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Beauty

Three sons and a daughter were born to Absalom. His daughter’s name was Tamar, and she became a beautiful woman. 2 Samuel 14:27

While I was visiting my daughter’s family about a week ago, we took a stroll through the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis.  As far as botanical gardens go late fall isn’t the ideal time to visit.  However, this large tribute to God’s botanical world has a number of year-round gems.  Their tropical greenhouse exhibits seemingly endless unusual flowers bursting forth in yellows, purples, oranges, reds, and greens in all shapes and sizes.  Around each corner is yet another example of God’s gift to us of beauty.  And if that wasn’t enough a walk through the Japanese garden section sees an explosion of fall colors with fiery red Japanese maples and an array of colorful mums.

Missouri Botanical Gardens

While many lessons in the Bible warn us of making beauty an idol, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the beauty of God’s world.  Beautiful women mustn’t rely on that beauty but instead have an inwardly beautiful heart.  And the riches of the world – shiny gold, silver and diamonds — cannot be the treasure we most desire.

But one read through the description of the new Eden in Revelation reveals God’s desire for us to live amongst His gift of beauty.

The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. Revelation 21:19

God didn’t have to make such a colorful, beautiful world.  Everything could be black and white.  So, on your next walk around your neighborhood give thanks to a God who loves to place color and beauty in our lives.  From the tiny pink flower nestled in the sidewalk crack to the glorious red and orange evening sunset and the beautiful bluebird to the spectrum of colors that make up our human hair, God’s gift of beauty is one that has little reason yet brings so much joy.

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Love

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The word “love” is found over 300 times in the King James Bible.  And if we were to study each mention, we’d probably find quite a lot of different uses of that word.  In our lives we use “love” in reference to friends, food, hobbies, God, spouses and more.  Each having a different meaning.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The current great lie about love is the statement “love is love.”  It’s use in this phrase is to convince us that all worldly love is good.  But as anyone who has taken a hard look at the idols we place in our lives we know that isn’t true.  We, as Christians, also know that deep, interpersonal love like the love between spouses, is reserved for specific relationships.  Love, as God has gifted us, is not just a feeling or a yearning.  It’s to be a mirror of the love God shows us.

God asks us to show love for our neighbors through kindness.  He asks us to show love to sinners with forgiveness and compassion.  He gives us families to express deep connections.  And He reserves a special love between a man and a woman.

Love is one of the many gifts from God that cannot be fully explained.  It’s not just our brain firing off electrical impulses when we see an attractive person.  If that were the case it wouldn’t explain loving people who hate us.  I thank God for this big, mysterious gift of love.  And I thank Him for how much He loves us.  His love is so unexplainable yet simple.  We don’t deserve it and He will never take it away.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
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Pilgrim Not Citizen

Lesson 5: Walk in Truth through obedience to God

It has given me great joy to 
find some of your children walking 
in the truth, just as the Father 
commanded us.
2 John 1:4

I was reading a new book recently that said, “Today, America is rich but morally rotten.  Our heads and our hands have outrun our hearts. We have gained the world but have lost our souls.”  The author went on to describe the lawlessness and chaos that fetishism, polytheism and any number of ‘isms’ have wrought on our society.  I looked back to the beginning of this little book to see when it was published – 1969.  

I could take just about any paragraph from this book, “In Times Like These,” and you would surely think the author was writing about yesterday or today.  The frightening results of our demand for “progress” in all parts of lives are prophetically found in this fascinating group of sermons by Vance Havner, a contemporary of Billy Graham.

“The time is short, and the fashion of this world is passing away”

Vance Havner

For the Christian, we are admonished to live as people set apart from the world.  (Romans 12:2). And yet we have homogenized so much of what it means to be a Follower of Jesus.  I heard a pastor once say, “The world doesn’t hate ‘nice’ people.” Think about that for a moment. So many of us want, as our goal, to be seen as ‘nice, Christians’ — certainly not ones that cause waves like Jesus did day in and day out. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers 
and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, 
to offer your bodies as a living 
sacrifice, holy and pleasing to 
God—this is your true and proper 
worship.
Romans 12:1

My BSGs and I were finishing up a week of Bible study about what the church means to God and to us as Christians.  We got into a discussion about how easy it is to be a Western-world Christian.   And although we’ve seen that challenged over the last year, we still don’t face the threat of death when choosing to worship. Prison, maybe, but not death.  (A little over a year ago I wouldn’t even have thought to write that last sentence).

At a church one of my Bible gals and I attended for many years, there was a pastor of Egyptian origin.  He would tell us of the inherent dangers of even wearing a cross or holding a Bible while travelling in Cairo.  He regaled us with stories of various mission trips back to his homeland fraught with intrigue.  And after an hour listening to his sermon and beautiful music we would go back about our “other” lives – not having risked anything ourselves.

We are promised an everlasting life, through faith and obedience to God. The type of obedience John writes about in 2 John.  “A walk in obedience to His commands.”  Earlier, John tells us of Jesus’ prayer to His father on the eve of His death. 

I have revealed you to those 
whom you gave me out of the world. 
They were yours; you gave them to 
me and they have obeyed your word. 
Now they know that everything you 
have given me comes from you.
John 17:6-7

The “knowing” then requires the “obeying” – a living out of what God expects from us now that His Word has been revealed.  But how many of us offer our entire lives over as a “living sacrifice?”  One of my friends and I have this now running joke that we have our “faith life” but then we have our “real life.”  Knowing that in God’s expectation those are to be one and the same.

“Devotion to Him (Jesus) must be so high and so deep and so intense that all other loyalties must seem in comparison as though they did not exist.”

Vance Havner

That takes obedience to a whole new level.  I fear that modern Christians read this and immediately assume we must be the rich prince of whom Jesus asks to give up all his possessions in order to follow Him.  (Matt 19:21-24)  And in fact, many a breezy, occasional, Sunday-only Christian has misinterpreted that to be the case.  But Jesus only ever asks us to give up what is separating us from Him.  What idols have we placed in front of Him so that it blocks our view of Him or our ability to obey Him?

The world is full of gadgets and facilities that are not wrong unless we make them ends in themselves or turn them to evil uses.

Vance Havner

For some that idol is time.  Or more specifically who or what gets our time.  In the 2 John letter, John calls out the “lady chosen by God” for her love of God.  And he knows of this love because of her obedience to the commandments.  She walks in love of God.  Even Satan knows God.  But the chasm between the lady in John’s letter and Satan is her obedience.  She most likely spent much of her day praying, guiding others to God, teaching her children about God, and working as God’s daughter.

“Christian love is not just some special emotion that makes us accept others.  It’s an act of will – treating people the same way God treats you.”

Warren Wiersbe on 2 John

An act of will.  That’s not some squishy, marshmallowey feeling.  It means 1) knowing the will of God and 2) committing our entire body to obeying His commandments.  It means living a life set apart from this world – and maybe even your current church or group of friends.  It means being in danger of getting called “weird” or “freak.”  It might even mean being labeled a “bigot” or “hatemonger.”  

Some of you may recall seeing the storm that descended upon New Orleans Saints football quarterback Drew Brees when he joined Focus on the Families’ call to “bring your Bible to school day.”   He was called all manner of hateful things and a call went out to shame and silence him.  For promoting bringing a book to school.

The time is nearer now than ever before to awaken in obedience as Christians. I read a comment that the Bible is a disturbing book. It “bids us to stir up the gift of God.” We are admonished to “gird our loins (Luke 12:35),” disrupt our sleepy scheduled lives (Rom 13:11) and grasp the seriousness of our times. We are closer to the coming of Christ than yesterday. And it doesn’t take much to see how anarchy and apathy are playing a role in God’s timetable.

When I started fresh out of college at my new job, I was just barely 22 years old.  I was given a lot of responsibility to set up a brand new marketing and public relations department.  The corporate culture was very resistant to the new ideas I brought to the table.  I was called all manner of terrible things.  But I learned a valuable lesson.  When the “big boss” has your back you can forge a path through any swamp, forest or desert.  As Christians we have the mightiest “boss” of them all – God.  We should walk in obedience to Him knowing that He has our back.  We should walk in the knowledge that we are just passing through this world and will do so as God’s children. We should look forward to making a few waves, in Jesus’ name.

I’m in it (the world) but not of it; I’m a pilgrim and stranger; I’m not a citizen of old Babylon, I’m looking for another city.

Vance Havner
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A Tug-o-War

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 1:18-20

Sometimes I feel like I’m in a bit of a tug-o-war with God.  He’s trying to get me over that line and I keep resisting – pulling back to my way of doing things.  Like a two-year old saying, “I can do it myself,” I resist the pull of God because I think I know better.  

Have you ever been in a tug-o-war and the other side decides to completely let go?  Your side is pulling so hard you all tumble to the ground.  Even though the other side knows they’ll lose they think it’s hilarious to see the results.  It’s a dirty trick.  Thankfully God promises to never let go of His end.  His grace and forgiveness keep me upright even when I pull on that opposite end with all my might.

When I am weak and give in to my earthly ways God gives me grace and forgiveness.  I want to resist and rebel.  He works in so many ways to pull me back toward Him.

But he said to me, “My grace is 
sufficient for you, for my power 
is made perfect in weakness.”   
Therefore, I will boast all the 
more gladly about my weaknesses, 
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

The context of that verse is Paul writing to the people of Corinth and sharing a constant pain he endured.  He pleaded with God three times to remove the thorn in his side (we don’t know exactly what the thorn was).  And God replied that His grace is sufficient.  How many times have we complained, maybe just today alone, to God to remove something from our lives?  That’s not to say that He won’t.  But He reminds us that sometimes we must be weak to truly rely on Him.

Sometimes God does meet the need by substitution (ie health instead of sickness); but other times He meets the need by transformation.  He gives us His grace so that the affliction works for us and not against us.

Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Commentary, New Testament 

At times when we pray for God to remove something awful in our lives and He doesn’t perform the way we expect, we then enter into that tug-o-war game.  Pulling into our own ways of “fixing things” ourselves, complaining, or even turning our backs on God by letting go of our end of the rope.  We give in to our idols, our wants and needs.

We should remember the saying that God, through grace, gives us what we do not deserve, and in His mercy, He does not give us what we do deserve.  So, when situations do not turn out as we have directed God, we need to pray to God to help us see what He wants us to see.  To help us understand what He wants us to understand.

God does not require us to understand His will, just obey it, even if it seems unreasonable. Life Principle # 5

Dr. Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles

When we allow God to pull us back toward Him, He showers us with His mercy and forgiveness.  He cleanses our crimson souls to be white as snow.  And another covenant agreement is balanced at both ends of the rope.

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The Spirit of Christmas

“Turn to me and be saved,
    all you ends of the earth;
    for I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
    my mouth has uttered in all integrity
    a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow;
    by me every tongue will swear.
They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone
    are deliverance and strength.’”
All who have raged against him
    will come to him and be put to shame.
Isaiah 45:22-24
On coming to the house, they saw 
the child with his mother Mary, 
and they bowed down and worshiped him. 
Matthew 2:11

Glory to God the King!  I praise you, God, and bow down to you in thankfulness for your covenant with us!  Your promise to deliver us, through your son Jesus, is the great gift for all mankind. 

It has really hit home to me this year about the idols so many of us rely on for strength and deliverance.  We cling to our routines.  We put our trust in government officials.  We place our joy in dining out, going to the movies, gathering with friends.  Our peace rests in financial security.  And God comes and reminds us that no idol can bring us any of these.  He is God and there is no other.

In a God-like way it’s perfect that we can see a light at the end of this pandemic as vaccines begin rolling out and we celebrate the birth of His son.  God is the savior of Babylon – for those who believe.   And yet so many, even Christians, fail to truly grab a hold of this truth.  

I was talking with my BSGs the other day about the “spirit of Christmas” and how many rely on an outside source to descend upon them for this feeling.  My own parents sit alone in their home without any sign of Christmas to be seen.  I asked my mother the other day why that was.  And her response was, “We just don’t have any Christmas spirit this year.” Now granted, they aren’t Christians either.  They are just two of millions across the globe who have chosen not to bow down and accept God as the Almighty.  One of the BSGs describes her brother’s family in much the same way.  They wait to be lifted by the outside world.  They wait to feel joy in the material.  They wait to find peace in routine.

It made me realize how, once I accepted Jesus as our deliverer, I no longer need idols to feel “saved.”  I no longer need idols to experience the joy of Christmas.  My “spirit of Christmas” comes from above and within and I’ve been holding on tightly to that gift. 

We are such comfort-seeking souls!  I think of a soldier at war during Christmas.  Laying in a foxhole or cave in a foreign land.  There’s no twinkly lights or Christmas tree laden with gifts.  There’s no Christmas ham and glazed carrots.  There’s just cold, and the distant sounds of gunfire.  And yet, the Christmas spirit still is there – in the small pocket Bible or the verses kept close to his heart.

This Christmas is not unusual in that there is strife in the world.  This Christmas is not unusual that many are in dire financial need.  This Christmas is the same as it was on that day that Christ was born – He has come to be our deliverer.  That’s all the Christmas spirit I need. 

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Our Amazing Influence

Simon the Sorcerer

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.”They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, amazed by the great signs and miracles he saw.

Acts 8:9-13


It’s my guess that before many of us heard Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:39,  “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”, we all thought we were some level of great. 

It’s okay, you can admit it. I will too. Before knowing Jesus, our lives were centered around the greatness of self. Achieving selfish desires and seeking after things that would fulfill and establish a name for ourselves. I know before I knew Christ, I was on a slippery slope of idolization of self-value and worth – mainly in what others thought of me. I so desperately wanted to be like Simon. I wanted to be looked upon by those low and high with great respect, reverence and awe. I thought that if I could just attain a certain level of status with those I looked up to most, then certainly, I would be fulfilled. 

As described in the text, Simon had great fame amongst the people of Samaria. Those who knew him even thought he was god-like. He had all eyes on him, all the time. He knew how to command a room and keep their attention with amazing and impressive acts of sorcery and magic. Surely, this was the peak of Simon’s life. He had great influence over those who looked up to him. The people listened to him and were continuously amazed by him. 

Are you looking for glitz to influence or God?

But one day, Simon found the attention of the people was no longer in the palm of his hands. Someone else was stealing the show…

Philip had stolen the attention of his audience with the truth of the gospel. Now all of a sudden, the people were more interested in hearing about Jesus, rather than seeing Simon’s sorcery, and Simon was too. 

Miraculously, Simon was also among the many who were touched by Philip’s faithfulness to share the gospel everywhere he went. Simon became a follower of Philip and chose to no longer be a chief producer of propaganda for himself, but a disciple of Jesus, and one who laid down his “greatness” to serve the one and only Great God.  

Many of us look at Simon’s life before Christ and think, “Man, he had it all.” I mean, being a magician is no noble or holy position, but he had the love and respect of the people — two things every human being deeply long for more than anything else. The fact of the matter is, the influence Simon had on those people was superficial, surface level and would only last for a while until they found their next source of entertainment. His influence didn’t have deep roots in their hearts, it wasn’t truth-centered. 

The same goes with the superficial influence many of us THINK will make a lasting impact on others. We want the status, the attention and the glamour, but in reality all of that, will amount to nothing. 

True, deeply-rooted influence on others takes time. It takes a gospel-centered approach that puts the others’ hearts and souls first. It takes laboring in love, sacrificing time and resources and really listening to what the other person has to say. Simon may have captured the attention of the townspeople, but it didn’t take much for someone like Philip, who brought both truth and love, to steal their attention. 

Now, loving others and sharing the gospel is certainly no popularity contest. But, establishing effective and genuine and amazing influence is key to making strides for the Kingdom. 

So, what kind of influence have you been attempting to have on others? Do you seek glitz and glamour like Simon? Or, have you sought genuine, amazing relationships that are truth-based like Philip? 

Consider those around you who look up to you and think of how you can take one step towards influencing them towards Christ-centeredness today.