Be Sharp

I’m finding there are some essentials when you live in the woods. Among those essentials is one that I find is right up there at the top, and that is a sharp blade. I need to keep my chain saw blade sharp, or it won’t cut. I need to keep my machete blade sharp or it won’t do the job I need it to. Why I need a machete, I will leave for another Journey. Let’s just say it has to do with what I call, “wait-a-minute vines.” I have found all this out the hard way, and that is I let my blades go dull. When we let them go dull, they are not that productive. And not only that, with a dull blade, I have to work harder to get something cut. I also realize that the same thing applies to my spiritual life. The word of God says, “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and the thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” Hebrews 4:12-13 I use the phrase, “I feel this within the depths of my soul, within every fibre of my being.” That’s when I know that the Spirit is speaking to me, for I feel the effects of His communication deep within me. That’s the word! That’s the truth speaking to my heart, either telling me something that I should be doing, or something that I shouldn’t be doing. When I don’t go to the word every day, I get dulled, and it seems to take so much more energy to get things done, and my strength falters quickly. That voice of the Spirit, the One who lives in me, and wants me to trust Him with all that I am, and all that I have, comes to my heart every time I open the word of God! Pastor Andy

The Judge Is at the Door…

In some Christian circles slandering, judging others is a common practice even to the point that it becomes a favorite “past time”.  It is addictive making another person look bad while making yourself look good.  Information about another person becomes currency to be shared with your circle.  These bits are morsels that your group can chew on and on about. Being the judge is a lofty emotion.

The Apostle James heard about this being practiced among believers and addressed it, “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.  There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” James straightforwardly reminds each of us, “there is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.”  Let’s refresh our minds.  God Himself hates slander, judging one another…a self-serving exercise of pride to the detriment of others is an antithesis to the Christian faith.

Jesus deals with this subject Himself in Matthew 7:1-5, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Let’s break this passage apart:

  • In the same “measure you use” to slander someone meaning the potential that it will hurt them, “it will be measured to you.”
  • Why judge the small issue in another person’s life when you have a huge issue in your life that is keeping you from seeing things clearly.  Spiritually unhealthy people are the biggest gossipers.  They need something to build themselves up and use slander as their means.
  • Humbly ask Jesus to remove the issues that has blinded you.  He will and will bless you with the ability to genuinely help others.

James makes another statement in 5:9, “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!  Humbly, get off your throne and put Him on it.  He will clean you up and help you see things clearly especially hurting another person.

Do You Need a Punch in the Mouth?

If you don’t want to know the plain-spoken truth, skip the Book of James!  In the 3rd chapter of his brief book, James gives us a spiritual-punch-in-the-mouth.   Starting with verse 2, James speaks straightforwardly, For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to rein in the whole body as well.”  Your mouth is one of your biggest problems.  I believe this includes what you say to yourself (self-talk) as well as what you say to others.  Self-talk dictates your feelings, and your feelings are acted out in what you say and do.   Your self-talk impacts your relationship with God.  Let me assure you that self-talk goes on all day long whether you recognize it or not.  What you say out loud determines your relationship with others.  Control your tongue and James says you can be “a perfect man.”  James uses the following three metaphors in chapter 3.

Horses are animals of great strength and can be frightful to control.  James 3:3 tells us a little secret, “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.”  Control the mouth and you can control the “whole body.”  We all know tons of so-called powerful people who constantly spit out venom creating broken relationships in their wake.  Others of us speak our toxic words to ourselves which stalemates our capabilities and intentions disappointing those around us.

James 3:4 uses a small rudder on a ship for the 2nd metaphor. “Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines.”  A huge ship without a rudder to guide it is worthless.  Yet, the pilot can determine the precise direction in huge storms by the proper placement of the rudder.  In the storms of life, what happens to your tongue?  Pressure often unleashes violent mouths in some of us and paralyzes others.  In both cases, be obedient to God’s word and set the course whether it feels counterintuitive or not.  To some of us, it may say to shut up.  To others of us, it may say be to be bold.

James 3:5&6 gives us the 3rd metaphor during perceived fiery situations.  “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life and is set on fire by hell.”  Flaming, violent words are caustic and have detrimental even devastating effects on the lives of those around you.  STOP, DROP, AND ROLL, your out-of-control words are setting blazing toxic, emotional fires in the lives of precious people.  In others of us, we set ourselves on fire with our toxic self-talk.

James 3:8 wraps this discussion up for us, “no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” You cannot control it on your own.  Word of God is the bit, the rudder and flame repellant.  Meditate on (absorb) it and memorize it allowing God to change your mindset.  Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” including sins of the tongue.

Count It All Joy

What do you count as joy?  Our world considers joy typically in three ways…the satisfaction of sexual pleasure, the ability to buy what appeals to you, and the pride that comes from wealth and importance (1 John 2:16).  We are driven by wants. Once our selfish desires are fulfilled, we count it all joy. 

A quick question for you, how long are the pursuits of our world truly satisfying?  That car of yours is satisfying until a neighbor, friend, or especially a foe purchases a nicer one.  Fulfilment of lusts is addicting giving you the uninhibited craving to fulfill yet another fantasy.  The gorgeous, ornate house that you were able to purchase makes you feel that you finally arrived…that is until your neighbor, friend, or colleague not only has a gorgeous, luxurious home, but also a beautiful lake house or classy home in the mountains with an amazing view.  Our desires are insatiable constantly yearning for more. 

James 1:2 presents a shocking, counter intuitive challenge for Christians, Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds.”  What?!  You got to be kidding!  Most of us route ourselves around trials rather than face them.  Is James, the half-brother of Jesus, being a bit sadistic here?  No, not at all.  He is advising you with an eternal not a temporal perspective.

He tells you in 1:3 the benefit of facing “trials of various kinds”, “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  This verse states that the character produced by the Holy Spirit in your life under duress generates perseverance. This means the ability to achieve something successfully despite difficulty or delay.  It becomes dynamic that we who have our identity based in Christ can walk with confidence no matter what life throws at us.

Then, James tells us in verse 1:4 why perseverance is so important.  “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  First, he makes sure that we understand not to hide from problems but face them…“Let perseverance finish its work.”  Why?  “So that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

If you are currently in the world, sitting on empty, constantly driven to satisfy unquenchable, compulsive, superficial hunger for more, readjust your focus.  Stop centering your attention on the bankruptcy of the world.  Seek Jesus and the depth of living life centered on Him.  Learn to “count it all joy” no matter what is thrown at you and experience a life of “maturity and wholeness, not lacking anything.”

Count it all joy…!

Effective Prayer

What is effective prayer? We always say, “I’ll pray for you,’ but then does the person get well? Does their circumstance change?  What did we pray for?  For instance, listen to the words of Scripture as you read them with me: “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.”  James 5:13-18  I didn’t even want to write about this today, but the Spirit compelled me to. Do we have a lack of faith when we pray and a sick one doesn’t get well? I know I have had to deal with that over the loss of a loved one that I prayed earnestly for, yet did not get well, did not get her health restored.  I don’t want the gift of healing as some would say they have, but I want the faith that is strong enough, like Elijah, or like the Centurion, who asked Jesus to just say the word and his servant would be healed. I believe the Spirit distributes gifts as He sees fit, and if a gift makes you closer to Jesus, then yes, I want it. But I know that my goal is to have that “RIGHT” relationship with Jesus.  I believe in Him and His ability to heal, to change, to fix the broken, and to right the wrong. But I also know in my heart that wanting to stay here is not the primary goal of the believer.  Yes, I have had some urgent requests, that I have cried out to the Lord for, and even though it seemed like He was silent, I know He wasn’t. It was just that He wanted me to trust Him, regardless of the outcome I was hoping for.  So is it a lack of faith that keeps us from having the desired outcome that we prayed for in the first place? I know this is a big issue for many believers, and you are probably one who has felt the result of unanswered prayers.  Or at least they seemed to be unanswered.  But were they?  Does your prayers draw you closer to Jesus, or farther apart from Him when they seem to be unanswered?  Do you spend time wondering when Jesus is going to respond to your request for change?  Do you tell others that their lack of results when they pray is because their faith is not strong enough? Why do we need physicians if our faith is strong enough?  Why do we irrigate if our faith is strong enough?  Bring on the rain Jesus! But in the end, what I can conclude is that I have faith, but His ways are so much higher than mine, and my true request is for His will, not mine. I will accept the giving and the taking away, just as Job did, and I will trust in the Lord with all my heart, regardless of whether my wants are satisfied, for it’s my wants that I truly desire to change, and be replaced by trust, and His wants for me. Pastor Andy, Journey

Self-Condemner Married Self-Justifier

When Pam and I first got married, neither of us comprehended how different and difficult our personalities and temperaments would become.  She is a strong “Type-A”, control/take, never-at-fault, fudge the truth, self-justifier type person. Her never-at-fault attitude and tendency to put a spin on the truth, drove me up the wall for years. On the other hand, I am an outgoing (sanguine)/feeling oriented (melancholic)/self-condemning/people pleasing/depressive prone/always my fault kind of guy.  Pam often told me in frustration to “get over it!” She was forced to make a lot of the decisions for our family.  Frequently, I had the audacity to criticize her decisions especially regarding finances.  I know, what a jerk!  On the other hand, she could not or would not admit that she had made a mistake.  She could not say, “I blew it!” nor could she say, “I’m sorry”.  It seemed impossible for her!  This became very frustrating to me.

For me to become the solid man of God that Pam wanted and deserved, I had to make some major changes.  My “people pleasing” had to go.  God got my attention as I began to study His word. Proverbs 29:25 spoke to me, “The fear of man is a snare, but those who trust in God will be kept safe.”  Galatians 1:10 body slammed me with conviction, Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  Then, Paul told me how to behave in Ephesians 4:15, always “speaking the truth in love.”  God wanted me to become assertive rather than attacking.  Assertive statements start with “I” (for example “I feel, I want, I think, I need”).  “I-statements” focus on the issue without attacking the receiver.  Now, I have little trouble being assertive. 

Then, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I minimized Jesus’ work on the cross by being “self-condemning”.  He has completely forgiven and fully accepted me past, present, and future.  So, I must accept and apply what He has done for me!  Romans 8:1 is so straightforward, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Paul made things crystal clear in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  He imputed His righteousness in me on the cross.  I came to realize that I am righteous in Christ.  It is wonderful to know what God has done in me.  I am no longer that people pleasing, self-condemning guy.

Pam now recognizes her self-justifying mode of dealing with others, especially me, when she has difficulty admitting that she is at fault. John 1:6,8,10 declare, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth…if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”  Pam has softened and become an amazing woman.

Self-Condemner married Self-Justifier. With a lot of work mutually surrendering to God and “submitting one to another out of reverence to Him” (Ephesians 4:22), we have a wonderful marriage.  Don’t give up on yours!  You will discover that it is more than worth the journey.

Honoring God During Divorce

The following blog is written by Angela Startz, MAHSC, CCLC/Life Coach.  Observing her walk with the Lord and her work as a Life Coach, Angela has earned Pam and my respect.  Barnabas Man will publish a series of her blogs each Tuesday:

You married until death do us part… Only to find yourself become a statistic. Now you are among the 41% of first marriages that end in divorce, 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third (Gilbert, 2021).

2019 had the lowest divorce and marriage rates in 50 years (Wang, 2020). Finances appear to be a significant player in the reasons behind the decline. Wang (2020) notes that being unable to afford a wedding and lack of stable employment are among the top reasons behind the decrease in marriages. Likewise, couples struggling financially cannot afford the average divorce cost of $11,300.00 (Gilbert, 2021).

And yet, “every 13 seconds, there is a divorce in America” (Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, 2020).

How can a Christian navigate this process without compounding the sinfulness of the situation?

Without speculating on the reason(s) you find yourself in the quagmire of divorce and refusing to stir the waters of judgment, how are you honoring God during this ungodly process?

In the words of a friend of mine, “I didn’t know that was a thing.” Another said, “The thought never crossed my mind about seeking biblical counsel in that scenario [divorce].”

The bible was not given to us to teach us how to live holy and honor God in a perfect world where everything goes our way and according to our plan. It was given to us, so we could begin to understand God’s character, see His heart, and learn to imitate Him as beloved children (Eph. 5:1-3) right here in this fallen, broken, diseased, corrupt world.

It was given to us to know how to receive His forgiveness (Acts 10:43, I Jn., 1:9) and extend it to ourselves and others (Col. 3:13).

So, yes, it’s a thing. You can honor God while walking through the ungodly process of divorce.

Assuming you have done all you can to reconcile and divorce is inevitable, seeking wise counsel (in addition to your attorney) is a must to set yourself up for success (Pro. 11:14). Assets do not measure success in this arena. It is measured by honoring God, maintaining your integrity, not compromising your character, and safeguarding your child(ren).

Accepted and Accepting

Two criminals were sentenced to death by crucifixion along with Jesus, one on the left and another on the right of Him. In Luke 23:39-43, an amazing, emotional scene was recorded regarding their interaction with Jesus while they hung on their crosses. One of the criminals, who hung there, hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”  One remained a hardened, selfish criminal full of hatred and vitriol.  The other contemplated his horrendous sin and the righteous, innocent God-man who hung beside him, and humbly asked Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom.”  His heart recognized Christ as his Savior.  The response of Christ was astounding, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

We are fully, wholly accepted by God!  I don’t care who you are, what you look like, what you have or have not done, what stage of life, how stupid, gross or disliked you are.   “Whosoever” you may be, if you humbly bow before Jesus and invite Him into to your heart confessing Him as your Savior, you are eternally forgiven…completely accepted past, present and future. 2 Cor. 5:17 declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  2 Cor. 5:21 exclaims, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  We have been placed “in Him (Christ Jesus).”  God looks at us through His Son and judges us not guilty…always and forever!  We are completely accepted.  There is no condemnation.  I am afraid that the devil deceives us (he’s such a liar!) and gets us on the performance trap.  Throw that untruth off.  If you have come to Christ, you are FULLY AND WHOLLY ACCEPTED!! 

Now then, as believers, He challenges us to accept others.  Get a hold of this electric verse, Romans 15:7, Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”  How will the world change once we as His people forgive and show grace and mercy like Jesus?!  Allow me to be more specific.  What will the reaction and result be when your spouse, children, family, neighbor, colleagues and even enemies see His acceptance in our lives?  The name of Jesus will be praised.

We are totally accepted by God because of Jesus.  Now, let’s be Jesus to the world, and be accepting to others like Him.

The Antidote for a Bitter Root

Pam and I have seen the results of a bitter root.  We have watched it defile families, friendships, church groups, neighborhoods, social groups, and ball teams disrupting tender and precious events for children, grandchildren, and friends such as birthday parties, weddings, and quite often, holidays. Non-communication, heaviness, ugliness, and darkness in our lives become the debris left over from bitterness.  We have watched a bitter root defile families down to the 3rd and 4th generation.  Frequently, a bitter root becomes overpowering, pervasive, and emotionally hurtful personally and to the ones we love.  Too often the relationships rupture with seemingly no hope of reconciliation. How tragic…but so true!  Many sweet people are living out lives crushed by bitterness. 

Hebrews 12:15 is a forceful verse, 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  Grace is based on the sacrificial love of Jesus with a focus of loving, caring, and supporting others.  Opposed to grace, bitterness is focused on me, my wants, my goals, my hurts, and how someone has disturbed my life.   As a result, you determine “pay back” is in order which can be as subtle as a lie, deceptive manipulation, or stonewalling.   Emotions, the devil’s playground, overpower your thoughts then your behavior. Your malintent for this person(s) makes the “jerk” look bad and maybe a bonus of you looking good. “Finally, they will get what they deserve as will I!” What you don’t realize, the root of bitterness negatively impacts not only their life but your life frequently resulting in wounds and ugly scars.  If we “fall short of the grace of God”, it will eat you up and the others around you (“defiling many”).

The Apostle Paul states descriptively in Ephesian 4:26&27, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.”  The devil does not need much time to get a foothold in your life.  Once he does, a root of bitterness grows within you ultimately poisoning you and others.

Later in Ephesians 4, Paul instructs us. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Throw off all the stuff that result from a root of bitterness recognizing this is not what resides in a child of God.  Then, he tells us how to kill the bitter root in verse 32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Forgiveness is the antidote for a bitter root.  There are two roots in this Greek word translated “forgive”.  The first is the Greek word “char” which means joy.  The second is the Greek word “charis” meaning grace.  The outcome of forgiveness is joy and grace.  A constant attitude of forgiveness keeps you from “falling short of the grace of God.” 

The happiest people in the world are forgiving people.  Rather than bitterness and acts of malice, they are “kind and compassionate.”  These people are freed up to act like Jesus.

Get rid of the bitter root in your heart with its antidote, forgiveness.  It may take courage but your life as well as the people around you will change

Praise Him Anyway

There is a man who is doing the concrete work for the garage I am building.  It seems like he has a dark cloud following him around every day. Every day another piece of his equipment breaks and he has to stop what he is doing and fix it.  When I talk to him about it, he seems to let it just roll off him and doesn’t get upset. He just stops what he is doing, fixes the problem, then continues with the work. It’s hard for him to find helpers, so he does most of the work himself.  I have had to have a lot of patience with him because it takes him longer, with the equipment failures, and his working alone.  The man is a walking trial.  Last night I was thinking about him and the way he handles issues.  I have always lived such a fast-paced life, always making sure that things got done, and every contingency prepared for. I am not used to living each day with no plans for the “what if’s of life.” When those things happen, even though I can deal with them, they stress me out, because they have fallen outside of my plan for the day.  He and I  have had the opportunity to talk about the Lord a lot since he has started, and he is a believer. I wondered why the Lord allowed him to have so many trials, and what I could do to help him. Last night I realized that instead of helping him, he is helping me. You see, when my own plans don’t work out, or I do something that causes me delays, because of a mistake I made, I don’t take it like that.  I get angry with myself, and it ruins my day. Watching this man, makes me realize that we really have the opportunity to make the faith we have, genuine in the presence of the world. We can either fall apart when trials hit us, or we can use them to reveal the grace of God in every circumstance.  Peter would write: “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith – more  valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter1:3-7 So Scripture tells me that these trials are for the genuineness of our faith and results in praise, glory and honor to Jesus.  I wonder if struggles in my life result in praise, honor and glory to God, for the sake of Christ?  What about you? Do deviations from your plans cause you strife and anxiety, or do they give you opportunity for revealing a faith that is genuine?  I wonder how many unbelievers have viewed me as a poor example of what Christians are supposed to be, or have they viewed me as a good example? You too, have the opportunity to be an example of Christ in a world falling apart with divisions and trials.  We are not to get caught up in the controversies of life, but rather, our hope and trust in Jesus, should make us stand out, not like the world stands out, but totally different from what the world does. That is the example of a believer.  I think this young man, has been sent to me from the Lord, to help me understand that things I have lived with for so long, behaviors I thought were Christ-like, aren’t necessarily glorifying God. I want to change that.  So I share this with you, because you might also have issues that although may make you think you are revealing Christ, especially during times of crisis, they do not bring glory to God. Let’s change that, by bringing our lives into the example of Christ, instead of trying to change the example of Christ into our image. Pastor Andy