrity at the highest level of society. We need more godly men and women in leadership positions. We need them running businesses, community organizations, and in all levels of government. In each one of these areas, there will be unique temptations to compromise. We must always be true to the principle of integrity. Cutting corners only places one farther behind…not farther ahead.

Do you live the kind of life that testifies to personal integrity and righteousness? Make a commitment today to live by the Holy Spirit’s expectations in 1 Peter 2.12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”