Category: Character

Resolutions for 2016 and beyond

New Years Resolutions   I’ve never been a beginning-of-the-New-Year resolution-maker. I’ve always felt you ought to do what you ought to do and not have to resolve each new year to become the person you should have been in the first place. But in these my sunset years perhaps there are some substantive attitudes and behaviors worth resolving to adhere to, not just for 2016 but for a lifetime. Therefore I welcome my friends and family to challenge me should I allow to lapse or sway from any of those listed below.

  1. I will use my time wisely. I will not “spend” it – rather I will “invest” it where it will produce the greatest fruit.
  2. I will seek direction from and be guided by the One who knows me and my unique needs and talents and Who is able and willing to do so.
  3. I will stay true to the Word of God and remain confident in His Promises. I will not be swayed by any of the multitude of cultural, political or religious forces that surround and tug at me.
  4. I will use my words to lift up and not deflate. We all need to be reminded occasionally that we are not failures simply because we have failed – we are only failures if we give up.
  5. I will encourage others to seek a God-solution to their problems, questions and needs.
  6. I will strive to shine a spotlight on the enemy: his finesse and subtlety, his deceptive tactics and his destructive nature.

Some important Biblical lessons I’ll bet you haven’t given much thought to – Truth #1

     Matthew 11-28 Jesus used many different styles to teach the people, but the parable seemed to be His favorite. And yet, when asked by His disciples why he used parables His strange response was: “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Then He quoted a prophesy of Isaiah that says essentially the same thing. In other words, there is knowledge and wisdom hidden in the Scriptures that is hidden to those who have no interest in knowing the truth; and yet to any and everyone who is serious about discovering truth and who seeks it out through study, research, prayer and meditation, it will be opened up to them.

Over the next few weeks my blog is going to touch upon a few such “not so obvious” truths – things that most of you probably haven’t given much thought to. Yet this is knowledge and wisdom that is critical if you are to become the complete person God intended for you and if you are to be used by Him to your full potential.

This week’s hidden truth I entitle:

Don’t be the person God orders “Step aside! You’re interfering with My work.”

Every faithful attendee of a Bible believing church is familiar with the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well. They would be able to recite how Jesus, in passing through Samaria, saw this woman, approached her and used the occasion of asking for a drink of water to introduce her to His concept of eternal life. They’d also be familiar with how He cleverly yet compassionately revealed and convicted her about her immoral lifestyle and led her to recognize Jesus as both a prophet and as her Messiah. And of course they’d know that she was so moved that she began to proselytize others, inviting many from her city to meet this man who told her so much about herself and of God’s love for her.

But I’ll bet few would give much thought to the first thing Jesus did, before He even entered the city or approached the woman. He sent His disciples into the city, under the guise “to buy food.” Jesus knew the hearts of His disciples were still filled with pride, self-righteousness, judge-mentalism and discrimination toward the Samaritan people. The disciples were good men who were intimately involved in Jesus’ ministry; men who Jesus sent out to heal the sick and cast out demons; men who even could be seen baptizing people in Judea just one day earlier. Yet Jesus perceived the above character flaws as detrimental to His ministry of inner healing and deliverance.

This should get your attention. If you’re not willing to cross religious, racial, social, cultural, and gender divides to meet people where they’re at, you’re pretty limited in what God can do with you and your ministry. And since His mission is to reach the world, He’ll have to do a large chunk of it without you.

Do you really want to be left on the outside? It’s an exciting time folks! You’re not going to want to miss a beat.

Courage – evidence you are ready for life’s greatest challenges

CourageMost of us don’t really understand what courage is, and few of us rarely if ever see ourselves as very courageous. I think that’s because courage most often shows itself when a person faces a challenge that they didn’t foresee – maybe even a situation that they would prefer not being in if they had their druthers – yet one that they won’t turn and run from. I don’t think it’s an independent characteristic of a man or woman. I think it’s a fruit that blossoms forth to “prove” to both the individual and those around them their integrity, credibility, faithfulness and sincerity in what and in whom they believe.

These past few days I’ve witnessed true courage in a number of different settings. I saw it in a young man a few days after his mother was gunned down by a racist fanatic in a Sorth Carolina church – when he spoke of forgiveness and God’s love. I read it in the words of the Supreme Court justices who disagreed with a recent majority decision, who were not deterred by the anticipated criticism and vitriol of the mainstream media. I saw it on display when a state police sergeant made an on-the-spot decision to take down a man he believed was an escaping prisoner before he disappeared back into the woods. Had the officer been wrong, had the man instead been a homeless person just reacting to his fear of law enforcement in general, the officer would most certainly have been viciously attacked by those intent on finding fault in every such decision and behavior. But as so many of his law enforcement brothers and sisters do every day in spite of the severe criticism and the watchful eyes around them, he went about his job focused on protecting the innocent. Finally, I saw courage in a young man who for the past three of his mere twenty-two years of life, left the comforts of metro-Detroit suburbia to venture into one of the poorest neighborhoods of Mexico to minister to the needs of its children. Daniel’s courage is evident every day, but for me it budded forth when he set up a “gofundme” account to cover the costs of taking a group of his kids outside the slums they lived in for a week of camp, promising to humble himself in his physical appearance in exchange for peoples’ support.

As I stated earlier, few of us rarely if ever see ourselves as very courageous. Jesus put it this way: “Someday you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” In other words, if you’re sincere in your beliefs and faithful to the One in whom you believe, if you’re a person of integrity and faithfulness, then courage and wisdom will be manifest in the words of your mouth and in your actions – because they’re already buried deep in your heart. You’ll say the right thing; you’ll do the right thing.

I see courage in everyday people that they likely don’t see in themselves. I see it in my daughter as she balances a life of teaching middle school youngsters at the same time as she faces the challenges of raising three young children and pleasing a sport’s enthusiast husband. I see it in my oldest son who gave up a stable career as an engineer to evangelize on the campuses and streets around the world. I see it in my youngest son who was saddled with several physical and medical issues from a very young age; yet attained the highest rank in scouting, graduated from college, established a career in the arts and works hard in a difficult economy to earn supplementary income – all the while his compassionate heart causes him to help those in even more difficult circumstances than his own. And I see it in my wife who, in the face of numerous setbacks continues to pursue the vision God gave her for a ministry that brings people of all Christian faiths together to honor their Savior.

Perhaps you’re much more courageous than you think! The young man in Sorth Carolina would have easily given up his ten minutes of fame at a microphone to have his mother with him that day. I’m sure the minority in that Supreme Court decision would have much rather gone home that afternoon and not touched off the vindictiveness of the Left against them personally. The state police sergeant would much rather have had one of his friends be faced with making the on-the-spot decision whether or not to fire his weapon. And I doubt if young Daniel, the day he left to be a missionary in Mexico ever anticipated having to step into the role of father and older brother to so many children who have been abandoned by their natural fathers and older brothers. Each of these faced the challenge before them, and their courage is now on display for all to witness and commend. Perhaps that next challenge will be the trigger to cause your courage to blossom forth.

Learning from Unexpected Sources

It’s amazing what we can learn from the most unexpected sources if we just keep our spiritual ears open. I commend my pastor who this past weekend built his Father’s Day message around some quotes of well-known (though not necessarily Christian) men, from Albert Einstein to Dr. Seuss (i.e. Theodore Lesieg). Of course he tied their words back to Biblical truth, thus demonstrating that the person quoted was to some degree parroting the Word of God, though they probably had no idea they were.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that often I’ve felt compelled to confine my source material for wisdom to the Holy Scriptures; whereas God has imposed no such restriction on us. Has not God Himself used nonbelievers, as well as animals, flora, even inanimate objects to reveal knowledge to knowledge-seekers? So why do we feel so constrained? As long as the non-Scriptural source does not contradict the Word of God then we should have no fear in referencing it.

Many people seem less convinced and seem to be concerned that when I or other Christians quote a non-believer we’re endorsing everything they stand for. Not long ago I began one of my blogs with a Charles Darwin quote, whereby I then proceeded to demonstrate that even the man credited with advancing the theory of evolution himself harbored serious doubts as to its validity. Yet I don’t think the people that were critical of that blog read past the quote itself to discover the direction I was going.

This “problem” with receiving from our perceived adversaries is not confined to Christians. It extends to every segment of society. Republicans have a problem receiving anything from Democrats; liberals have a problem receiving anything from conservatives; Baptists have a problem receiving from Catholics; and a person from one racial or ethnic background has a problem receiving anything from a person of another racial or ethnic background.

It’s time we get past ignoring those who are different than us, who believe different than us and who take alternate positions on subjects that we consider important. We can learn something of value from nearly everyone. See, I believe that every human being, even atheists have something of God in them. Every human spirit was created to be conformed to the image of the Spirit of God, even as he or she continues to deny His existence or to rebel from Him. Precisely because they still carry this linkage with the Creator, they have the capacity for receiving and espousing His wisdom and knowledge, at least once in a while.

Throughout history mankind has benefitted not only from the scientific discoveries of non-believers such as Albert Einstein, but also from their wit. “When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.” Of course I’m being facetious when I use the above quote.

On a more serious note, I was listening to a radio host the other day. I don’t recall the exact topic of discussion, but he said something that got me thinking. He said that everyone when they walk into a room is self-absorbed and worried about how they appear to everybody else and imagine that all the others in the room are looking at and judging them. Yet that couldn’t possibly be the case, because everyone else is just as self-absorbed in themselves as they are.

Because that man and I come from significantly different spiritual and economic backgrounds and our beliefs on a wide range of subjects vary, I could have ignored the man’s commentary on mankind’s natural tendency toward self-absorption. Yet I listened to his words; even meditated on their implication; and his words got me thinking. I concluded, what a wonderful thing it would be if I could change that paradigm in my life. Suppose whenever I walked into a room I could truthfully focus more on the other person and less on myself. What if I put my energy into seeking to find out where they’ve been, where they are now and what their needs are, with the motivation to do whatever is necessary to meet those needs? What a burden that would lift from me and what a benefit it would lead to for the other party.

I give this simply as an example of wisdom that we can gain from unexpected sources. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you understand that I am not a proponent of compromise. Compromise is the tool of the man with no convictions. No one should ever compromise their most deeply held convictions and beliefs. But we should be open to listen to others; for there is hidden wisdom out there that we’ve been missing just because we’ve been closed-minded.

Given by Inspiration of …

FB share imageI think most of us are very aware of the numerous voices around us every day trying to influence us to think and act a certain way, to buy into a certain ideology, to invest our resources on a certain product, or to head in a certain direction or toward a specific destiny. But we’re less conscious of the influence our own voice has within our circle of friends and acquaintances. Yes! Each of us indeed has a sphere of influence. Your opinions matter to many and your opinions inspire some to follow in your footsteps. If you don’t believe me, just look at your social media for the last week or so.

Like many of you, every day I’m invited via email or FaceBook post to lend my support (i.e.: my endorsement) to a wide array of political, social and spiritual causes, to individuals (e.g.: running for public office) and to public service organizations. Sometimes that support requested is simply to share the information provided with my personal list of friends and acquaintances. Other times it’s a request for financial support. And occasionally I’m even invited to author a testimony of the positive effect the cause, individual or organization has had upon my life.

For my part, I never treat any of these requests for endorsement lightly. I make a decision in each case whether to act upon it or to ignore it. But to act upon such a request for support I have to (1) feel inspired by the subject and (2) feel confident that its representatives are godly in character. And to attain an adequate level of inspiration and confidence it’s imperative that I investigate the source and what motivates it/him/her to act.

What or who influences and inspires you?

Advertisers/public relations gurus have taught millennials especially, but society in general that celebrities (sports phenomes and music and movie stars) are credible and inspiring persons whose lifestyles and words and creeds should be mimicked. But few are really worthy of such trust and admiration.

Many people (including many of the “churched”) today throw their support behind whatever the flavor of the day is in our culture. But what really does our culture reflect? It reflects what is popular and acceptable today. And that can and does change in a heartbeat. Jesus said that His followers would be hated by the world (those who are proponents of the flavor of the day). And true followers of Christ experience this “hatred” every day via attacks by the mainstream media, by ungodly government leaders, by confused religious leaders and by adversaries on social media.

Before you begin to answer the question “what or who influences or inspires you,” I suggest you at least consider the four following questions:

  1. Do you have any standards for determining what causes, organizations and people who you are willing to throw your support behind?
  2. If not, why not?
  3. If so, what are your standards?
  4. If so, where did you get those standards?
  5. If so, do your standards advance selfish or self-less behavior?
  6. If so, are your standards “fixed,” or do they vary with every wind of change in the culture?

For me personally, the Apostle Paul is a good standard bearer. He said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In other words, “Listen to what I have to say, and do what I do, only if what I say and what I do is comparable to what Jesus did and said. If not, ignore what I say and do.”

These days I’m getting a lot of requests to support a growing list of men and women vying for the office of President of the U. S. As a general rule I don’t get into any political discussions over social media. There are too many really important issues in life, and very few if any are going to be solved by any political leader. When the time comes to vote I’ll make my choice based on the person whose character and beliefs most closely mirror that of Jesus and whose stated policies advance those beliefs. However, today I am finding it difficult to find any that would dare say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” And if one did say that, and if the people listening took them at their word, I wonder if the candidate would be left with any supporters?

My personal test

So how do I assess the inspirational value and my level of confidence in public service organizations and social causes? I have a simple test which involves researching the answer to these three questions:

  1. Does the purpose of the organization/cause advance life and peace or a culture of death and destruction?
  2. Does it encourage self-less behavior or selfishness?
  3. Is its primary goal and likely outcome an emotionally, physically and spiritually enhanced experience for the participants?

But what about local churches/denominations/religions? Wouldn’t every one pass my test? Ugh – no! For them I would recommend the “Follow me as I follow Christ” standard. I often wonder how many would survive if they honestly encouraged their congregations to support them with their talents, time and resources based on their faithfulness to replicating the actual teachings and actions of Jesus Christ?

Who do you influence?

Now back to my original premise that every person on this earth has a sphere of influence. There are many scriptures that talk about God’s granting to His righteous and obedient people the blessing of even greater influence in the world. (See for example Isaiah’s chapter 54 prophesy and also the prayer of an honorable Old Testament character named Jabez.)

Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited.

“Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him [Jabez] what he requested.

Whose lives do you impact? More than you probably imagine! Make sure that the information you are sharing with those in your sphere of influence is both true and of value to them specifically? You are responsible for your words and actions. You are also accountable for who and what causes and organizations you endorse and those whom you draw into your tent. Don’t be lazy! Do the research before you click on that “share” icon.

Is Real really the new Black?

Here it is four days after hearing a Sunday sermon and reading a couple associated blogs and I’m still thinking about each of them. That’s got to be some kind of record for me. I’m conflicted as to whether I agree or disagree with the message(s). Perhaps that’s because I’m post-“The Best Generation” and pre-all of the other generations the messages referenced. I left the old Black behind thirty some years ago and have never looked back. I like sunset orange and lavender and sky blue and canary yellow, anything that conveys life and joy. Another thing I left behind years ago was formal wear – the other day I thought a necktie would be appropriate for my mother-in-law’s memorial service and had a hard time recalling how to tie a half-Windsor.

The message(s) made much of the fact that the Bible is not adverse to exposing the “real” life frailties of its characters. While the point is accurate, I’m not sure I “connect” with Paul precisely because he once murdered Christians and struggled with sin; rather I connect because he spent the last half of his life doing everything within his power to make up for his prior errors and inadequacies, including foregoing all payment for his ministerial services, though Biblically he was entitled to it.

When I first committed to Christ I served as secretary of the Macomb chapter of FGBMFI, making me responsible for lining up speakers. Every speaker had a dramatic testimony of a horrendous past life changed by the power of God. The hundreds of people that came to hear these speakers each month I don’t believe were moved by the “reality” of a former life as a Grand-Wizard for the Ku Klux Klan! I believe they were impacted by the power of God that changed him into the man who was now ministering to and feeding the hungry on racially diverse inner-city streets.

Though I know every family has its share of hurts and struggles, I personally enjoy seeing their beautifully manufactured FaceBook pictures. The Bible says think about good and pleasant things for a reason. Focusing on a brighter future instead of a painful present helps one to heal. Sharing the “real” is necessary in a counseling session – not necessarily in day-to-day interactions with our neighbors, or even with our church family. Seeing and speaking what “can be” with God’s grace is the primary path to freedom.

We are all Creatures of Faith

Faith is none other than an implicit trust we place in another person, thing or idea. To the Christian, that trust is placed in a being we call God and who we believe is personified in the character of Jesus. This trust is based on the closest of all love relationships, one earned by the shedding of His blood for us.

 Usually those who deride “people of faith” every day exercise an even greater faith. They place their trust in themselves and in other imperfect human beings and created things – with the hope that it will be enough to get them through that day and through the next day, and hopefully through a lifetime, yet without hope for anything beyond that.

 I find it interesting that “People of faith” and so-called “non-believers” have a lot in common with respect to their exercise of day-to-day faith. Loving husbands and wives of both persuasions work toward a united purpose of maturing, nurturing and protecting each other and their families. In this case the faith is based on a lot of “knowns” between the parties. Perhaps this explains why the Bible describes the ideal marriage as the one that mirrors the relationship between Christ and His Church.

 But people of each persuasion also place their implicit trust (faith) in the banker who takes care of our money, in the surgeon who operates on our bodies, in the mechanic who repairs our brakes and steering system in our cars, and in the pilot who flies our planes. Every day we place our loved ones’ lives, safety, and financial security in the hands of people, institutions and products of which we have little to no personal familiarity.  This takes a great deal of faith.  Some intellectuals might have once claimed that their trust wasn’t based on faith, but on familiarity with science and the laws of nature – thermodynamics, aerodynamics, etc. as well as man’s natural instincts, e.g.: for personal survival. That was before a couple pilots intentionally drove their planes and their innocent passengers into the ground.

 So when the “non-believer,” the atheist, the agnostic denies or disputes the oh-so-obvious evidence and knowledge of God and of His unconditional love for them, is it out of blindness, ignorance, or foolishness or is it a deliberate choice not to implicitly trust the One who seeks to have a close relationship with them and who desires the best for them? Nearly every adult follower of Christ once stood in their shoes and understands their dilemma. So we can explain their position with near certainty. They willfully suppress the knowledge of God because they love their sins (especially their sexual sins and their lust for material things) and hate the thought of having moral responsibility to their Creator.

 Still, one day each person will have to face their Creator, Redeemer and Judge. There will be a day of reckoning, whether he or she believes in Him or not. That’s why we all need to repent and trust the Savior.

Judging our household – an area to Tread Lightly in

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I’m usually a pretty mellow guy. I guess when you reach a certain age you feel like you’ve seen and heard it all, the good and the evil. Maybe that’s why it takes a lot to get under my skin. One thing though that nearly always lights a fire under me is when I witness Christians tear down another brother or sister in the Lord. For example, this past Saturday at our men’s prayer meeting one gentleman mentioned how he had read on FaceBook a local pastor criticizing the leader of a large ministry for “watering down the Gospel message.” The individual stated that he elected to not get drawn into the drama of the debate. I couldn’t say the same thing – for I had been drawn deeply into said discussion – even warning the one who was spreading several unsubstantiated claims about the leader to tread lightly, for there is great spiritual danger in attacking God’s anointed.

 Criticizing competing ministries has been going on since the founding of the Church. Even Jesus had to admonish His disciples to stop interfering with a person outside their inner circle who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.” Paul likewise castigated those in the Corinthian church, “there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.”

 This age of social media has magnified the problem several times over. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t post a blog or refer to an out-of-context quote ripping apart Pope Frances or Joel Osteen or even some tradition-based legislators in Indiana. I pull out my now-thinning hair trying to understand why otherwise good Christians engage in “sowing discord among brethren.” Is this not one of the seven things the Book of Proverbs highlights as an abomination to the Lord?

 For some I’m sure it’s just their lack of maturity – for I notice many young people and new believers just parroting the stances of their elders. This puts an even greater burden and responsibility on every supposedly mature believer, (the leader, the pastor, the educator, the elder) to hold his or her tongue or turn off their Ipad when they have nothing good to say about another with whom they may disagree.

 It’s only natural for us to hold those in our own household up to a much higher standard than we do outsiders. That’s true of our Church household as well (and I mean the Big Church). Perhaps we should to some extent. But we need to ask ourselves, is it really necessary to attack both the message and the messenger?  Do we do so because the other’s behavior reflects poorly on Christ, or is it because they have a larger pulpit or stage than we do?  Is it because the other preaches a different Jesus or a false Gospel, or are we just personally dissatisfied with their method, one that doesn’t suit our tastes or expectations?

 Jesus warned us to expect to see His enemies attack our most successful leaders and Christian spokespersons. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” It’s just unfortunate that many unwise, perhaps naïve Christians for reasons I fail to fully grasp, end up on the same side as the agenda driven and media supported detractors of faith. When that happens, the devil can just sit back and watch the gullible believers who seem more than willing to do his work of “steal, kill and destroy” for him?

Season of the Son

The period from the first day of Lent through Resurrection Sunday constitutes the most important Christian season of the year. As the Apostle Paul explained, “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. … If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” So predictably each year at this time great energy is exerted on behalf of the antagonists of Christ to flood the airwaves with convoluted “the historical Jesus” stories to dilute people’s faith and doctrine.  Just as predictably, Christian TV and movie producers annually counter this onslaught with their own dramatizations of Biblical stories. Unfortunately these more often than not are watered-down versions of the Gospel message – so as to not offend some.

Resurrection Day

 What DID – vs – What WOULD – Jesus do!

 Many years ago, shortly after I made a firm commitment to my Lord, I read a book written at the end of the 19th Century entitled “In His Steps.” The Charles Sheldon book grew out of a series of sermons he delivered in his Congregationalist church in Topeka, Kansas.  The ethos of Sheldon’s approach to the Christian life was expressed in this phrase “What Would Jesus Do”, with Jesus being a moral example as well as a Savior figure. In this popular novel the fictional Rev. Henry Maxwell encounters a homeless man who challenges him to take seriously the imitation of Christ. The homeless man has difficulty understanding why, in his view, so many Christians ignore the poor:

 “I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night, ‘All for Jesus, all for Jesus, all my being’s ransomed powers, all my thoughts, and all my doings, all my days, and all my hours.’ and I kept wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by it. It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me sometimes as if the people in the big churches had good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them, I mean, die in tenements, and walk the streets for jobs, and never have a piano or a picture in the house, and grow up in misery and drunkenness and sin.”

 This leads many of the novel’s characters to ask, “What would Jesus do?” when faced with decisions of some importance. This has the effect of making the characters embrace Christianity more seriously and to focus on what they see as its core — the life of Christ.

 Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike have embraced this principle of “What would Jesus do.” Some have even made a lot of money designing and selling WWJD bracelets and related paraphernalia. The problem is that it’s become a catch-phrase for justifying one’s own behavior based on personal opinion rather than Kingdom principles. While the goal of Rev. Sheldon’s book was to help people transform their lives into the character of Christ; to many it has become an excuse to conform their view of Christ into their own image.

 Pursuing the real Jesus

 During this season what we really need to pursue is the real Jesus and an understanding of what He did for each of us. The only way to do that is to study the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then we’ll learn not some hypothetical “what would Jesus do,” but actually “what did Jesus do,” and what did He say.

 When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on the day we celebrate as “Palm Sunday,” He was exalted by the common people as an arriving King and condemned by the religious leaders as a blasphemer. Yet He let neither the former go to His head, nor the latter to dissuade Him from doing what He had to do a few hours later – namely purify the Temple by driving out the money changers and sellers, and returning it to its intended purpose as a house of prayer, praise and power. He knew that less than a week later both groups would be united to crucify Him – yet He had a job to do: truth to speak, followers to prepare, prophesies to fulfill, a life to lay down and souls to redeem.

 Today those who have committed their lives to Christ are that Temple of God. It’s up to us to assure we keep our house (our body, soul and spirit) just as pure, prayerful, and worshipful as our Lord demanded of those whom His Father had installed as “caretakers” of His house in Jerusalem. Then and only then are we fully equipped to exercise the power and authority so delegated to His people. Then and only then can we fully appreciate this Holy Season of the Son of God.

What ever happened to the Smiths?

Every Sunday afternoon in Christian homes across the globe a game is played.  I call it, “What ever happened to the Smiths?”  This of course is a light take on an issue that frequently becomes agenda item #1 for church board meetings.  Why is it that at times there is a surge in a local church’s growth, and attendance numbers seem to double and triple almost overnight; then for a time things seem to level off and, while new people continue to come in and join themselves to that local body, an equal number (or perhaps even a greater number) of others move on and out?

 I think there’s a tendency for those in church governance to inaccurately attribute every surge in “attractiveness” to the local community as a sign of God’s affirmation that we and our leaders are doing the right thing.  In contrast, many tend to interpret every “no growth period” or falling off of the numbers of congregants as an indication that we must be out of the will of God and need to take dramatic action to reverse the trend.  Neither of these assessments need necessarily be true.

 There are many reasons for people coming and going in a local church

 There are both natural and spiritual reasons that account for changes in the body of believers that make up a local congregation.  Among them are the following:

  • Jesus tells us that the Gospel by its very nature is an offense to some. So when the leadership preach truth it will drive some away who refuse to receive it or comply with the message.
  • Every pastor will occasionally say something that others find offensive or disagree with – just because both the preacher and the hearer are human. Sometimes the pastor is at fault – exposing his personal or political biases about issues in lieu of focusing on what God wants to deal with or reveal to the people. Other times the hearer misinterprets what they hear, because of their own predispositions.  Still other times, neither is “in the wrong” – they just arrive at opposing understandings of a doctrinal position or a key area of scripture.
  • There is also a natural movement in and out of a church congregation as people mature and are called to other ministries, in other locations. God put them in your local church just for a season: to grow, to be trained, to learn to pray or worship, or some other valid purpose.
  • The natural order of change in employment and family situations often necessitates relocations as well.
  • Some people just weren’t supposed to be there in the first place. Perhaps they were initially drawn by outward appearances: the attractiveness of the building, the music or the friendliness of the people.  But if it’s not where God wants them to be planted, they will eventually come to realize that your local body does not provide what they and their family need at this time in their life.

 Pruning of the Body and the Soul of a Church

 I’m convinced though that much of the comings and goings of people is because God is cleansing His Church Body and Soul.  Every gardener understands the benefits of lopping off superfluous branches. This is done to make the tree or bush bear better fruit, grow stronger and to give it a more handsome appearance.  This process is called pruning, and it’s also one of the tools God uses to perfect His Kingdom.

 Spiritual pruning effects changes in Christians individually and as an entire local church body, and the Father expects His kids to submit to it.  As individuals, we’re either going to allow our character, our attitudes, our behavior, and our thoughts to be pruned – or, if we’re rebellious and don’t submit to this transformative tool, we might find ourselves being lopped right off the vine.  Each local church body is likewise defined by its own character, attitudes, behaviors and thought patterns.  These generally are representative of the Pastor; but also to some extent of the entire active congregation.  And if this body of believers refuses to submit to the pruning process, it too risks dying a slow death and remaining fruitless for the rest of its struggling life.

 And who does the pruning?

 The focus in this writing is on the pruning of the local church more-so than the individual congregant, though the response of each individual contributes to the whole.  So it’s critical to understand who does the pruning?  A lot of times the local church leadership thinks it is the pruner – cutting a program here and there, when things don’t seem to be going right based on the numbers.  Slow down! Take a breath!  You may be cutting the wrong things and failing to graft in the right things.  Jesus says that “I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  So Father God does the pruning – if we allow Him. And the Holy Spirit is His intermediary (the voice between you and the Father) that enables your leadership to serve as His pruning instrument.

 While no two natural trees or bushes are the same, and each requires study before proceeding to lop off twigs and branches, every gardener knows there are pruning guidelines (standards).  You never want to remove extremities that are critical for the lifeflow of the plant, destroying it in the process of trying to improve it.  The same is true for spiritual pruning.  Leadership, in concert with the Spirit of God, must first study the heart of its church to know how to proceed.

 No two local churches on this earth have exactly the same mission.  Just like each human being is uniquely designed by the Creator, so each local church has a specific purpose and mission crafted by God.  Yet His standards for measuring how closely each is fulfilling that purpose and mission are revealed in His written Word.  Answers to the following questions will go a long way toward revealing the heart of a church:

  • How involved is your church in reaching the local community for Christ?
  • How involved is your church in ministering God’s compassion to your community and would they miss you if you were not there?
  • How much does the local community learn about Jesus and Father God based on the actions, words and attitudes of members of your congregation?
  • How much does your congregation look first to God’s solution to every situation in their personal lives?
  • How much does your congregation give glory to God for their material blessings and successes?
  • How much does your congregation expect the supernatural intervention of God to meet their personal needs?
  • How involved is your church in helping believers of all ages and maturity levels to grow spiritually – then free them to carry on their purpose as God directs?

 If the leadership of a local church with its congregation feel dissatisfied with their answers to the above questions, that is a good sign.  For then they are more likely to submit completely to the cleansing process of God – which the purpose is to draw their congregation individually and corporately closer to the perfect will of God.