Playing Favorites

beggarBut you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?
James 2:6 NLT

He converged on the church’s front steps and watched as parishioner after parishioner passed him by without as much as a “Good morning” or “Can we help you?”

He was new in town. As one of the more prominent religious facilities in town, he hoped this church would show him acceptance and support. No offers were made. Perhaps it was his appearance or the fact that his tattered clothes didn’t parade designer names.

Inside, the members gathered to welcome their new pastor, but he was nowhere to be found. Actually, he was. Just not in the corner they scrutinized. He wasn’t on the front pew or the podium. Rather, he was the man on the front steps no one spoke to or bothered to help.

When he finally made his way to the sacred desk, no sermon was necessary. His message had already been preached—and the congregants knew it. There was nothing to say but a prayer of dismissal so all who had played favorites could return home and ponder his unspoken discourse.

Even the churches of the first century were guilty of playing favorites. I too have experienced favoritism. As a child when my build rendered me undesirable for athletic teams—whether at school or in someone’s backyard. And unfortunately, I’ve seen more than my share of it in churches. Members ecstatic when a wealthy or influential person joined the ranks but snobbish when one apparently lacking in talents or wealth attempted to connect.

Playing favorites reveals my hypocrisy by exposing the fact that I’ve forgotten all people are created in God’s image and are important to him. He loves and cares for them, and I should too.

Don’t be guilty of playing favorites.

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4 Steps to a Productive Life

productionSo get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy,
jealousy, and all unkind speech.

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk
so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation.
Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

1 Peter 2:1-3 NLT

Production is important. It was for Mozart. At five, he wrote an advanced concerto for the harpsichord. At seven, he performed the most difficult compositions of Bach and Handel. At twelve, he composed his first opera.

Production is also important where profits are concerned. Not reaching a certain quota decreases a company’s profits and can put one’s job in jeopardy.

Most people want to live productive lives. Peter gives the necessary steps.

ELIMINATE SINFUL OR QUESTIONABLE PRACTICES  

Peter tells us some of the production killing attributes believers should put aside.

First, malicious behavior. This is a feeling we have toward someone. It may be jealousy, or we may feel threatened by another person. It can even include hostility.

Second, deceit. This is the temptation to be dishonest in our dealings with others. Perhaps because of some personal interest or ambition, we try to get away with something.

Third, hypocrisy. This is being two-faced. It is proclaiming one thing but really living another.

Fourth, jealousy. This is resentful greed. It is wanting what others have and resenting them because they have it and you do not.

Finally, backstabbing. This may cover a wide area of things, but it specifically speaks of speaking evil of others. It is relaying to others things you know about people that might damage their reputation.

Our determination to put away sinful practices should be as intense as Billy Sunday’s—the great baseball evangelist and reformer. He stated, “I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, and I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist. I’ll butt it as long as I’ve got a head. I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. When I’m old and fistless and footless and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to Glory and it goes home to perdition.”

ADMIT OUR NEED

As Christians, we need the pure milk of God just as new babies need milk. The pure milk states that all are sinners, that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, that we must repent of our sin and believe in what Jesus did on Calvary’s cross, that baptism is an outward symbol of what’s happened on our inside, that heaven awaits believers and hell unbelievers, and that one day our bodies will be resurrected.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “To read the Bible is to take a trip to a fair land where the spirit is strengthened and faith renewed.”

PURSUE GROWTH

Just as the infant ceases to depend on milk entirely and begins to eat solid food, so the child of God should not remain on the milk of God’s Word forever but go on to the deeper teachings. This is necessary to grow in our knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The grace of God experienced in our lives is not an excuse for laziness. Our salvation is a continual thing. We were saved in the past from the penalty of sin, we are being saved in the present from the power of sin, and we will be saved in the future from the presence of sin.

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS

God promises to bless us for our efforts. We should receive those blessings with joy, gladness, and humility. These blessings come in many ways: physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Sometimes we get so busy we fail to recognize the blessings. Take time to stop and count your blessings.

The cure for an unproductive life is to eliminate sin, admit our need for Christ, pursue spiritual growth, and count our blessings.

Being God’s Man

fatherIt was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood.
He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before.
By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

Hebrews 11:7 NLT

Everybody has a father story, and they run the gamut.

I grew up in a traditional family. My father was present, supportive, and loving. Many families aren’t as fortunate. Some fathers drink to excess, abuse or run around on their wives, spend the family’s money on addictions, or simply aren’t around.

Noah certainly wasn’t a perfect man or father, but he was good enough that the Bible holds him up as worthy of emulation. In a time when everyone was going the wrong way, Noah went the right way. In a time when water came up from the ground, Noah believed God when He said it would soon come from the sky—and for 40 days and nights.

From the life of Noah, we can build an acronym for FATHER.

F-aithful

Noah was faithful to God, his family, and others. His faithfulness to God is what saved him from the flood. He wanted his family on board with him, and he also warned others of God’s impending judgment.

A-vailable

Out of all the world’s population, Noah was available when God told him about the flood and when He gave him directions to prepare for it. Noah was available to any who wanted to hear about what he was doing and why.

Jesus was continually available to others too, and, as His follower, I must represent His interests.

T-houghtful

Thoughtful involves the ideas of being helpful, trusting, considerate, and mindful of others. Noah must have thought of the thousands who were ignoring what he was telling them about the upcoming flood. He attended to detail when building the ark. Failing to do so could have resulted in their demise.

H-ardened

Noah was solid and dependable. Fathers should be the foundational stone for the family. God holds them accountable for being the spiritual leaders.

E-ffective

We all want to see results. Noah did. Animals came. The ark came together and withstood the flood. God preserved him and his family. Noah put his faith in practice and used effective fatherly methods. The foundation my father laid led me in the right direction.

R-esponsible

Noah demonstrated his responsibility by obeying God, caring for his family, tending to the animals, and warning others about God’s judgment. A responsible father fulfills his obligations and duties in life. He cares for those he has been given responsibility for.

God can give the strength needed to be a good father.

Feast Day

wagonTeach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home
and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed
and when you are getting up.

Deuteronomy 11:19 NLT

Some called it, “Founder’s Day;” others simply referred to it as “Feast Day.”

A church member extended an invitation for my wife and me to join them on their family property for “Feast Day.” Neither my wife nor I understood what she was talking about, but we were looking forward to a Sunday meal. This couple—along with a number of family members, lived on a piece of property purchased 70 years before by their traveling preacher ancestor.

The family patriarch had loaded up his wife and children in a 25 foot trailer turned into a box and left Kentucky, unsure of where they would settle. At each church where he stopped to preach, he asked if there was any land available. Finally, in what is now Greenwood, South Carolina, he was directed to a tract of land that was for sale.

Looking over the beauty of the land—and believing this was where God wanted him to settle, he drew up a contract between himself and God. If God would make the way for him to purchase the land, he and his family would gather once a year to celebrate God’s goodness. God did, and his family has gathered annually for 70 years to honor their ancestor’s contract…and feast.

The nation of Israel observed several feasts during the year to celebrate various historical events. These celebrations helped the people—along with their children and grandchildren, to remember God’s involvement in their lives. But there was one thing they were to do every day: teach their posterity the laws of God.

Leaving behind a spiritual heritage won’t just happen. It requires effort. I must be vigilant in living for the Lord and teaching my children and grandchildren to do the same. While my descendants have the free will to choose or reject God, they are more likely to choose Him if they see my love for Him and observe how I incorporate that love into my daily affairs. Even if they choose to walk away from their heritage, the foundation has been laid through my example and by my teaching God’s commands to them.

Lead the way in helping your family feast on God’s Word.

Hanging on in Difficult Times

difficultiesThen Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish.
He said, “I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me!
Jonah 2:1-2 NLT

Difficulties are a part of the human experience. From the death of a loved one to unemployment to a difficult school assignment, difficulties run the gamut.

Jonah too found himself in a difficult situation. God told him to go to Ninevah, capital of the Assyrian empire. A very wicked city. God wanted him to tell the people that destruction was on the horizon if they did not repent.

Jonah didn’t want to go there. He had no love for the Assyrians and no desire to warn them about God’s judgment. So he ran to Joppa and hopped a ship going to Tarshish—the opposite direction of where God told him to go.

God wasn’t happy about Jonah’s disobedience. He sent a great wind that threatened to break apart the ship. The sailors were afraid and cried out to their god. They threw cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah was below the deck sound asleep. The captain finally awoke him and told him to call on his god. Then the sailors cast lots to find out who is responsible for this storm. The lot fell on Jonah. They questioned him to see where he was from and what he had done to cause such a difficulty. Jonah confessed and told them to throw him overboard so the sea would be calm again. The men didn’t want to take such a drastic action, so they rowed harder. Finally, making no progress, they prayed to the Lord, asking him not to hold them responsible for the loss of this man’s life, and tossed Jonah into the sea. Immediately the sea stopped raging.

Jonah in the meantime found himself in a difficult situation. Even in his anger, the Lord was kind and prepared a large fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. While in this difficult situation, he gives us the keys for handling difficult situations.

REMEMBER THE LORD

Jonah said; “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord.”

Life in the belly of the fish was no doubt unpleasant. Slime, seaweed, stench. A disgusting place for a prophet of God to be. While in this place of meditation, Jonah must have remembered all the Lord had done for him. Though a difficult situation, Jonah remembered the Lord. Here, the magnanimity of his disobedience must have taken hold.

When we find ourselves in difficult times, we too need to remember the Lord. Straying from God’s will and finding ourselves in difficult situations is easy. Sometimes it takes discipline from a loving heavenly Father to help us remember him and all he’s done for us. We have the tendency to forget God in the good times and rely on ourselves.

When that difficult time comes in your life, remember the Lord as Jonah did. Remember he will see you through these times as he has in the past. Trust in him in the good and in the difficult times. Remember what he has done for you.

PRAY

Jonah testifies to having done this also. He said; “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you.”

Prayer is important. We need to pray on a regular basis. The Bible says to pray without ceasing. This means for us to be in an attitude of prayer at all times. It is especially important that we pray in difficult times. Prayer will carry us through the difficulties of life just as it did Jonah.

We need to pray as individuals. Prayer is our lifeline to God and the only way we can survive as Christians. In spite of our busy schedules, we also need to pray as families. Family devotions are important. We also need corporate prayer. Churches need to pray together.

We need to praise God through prayer in the good times and for the good things he provides for us, but we need to be close to him in the difficult times as well. Instead of letting the difficult times drive you away from God, let them force you closer to him through prayer.

GO TO CHURCH

There was no church in Jonah’s time, but there was the temple. Jonah said; “And my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”

Church is a wonderful place to be anytime, but it is a special place to be in difficult times. Don’t wait until the difficult time comes before seeking God. Be in God’s house in the easy times and in the difficult times. The church is a loving family that seeks to give love to those who are hurting.

What will you do the next time a difficulty strikes?