Hot- and Cold-Running Christians

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV

The sign read: House for Rent. Hot and Cold Running Water.

Though laughable now, there was a time when having indoor plumbing was a luxury only the wealthy knew anything about. Water was drawn from a well or creek and carried indoors. Getting hot water meant cutting wood and placing cold water in pots in the fireplace or on a wood burning stove.

On a recent mid-August trip through the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, my wife and I noticed the tree leaves in the highest elevations turning. Odd I thought, this early, but then again that’s what tree leaves do. As the summer season draws to a close and the daylight hours get shorter, the leaves lose their luminescence and reveal their natural color. The yellows were shining through beautifully.

Christians shouldn’t run hot and cold or change annually like tree leaves. Paul encouraged the early believers to be steadfast in their love for the Lord as well as in their work for Him. Only by steadfastness would they be able to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

We hear a lot about pastors burning out and leaving the pulpit, but I’ve known quite a few regular Christians who burned out too. Burnout can come from trying too hard to alleviate feelings of guilt over past sins, from wrong motives for serving, or from trying to boost one’s self-esteem.

Another entire set tends to drop out rather than burn out. Among 18 to 22-year-olds, around 70% drop out of church after graduating high school. Reasons they give for doing so include life changes, needing a break, moving away to college, work interference, judgmental or unfriendly pastors or church members, a change in their views, or an acknowledgement that previously they were only trying to please someone by attending.

God’s work requires steadfast determination. The abundant life Jesus offers requires the same. Otherwise, we’ll change like the leaves or run hot and cold like water. The power to remain steadfast doesn’t lie in us, but in God’s Spirit indwelling us. He provides the want to that keeps us keeping on—and for the right reasons.

Don’t run hot and cold or turn like the leaves. Serve God with consistency and diligence.

Sidetracked

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.

Isaiah 30:21 NLT

Getting shoppers sidetracked is a retailer’s dream come true.

After a long day of sweating in the hot, humid temperatures of a South Carolina August, my wife and I showered and readied ourselves for church. Moving isn’t fun, but we had no choice.

Following church, we stopped by the local Wal-Mart for a few necessities: curtain rods and a gallon of milk. Tired from a day of moving, I said, “Now, we’re just going to get those two things and leave, right.”

“That’s all,” my wife remarked.

As we entered the store, we began walking in the wrong direction: the garden center. “You mom said they had chair cushions on sale.”

And so our visit went. Though we only came out with four instead of two items, I had to continually keep my wife pointed in the direction of what we came to get. My recliner was calling my name, but the retailer’s reputation for putting things in my wife’s path that attracted her kept getting her sidetracked.

God did His best to keep the nation of Israel on track. He sent prophets, priests, and judges who kept His ways before them, but they kept getting sidetracked. The pagan nations around them put more attractive things in their path.

I’m not much different than God’s people of old. In fact, I’ve been known to get sidetracked in Wal-Mart myself—just not over the same things my wife does. That’s how the enemy of my soul works. Through experience, he learns what attracts each individual. He won’t try to sidetrack me with clothes or shoes because he knows they don’t interest me. But he will throw up a few tech gadgets, a fancy calendar, or a recently released DVD movie.

I had to continue telling my wife not to get sidetracked. “Keep your eyes focused on what we came for,” I reminded her.

I have to do the same for myself. If I don’t, Satan will lead me in sinful or unhealthy directions. And like a puppy on a leash, I’ll follow if I’m not clothed in my spiritual armor. By the power of God’s Spirit, I can say no, get what I came to get, and go home.

Don’t get sidetracked by Satan’s attempt to convince you that you need things you don’t.

Downsizing…of Sorts

Then he said, “I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones.
Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods.”

Luke 12:18 NLT

“Where are we going put it? I think we’re turning into hoarders.”

My wife and I both have asked the question and made the statements. Our love for antiques…especially furniture, keeps us adding to our collection and trying to stuff them into a small townhouse. On a recent move, we decided we were going to downsize—of sorts. Not that we were going to sell anything. We would simply transfer some things from our townhouse to the storage shed.

There were a few items we decided we could live without seeing or using. We loaded them into the back of our SUV and transported them several miles away. Perhaps our kids will want them someday. Or, maybe we’ll once again live in a larger place before we die. And of course, all of our stored pieces are assets we can sell if we need money.

Jesus told about a rich man who was a hoarder—but he wasn’t into downsizing. He was into upsizing. His crops produced more than normal. His barns were full. There was nothing for him to do but build larger barns, store his goods, and eat drink and be merry. Life was good…or so he thought, until God confronted him and told him his life would end that night.

Whether I downsize in actuality, I need to at least downsize in my thinking. Possessions are for this life. I will always love antiques and continue collecting them—and sell a few along the way. But I’m intelligent enough to know I can’t take them to heaven with me when I go.

God gives us things of this life to enjoy, but they are for the earth, not heaven or the new earth. Possessions are tangible, corruptible, breakable, and can be stolen by thieves. Placing my security or faith in them will always lead to disappointment.

My possessions bring me joy, but God expects me to use them to help others and also advance His Kingdom. Seeing what I have as temporary helps me do this with the right attitude and avoid the rich man’s. He was selfish and thought only of himself. And, if by chance, my possessions turn my focus from God, I need to downsize.

Don’t let your possessions possess you. Downsize.

Squirrel Determination

Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands.
So his hands held steady until sunset.

As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.
Exodus 17:12-13 NLT

His determination paid off; he had emptied my bird feeder and satisfied his hunger.

I decided to take my new cedar bird feeder to the church and hang it outside my office window. Soon, birds of many varieties showed up. So did squirrels.

On one of my trips to fill the feeder, I noticed both side panels were missing. I picked up the panels from the ground and carefully slid them back into the grooved slots. No squirrel could do this, I thought. Thinking someone was playing a prank on me, I silently blamed it on the young guys who maintain our lawn. But I was wrong on both accounts. The next day, I noticed the top of the bird feeder was cocked sideways, and again one of the panels was almost out. Now I knew who the culprit was. Because of his determination to get sunflower seed, Mr. Squirrel was destroying my feeder.

Tittle tattle may lose the battle—and so will laziness. Moses and his counterparts, Aaron and Hur, were not about to let that happen. As Joshua the military commander carried out God’s command to fight and defeat the Amalekites because of their wickedness, Moses mounted a mountain and raised his arms. When his arms tired, Aaron and Hur sat him on a rock and held up his arms. As long as his arms were raised, the Israelite army prevailed.

Determination can apply to any number of life areas, but it is a must where my spirituality is concerned. Without determination, I won’t prepare financially for my or my children’s future. Without it, I won’t do my best in my profession or place of employment. Apart from determination, life will topple me instead of me conquering it.

More drastic, if I’m not determined, my focus on developing spiritual disciplines, serving, worshiping, and loving others will suffer. And this will affect my existence more than slacking on anything else. The Israelites battle with the Amalekites was more than a physical encounter; it was a spiritual war. Only with squirrel determination—fueled by the power of God’s Spirit within me, can I win my daily battles with temptation and make choices that please God.

Be determined to be the person God created you to be and to get what God has planned for you.

Serving with Joy

Don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature.
Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
Galatians 5:13 NLT

I noticed the handicap van they drove and knew it was my time to serve.

Saturday morning. My wife and I were in the middle of packing for our move later in the month when we ran out of boxes. She suggested I stop by McDonald’s and grab us lunch after I picked up a few boxes. As I waited in the drive-through line, I noticed an older couple in a handicapped accessible van pull slowly through the parking lot and take their place behind me.

Monthly, my daughter pays for the person behind her when she buys food from Chick-fil-a. I had never done this before but on this day felt God’s Spirit nudging me. I questioned myself. What if they have 10 more people in the van with them? I decided to act rather than doubt. When I approached the window to pay for my food, I told the attendant to put their tab on mine. It was an insignificant amount, but the feeling I received by obeying God’s prompting was unsurpassed.

Believers have been freed from sin’s penalty. The blood of Christ has washed their sins away. Rather than using that freedom to indulge in sinful practices, Paul says we should use it to serve others. By doing so, we are obeying the second greatest command—serving Christ, and advancing God’s Kingdom.

Serving others will bring joy if I do it with the right attitude. Serving with reluctance won’t work. When I serve reluctantly, I feel hesitation because I’m doing something I really don’t want to do. Serving with joy requires letting God change the way I look at situations. What I give through my act of service is not being forced from my hand. Rather, I’m allowing the act to slip away as a form of appreciation for what Christ has done for me.

Nor should I serve with ulterior motives. If I brag about what I’ve done, the spotlight shines on me instead of God. Jesus said not to let my right hand know what my left hand was doing. He also warned about standing on a street corner and announcing what I’ve done for Him. My motive in serving is for God to receive praise, not me.

Serve with joy, not because you feel forced or because you want recognition.

Loving a Neighbor

The second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Mark 12:31 NLT

The note was attached to the door; the decision had been made.

At nine years of age, he was doing what most boys his age did in the summer: romping and playing. Until his sister noticed his yellow eyes. She ran inside to tell their mother who took him to the emergency room. The local hospital transferred him to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Two days later, he had a new liver.

This family was our neighbors, but we knew nothing about their tragedy. We only knew we hadn’t seen anyone home for three weeks. Initially, their youngest son did well. Then his body rejected the liver. They made several trips back and forth to Charleston, and each time we waited for an update.

During their last trip, my wife noticed the local power company tape a notice on their door. She knew what it was, caught the deliverer of bad news, and asked how much the bill was. The mom had not been able to work due to the circumstances, and the dad had missed numerous days himself. If $450 dollars wasn’t paid by the next day, their power would be turned off.

“Why don’t we take a love offering at church,” my wife asked.

Since no one but us knew the family, I didn’t know how the people would respond. But I decided to take a chance. We’d had the child on our prayer list. On Sunday morning, the church gave $406. When I announced the total at the evening services, someone quickly donated the remaining balance. As soon as the power company opened Monday morning, my wife paid the balance.

Loving my neighbor is a good feeling—whether they live right beside me or not. Doing so also helps me obey what Jesus said was the second greatest command. Only loving God with my entire being surpasses it.

Opportunities to love my neighbor—whoever and wherever they might be, abound. But like my wife, I must be attentive to the working of God’s Spirit in my innermost spirit if I’m to see them. If I live life selfishly, I’ll miss most, if not all, the opportunities God sends.

Ask God to open your eyes so you can see opportunities to love your neighbor.

Dog on a Foot

Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.
Luke 10:39 NLT

Of all the stores my grandfather delivered ice cream to, the one where the dog sat on my foot was my favorite.

Aside from a few chain pharmacies and gas stations, mom and pop stores ran the retail world. Small stores owned by local people. Stores where a little of anything could be purchased—including ice cream. And my grandfather was more than happy to supply them with all their customers could consume.

As a young boy, I enjoyed traveling from town to town and through the country helping my grandfather stock these small stores with ice cream novelties. But the one I looked forward to the most was the one where a small dog sat on customers’ feet.

“Where are we going next?” I’d eagerly ask on the day of the week we worked this store.

Finally, my grandfather would say, “To the store where the dog sits on your foot.”

As my grandfather took the store owner’s order, the dog walked over and sat on my foot. Why he did, I’m not sure. Perhaps just one of those odd habits some animals pick up as a part of their personality.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were Jesus’ good friends. Martha was a busy body, wanting everything to be in order. She was a good hostess. Mary loved to listen to Jesus teach, so she sat at His feet. Martha fussed about it, but Jesus reminded her Mary had chosen the better thing.

The small dog at the store could have reared up on my leg or sat with his tail wagging and got the same response from me as he did by sitting on my foot. He wanted attention from the store owner’s customers. He obviously loved people and craved petting.

Jesus wants the same from me as He did from Mary. But most of the time, I’m a Martha. I get so wrapped up in daily affairs—good things mind you, that I forget to sit at His feet, enjoy His company, and learn from Him. There’s a better way, and Mary and the foot-sitting dog remind me of that. Time spent with the Savior is never wasted. Other things can wait. Listening to Him is more important.

Find time daily to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Cleaning Fingerprints

Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash,
except for the feet, to be entirely clean.”

John 13:10 NLT

“Fingerprints all over the place.”

My oldest grandson called the dirty storm door to my attention as he and his younger brother stood looking over the back yard. Of course, he failed to mention both of them were the reason for the smudges. Since we keep them six days a week, keeping it clean was an exercise in futility I’d almost given up on.

“Handprints are more like it” I snickered.

“You need to clean it, Pop,” he said.

A Type A personality like myself, he can’t stand dirt—or smudges. I walked by and left the door alone. Since we were moving in a couple of weeks, I had more reason to ignore the grimy paw prints. When I decide to clean the door—probably just before we move, I won’t replace the entire door. I’ll just take out the window cleaner and clean the glass portion.

Jesus proposed a similar scenario to His disciples. They didn’t need to wash all over—just their feet. They were totally cleansed when they believed in Him and decided to be His followers. Now they merely needed a daily sponge bath.

At nine years of age, I decided to do what these early disciples did—trust Jesus as my Savior. Dad explained the gospel message of how Jesus died for my sins. I believed and invited Him into my life. In that moment, He cleansed me all over. Past, present, and future sins—of which there have been many, were washed away. The price Jesus paid on Calvary for humanity’s sins was applied to me.

But what about the daily fingerprints that come from putting my hands where they don’t belong—like my grandchildren? They won’t send me to hell because Jesus’ blood has covered them. They will, however, interfere with my spiritual vision as the fingerprints on the door cloud the view of the backyard. Confession will clear away the smudges. My acknowledgment of my failures and sins is what Jesus referred to when He mentioned a daily foot washing.

Make confession a daily practice. It’s good for the soul and will keep your feet clean. And remove the smudges from the doors so interaction between the Savior and you can be open and clear.

Loving the Least

But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
Matthew 10:29 NLT

The peeping alerted me that something was amiss.

A mother bluebird had hatched several nestlings in a birdhouse outside my office window. As I worked, I enjoyed hearing their peeps as the mother and father bird made numerous trips to feed their young.

On one particular day, the peeping was different. I looked outside, thinking the babies had flown the coup. And they had—expect for one who languished on the cement porch. I quickly scooped up the hatchling and returned it to the nest. But mom and dad never returned. I saw them flitting around in the yard, but they ignored the peeps of the abandoned baby. Though I tried feeding it insects, it was dead when I arrived for work the next day.

In warning His followers about the persecution on their horizon, Jesus reminded them that not even a sparrow falls without His knowledge. He loves the least. I thought of the verse when I opened the birdhouse and saw the dead baby. My heart broke as I realized sin was the reason this scenario had gone awry. God didn’t want the nestling to die.

Loving the least is rarely easy. I thought of the Andy Griffith episode where Andy’s son, Opie, adopted a nest full of baby birds and nurtured them until they were ready to fly. His attempt succeeded; mine failed. But at least I made the effort.

Though animals aren’t created in the likeness of God as people are—and though they don’t have immortal souls as humans do, they are still a part of God’s creation which He expects us to care for. Many years ago, God entrusted Adam and Eve with the care of His creation. His instructions to them have been passed to all earthly inhabitants.

But loving the least extends beyond animals and the environment to people. We are God’s highest creation, made in His image. It may be easier to hobnob with those in places of importance who can scratch our back in return, but God wants us to love the least too. Those in dire straits. Those who can’t fend for themselves. Those to whom life has handed a tough hand of cards.

Learn to love the least—not just those who can help you in return.

The Table Light

Let your light so shine before men,
that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16 KJV

Crazy is taking two young children to a restaurant and trying to enjoy a meal.

My daughter refuses to take her two and four-year-old out to eat. They are loud and rambunctious. She can’t enjoy her meal and is totally flustered by the time the whole episode is over. My wife and I aren’t so afraid. We’re also older and more mellowed out.

We have taught our grandsons to say the blessing before meals, so when our food arrived the oldest piped up that he was going to say the blessing. At this point, all the two-year-old can get out is “God is.” Did I mention that they were loud? And they were. His blessing was loud enough for every waiter, waitress, cook, patron, and manager to hear. I asked him to say it quieter. He obeyed, but had to start over again. Then he had to start over again because I didn’t have my hands folded properly. By the time he was through, everyone’s food had been blessed whether they wanted it to be or not.

I was soon embarrassed for another reason: that I had asked him to say it quieter. He wasn’t ashamed to let anyone or everyone know he loved God and was thankful for the food God provided. My blessings are normally so low the person in the next booth would have to strain to hear. My grandson was doing a better job of letting his light shine than I do.

Levi was doing what Jesus instructed His followers to do: letting his light shine. The light that proclaimed he loved God. The light that proclaimed he was thankful. No doubt others saw his light. Hopefully, some thanked God that we had taught him to give thanks to God for the food.

Letting our lights shine isn’t about us. There is a purpose, but it’s not so others will pat us on the back. Our shining lights should be shined with the intention that others will come to know the God we serve. After all, He is the one who gives us the courage and power to let our lights shine. Jesus said if we deny Him He will deny us before the Father. Personally, I’d rather be accepted by the Father.

Let your light shine brightly before others. Never be ashamed of the One who gave His life for you.