Christian Behavior



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How are Christians to behave toward other people?

The answer is not complicated, Jesus spells it out with some frequency, both by words and by actions: we are to love others.

First we are to love other Christians—as Christ does, which means sacrificially.

Second, we are to love our enemies, even do good to those who misuse and abuse us.

Third, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is, as a radio pastor pointed out today, something we don’t need to learn to do. By nature we protect ourselves and care for ourselves, unless a person has experienced great mistreatment and/or is mentally ill. One of the ways people cope with horrific circumstances is to pull within themselves and protect themselves. Of course we can be taught to hate ourselves, but even when that’s the case, we see people hiding this self-loathing under a cloak of pride and arrogance or in mistreatment of others. In truth, we by nature love ourselves, though there is a great group of believers who are chiming in, along with the world, saying that we need to learn to love ourselves. In fact, Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves because loving ourselves is a given.

To illustrate loving a neighbor, Jesus told the story of the man who others assumed to be a racist. When a “good” priest and a “good” Levite, encountering a situation that had the potential of being dangerous or of rendering them unclean in the eyes of the Mosaic Law, they took detours to escape the possibility of jeopardy.

The man who had every reason to hate the Jews and avoid all contact, did the opposite. He went out of his way to help the stranger. Jesus called him a true neighbor.

Using that story, we’d have to define neighbor as someone with the means to help (time, resources, connections) who sees another in need. We’re a neighbor if we help.

I live in an area populated (if you can use that word here) by a number of homeless people. One day on my morning walk, I came across a women who was lying flat on her stomach at the edge of a (church) parking lot. Just lying there. I stepped closer to her, not sure initially if she was even alive. She moved, so I asked her if she needed anything. A blanket, she said. Not money or help or food. A blanket.

Yes, I had a blanket I could give her. I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but I had more than one blanket, and an old one I wasn’t using. Did I turn around and go home to get it? No, I told her I’d pick it up after I finished my walk. That’s kind of the equivalent of the man in Jesus’s story telling the injured guy he’d be back for him later after he’d taken care of his business.

I’m ashamed that my reaction was first to look out for my own personal needs, but there it is.

It gets worse. Another day a fairly young guy with earbuds and flip flops, shorts and a tank top passed me and my friend on our walk. He stopped, came back, and asked if we had some money to give him. Uh, no, neither of us carry any money. But the thing that’s important for this post, is what was going on in my heart. A young, healthy guy, by all appearances, begging money off a couple women clearly his senior. I wanted to give him a swift kick. I immediately concluded he wanted money for his addiction, because obviously he could get a job and earn a living if he wanted to. Mind you, I don’t know this guy and have no idea what his story was. Sort of like the man in Jesus’s story who didn’t know the guy lying in the road. I’m not saying I should have given this stranger in front of me any money (which I didn’t have and couldn’t have done), but I could have prayed for him instead of making assumptions about him, ugly assumptions. Peter said to the beggar at the Beautiful Gate, I don’t have any silver and gold, but what I have I’ll gladly give you. I have Jesus Christ in my life. Why didn’t I offer the stranger what I did have?

Well, I get tongue-tied, feel awkward, don’t know how to bring up the subject. I mean, he didn’t ask for the gospel. He asked for money. In response I simply told him I couldn’t give him what he wanted. But I could have given him what he needed.

OK, but I’m much better at writing than off-the-cuff conversations.

But how many times have I written comments and had to delete them because they were snide or snippy or rude or snarkish? Way more than I can count. I have to pray over comments and let the Holy Spirit guide my thoughts because my nature is to walk on by, or worse—to give a swift kick as I pass.

I’m pretty sure that God wants His followers to approach others with a heart of compassion. Instead of asking, “What’s in your wallet,” we should be asking ourselves, What’s in your heart?

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Published in: on July 29, 2019 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Deciding Ahead Of Time


I’m a home body. Most of the time I’d be most content to spend the day, the evening, at home. I know other people like to go new places and have different experiences. That’s not me. It never has been me. Mostly I go to places I have to go: the grocery store and the like. You’d be right to think I sound borderline agoraphobic. Except, I’m not afraid. I just like home best.

So on occasion I have things come up that require me to go somewhere: a writers’ meeting, church, lunch or a movie with friends, church. What I realized was that I would try to hold out to the last minute to actually make the decision to go, especially if no one was actually expecting me to be somewhere.

Like church.

Every Sunday I found myself wrestling with myself to decide to go. Until I made up my mind to go to church because I go to church.

I recently realized this was the type of making up his mind that Daniel did. He and his friends had been hauled off to Babylon, put into the special training program for future service to the king, and given special food. Probably meat offered to idols, though the Bible only says it was the kings choice meat and wine.

Daniel decided not to defile himself. Since meat is not defiling in and of itself, by implication I conclude there was something connected to false religion in the killing or preparing of this meat. (Could have been that the blood had not been drained out as God required of the Jews. We don’t really know).

The point is, Daniel didn’t sit down day after day and argue himself into not eating that food. He made up his mind. He went about getting his food changed by following the proper channels. When there was reluctance to go with his plan, he negotiated. Because he’d made up his mind ahead of time.

I think Christian disciplines are like that. Should I get up early to read my Bible? Should I go to church the Sunday? Should I pray today? Should I memorize Scripture?

All those things we can decide, and then stick with our decision. It’s almost like asking, Should I eat breakfast? Should I go to the gym? Should I walk the dog? There are some things that seem optional until we realize they hold something critical for our well being.

Daniel took care of his problem right from the start:

Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. (Daniel 1:8)

I wonder how many self-arguments and struggles to make decisions I would save myself if I simply made up my mind ahead of time.

Published in: on May 15, 2019 at 4:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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So, Fishing It Is, Then


Peter015You’d think that after the resurrection, once Peter and the other disciples really grasped the fact that Jesus was alive, they’d be ecstatic. Coronation plans back on. Messiah, about to plant His kingdom. Disciples, next in the chain of command.

Except, apparently the crucifixion had done a number on their thinking. Maybe the fact that Jesus had not stood up against the Romans but actually, in His dying hours, called on God to forgive them—maybe that fact upended their old plans. This rule of Messiah, if it was even going to be a rule, would have to be different from what they expected.

And if truth be told, Jesus was different from what they expected. I guess death and resurrection can make a person change like that.

Apparently at some point, Peter said he’d had enough. He’d done the evangelist/healer thing, and it hadn’t worked out. Not the way he wanted. So it was time to get back to what he knew best—fishing.

Since he apparently had some natural leadership ability tucked inside him, the other disciples did a “yeah, me too,” and off they all headed for the boats. Except the great return to fishing didn’t go so well, at least at first.

The disciples spent all that first night fishing and caught nothing.

I can imagine what Peter was thinking:

Wouldn’t you know it? First the Great Teacher I followed as the promised Messiah—the Son of God—gets arrested, and instead of defending Him, I deny I know Him. Not once, but three times! Which maybe kept me alive that night, though I’d told Him I was willing to die for Him. Instead I stood helplessly by and watched the Romans execute Him. Their governor said He wasn’t guilty of any crime, but they killed Him anyway.

For three days I couldn’t think of anything except my awful words. I didn’t know what to do, how to go on, because my purpose in life no longer existed.

When the women came back from the tombs with a crazy story about the rock rolled to the side, men in white, grave clothes in place, and no body, that Jesus is alive, I thought they were nuts.

John and I went to check out their story. Sure enough, just like they told us—no body. None of it made sense.

Until that day Jesus stood in front of us. He didn’t knock or open the door and walk into the room. He was just there. I couldn’t believe my own eyes, but it was Him. He had the nail-print scars from His crucifixion, and . . . He knew Scripture. Like old, He started teaching what the Law and the Prophets actually said about Him. Not what people thought the Scriptures said, but what they actually said and meant.

For a few days, I thought things would be like they had been before—except, I could hardly look Him in the face. I’d let Him down. After I’d claimed I’d follow to death, I’d sworn I didn’t know Him.

But now Jesus was back. Except, not like before. He pretty much came and went in a blink of an eye, when and wherever He chose. No following Him now.

I couldn’t hang around doing nothing, so fishing seemed like a good idea. After all, I’m a good fisherman. Or used to be. All night we stayed out and fished. In the end, we caught nothing. Figures.

How gracious and kind of Jesus to come to Peter when he had to be at his lowest point. By His omniscience He directed the men where to find a catch—or perhaps it was by His omnipotence that supplied the fish for them to catch. At any rate, He’d done that once before, and John immediately recognized Him. As they brought in the fish, Jesus sat before a fire cooking breakfast. They joined Him and ate. I wonder what the conversation around that meal was like. At some point, Jesus singled Peter out for some one-on-one time.

He asked Peter three times, do you love Me: Do you love Me more than these, do you love Me with self-sacrificing love, do you love me with brotherly affection? The declension grieved Peter, but he had at least learned one lesson—no more was he going to inflate his devotion to Jesus. He faced the truth that of himself all he could claim was a fond affection for this man He knew to be the Son of God.

Yet Jesus persisted in telling Him to shepherd His sheep and feed His lambs. He brought it home and said as He had three years earlier, Follow Me (see Matthew 4:18-20). This time, though, Peter knew what Jesus was asking and what it would cost him.

It all may have seemed like an impossible task. The one thing Peter didn’t yet know was that God would fill him with His Holy Spirit, and in His power he’d be able to do what heretofore he’d been incapable of doing. He was just beginning to learn about this gracious Christ he served.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April, 2013.

Proverbs 31 Isn’t Just For Women


Great sermon at my church Sunday. We’re doing a series on Living Proverbially, which means, in accordance with what the book of Proverbs teaches. I like the way our pastor and the others who have preached have dealt with the topics. Above all, they have not come across legalistically. They also have not approached Proverbs presumptively, meaning they do not teach that God MUST do X if we but do Y.

This last Sunday, my pastor, Darin McWatters, began by reading chapter 31, which is often considered the description of what a wife is supposed to be like—hence, the idea that the chapter is just for women.

But Pastor Darin pointed out that the chapter is instruction a King Lemuel received from his mom concerning what he should look for in a wife—instruction that he passed on to his son. In truth, the admonition is directed to men about women.

I couldn’t help but think of an article I saw on the internet recently stating that men preferred women who were debt free and did not have tattoos. Well, there you have it, I thought during Sunday’s sermon, those men are looking for the wrong thing. And the women are enabling it! Oh, the article author seemed to be saying, men want this wrong, skewed thing, and that inconsequential thing, so by all means, girls, be sure you give the guys those things! Above all else!

King Lemuel was stepping in and correcting his son, telling him he had to get his eyes off the wrong (or foolish) and the inconsequential.

This attitude of pleasing men by being debt and tattoo free, makes me think of the Pharisees of Jesus’s day. They demanded certain external things too. They weren’t interested in who had a heart for God, who was loving His neighbor, and certainly they were not concerned about who had repented of their sins and received forgiveness.

Guys who are only looking at a statement of debt and what tattoos are showing, are just like those Pharisees.

But what guys are supposed to be looking for are the qualities that all of Proverbs has already featured. In other words, the very things that the first 30 chapters have addressed as part of Solomon’s advice to his son. They can be categorized in three general statements: recognizing one another’s intrinsic value, serving each other sacrificially, expressing our love for one another.

Pastor Darin did an amazing job of showing parallels from chapter 31 with other verses in Proverbs, each falling into one of these three areas.

As he spoke, another thought came to my mind—something I learned years and years ago from a pastor addressing what the Apostle Paul said was his idea and not from Christ. These verses were still in the Bible, still inspired by God, still given to him by the Holy Spirit. And, all Scripture, not some, is profitable to the believer. It will teach us or reprove us or correct us or train us. God will use it in our lives.

So too with Proverbs 31. What if it actually were written just to women? Men could still learn from it, should still learn from it. It’s in the Bible so it falls into the category of all Scripture—inspired, profitable.

But clearly it’s not a “to women” passage: “The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him” (Pro. 31:1).

I like what Pastor Darin did next. He said the passage could be viewed sort of like the satellite image someone can see using Google maps. First you can zoom in and see your house, then take it out to see your block, your city, your state. So, too with this passage. The close up view shows us ourselves, but then we see ourselves in relationship with our family, our church, and the ultimate, as part of the Church, with Christ.

After all, we are His bride, He the bridegroom. We are to speak highly of Him, serve Him sacrificially, express our love to Him. In other words, God’s principles work on every level! They aren’t just good ideas or helpful in marriage. They are truths that should infuse our lives and affect every level of relationship we have.

What Makes A Church Lukewarm?


In the book of Revelation, John starts out with messages to seven specific churches located in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. One of these was Laodicea. While God delivers a mixed message to most of the churches—here’s what you’re doing well, but I have this issue with you—He doesn’t have anything good to say to the Laodiceans:

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

When I was growing up we played a game that involved the person who was “it” telling players who were searching for an item if they were cold or hot—hot being they were near to the item and cold being they were far from it.

Naturally, when I read this passage in Revelation 3, I translated the “cold” and “hot” terminology based on my understanding of the words—from the context with which I was familiar. Consequently, I was confused. Why would God ever say, I wish that you were cold? Wouldn’t He only and always want believers who were close to Him, who were hot?

The problem is, John was thinking of the Laodicea context. This city situated on a trade route was far from a water source, so they build an aqueduct to bring water from the mountains. At the source, this water was ice cold, but by the time it arrived in Laodicea, it was tepid.

In contrast, in the nearby valley there were three hot springs, but water transported from them would cool and by the time it arrived in Laodicea, it also would be tepid.

So the Laodiceans would be familiar with cold water that was no longer cold like it had been in the mountains, and with hot water that was no longer hot as it had been in the valley. How they might have wished for cold water to drink or hot water to bath in. But what they had was only room temperature water that was not good for either purpose.

In short, I think the Laodiceans understood that God wanted them to be useful, not ineffectual or purposeless.

In some ways, I think the church in America got caught up in the ways of the Laodiceans. We simply forgot what we were supposed to do and why we were to do it.

We’re still trying to find our way, but the problem is that we think, too often, that what people need is what we have—the good life. They need three square meals a day (though we rarely eat that way any more—maybe the better way to state it would be, as much food as they want each day, when they want it). They need a roof over their head and clothes on their back. They need safety and freedom, a job, and a government that will protect them.

I’m not saying those things are wrong or that we shouldn’t readily give them when we are able. But is any of that why Jesus came? Is any of that what Jesus told us to pass on to others?

Actually, no. Jesus came to preach the good news. He told us to make disciples. By the way, disciples are not brainwashed fools who go mindlessly along doing what they’re told, but they are actual followers who want to grow more and more like the Savior who rescued them from darkness, and transferred them into His kingdom of light.

I think we’ve gotten confused. On one hand, we thought “disciples” meant “converts,” so we were happy with people coming to the front in an evangelistic meeting and “giving their life to Christ” even though they might take it back a year later because they didn’t really know what this “Christian thing” was supposed to do for them.

On the other hand, we thought we could make disciples by handing out lunches to the homeless on skid row, and by supplying clothes for the used goods store, or buying a present for the child of a prison inmate or many other very necessary activities.

Please understand: converts are good; activities that help others are good. But they should not replace “making disciples.” They are lukewarm. They don’t satisfy the thirsty man and they don’t adequately wash a dirty one. They aren’t bad, in and of themselves. And if they get a little ice or get heated on the stove, then they can do what they were intended to do. But alone? Lukewarm.

And Scripture says, lukewarm is destined for one thing. Some translations say, God will spit them out, some say spew, some say vomit. The point is, lukewarm is worthless.

The great thing about this message to the church in Laodicea, I think is verse 19:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

God doesn’t want His Church to stay in a place of uselessness. Because He loves us. Loves us! Yes, He loves those He’s sending us to as well, but He loves us. He doesn’t want us as tools, but He understands our need for purpose. He wants us to be involved in His business, to get on with advancing His kingdom. That’s a high and holy purpose—one that requires us to be hot or cold, just not lukewarm.

Published in: on January 23, 2018 at 5:32 pm  Comments (5)  
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