Practice the Skill of Listening

ListeningChristians are listeners by definition. God calls; we answer. “Everyone,” Jesus said, “who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (Jn. 6.45) and “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10.27).

Before we can effectively teach, we must first listen to and learn from the Master by sitting at the feet of faithful disciples.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

(Prov. 12.15)

Would you say we need more preachers and Bible class teachers or more counselors? Please don’t picture a guy jotting notes on a notepad while someone pours out his past. I mean Biblical, wise women and men who can share the gospel and apply pertinent Scripture to life situations. Everyone needs a counselor whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1.2).

Where there is no guidance the people fall,
But in abundance of counselors there is victory.

(Prov. 11.14)

Intense ConversationPicture yourself sitting on a sofa in a living room or across a small table at the corner coffee shop looking into the tear-streaked eyes of a friend who called you for help. Perhaps her mother just died and she doesn’t know how to fill the void. Perhaps her teenage son just told her he hates her. Perhaps she’s been experiencing bouts of depression and anxiety. Perhaps her relationship with her husband is spinning out of control. Whatever the reason, she called you to help. What do you do? How do you most helpfully speak into her crisis?

Listen first! God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and wouldn’t we want someone else to listen to our story, our plight? Before we can effectively speak into this woman’s life, we must discover the inner workings of her mind. Too often, we rush to toss out Bible verses, attacking perceived surface issues so we can be back about our business–because we’re too busy to listen. True love is hard work. Take the time to listen.

Thoughtful ConversationListening shows you genuinely care for the person. And I mean true-connection, locked-in, eyes-on-the-face listening. We shortchange our friend by not giving her our complete attention. Zero in on the root causes of her feelings. Is there sin involved which needs to be addressed? Does she simply need someone to sit and listen and not speak? Is there a broken relationship which needs reconciliation and healing? Does she need a deeper connection with the God of all comfort?

He who gives an answer before he hears,
It is folly and shame to him.

(Prov. 18.13)

Try practicing the skill of listening today. Ask guiding questions and genuinely attempt to learn about someone else. You show love this way, and you will uncover opportunities to share Scriptural words of comfort and encouragement! Be a blessing.

Share

Bad Marriage Advice and the Key to Fixing Your Marriage

LovebirdsAs I was studying and thinking about marriage, I came across this article on the Huffington Post: “The Relationship Advice that Wrecked My Marriage.” In it, Laura Doyle attacks three well-known and often-heard marriage advice statements:

  1. Institute a date night
  2. Communication is the key to a good relationship
  3. You should go to marriage counseling

That’s BAD advice? Read it and evaluate it for yourself. I think she’s on to something.

She shows the focus should be on loving each rather than on applying specific marriage-fixing techniques. Seeking and applying godly wisdom is what’s missing from most bad relationships. Too often we get our marriage advice from radio programs and magazine articles, most of which apply base human reasoning to the problems instead of Scriptural solutions.

What’s the main key to fixing your marriage and living in a healthy relationship? Be the right kind of husband. Be the right kind of wife. Don’t worry about fixing your partner–fix you! Read Ephesians 5.22-33 and, if you’re a husband, apply the verses which apply to you…and if you’re a wife, apply only those verses which are directed to you. God doesn’t call us to fix each other; he calls us to love each other.

Share

Freedom without Christ?

DrinkFrancis Schaeffer makes the point in his book How Should We Then Live? that the Reformation and the Renaissance, historically parallel European movements, both sought freedom. The major difference between the northern Reformation and the southern Renaissance was the Reformation built its freedom upon the law code of Scripture and the Renaissance gave freedom with license. The Reformation resulted in men and women free in Christ; the Renaissance resulted in heavy humanism and licentiousness.

By the influence of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul anticipated this human tendency in Romans 6.15-23:

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Freedom to MarryThe devil gives us a limited and false picture of “freedom.” In Satan’s worldview, freedom is the ability to do whatever we want whenever we want. That’s how the world seeks happiness. One reason so many children are aborted every day is because they get in the way of the parents’ “freedom.” Thieves merely want to exercise their “freedom” to take whatever they want. Fornicators and adulterers wish to be “free” with respect to their sexual appetites. Pick a sin; you’ll find a human being attempting to exercise a muddled image of freedom.

If we in the United States try to defend freedom at all costs, what exactly are we defending? What if we defend Biblical morality at all costs? When we stand up for marriage the way God defines it, the humanistic world pushes against us because they feel we are limiting their freedom. When we preach one Creator who is over all, we find heavy resistance because our transcendental, yoga-minded, free-spirited neighbors cannot stand the concept of an ultimate authority in their lives. It comes down to men wanting to guide their own steps. We all want to do it, if we’re honest with ourselves.

Clean HandsChrist calls us out of slavery to ourselves and sin to the freedoms God created us to walk in! Only the spiritually-guided mind will get it. The fleshly mind cannot understand nor submit to this.

Freedom without Christ is a false freedom. You say you are no slave to man. The Jews informed Jesus, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone” (John 8.33), all the while Jesus was telling them they needed freedom. We are such sad creatures without Christ! We think we know where to find freedom, and we go hunting for it. If we could just cast off the yokes of man…if we could just be “independently wealthy”…if we could just get our children grown up and out of the house…if we could just cast off responsibility…if only…

Friend, set Christ on the throne of your heart; let Him be your Master. In fact, He is already, and time will prove it. The question is whether or not you will voluntarily submit to the Master or if you will one day be forced. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2.9-11). Become His slave so you can find true freedom :-)

Share

“You Deserve to Be Happy”

Happiness Flower“God just wants you to be happy.” Isn’t this why Jesus died on the cross–so I can be happy? Isn’t God’s major concern, central focus, and the core message of the gospel His desire for man’s happiness? For instance, a family member of mine once explained why she was okay with a divorce: “I realized that God just wants me to be happy, and I wasn’t happy in that marriage!”

Many popular Christian authors today provide a consistent theme: God wants you to be happy all the time! You must defend that happiness; decide right now you’re going to be happy no matter what because that’s what “Rejoice always” means.

Just don’t think too deeply about our Lord Jesus Christ who, during His earthly ministry “offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death” and “He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5.7-8). Search the gospels and see: did Jesus preach and live a “continual smile” gospel? Was His main concern about how happy everyone was? Do we sum up the gospel in this way: “Jesus came to suffer so we don’t have to”?

If you subscribe to the “God just wants me to be happy” philosophy, try not to think too deeply about the ministry of the apostles, who described themselves as “hard pressed on every side…perplexed…persecuted…struck down…always carrying about int he body the dying of the Lord Jesus…always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4.7-12). Peter expressed a desire in his two letters not so much that Christians should be happy but that they should be holy, focusing on the twin themes of submission and suffering. “When you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…” (1 Pet. 2.20-21).

Happiness RainbowWhat, then, is the gospel message, if it’s not that I should be happy? Don’t get me wrong; God grants plenty of happiness even here in our earthly walks, but the gospel shifts our gaze from this corrupted world of fallen flesh to the future hope of glory in our resurrected state–after this suffering. What does God really desire, if our immediate happiness is not His bottom line? He desires HIS OWN GLORY! The gospel is the good news that God has seen fit to glorify Himself by saving many people who don’t deserve saving. He is glorified through our obedience to Him…not through our temporal happiness.

“You deserve to be happy,” someone says. “No!” I respond, “I deserve death because of what I’ve done to my Lord. But God has granted me salvation and the ability to glorify Him today, so I shall confess His name whatever the earthly cost. He has promised eternal happiness for those found faithful in Christ. I’ll wait for Him.”

For our worldly friends, the pursuit of happiness is an end in itself. For us Christians, happiness is a welcome by-product of pursuing the all-satisfying God.

Share

“You Are Where God Wants You to Be”

ConversationAfter confessing some shortcoming in your life, isn’t it comforting when a good friend puts her hand on your shoulder, looks you right in the eye, and affirms, “Don’t feel bad. You are exactly where God wants you to be right now”? Ah yes, we breathe deeply and feel strength in our spirits–that great acceptance that God loves and accepts us no matter what. Right?

Realize there are many words of comfort which are not based in truth and reality! This bald statement: “You’re right where God wants you,” can be misleading, and it often stifles spiritual growth.

Let’s say your lack of patience has caused problems between you and your spouse, so you share those issues with your friend. Instead of giving you spiritual guidance through Scripture, she attempts to settle your spirit a “Don’t worry so much; God has you right where He wants you.” Meaning? If we can translate, your friend is suggesting, “God doesn’t mind the fact that you lack patience. He made you faulty, and that’s cool. Don’t worry about your shortcomings so much because God accepts you anyway.”

CautionAre any warning buzzers or flashing red lights going off in your head right now? I hope so.

If Satan could get us to believe we are just fine the way we are, we’d be right where he wants us, and if we believe we are “exactly where God wants us to be right now” we’ve already taken the bait.

Give me just one instance where Jesus indicated a satisfaction of where His disciples were. Did Jesus ever encourage a person with, “I am satisfied with you just the way you are”? Did Paul ever write, “I still fail and have shortcomings in my life, but it’s okay because I’m right where God wants me to be”?

Instead, we read such things as…

  • “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Heb. 12.1)
  • “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me…I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3.12, 14)
  • “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Lk. 14.27)

On the other hand, we are right where God wants us if we are in Christ, living our confession, continually repenting of our sins, walking by faith.

Push on, my brothers and sisters! May our Lord not return and find us complacent. May He find us working hard and walking in the day.

Share

Buy Up the Time All Around

“Do not murmur at your busyness or the shortness of time, but buy up the time all around.”
– Edward White Benson, quoted in Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders

Old School TimeWhat do you do with your spare time? All of us have work which demands and controls certain amounts of time, but in our quiet hours, in those times which seem most under our control, we discover our true character.

Our society highly values entertainment. Many seem to work for the weekend, grinding their week away so they can spread their paycheck around on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. During the week, how many return home from work to sit in their favorite chair and watch their favorite shows? Netflix, Hulu, and a host of other internet media outlets will gladly guide and command our time each evening.

“But I read books!” someone boasts. Books of what caliber, I wonder? Many books are no better than the television as far as promoting spiritual maturity, increasing positive learning, and advancing personal morality. I call them “bubble-gum books,” fun to chew on but devoid of true nourishment.

Time FliesWe, as an “advanced” people, constantly complain of how busy we are. Perhaps we feel important as we put our crazy schedules on display, or perhaps we hope for a pitying pat on the shoulder as we relish our martyrdom. Too often we use our business as an excuse as to why we cannot help our neighbor or spiritual sibling: “I would be happy to help, but my day is just packed!” In one fell swoop we tell our friend she and her problem would be important to us if we weren’t so important ourselves. I reckon we have our own versions of Corban (Mk. 7.11-13).

Jesus was surely the most important Person to grace this earth’s soil. How did He respond to requests for help? Was He ever too busy for someone in need? How did He spend His free time? If we would follow the Master’s footsteps as true disciples, we would do well to examine how the Master spent His “free” time. More often than not His disciples would find Him in a deserted place praying for hours on end, and sometimes He’d spend an entire night in prayer! He focused so much on His teaching that He would sometimes skip eating and rest. He stretched Himself thin for the people, poured Himself out, constantly working with intense focus on His mission.

  • How much time do you spend praying each day?
  • Do you take much time for your neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ?
  • If you stacked the time you spend in entertainment next to the time you spent in spiritual and mental growth, how would it stack up?
  • Do you do the necessary things now, or do you procrastinate?

What are your thoughts? I’m feeling pretty bruised and battered after thinking through my life!

Share

Who Can Be a Leader in the Church?

Man Helping His WifeFirst of all, we should define a leader according to Jesus’ terms. The world often thinks of leaders as individuals who are given positions of authority. When worldly leaders shout, their people jump out of fear of losing their jobs. When worldly leaders demand, their underlings bring them whatever they desire. But Jesus distinguished those who would be great among His disciples from the leaders of the world:

“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10.42-45)

To Jesus, a leader equals a servant…or a servant equals a leader. Bow the knee first to the Father, and then kneel before your brothers and sisters with a towel around your waist and a washcloth in your hand. Scrub those dirty feet! True leaders get their hands dirty along with the troops. They are not above their people; they are beside them and under them.

Washing FeetJesus’ explanation of how to be great shows how every one of us can be great! We don’t need a massive mob of followers, nor must our name be outlined in flashing lights. Many times the true leader is not the guy or gal who heads up the project but the quiet person who gets things done and encourages the team.

True leaders are often simply recognized for who they are. They don’t run for office; they don’t push and pull and demand that others respect them. They just work hard, inspire others to work, and become cornerstones for the team.

The great ones in marriages are often wives. Without usurping authority over their husbands, they faithfully take care of the family business with a gentle and quiet spirit.

The great ones in churches are often women. Paul commended “Poebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea” because “she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (Rom. 16.1-2). He sent greetings to Priscilla and Aquila in the next verse, listing the wife’s name first. Paul was concerned about Euodia and Syntyche, two women who he said had “labored with me in the gospel” (Phi. 4.3). We could go on and on regarding the wonderful women of scripture! None of these women tried to step into a man’s role, but each shines as a true leader.

Shepherd WellPerhaps we should redefine our concept of leader. Truth be told, the New Testament uses the term “leader” only a few times. The clearest I could find is in Romans 12.8, which exhorts the one who leads to lead with diligence. Often we think of our elders as our leaders–and so they are–but their leadership is characterized by serving the flock. They don’t live off the fat of the flock, as worldly leaders do; they spend their lives for the flock.

So who can be a leader in the church? You can! It has nothing to do with earning a title–in fact, Jesus teaches us not to use titles. It has to do with character, humility, service.

Share

God Moves through Prayer

Lost in PrayerAs I glanced through Paul’s letters to see if he had much to say about prayer, I discovered it’s difficult to find a letter in which he doesn’t mention prayer or write out a prayer!

He prays for his brethren without ceasing (i.e., Rom. 1.9; Eph. 1.15-16); he encourages the Romans to continue “steadfastly in prayer” (12.12); and he prays specifically for the Corinthians “that you do no evil” and “that you may be made complete (2 Cor. 13.7, 9).

Paul also covets the prayers of the Christians to whom he writes. In Rom. 15.30-31 he asks those brethren to strive with him in prayer on his behalf that he might be delivered from those in Judea who did not believe. In Colossians 4.2-4 he asks his brothers and sisters to continue earnestly in prayer and to include him and his fellow workers as they preached the gospel: Pray “that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ…that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.”

You probably recall the second shortest verse in the Bible: “Rejoice always.” Paul immediately follows that up with, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5.16-18), and as he closes the letter (and the chapter) he simply pleads, “Brethren, pray for us” (5.25).

PrayingTalk about being convicted! My mind has been specifically centered on the church here and the great need for us to cultivate men among us to be shepherds of the church. A brother told me yesterday he thought he knew the single most important thing an elder should be doing. “Tell me!” I said. “He must be willing to join other men to just pray for the flock.” Wow. So simple. Yet it’s hard work and the work of a man who walks by the Spirit.

He’s right about the need for praying shepherds, but we also need a prayerful flock. God moves through prayer. Prayer is one of the main vehicles He has chosen by which to accomplish great things on earth. It’s awesome to me that He invites His children to participate in the spiritual fight in this intimate way!

Won’t you pray for me, dear brother and dear sister? Pray for your fellow sheep. Pray for shepherds both realized and potential. Pray for God to work!

Share

A Prayer for Us Today

Bird CagedAnd when He had opened the book, Jesus found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4.17-21)

Amen, Lord Jesus!

Since He is our master pattern, ought we not imitate Him in this business? The gospel both proclaims freedom and indeed sets us free!

BurdenWhat manner of evil do you suffer? Is old age catching up to you? Do you experience pain and discomfort in your body? Have you struggled financially? Are you bound by alcohol or enslaved by food? Do you feel like you’ve always stumbled around in the darkness when it comes to spiritual knowledge? Are you oppressed by (or depressed because of) disease or loss?

Whatever you and I suffer, my friend, it’s because of SIN–a departure from the living God. The curses upon humanity and this earth are the direct result of our separation from the Holy True and Living God, and the GOSPEL is the message of reconciliation of man with his Maker so that we can once again enjoy the fellowship and freedom of the Garden of Eden!

My prayer for you and me today is this:

May God shine the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ into our hearts (2 Cor. 4.3-6) that He may grant us the riches of His glory, that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, that we be rooted and grounded in love and may be able to comprehend what is the width and length and depth and height–to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3.14-19)! Amen.

Share

The Evolution of Marriage

Macroevolution is evolution on a scale of separated gene pools. Macroevolutionary studies focus on change that occurs at or above the level of species, in contrast with microevolution, which refers to smaller evolutionary changes (typically described as changes in allele frequencies) within a species or population. (from Wikipedia.org)

Evolutionary TimelineSimply put, macroevolution is (and let me stress this) the theory of biological changes to such an extent that new species come into existence. Nevermind that geologists and historians have absolutely no record of this actually happening, many of the elite minds of modern education have bought into this theory hook, line, and sinker and have committed themselves to perpetuating the myth.

Why can I so boldly proclaim macroevolution as a myth? This wild-brained theory completely contradicts the Bible’s historical claim that God created every plant and animal after it’s own kind. In other words, God created each individual species and built into each species the ability to reproduce after its own kind. Macroevolutionists generally toss out any possibility of a supernatural God, and they certainly decry the Biblical account of creation in which God Himself speaks:

“It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it.
I stretched out the heavens with My hands
And I ordained all their host.”
(Isaiah 45.12)

Because of the pervasive teaching of evolution, it has become cool to be atheistic or agnostic and to put your faith in scientific discovery and the ideas and philosophies of men. The underlying philosophy behind evolutionary theory naturally results in major societal changes, none of which are positive.

Homosexual weddingUnfortunately, evolution has taken its toll on the most basic building block of society: marriage.
Before God instituted government, He instituted marriage. He joined husband to wife before He joined parent to child. Marriage existed before the church existed. And God saw what He had made, and behold, it was very good. Our government wants to lay claim to marriage and redefine it, as if it has authority to say the first word about it! Government has not the right to define marriage, but it certainly has the God-given role to uphold what God instituted from the very beginning.

Godless men and women are applying the natural consequences of evolution to the old tradition of marriage. They believe they have evolved beyond the worn-out concept of one man joined to one woman for life. Marriage itself is evolving. Perhaps (they theorize), as we follow evolutionary changes into the future, men and women will merge into one sex, or perhaps a third sex will evolve. Why wait for those biological changes when we can get with the program now?

But it’s not about biology, for the body of a woman is clearly the biological match for the man’s. “Does not even nature itself teach…?” It’s really about control: who tells me what to do? Who has authority over my body? Who commands my life? The macroevolutionist declares, “I do!” But the Bible points to the Creator.

In the words of our Lord, Jesus Christ:

“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matt. 19.4-6)

Share

a church of Christ * 67288 Armel Rd., Mandeville, LA 70471