Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Anonymous Angels

         “One afternoon a man came home from work to find total mayhem in his house.  His three children were outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.  The door of his wife’s car was open, as was the front door to the house.
         Entering the house, he found an even bigger mess.  A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall.  In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was littered with toys and various items of clothing.  In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, dog food spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.
         He quickly headed upstairs, stepping over more toys and piles of clothes, looking for his wife.  He was worried she may be ill, or that something even more serious had happened.  He found her lounging in the bedroom, still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel.  She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went.
         He looked at her in bewilderment and asked incredulously, “What happened here today?”  She continued smiling and answered, “You know how, every day when you come home from work and ask me, ‘What in the world did you do today?’  Well, today I didn’t do it.”” (Glad Tidings of Good Things, Vol. 31, June 16, 2011).
         Here is a BIG “thank you” to all the disciples of Jesus who serve quietly.  Your service doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  Sadly, we often don’t notice your efforts until they are left undone for some reason.  And then we are too quick to complain.  The body of Christ would be crippled without the large army of under-appreciated servants who are willing to do their part without the fanfare.  Thank you for all that you do.  We couldn’t do it without you!

God loves you!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fair-weather Disciples

“You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.  The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me -- the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day -- and you know very well what services he rendered to me at Ephesus” (2 Timothy 1:15-18).
Have you ever had a “fair weather friend?”  This kind of “friend” is there for you when the going is good.  He is committed to you as long as nothing strenuous is required.  She is by your side as long as there is something in it for her.  They are eager to be part of a ministry that is exciting and popular.  But when service to God becomes difficult and opposition arises, they scatter.  Suddenly, they are not so willing to be known as your “friend."
It appears that the apostle Paul had his share of fair-weather friends.  Many were willing to be friends of Paul, the miracle worker.  But the list of friends for Paul, the prisoner, was considerably shorter.  Many wanted to be associated with Paul, the great preacher.  But supporters for Paul, the jailbird, were much harder to find.
Thank God for disciples like Onesiphorus!  The body of Christ needs more servants just like him.  Disciples who don’t shy away from the struggles of others.  Disciples who don’t run when troubles come.  Disciples who provide refreshment for parched souls.  How about it?  Do you know someone who needs an Onesiphorus right now? Paul had a handful of true friends like Onesiphorus that he could trust to be there through thick and thin.  Onesiphorus wasn’t afraid of associating with Paul at his lowest point.  He searched for his friend even when the trail led through prison doors.  He was an oasis of refreshment when Paul needed it most.

God loves you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Strong Churches

“But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.  And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:40-41).

“Strengthening the churches.”  As I was reading through the book of Acts this past week, this phrase caught my eye.  Further study revealed that this “strengthening” was the ministry of establishing, supporting, confirming, and upholding the work of various assemblies of disciples.  Scripture tells us that it is a service that both Jesus and the apostles valued and promoted (Luke 22:32; Acts 14:21-22; 15:32; 18:23).

The fact that assemblies need to be strengthened implies that the church is a living organism that experiences the struggle that comes to all living things as they seek to mature.  There are seasons of vitality and seasons of weakness.  There are advances and retreats.  Our adversary is always seeking to keep us from reaching our full potential as a body of believers.  Some attacks come from without.  Others come from within.  Sometimes it is just the wear and tear of life.  But the end result is the same -- the weakening of an assembly of God’s people.

Understanding the importance of “strengthening the churches,”  I need to evaluate my own participation in this valuable ministry.  How can I strengthen my own congregation?  By taking advantage of the opportunities for fellowship and learning that it provides.  By setting a godly example for younger believers.  By supporting its efforts with my time and resources.  By promoting and participating in its ministries.  By living in harmony rather than fostering division.  The list could go on and on.

Everyone wants to be part of a strong church.  But am I willing to do MY part to strengthen it?  It’s not everyone else’s responsibility.  It is MY responsibility.  And if you are a disciple of Christ, it’s YOUR responsibility.  A strong church doesn’t just happen.  It results from local disciples rolling up their sleeves and committing to its success.  Let’s all work together with God to strengthen OUR congregation.

God loves you!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Team Competition

Perhaps you, like me, have been watching some of the 2012 Olympic coverage.  There have been some incredible individual performances.  Some of these athletes have been training for this moment for years.  When you combine the obvious natural ability that these competitors possess with intense training and countless repetitions in practice, you end up with athletes who can compete with the best that the world has to offer.

As much as I have admired the individual performances of these Olympics, I am even more impressed with the team competitions.  Why?  Because team competitions require a dynamic that individual competitors don’t have to consider.  Individual athletes only have to be concerned about their own performance.  Team competitions require more from athletes.  Here are some examples:

Team athletes have to work together to be successful.  Team goals have to trump personal goals.
Team athletes must learn to compensate for the various strengths and weaknesses of the individual team members.
Team competitions require individual athletes to trust in and depend on the efforts of others on the team.
Team athletes must “pull their weight” or everyone loses.
Team athletes must share the responsibility for victories and defeats.

By now, I hope the parallels between teamwork in the Olympics and teamwork in the kingdom of God are obvious.  If you claim to be a member of God’s team, then you should know that your team needs you.  We all have to work together to be the best we can be.  When we combine our efforts, we become greater than the sum of each individual part.  We must build trust and dependence on each other.  We must “be there” for the team and do our part.  We share the credit for the successes and we share the responsibility for failure.

Our team needs us.  This is the medal round of competition.  The stakes are too high.  We have worked too hard to give up now.   “Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

God loves you!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Turn Back

“And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.  It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17).
It was getting late by the time our family arrived in Bridgeport for the campout last Thursday evening.  In the darkness, I managed to drive past the entry road to the campground.  As I proceeded on down the main road, I became more and more convinced that I had missed my turn.  Every foot travelled from that point on was just taking us farther from our preferred destination.  The only way we were going to get to the camp was to turn around.  Was it easy turning the Suburban and trailer around on a narrow highway?  Nope.  But it was the only way to get to where we wanted to be.
It’s easy to get headed in the wrong direction, isn’t it?  A missed sign here.  A wrong turn there.  And before you know it, you are headed away from God.  An important part of John’s job as the forerunner of the Messiah was changing the trajectory of people’s lives.  Turning people back to the Lord.  Turning father’s hearts back to their children.  Turning disobedient attitudes back to righteous attitudes.
The gospel call is a message about turning back.  “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).  It is such a vital ministry!  “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).  Do you know anyone who needs to turn back?
God loves you!