How Quickly We Forget

The first five books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books together are often referred to as “the books of the Law,” “the Law of Moses,” “the Pentateuch,” or “the Torah.” Together, they lay out God’s laws for the people of Israel to carefully follow as they enter the promised land of Canaan.

Immediately following Deuteronomy is the book of Joshua. It records the efforts of Joshua to bring the people into the promised land, to divide it among the tribes of Israel, and to encourage them to be strong and courageous as they take what God has given to them.

Joshua must have been a remarkable man. He is one of the very few great leaders in the Bible for whom no serious or tragic personal mistakes are recorded. He seems to have exhibited tremendous faith throughout his days, and scripture even informs us that the people of Israel remained faithful to the LORD all the days of Joshua, and even for all of the days of the elders who had known Joshua.

But once Joshua and the other elders were gone, all of that changed.

After the book of Joshua is the book of Judges, and to put it bluntly, Judges paints a picture of an Israel that is seriously messed up. There are many examples in Judges of how rapidly and how seriously Israel fell away from God. Consider one of them, found in Joshua 17. A man has stolen his mother’s silver, and when he confesses to the theft, she celebrates by using some the silver to make idols. But what is especially disturbing, is that apparently she thought this would please the LORD!

“He then returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother, and his mother said, ‘I wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son to make a graven image and a molten image; now therefore, I will return them to you.’ So when he returned the silver to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons, that he might become his priest.” (Joshua 17:3-5)

But the story gets worse… Micah, in whose house are these graven images that were “dedicated to the LORD,” meets a Levite who agrees to become his personal priest.

“So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest.’” (Judges 17:12-13)

How could Micah possibly think that the LORD would bless him for having household idols and a personal priest for those idols in his home? How could a Levite, who ought to have known the law, not realized that this was a breach of the second of the ten commandments, among other things?

As the story continues in chapter 18, six hundred men from Dan steal the household gods and the priest for their own. “The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.” (Judges 18:30-31)

The Israelites so quickly turned aside to foreign God’s after entering Canaan. But what may be worse, is that they seemed to think that the LORD would be fine with this. If only they had been careful to familiarize themselves with God’s word, who knows how much better and easier life might have been for them? Let us take this as a warning. We must be careful to constantly familiarize ourselves with the teachings of scripture, lest we quickly fall away and suffer the consequences.

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Three Kinds of Unfaithfulness

Our Bibles contain a good deal of ancient history, especially concerning the Israelites. When reading the Old Testament we can learn not only about the customs, technologies, art, and warfare of this ancient people, but also about their intimate relationship with the LORD.

What we find is that the Israelites, over the course of the centuries, fell away from God time after time. If there was a way to go wrong, the Israelites would manage to find it. Because of this, their story gives us hope that God will be as patient with us and with our friends and family as He was with the people of Israel. It also gives us many examples of what not to do if we want to prosper and have joy in the LORD.

Here are three broad categories of unfaithfulness that we see Israel exhibiting. By examining where they went wrong, we can better be on the alert against troubles that might find their way into our own lives if we are not watchful.

1) Being too cowardly to even try to follow God’s leadership.
2) Becoming just like everyone around us.
3) Forgetting God in the midst of our prosperity.

Consider these categories of unfaithfulness in more detail:

Being too cowardly to even try to follow God’s leadership:

God told the children of Israel to go into the land of Canaan and to take it by force. He would fight for them to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. But the people, when they analyzed this task for themselves, decided that it was just too hard, and decided it was better not to try than to try and fail.

What commands has God given, or what direction does He lead, that you are too scared to follow? Find courage to follow where He leads, or you will die in the wilderness for your rebellion.

Becoming just like everyone around us:

Eventually the children of Israel did go into Canaan to take it for themselves. Many of them were courageous in following God into battle and claiming their inheritance. But many others were half-hearted about this task. They drove out some of their enemies, but they left others to live in the land. It was not long before they found themselves worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, practicing cult prostitution, sacrificing their children to Moloch, and doing all kinds of detestable things. They may have claimed to still follow the LORD as well, but their loyalties were obviously divided.

What worldly practices have you allowed to maintain a stronghold in your life? We may insist on calling America a “Christian nation,” but we must be careful to recognize that much that goes on here is anything but Christian. We must not cheapen the name of Christ by wearing it while living like everyone else.

Forgetting God in the midst of our prosperity:

God warned Israel repeatedly that they must not forget Him when times of comfort and prosperity came. They would enjoy nice houses and beautiful vineyards and large flocks and herds. Many of them would forget God in these times and feel that it was their own strength by which they had acquired their wealth.

In the age of advanced technology, modern medicine, and socioeconomic mobility, we may feel that the answer to all of life’s questions is to work harder, be smarter, and then sit back and enjoy the results of our own efforts. Science will save us. Money will fill the holes in our lives. Comfort is the ultimate goal. But we must not forget that without God, we have nothing.

Which of these kinds of unfaithfulness do you struggle with the most? Do you struggle with all three from time to time? What specifically should you be on the alert for this week?

“Us” and “Them”

Luke’s genealogy of the Christ starts with Jesus, son of Joseph, and works its way all the way back to Adam. It ends with these words: “…son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”

In what sense was Adam the “son of God?” I do not know all of the ways in which that question cab be appropriately answered, but I know one thing: our children tend to resemble us, and Adam resembled God. Scripture says that when God made Adam He said “let us make Adam in our image,” or “in our likeness,” or, in some sense, “to look like US.”

Of course in Hebrew, Adam literally means “mankind,” and this is no coincidence. Just as Adam is a child of God, and thus “looks like” God, so all of mankind are children of God, who look like Him.

Plenty of other scriptures reaffirm this. Paul said of his prayer life: “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” So in some sense, not only are we His children who resemble Him, but we also have His name, just as it is customary even to this day for a person’s children to bear their name. In His sermon on Mars Hill Paul proclaimed that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth… for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”

Now when we get into trouble, who do we turn to to bail us out? Often, it is our family. This is the way it has been for millennia. In the book of Ruth, for instance, Boaz redeemed the household of Naomi because He was one of their closest relatives. In fact, in Hebrew, the word for “redeemer” and “close relative” is the exact same word.

No wonder then, that God Himself ended up being our redeemer, for ultimately there was no one else in the family who could help us with our sin problem. We were slaves to sin as Romans teaches, and slaves to the law, as we read in Galatians 4:5, and as the law in the Pentetuech lays out, a man needs one of his kinsmen to pay out the redemption money before he can go free. We might have hoped for a fellow human being to help us out, but the Revelation to John tells us that they searched through heaven, and found no one who was worthy except the Lamb. He was our closest and only kinsman who could bail us out.

Thus we are told by Matthew and Mark that the Son of Man (a title of Jesus that really emphasizes His kinship to us) came to give His life as a ransom for many.

So what do we learn from all of this? Well, we learn that there is no “us” vs. “them” when it comes to the worth of the various peoples on the earth. Yes, we have different skin colors, and we speak different dialects and different languages, and we have different customs and traditions and heritages and strengths and weaknesses. And there is no need to hide these facts. Rather, I think we should celebrate them. But when it comes to whose family is better than whose, there is only one family. We are all sons of Adam, sons of God. We all look like Him. We all carry His name.

Maybe sometimes those in power want to divide us into groups, and foster hate between us in order to make us easier to control. Or maybe sometimes it has little or nothing to do with those in power, and it starts at the bottom and works its way up because we, as humans, are distrustful of those who are not like us, or who we perceive as a threat to our own way of life. But when it comes to human worth, there is no “us” and “them.”

There is, however, a very important “us” and “them” that does need to be addressed. It is the “us” who accept Him as our redeemer and the “them” that reject His sacrifice in favor of some other god. It might sound discriminatory, but truly, there is a group that is special in His eyes. He calls them “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”

This special people is his church. And while many today perceive His church as being bigoted precisely because they perceive it as an elitist group who think they are better than others and exclude those who are different from them, the truth is that the requirements for entry still leave room for quite a bit of diversity.

You do not have to be any certain color. You do not have to speak any certain language or live in any certain country or belong to any certain political party. You do not have to be attracted to people of the opposite gender. You do not have to be in a certain income bracket. You do not have to meet a minimum requirement for good deeds done per week. You do not have to have a clean criminal record.

You do have to trust and obey.

Matthew 25 describes a scene in which God “separates the sheep from the goats.” There will be “sheep” and “goats.” There will be an “us” and a “them.” Both “us” and “them” will have “red,” “yellow,” “black,” “brown,” and “white,” rich and poor, old and young, men and women among our numbers. Both “us” and “them” will have those who had our own struggles with alcohol, drugs, sexual immorality, and a host of other problems. But “we” will be faithful to Him wherever He leads, while “they” will turn their backs on Him when the right idol comes along.

This is the only “us” and “them” that will matter in the end.

I will stand with you in this life. But when judgment day comes, there will be a separation. On that day, will you be one of us, or one of them?

How Beautiful Heaven Must Be

What do you look forward to in heaven? Here are some things that we know will be wonderful about the eternal home of the redeemed.

  • We will get new, glorious bodies that do not suffer from corruption.
    (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 49) “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body,it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body… Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”
  • We will find healing from all of our ailments.
    (Revelation 22:1-2) “Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds offruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
  • Sin will no longer dwell in our bodies.
    (Romans 7:21-25) “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
  • A great marriage feast together.
    (Revelation 19:7-9) “‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.’ It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright andclean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, ‘Write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’”
  • Not having to deal with the harmful effects of sin.
    (Revelation 21:8) “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
  • Every wrong will be avenged.
    (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10) “For after all it is onlyjust for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.”
  • Joyfully worshipping God forever.
    (Revelation 5:11-14) “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’ And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Evil Spirits

These days, people are skeptical of talk about demon possessions and evil spirits, and perhaps rightly so. From a scientific perspective, we can now identify many genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors that can lead to the ailments that were once attributed to evil spirits. We know more about viruses and harmful bacteria, for instance, than those who lived in medieval times.

It may also be, as some have suggested, that the high rate of possessions and ailments caused by unclean spirits in Jesus’ time was a special allowance by God while Jesus walked the earth in order that He might demonstrate His power.

But we should be careful not to dismiss the concept of spiritual warfare altogether, or to conclude that talk about spirits is outdated and not relevant to our daily lives anymore. Consider this passage which speak of the reality of the spiritual forces that are at work to harm us:

(Ephesians 6:12-13) “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

So how are we to understand the identity and role of those “world forces of this darkness” and “spiritual forces of wickedness” that would harm us? I do not have all of the answers, but we can start by considering some of the references to harmful spirits in the New Testament.

  • (Romans 8:15) “For you have not received a spiritof slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’”
  • (Ephesians 2:1-2) “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”
  • (1 Timothy 4:1) “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
  • (1 Timothy 5:21) “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of Hischosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.”
  • (2 Timothy 1:7) “For God has not given us a spiritof timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
  • (1 John 4:6) “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

These are some of the spirits that we must avoid: a spirit of slavery, a spirit of disobedience, a spirit of deceit and false doctrine, a spirit of partiality, a spirit of timidity, and a spirit of error.

Perhaps you can think of other spirits that are also a real danger to you personally. It may be a spirit of jealousy or of anger, of apathy, or arrogance, selfishness, or lust.

Something to notice about these wicked spirits is that they do not simply live in any one person. Rather, they live and breathe in our society and our world at large. It may be that a particular person introduces you to a spirit of error, or tempts you to fall back into a spirit of slavery, but the spirit itself is bigger than any one person.   Much like “school spirit” or “team spirit” or “a patriotic spirit,” so too these damaging spirits can take on a life of their own when they spread throughout a growing group of people who adopt them and are shaped by them.

The books of 2 Peter and Jude both warn strongly against those who revile angelic forces without really knowing who or what they are dealing with. The Biblical message is not that we cast spells and practice mystical rituals in order to protect ourselves from evil. But what we must do is be on the alert for those harmful spirits in our world that could lead us astray, and pray to God for help in the fight.

Trusting God to Tell us What to Do

Many of us know someone who grew up in a Christian environment, but left the faith later in life. You may also know someone who was presented the gospel as an adult, but rejected it vehemently. Maybe, you too have struggled with your own faith, or even considered giving up on living for God. Why?

One of the reasons people often cite for leaving the Lord is that they want to be free to do things their own way. They may say phrases like “no one else can tell me how to live my own life,” or “I have to do what makes me happy,” or “I have to be free to be myself, and the Bible is holding me back.”

There may be some truth to the statement “no one can tell me how to live my own life.” After all, in most cases, no one is going to physically control us and micromanage all of our own choices against our will. At the end of the day, God grants us the right to do whatever it is that we want to do, even if that means to reject Him.

So maybe no one has the power to FORCE us to live a certain way, but surely we all recognize that sometimes it is wise to listen to people who know more than we do.

Most of us do not take our car to the mechanic only to insist on disregarding necessary repairs because “no one can tell me what to do.” Most of us do not pay for music lessons and then ignore everything the teacher says because “I just have to do what makes me happy.” Most of us do not go to the hospital in crippling pain but reject a necessary surgery because “that is just not what I want to do with my time.” We recognize that the path to wholeness often requires us to do things that we do not want to do, and may not even fully understand. But we trust those who can guide us to where we need to be.

The Bible describes the Christian life as a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. Oh, how easy it can seem to just throw in the towel and indulge our fleshly tendencies because we long to “be true to ourselves,” and “not let some ancient book control us.” But notice something about the flesh and the Spirit.

The flesh does not practice wisdom or discernment. For example, the body will crave an unhealthy diet with no regard for how much the “daily recommended amount” of sugar is. A body that is addicted to drugs or alcohol will crave those things with no regard for the wellbeing of the person who possesses it. A body will desire sexual relations with an attractive counterpart, even when the long-term outcome could be catastrophic.

The Spirit, on the other hand, is characterized by discernment, wisdom, and higher order thinking. It is informed, ultimately, by the God who designed the universe and knows intimately how it works. The Spirit encourages us to follow a path of moral development rather than simply “living in the moment.”

Often our feelings, being motivated by our flesh, will pull us in a direction that promises to be gratifying. That direction might be jealousy, outbursts of anger, pornography, consumerism, gluttony, or any other number of things. On the other hand, the Spirit steps in and “tells us what to do,” applying a long-term wisdom to our short-term decisions.

Yes, God does tell us what to do. Frequently. And we would do well to listen. A doctor knows how to help a physical body. A mechanic knows how to fix a car. A piano teacher knows how to play piano. And God knows how to fix YOU. And just maybe, if you do not understand every instruction given by your doctor, mechanic, or piano teacher, you might not understand every instruction given by your God either. That does not make Him wrong.

Can Shame be a Good Thing?

Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

I have always liked this verse. It reminds us that no one will be saved except by the grace of God, and that if God is willing to forgive those who repent, surely we also should be willing to forgive each other. Grace is a wonderful topic, and one that I enjoy talking about.

Shame on the other hand… not so much. Is shame even something that we need to talk about? Did Jesus not do away with the concept of shame once and for all when He died on the cross for us?

Apparently not, because twice in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul rebuked those who would hear his letter and followed his rebuke with the words: “I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 6:5, 15:34). The “God’s Word” translation says, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” The NIV says “I say this to shame you.”

This week while I listened to a well-known and loved gospel preacher, he used a similar phrase: “Shame, shame, shame, God knows your name,” in order to shame those who were guilty of a certain sin that he was speaking about.

It is important to notice that Paul, and luckily the preacher that I was hearing as well, were not shaming people about things that they had done in the distant past and had already repented of. Instead, we see this concept of “shame on you” appearing in scripture when people need to come to their senses about a sin that they are currently engaged in. It is as if Paul is saying “You are better than this! You should be ashamed of this behavior, and because of this I am trying to wake you up to the shamefulness of what you are doing, so that you will repent.”

Yes, God’s grace covers our sins. Yes, he paid it all on Calvary. But that does not give us permission to become like the sinners in Jeremiah 6:15, “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush.” We must not make peace with our sin, or cease to realize how shameful it is to be called a child of God and yet to live in sin.

If you are not living the way you should, shame on you. Not the kind of shame that is meant to make you feel terrible about yourself, but the kind of shame that calls you to live in the holy way that God will help you to live if you will only follow. Not the kind of shame that leads to despair or self-loathing, but the kind of shame that reminds us to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.”
(Ephesians 4:1)

Not the kind of shame that strangers or even loved ones might continue to heap on us for our mistakes long after we have repented and moved on.

Rather, the kind of shame that can cause you to wake up to the reality of your current situation and motivate you to make it right.

Humble Confession – by Austin Gonzales

Following God’s instructions concerning one aspect of life will help us follow His instructions in other aspects, as well, so that we can live better lives overall.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about this in regards to humility and confession.

(James 4:10) Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

(1 Peter 5:5b) …all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

(James 5:16) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

(1 John 1:9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In my (limited) experience, if I am going to truly apologize for an offense, or if I want to try and obey the command to confess my sins to a brother in Christ, it definitely requires swallowing my pride. In turn, it helps me develop humility – just a little bit at a time – when I sincerely apologize to someone, or confess a sin that I have been hiding.

When we apologize; we are admitting to God, to our friend, and to ourselves that what we did was wrong – no matter how valid our excuses may seem to our prideful selves. Similarly, when confessing sin, we are admitting that it was indeed a sin. So we have no excuse – since “with the temptation [God] will provide the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13) – and we realize the need to resist any desire to do it again. Therefore it helps us, when we confess wrongs, to humble ourselves by understanding that some things are wrong no matter our reason – the ends do not always justify the means. And in so doing, it can also help us with obedience to God.

We have a need to confess not just our sins, but also the struggles we go through. How are our brethren supposed to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2-3) or “look out for [not only their] own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4), if we do not let them know what we are going through? Except, of course for the deep, painful wounds that “they can’t do much to help with,” right? No! Rather, we especially need to confess those kinds of inward struggles!

Even if there is nothing that a fellow member can actively do to help; they can listen. Simply the action of speaking your thoughts and emotions out loud does much to help us understand and process such issues. Also spiritually, the deep, hidden wounds are just the opportunity Satan can best use to tempt us with – especially the ones that nobody else knows you are thinking about. This is also where humility comes in. We do not want to appear ignorant, weak, or un-Christ- like, etc.; so we don’t want to let people know that we hurt. But humility tells us that we are ignorant, weak, and un-Christ- like. Everyone is, except for the LORD Himself. That is why humility tells us that we must confess our need and appeal for His help – as well as the help of His church.

Confession and humility can also give us tools to be proactive and take preventative measures to avoid or resist temptation. Accountability, for one thing (Galatians 6:2-3). As I have just mentioned, humbling ourselves to admit struggles, or sins that we struggle with, means that others can help us through them. However, this requires communication and complete honesty – both of which, humility can help with; and both of which can help to build humility. When we “tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” then our brethren can most effectively help us out. It may have to do with keeping an eye out for situations that they know may tempt us. Or maybe they can get us in contact with someone who has been through the same struggles. In addition to such things, communication and honesty build stronger relationships between us.

Advice I hear about marriage or relationships nearly always includes being honest
and/or constantly improving communication. It is how we become close to our family in Christ – and it helps us come closer to Christ Himself.

Humility is also required when we are hearing confessions or apologies from someone else. When someone comes to us in such a way, it is easy to be tempted to judge them, gossip about them, or not to forgive them – maybe in not so many words. But if we keep in mind that we have committed offenses of our own, and that God has been so gracious to forgive us, it helps us to forgive them and to honor their confidentiality – to pay it forward. Colossians 3:12-13 tells us, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Additionally, when hearing confessions; humility can tell us that we do not always have the answers. When someone opens up to us, we may really want to help with any advice we can offer. But humility can teach us to think before we speak. Not always – but sometimes – the best thing we can do is to listen.

To sum up, God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” if we humble ourselves and confess our sins.

Listen and Respond

Have you ever been sitting in the church’s auditorium on a Sunday morning, before the worship service begins, when a visitor walks in? Depending on the size of your congregation, there’s usually a commotion that starts from the back of the auditorium that makes its way to the front, and before the new person or group finds a seat, the entire auditorium knows of their presence. In most scenarios, upon that visitor’s arrival, there is an overflowing amount smiles and handshakes that the visitor will experience as they make their way from the entrance to an empty pew, probably closer to the back of the auditorium. A kind and welcoming atmosphere is what the congregation hopes for the visitor to see, in an effort to make it likely that he or she will visit the church again.

Hospitality and niceness are great things for a person to see as they walk into our midst on either a Sunday or Wednesday, and those things are great for Christians to seek as they try to express an interest in the individual who walked in the door. It’s important to keep in mind also that it takes a genuine person with a genuine approach to establish a relationship or experience to inspire someone, who may be new to the church, to keep coming back. This isn’t to say that being hospitable and kind are not genuine attributes of some greeters. Getting lost in the best-foot-forward mentality could be received as a façade rather than the authentic nature that makes up that greeter, though.

In Scripture, it can be observed that relationships with newcomers were founded on people being real with other people, and building on what set apart their church from the others. For example in Acts 2, when Peter and the rest of the apostles were asked what the men should do in regards to the message they had just heard, the response was one that was truthful and real. “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’”.

Although the topic of this dialogue probably isn’t going to be represented in a first-time discussion between a member and a newcomer in a church today, the point from this example can be observed in how the conversation was handled. In this example, the member (Peter) listened the newcomer’s question and treated him with an answer that correlated with the question asked. It shouldn’t be a surprise to notice that key ingredients to making the conversation between the member and the visitor something beneficial is listening and responding! By making it obvious to the visitor that what he or she said is being acknowledged with an appropriate response, the visitor will be brought into the conversation rather than pushed away by a response that just flowed off the tongue by habit.

It’s easy for anyone to be caught in having a surface-level conversation with someone, especially if they don’t know the person they’re speaking with. Certain phrases that have etched themselves into our go-to memory bank are easy to whip out, but may not have much depth. When it comes to our visitors, however, should their experience be traced with conversations like that? It is my challenge that we get out of what is comfortable, when it comes to talking with visitors, and go for the deeper parts of communicating with people who are new to church. By listening and by responding, we may find our way into a new relationship with another soul who is eager to discover what God’s will for them is.

Be Still and Listen

These are the opening words of Psalm 19:

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.”

While the night sky or the beautiful clouds on a nice day do not literally speak audible words into our ears, they can nonetheless tell us about the glory of God.

In fact, the sky is not the only part of creation that has something to tell us about God and His greatness, and His glory is not the only thing that we can learn.

Romans 1:19-20 states: “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Not only the sky, but all of the wonderful things that fall under the designation of “what has been made” are here for us to learn of God. And we learn not only of his glory, but of “that which is known,” a category which is summer up by the description “His eternal power and divine nature.”

Part of that divine nature which being communicated to us daily is God’s wisdom.

Proverbs 1:20-23 says:
“Wisdom shouts in the street,
She lifts her voice in the square;
At the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
At the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings:
‘How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded?
And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing
And fools hate knowledge?
Turn to my reproof,
Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you;
I will make my words known to you.’”

What if we looked at each day as an opportunity for God to say something to us through “what has been made” as He reveals to us the truth about his glory, power, and wisdom? What if we looked at every day as a new opportunity to learn more of Him, and in the process learn to love Him more?

Psalm 46:10 says: “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Other translations render the first part of this verse: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Evidently the original recipients of the words of Psalm 46 were striving so much and being so busy that they were unable to hear God’s messages to them about Himself, His majesty, His power, and His love.

Will you take time this week to be still, and listen to creation, and listen to the things that have been made, and listen to wisdom as she cries out all around us, so that you can draw nearer to the God who wants you to come to know Him?