Self Control

The people that Titus worked with on the island of Crete were not known for their healthy lifestyles.  They had a reputation as people who indulged in everything to excess.  When Paul gives Titus instructions (Titus 2) on his ministry to the Cretans, one word stands out because Paul repeats it over and over.  Paul uses the same word for the old men, the old women, and the youth.  The Greek word sophron can be translated “live wisely”, “sensible”, “temperate”, “discreet”, and “sober-minded”.  I like the idea of “self-control”.  It has to do with the kinds of lives we live, and in particular, the kinds of works our lives produce.  Paul even encourages Titus to set the example:  “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity” (Titus 2:7 ESV).

My friends, the gospel of Jesus Christ does more than just bring us God’s forgiveness.  It also gives us a new way to live.  He gives us the power to live a different life, a life characterized by self-control.  God’s grace is all about “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).  Self-control might come into play with your addictions, your emotions, your food, and even your thought life.  It starts with wise choices and ends with right actions.  The essence of self-control is this:  “You can do this”.  With God’s help you can.

Memory Lane

I think that every once in a while it’s not a bad thing to stop and look back, at least if you do it for the right reasons.  Apparently God thinks that an occasional jaunt down Memory Lane can be good for us as well.  Isaiah recorded God’s thoughts:  “Look to Abraham your father, And to Sarah who bore you; For I called him alone, And blessed him and increased him” (Isaiah 51:2). Written to a people who were going through a difficult time and facing an uncertain future, God encourages His people to take a moment and look back at the heritage they had in Abraham.  God gives three reasons for His people to look at Abraham.

First, God reminded His people that Abraham was all by himself when God called him (“called him alone”).  In Isaiah’s day, the nation was a little bit bigger than just one person.  They had grown quite a bit.  When you take your peek at the past, take time to realize how much you’ve grown.  You are not where you used to be.  You are not the same person who first came through the door of faith.  Second, God blessed Abraham.  God didn’t forsake Him, He blessed Him.  God isn’t planning on you just withering by the side of the road. God wants to bless you as well, just like Abraham.  Third, God increased Abraham.  He didn’t stay as one man, but would grow to become a great nation.  God has a future for you as well.  It’s a future where you might be stretched, but stretching brings growth.  Take a minute and look back.

Responding

As children, we had our ways of dealing with challenges in life.  It often involved running to mommy or daddy.  Sometimes it was our tears, sometimes it was a simply asking, “Help me mommy”.  As we grew into adults, most of us learned to develop slightly more complex ways of responding to challenges.

Often our first respond is through our various coping mechanisms.  It might be something relatively harmless, like reaching for a candy bar, a cigarette, or a quick trip to the mall.  Sometimes we cope through more harmful addictions like drugs, sexual misbehavior, or withdrawing from the world and spending the day in bed.  Coping mechanisms rarely solve anything, but we’ve told ourselves that this is what we need to survive.

Some of us are smarter than all of that and we devise spreadsheets, make lists, search the internet, or ask for advice on how to handle the challenge before us.  The “smart” responses are all fine things to do, but are they the best way to face a challenge?

Hezekiah was a king with serious problems.  I love the way he responded.  And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. (Isaiah 37:14)

Beloved, you may not need those coping mechanisms like you think you do.  It’s good to learn healthy problem solving skills.  It’s best to make God your first response.  Pray.  Let Him help.

Fashion Choices

So what are you wearing today?  Did you have to dress up for work?  Or is today a “casual” day?  How often do you take the time to plan your wardrobe for the day?  As Christians, it’s important that we put on the right “attire”, but the issue isn’t about the color or style of clothes, the issue is about attitudes.  Join me as we take a look at what’s in the wardrobe of attitudes.

First, there definitely is “unacceptable” attire when it comes to attitudes.  Paul tells us that we should not be “wearing” things like immorality, greed, anger, and lying.  If you have those kinds of things hanging in your closet, you ought to toss them in the trash.  And even if you discarded those attitudes yesterday, you may find them hanging in your closet today. Those are the attitudes that characterized our old lives, our lives before meeting Jesus.

When you accepted Christ, He gave you a new wardrobe.  Paul writes, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12–14 NLT)

So as you pick out your attire for the day ahead, choose wisely from that closet of yours.

Two Different Worlds

As Christians, we live “between two worlds”.  There is the world of what we see around us, and there’s the unseen world.  It’s oh so easy for our lives to be caught up in the things we see.  We live among our family and friends, people we can see.  We spend our lives laboring at work and school with people we can talk to and hear.  We go to church to be with people we can touch.  And yet all through our lives, we are surrounded with an invisible world, a world populated with beings who hear, see, and even touch us, though we don’t see them.  And most important in this invisible world is the God who loves us, the God who gave His Son for us.

When Paul talks about how we handle ourselves in our visible world, he encourages us to remember that there is an unseen world, and it is this unseen world that we want to live for.  Whether it’s in our roles as students, employees, or just being a friend,  Paul tells us to handle our role “not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man… (Ephesians 6:6–7 ESV)

It’s natural to live our lives as “people-pleasers”, because people are the ones that we see.  The challenge is to become “God-pleasers”, knowing that God cares so much about the choices we make and how we display His work in our lives.  Lord, help me to reflect Your great love to this visible world around me.

The Love Poem

It’s a fascinating piece of ancient poetry that seems to cause distress among some who study their Bible.  It’s a love poem between a man and a woman.  It even gets a bit risqué at times, filled with what some see as forbidden imagery.  Some tend to see it only as an allegory filled with mystical symbols one after another.

I tend to wonder why we need to take it as more than it simply is, a work of poetry that expresses the beauty of love between a man and woman.  The gal is totally in love with her man, filled with desire for him when she’s not with him.  She writes, “I will rise now,” I said, “And go about the city; In the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love.” I sought him, but I did not find him (Song of Solomon 3:2).  For his part, the guy can’t seem to get her out of his mind: “You have ravished my heart, My sister, my spouse; You have ravished my heart With one look of your eyes, With one link of your necklace” (Song of Solomon 4:9).  Ain’t love grand?

The apostle Paul tells us that the relationship between Jesus and His church is like that of a husband and a wife.  And just in case you are of the opinion that marital love is boring, then think again.  Solomon’s Song is a reminder that marriage ought to be filled with passion.  And if marriage ought to be filled with passion, so should our relationship with Jesus be.  Are you longing for Him?  Do you find yourself wandering, looking, searching for your love?  Do you realize just how much He is in love with you?  Well He is.

Windy Old Men

The book of Ecclesiastes comes off somewhat like the ranting of a cranky old man.  It’s the reflections of a man who tried everything, actually had acquired everything, and was never quite satisfied.  The older I get, the more I relate to what Solomon writes about.  For example, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

We are constantly being enticed towards some “new” thing, and there’s a brief pleasure in thinking you’ve arrived at the “new” thing.  But when the shine wears off, it’s not all that different from the last “new” thing you had.  I find this painfully true the older I get.

When our focus in life is solely on this present existence, we come to the same conclusion as Solomon:  “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).  “Wind” isn’t exactly something you can hold on to and put in the bank.  You grasp at it, open your hand, and you find nothing.

So here’s the deal – just what are you living your life for?  What are you grasping at?  There is nothing more “lasting” than eternity.  And when you turn your life towards building on eternity, you will find satisfaction that even old men can appreciate.

Our Hope in Trouble

That fellow in the Bible named Job sure had a messed up life.  In what seems to be a few days, he lost his family, his wealth, and his health.  What makes the book of Job so confusing is trying to sort out all the questions that Job and his friends argue over.  Why was Job going through such a hard time?  In Job’s world, the answers seemed black and white.  You are having trouble because you did a bad thing.  At one point, even Job begins to think that God is against him for some unknown reason.  He cries out, “But You have become cruel to me; With the strength of Your hand You oppose me” (Job 30:21).

Beloved, we have the perspective of history and the blessing of the Scriptures.  We have come to know that things aren’t all black and white.  Sometimes hard times come to good people.  Sometimes God allows the tough times to mature us and refine us.  And we know from the perspective of the cross that God is not against us (Rom. 8:31-39).  And that is how we persevere.  Paul wrote, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

It’s That Time Again

Dan Looney wrote the Pastor to Person this week:

August is here again and for SoCal that means the Harvest Crusade is near.  Thousands give their lives to Jesus at this event. It is a beautiful experience. Not only to those receiving salvation, but also to the thousands of Christians watching and praying for them.

Some of us Christians do not possess the confidence to address a stadium-size crowd, yet we have all been commissioned to share the gospel. Matthew 28:18-20, 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In 1Corinthians 9:16, Paul says for him preaching the gospel is a necessity: “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel”.  For some of us the quote is more like, “woe is me I have to share the gospel”.

Sharing the Good News is a privilege and a responsibility; it requires desire and willingness. When you are willing, the Holy Spirit will give you the desire. Additionally, He will make appointments for you, put them right in your path and open the door in the conversation for you to begin.  Take the time to learn some tools like Romans Road to Salvation and a simple sinner’s prayer. Remember, the power is in the message, are you willing?

Help for the Hurting

Greg Bird wrote the Pastor to Person this week:

Difficulty will come to all of us. None of us will escape hard times, no matter how hard we try. We may try and bury our head in the sand so “it doesn’t get any worse.” We often think we can hide out (maybe in sin) from the hard things while they just pass us by, and then we can just go on with our life.

Job experienced some really tough times. He lost everything, including his health, and his wife encouraged him to give up and curse God. “But Job replies ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’ So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.” (Job 3:10 NLT) Am I ready to accept ‘anything bad’ in my life? Job showed such faith in the goodness of His Heavenly Papa that he accepted his life as it was.

Often times I don’t accept hard times because I don’t trust in the goodness and love of my Papa. I may know He’s good, but I may not trust it. When I struggle with this, I sometimes need what Job needed, good friends to come and sit with me. His friends came and remained silent. Unfortunately, they eventually launched into their own ‘right answers.’ Usually it isn’t answers I need, I know those, but I need to know I’m cared for. Initially, “No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.” (Job 3:13b) Usually this is the best thing I can do for others, to come be with them and say nothing. We don’t need the right words; we just need to “love them like Jesus.” May we go and care for those experiencing tough times today.