Dodging Copperheads

When I was a boy, I loved to walk in the woods near our house. They held old trees and vines. There were ruins from the Civil War, and cypress trees, and right in the middle was a swamp teeming with nutrias.

One day, my friend an I were exploring through the woods, playing along the creek that fed the swamp. We each had machetes, because what boy doesn’t want to be dangerous? As we hopped along the cypress knees, my friend hollered for me to look down, and as I did, I saw something that gave me a fright! At my feet was a copperhead snake coiled up and reared back to strike!

In a split second I jumped, and it struck, both at the same time. As it struck (fortunately, just an inch or so in front of my leg), I swung my machete and took a chunk out of it’s back. I watched it slither away through the water and disappear under the root of a cypress tree growing in the creek.

It took me a couple minutes to regain my composure as my adrenaline flushed though my system. If I had been bitten, it would have meant certain hospitalization, and depending on the severity of the bite, some have even died from copperhead venom.

Have you ever had something dangerous sneak up on you like the snake did on me? Have you ever stepped into a dangerous situation accidentally?

The Bible says the devil is prowling around constantly, like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He is also a serpent in the garden looking for someone to trap into death.

Lately there have been many things happening in our world that cause us to react strongly within our minds. The school shootings in Florida, Kentucky, and even here in Aztec, NM are great examples. Government policy often creates emotional dissonance within us. Even the male commentator for figure skating at the olympics dressed like a girl has many expressing consternation.

It’s easy to have opinions. It’s easy to allow our emotions to control our reactions to situations. It’s easy for Satan to sneak right up and cause us to sin, creating moments of death in this world by our words and actions and attitudes.

We must be constantly on guard. We must monitor our responses to stimuli. We must react with love, not hate or division.

But how do we do that? James says the man who can control his tongue will be perfect in every way, because the tongue is a restless evil full of deadly poison (James 3:2, 6). How do you use your tongue when you are caught up in the emotional response to negative stimuli?

Maybe you need to distance yourself for a moment until you can calm down. Maybe you need to take a sabbatical from Facebook or other social media that is fostering so much division in our culture. Maybe you need to remember you do not have to respond at all.

It is better to remain silent than to murder someone with hateful speech (Matthew 5:21-22). For when we let our anger, our sinful impulses, control us, Satan saddles up and rides us all the way back to death (Ephesians 4:26-27).

If you’ve been guilty of letting your negative emotional response to some situation damage your relationship with others, you need to make amends (Matthew 5:23-24).

May we be people who speak life in this world, not letting the copperheads at our feet cause us to stray from the ways of Jesus.

Advertisements

Dutiful Valentine

It’s love week. Everyone is thinking about upcoming Valentine’s Day. For some, it’s “singles awareness day”. But even so, it’s still appropriate to be reminded of those you love and those who love you: Family, friends, etc…

When I first got married, I remember trying to do special things for my wife on Valentine’s Day. It didn’t take me long to realize she didn’t appreciate my gifts on Valentine’s Day as much as I had hoped.

If you know my wife, you know that she is a great woman who shows love to many. She wasn’t being inappropriately dismissive; she had a different perspective on the holiday. For her, getting gifts of love on Valentine’s Day is like getting a hug from a kid whose parents told them to do it. Valentines Day is a great reminder to love, but to love only on Valentine’s Day or because of Valentine’s Day is disingenuous.

If we love out of duty, then we aren’t loving.

Think about it. If someone gave you a gift, but when you thanked them for it, they responded with, “Well, I had to give it to you; it was my duty.” How would you feel? Would you have the warm-fuzzy’s for that person and their gift? If the only time we show love is when it’s expected, then are we really loving others?

Why should we love?

Other people are difficult. They’re a pain to deal with. They argue with us and make life a mess all around us. And we’re difficult too, so why should we love them?

Have you been loved?

In church, it seems like the greatest trump card answer is either God or Jesus. Have They loved you? Someone once said this about Jesus: “Jesus said, ‘I love you this much.’ And he stretched out his arms and died.” Do you see the love of Jesus? Do you experience the love of God, the Father? Do you understand what has been done on your behalf regardless of your appreciation or response or devotion or understanding? If so, you’ve been loved.

Have you been loved by anyone else? Mother, Father, Sibling, Significant Other, Friend, Co-worker, Boss, Employee, Random Stranger. Has anyone shown you love?

If you’ve been loved, then the appropriate response is to love in return. To refrain from loving others is to show contempt for the love you’ve received.

Yes, love is a command, but love is also the “why” behind the command. God wants us to love others because He already loves them. He has already sacrificed so much and created so much for them. He already sees them as His children, and just as you want others to love your children, so God wants us to love His children.

But not out of duty. Instead, we should love out of appreciation. We love in reciprocation. We love in adoration – for God and for those God loves.

If we only love on Sundays, we are hypocrites. If we only love those who love us, we are selfish and without the heart of Jesus who loved those who crucified Him. If we only love on holidays, our love is shallow and meaningless.

Instead, choose to love everyone. Don’t categorize people. Do what is necessary to love everyone equally. Listen to them and find out how to love them best. Love is a choice we make to treat others how we would want to be treated because we’ve already received grace and mercy.

And don’t just do it on Valentine’s Day.


#aztecstrong #marshallstrong #churchstrong

Have you ever been in a situation where pain is imminent? Maybe you’re about to fall. Maybe you’re about to crash. Maybe one false move could cause loss of limb. In any case, your sensed are heightened, and you are keenly aware of every motion in effort to stave off the potential harm that could befall you. No longer are you drifting in semi-conscious automatic behavior. Now you are engaged, and your focus is keen.

How about another scenario. What do you do when you cut yourself badly? Let’s say you are in the kitchen cutting vegetables, and your finger gets in the way trying to pretend it’s one of the vegetables. The knife goes right to the bone. Do you continue in your course of action? NO! You immediately stop, and all your consciousness and efforts focus on stopping the bleeding and healing the wound. In fact, even as the wound heals, your body cannot help but remain focused on the sensitivity of the wound.

Pain focuses us. Terror unites us. Routine divides.

When I think of the terror of the Aztec and Marshall County High School shootings, it strikes me how unified the communities have become in the aftermath of the tragedies. People are reaching out to one another in ways they never would otherwise. Aztec is reaching out in prayer and support for Marshall County. Those two groups would never have even known each other. We are unified when we are singularly seeking to survive from similar circumstances. We have empathy and concern for one another, and we show it outwardly.

In the first century, the church was hemmed in on every side with persecution from a variety of groups that did not like how the Kingdom of God defines by selfless love threatened their power schemes. Christians were imprisoned and killed. People ran for their lives. But the church was growing. How could this be? It would seem the persecution would eradicate this loosely-banded group of misfits claiming such an outlandish story.

Instead of hurting the church, it actually caused its growth. People were unified in their drive to survive and invite others into a better way of love, and as the persecution came, they moved and continued to share, thus spreading the gospel to all the lands within a matter of about two years.

Tragedy and persecution united the church, and it grew.

Today the church is apathetic. Sure, you have ministers, pastors, evangelists, and a handful of people in each congregation that are actively trying to reach out with the good news of Jesus, but the majority of every church is apathetic concerning discipleship and righteous living.

When the church was being persecuted, you didn’t participate if you were unsure. You didn’t ride the fence because that would cost your life. You were either all in or all out. There was no place for another option. Those who were all in banded together in unity of purpose and message and turned the world upside down.

Today, churches are full of people who are riding the fence concerning their relationship with God. They aren’t atheists, but they aren’t sure they want to be fanatics about Jesus either. Thus the church merely survives rather than thriving as in the days of tragedy and persecution.

As the church continues day-to-day as it has for over two hundred years here in America, she becomes less and less energetic concerning the salvation of all mankind. She becomes complacent regarding righteousness. She becomes divisive when, in her boredom, she has more time to focus on petty arguments within her body than with survival and the central message of Jesus.

We must wake up. Just like a person who has become complacent regarding health needs to get back on an exercise and healthy-eating regimen, so the church needs to get healthy again. Away with the infighting. Away with the laziness. Away with the unrighteous behavior that makes church people indistinguishable from the world. Away with the lack of love.

Instead, let us be active. Let us follow the guidance of the Spirit and be lit on fire with passion for the salvation that only comes through Jesus. Let us love enthusiastically, and let us work together in our churches and in the community. Let us reach out to other communities of faith and, in unity, encourage one another and pray for one another as we singularly reach out into the world to spread the good news of hope in this life and in the life to come.

Today’s the day of renewal. Let’s not wait until persecution comes back.


Tell Me Something Good

Have you ever thought about what situations you find yourself in when you encounter a police officer? I’m not talking about if you’re a police officer or if you’re married to one; I’m talking about the average person encountering a police officer.

On most occasions, when I encounter a police officer, in uniform, and have meaningful dialogue on a regular day, it is because I messed up. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, its pretty humiliating and humbling. We visit with the police officer because we were going to fast or not wearing a seat belt or were texting and driving (don’t do that) or because we committed some other crime. We’ve done something wrong, and now we need to be visited by the enforcer of the code.

We don’t get pulled over because we were driving exceptionally well. Police officers don’t usually stop us to give out coupons to Denny’s. We don’t hear from them unless we’ve been bad, and that’s the way we like it. We want them to focus on their job of keeping people safe, and if we’re being safe, they don’t have to focus on us. We do right, and in so doing, we avoid police officers.

We perceive doctors in a similar light. We only see them when things are going wrong, and we want their help to fix whatever problem we are experiencing. The purpose of our encounter with doctors is to remedy some negative situation. This is different than in some Asian countries where doctors are paid to keep people well. They encounter the doctor regularly and pay them throughout the year, unless they’re sick. Then they don’t get paid until the patient is well again. This is a different, more positive perspective on medicine. It’s not like many of us who avoid going to the doctor unless we’re severely ill.

How do you communicate with those around you?

Are you the kind of person who automatically reacts to correct others? Do you see it as a need to police those around you (spouse, children, co-workers, etc…)? Do you need to fix others to better society?

What if, in our marriages, the only time we spoke to our spouses was when we were correcting something in them. We didn’t tell them hello or goodbye. We didn’t wish them well or encourage and congratulate them in their actions and endeavors. We didn’t dote upon the good qualities in them. We simply focused on the negative – kind of like the marriage police.

I will leave you alone when you adhere to the obviously reasonable demands I place on you.

Where’s the love in this? How long will this marriage last? Some of you may be thinking, “15 years and counting…” But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In a culture where everything is scrutinized, it is easy to constantly criticize – to focus on all the things you don’t like about another person. The problem is, this will change your perspective to where you can ONLY see what you dislike in another person.

If your relationship with another person (spouse, child, co-worker, peer, etc…) is constantly negative, you have a choice in what you see in and say to that other person. You can choose to criticize, or you can choose to bless. You can choose to tear down, or you can choose to build up.

“But I’m criticizing to help them be a better person. Isn’t that a blessing?”

Not to them. People know they need to change. Everyone does. It’s in front of them every day. They WANT friendship and acceptance. They want to know they can mess up in front of you, and you won’t take them to the mat because of it. They want to know you see the best in them in spite of their flaws, but if all they hear is the negative about them they’re already aware of, they will soon resist relationship with you.

Remember your flaws? Does Jesus hang that in front of your face constantly, or does He give you grace and call you better things than you feel about yourself, like “child of the King,”, “beloved”, “brother and sister”, “masterpiece”, etc?

We seek to avoid encountering a police officer, because they are there to enforce law and convict us of our crimes. If a relationship is defined by this kind of legalistic expectation, eventually at least one person in the relationship will begin to avoid the other like we avoid police encounters, and for many of the same reasons.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:2)

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Focus on the positive in others…and let your focus translate into your words and actions. This one thing may change every relationship you have.


The Twelve Steps

In my last article I wrote about the five keys to maturity as Christians, and in that article I mentioned the similarity between the way the church should function and the way groups like Alcoholics Anonymous DO function. The camaraderie and accountability of those groups keep people on the path to sobriety. The life of the Christian should be filled with others who are helping them along on the path to sinlessness as well, but we have become so politically correct and afraid of rejection, we refrain from speaking into the lives of even those closest to us to hold one another accountable.

If you’re like me, there are many things in your life you’d like to change, not the least of which are sins you habitually commit. We all have hurts, habits and hang-ups. So how do we overcome these problems in our lives as believers in Jesus? For those attending AA to achieve sobriety, there are twelve steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understoodHim.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These steps have been proven to be effective to help people recover from alcohol addiction, and there are similar steps to groups like Narcotics Anonymous and others.

What if there were twelve steps to Christian living? What would they look like? My friend, Roy Rhodes, came up with these:

1. We came to believe that we were powerless in our sin, and that life was outside of our control.

2. We came to believe that a power greater than us was in control and could restore us.

3. We made a decision to give our will and lives over to the care of Jesus Christ, who offers sanctuary and salvation.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. We confessed to ourselves, to God and to another human being the nature of our sin.

6. We were entirely ready to surrender our sins to God.

7. We humbly asked God to remove our sins and shortcomings and restore us as bearers of His Image and Spirit.

8. We made a list of all persons that we have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to examine the self, and when we are wrong, prompty confessing and setting things right.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to remain rooted in God, our strength and deliverance.

12. Having given our lives to God and experienced his healing in our lives, we try to carry the message of the Gospel to others and live these principles out in all aspect of our lives.

Steps 1-3 are similar to much of the language in churches today about how to come to know Jesus and find salvation. Step three is where we find baptism as a way to connect to the cross and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6). Step 12 is the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). But what about the other 8 steps?

Sometimes we wonder why there isn’t more growth in the church (because people aren’t living step 12), and I would suggest it may be because steps 4-11 aren’t being done daily in the lives of Christians to even get to step 12.

We may even do step 7, but often we don’t do the other steps surrounding that one to actually achieve success in quitting a particular sin. Steps like numbers 4, 5, 8, and 9 are uncomfortable and awkward. If we actually had to confess to someone else, they may betray us. If we seek amends with those we’ve hurt, they may reject our efforts. So we don’t try. We give up before we begin.

The five keys to being a mature Christian are these: Attend the meetings, get a mentor/partner/confidant, read the Book, works the steps, and tell others. The twelve steps to key number 4 are something like these above. If you want to see success in your life in Christ, you’ll work these as diligently as an alcoholic trying to overcome addiction, because you and I are addicted to sin, and we need to overcome our addiction too.


The Five Keys

The other day, I was blessed to attend an AA meeting in a local church building. This was a requirement for a class I’m currently taking on addictions counseling.

While I was there, the people went around the room and talked about what they were grateful for regarding their AA affiliation. Many people expressed gratitude for the group and sobriety, but one story of gratitude stood out to me, and after this person spoke, many repeated the same sentiment.

This person spoke up about their 28 year anniversary of sobriety. In this celebration, credit was given to AA for giving the right path to success in recovery, but there were five things, five keys, that allowed this person to find the ability to be clean and sober. The five keys are as follows:

1. Attend the Meetings

2. Get a sponsor

3. Read the Big Book

4. Work the steps

5. Tell others about the program

It struck me that these keys hold true for anyone wanting a life change, and especially Christians looking to find maturity in Christ – a life of discipleship. What would it look like if we participated in these keys as Christians?

1. Attend the meetings

“Do not give up meeting with the brothers and sisters as some are in the habit of doing. (Hebrews 10:25)” As you seek the goodness of God, have you been faithful in attending services centered on worship and fellowship with others in the body of Christ, the family of God? Without gathering with the family of God, it is easy for Satan to take us back into our addiction to sin and godlessness. With the family, we can hold strong and find encouragement and renewal.

2. Get a sponsor

It has been proven that people do not continue to gather with Christians in a church setting if they do not have any significant relationships with non-family members within that gathering. Do you have friends within the church who are not family members? You can’t wait for someone else to initiate this. You need to befriend others. This relationship is meant to enhance your ability to walk the path to life. A good friend holds you accountable and encourages you to do right. A good friend reaches out to you when you’re sick or absent. A good friend does life with you. It’s kind of like having a sponsor in a 12 step program.

3. Read the Big Book

Have you read the Bible? Cover to cover? Many people have been in churches for a large portion of their lives, but they are largely ignorant of what the Bible actually says. Some people know enough scripture to make the arguments for traditional doctrine pertaining to their denomination of choice, but they don’t know the larger context of the Bible. The Big Book of AA explains the reasoning behind the 12 steps and encourages people why they should follow this way. The Bible does the same thing for us as we seek to understand why and how to live according to the will of God. In today’s technological age, there should be no excuse for you to be ignorant of the scriptures. If you don’t read well, listen to the Bible. You can find free apps that not only give you the text but will read it to you. If you don’t have a bible app, I recommend YouVersion. You can even get this app for your computer. It’s free and was created by the church in OKC, lifechurch.tv.

4. Work the steps

AA and many other therapy groups have twelve steps they use to find and maintain the ability to overcome an addiction or some other sinful behavior. The Bible gives guidelines for how we can find and maintain the ability to live lives that reflect Jesus – lives of discipleship. If you need it simplified into twelve steps, much of what the original AA twelve steps encourage its adherents to do is applicable to all Christians to find a healthier, more mature life. Celebrate Recovery also has 12 steps that are more Jesus-focused that can help a person overcome any kind of hurt, habit or hang-up (we all have these). This life change is supposed to be part of life in Christ’s Kingdom.

5. Tell others about the program

Has your life been changed because of your relationship with God and His church? If so, just as an AA member tells others about how to find sobriety through the AA program, we should tell others about the message of hope through Jesus. This is actually the first command of discipleship. A disciple makes disciples.

Are you participating in these keys to more maturity in your Christian walk? Do you want to consistently walk the path of righteousness to which we are called throughout the scriptures? When we all participate in these keys, we will grow spiritually, and the church will grow numerically, and the world will be changed, one person at a time, one day at a time.


Even Though…

Do you ever have times when life seems to be crashing down all around you?

The ending of this year has been tough for many people. Death, destruction, divorce, despair, drought. All of these are affecting people’s perspectives on life as we know it. Where is the hope when times are down?

Do you know the Lord?

This is kind of a cliché, but, seriously, do you know Him?

Do you know His might? Have you experienced it in your life? Did you notice when He worked mightily for you as a fulfillment of Romans 8:28 in spite of uncertain future events? Do you hear Him call you to draw near to Him? Do you feel His presence when you’re alone? Do you talk with Him like He’s your Father?

Do you know the Lord?

Many people know ABOUT God. They read (or have read) about Him in the Bible. They may even go to bible class and worship services, but their experience with God is entirely intellectual. This is not what God intended for us. This is not why Jesus came to the earth to make the way to God through his death on the cross and resurrection. Now that you have access directly to the Father through Jesus and by His Spirit living in you, you can have relationship with God Most High as His child.

When you get to know God, you find He is wonderful in every way. He is gentle and ferocious. He is loving, and He avenges those He loves. He is generous, but He is also a disciplinarian. He is the ultimate Father – better than any earthly, flawed, human father could hope to be.

So, times are down. Hope is distant. This year has been tough for you, and the next year doesn’t look too bright either.

Look to the Lord like Habakkuk.

Around 612-606 B.C., Habakkuk had a conversation with God concerning the future of His homeland. He asked God, “Why don’t You do something about all the injustice in the land?” (This is a common question many of us ask today.) God responded by telling Habakkuk about the exile of Judah to Babylon. Habakkuk recoiled at the idea that a heathen nation who didn’t recognize God would be used to discipline God’s chosen. But God comforted Habakkuk with words of just enough explanation to ease Habakkuk’s consternation.

Habakkuk learned of God’s justice but also of His love for His children. He learned of God’s might and constancy. He learned to see God with the faith that leads to righteousness. This would lead Habakkuk to finish His conversation with God in worship.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
Jehovah, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Did you see the scene Habakkuk sets up as he is led into worship? All of life around him is failing. Economy is collapsing, and famine is knocking at the door, but this will not dissuade Habakkuk from his faith in God.

In fact, “Though” is a mighty word here. No matter the situation, whether good times or bad, Habakkuk will take joy in God and look to Him for strength and salvation. He may not be able to see or understand the future, but he knows God is already there and has promised to be with him.

Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds the church that God has said, “I will never leave or forsake you.” This gives us confidence to resist fear.

Fear cripples us. Despair is a form of doubt. But God is near to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18).

So, no matter how bad this year has been, and no matter what may come in the upcoming years, we can still rejoice in the God who has saved and continues to save us through the trials of this life because of our hope in the life to come. Know the Lord. Know His comfort. Rejoice in Him. And share His goodness with others who are struggling.


%d bloggers like this: