Living holy, godly lives at the end of the world

If you knew that the end of the world would come tomorrow, how would you live today? What would you do that you’d been putting off? What would you tell people around you?

I know I’m a horrible procrastinator. Many times I have things that I need to do, but I don’t do them until I absolutely have to. But the end of the world is going to come so quickly that procrastinators are just going to be out of luck.

Today’s verse is 2 Peter 3:10-11.

10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. 11 Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live,

Verse 11 caught my eye today.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live.

Really?

The human inclination is to say, since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, it doesn’t matter how you live. Or you should live however makes you happy. Or you should live for yourself and forget everyone else.

But that’s not what it says. Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live.

Holy and godly lives. What does that even mean? The Amplified version translates it as “holy behavior and devout and godly qualities.”

We don’t know when the end will come, but we can be sure it’s coming. The Bible says it is. And the state of the world is evidence enough that something big is coming.

But just knowing that the end is coming doesn’t do a whole lot for helping us deal with the world in the interim. What we need to remember is that the world will be destroyed. It must be. There’s no discussion.

So we shouldn’t get too attached to it. And we should live our lives like Jesus did, focused on serving God, focused on helping people, loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be different than people who don’t believe. We should show Christ in every aspect of our lives, from our work to our home to the stores on Black Friday.

We need to live a holy and godly life because the end is coming, and it’s coming soon. And for the procrastinators, that means today. Not tomorrow. Because you aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. None of us are.

So don’t try to fit everything in at the last moment because you won’t have time. And don’t let yourself believe that you are all that matters or that the world revolves around you. And don’t delude yourself that being happy is the most important thing in life.

The lives we live here are proving grounds for eternity. The bad things that happen in our lives aren’t punishment, they’re tests. This world isn’t our home. It’s just a temporary place we have to be for now, but that doesn’t mean our time here doesn’t matter.

While we’re here for however brief a time that is, we need to keep in mind that the things we see and the life we live now is temporary. It’s not going to last. And it’s all going to end much sooner than we think.

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How long is forever?

I don’t think anyone on earth really understands the concept of forever. I think we try, but I don’t think any of us is capable of it. Forever can blow our puny little insignificant minds.

But the Bible really talks about forever a lot. So if it’s something that we can’t comprehend, why is it all over Scripture? Well, if we could understand everything about the Bible, we wouldn’t need it, would we? If we could understand everything about God, He wouldn’t be God, would He?

I learned a long time ago that whenever someone in authority over me repeated something, it usually meant what they were saying was important. So whenever my parents or my boss would say something at least twice, I knew to pay attention. Because there had to be a reason they wanted me to know whatever it was they were telling me.

And if that is true between us crazy human types, it’s doubly true of God. There aren’t many instances in Scripture where God repeats Himself, though, so when it happens, it’s super important.

So when I read today’s verse, I figured that what He was saying was important. But of all the things to repeat, I find this interesting:

Psalm 136:1, 26

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
         His faithful love endures forever.
26
Give thanks to the God of heaven.
         His faithful love endures forever.

What is God saying in this verse? Why did He choose to have David write, “His faithful love endures forever” over and over again? Well, obviously, God wanted to catch our attention. Remember, He only repeats Himself when He wants us to make sure we understand what He’s saying.

So how do we understand that His faithful love endures forever?

Well, what that tells me is that no matter what I do or where I go or how far I get or how badly I think I’ve screwed up, there’s nothing that will make God love me less. Because His faithful love endures forever.

Isn’t that what you would think if you saw “His faithful love endures forever” repeated twice in the same Psalm?

Want a real shocker? Read the whole Psalm 136. In fact, I’m going to post it. Because I think God is trying to tell us all something.

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
         His faithful love endures forever.
 2 Give thanks to the God of gods.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords.
         His faithful love endures forever.

 4 Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 5 Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 6 Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 7 Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights—
         His faithful love endures forever.
 8 the sun to rule the day,
         His faithful love endures forever.
 9 and the moon and stars to rule the night.
         His faithful love endures forever.

 10 Give thanks to him who killed the firstborn of Egypt.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 11 He brought Israel out of Egypt.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 12 He acted with a strong hand and powerful arm.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 13 Give thanks to him who parted the Red Sea.[a]
         His faithful love endures forever.
 14 He led Israel safely through,
         His faithful love endures forever.
 15 but he hurled Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 16 Give thanks to him who led his people through the wilderness.
         His faithful love endures forever.

 17 Give thanks to him who struck down mighty kings.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 18 He killed powerful kings—
         His faithful love endures forever.
 19 Sihon king of the Amorites,
         His faithful love endures forever.
 20 and Og king of Bashan.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 21 God gave the land of these kings as an inheritance—
         His faithful love endures forever.
 22 a special possession to his servant Israel.
         His faithful love endures forever.

 23 He remembered us in our weakness.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 24 He saved us from our enemies.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 25 He gives food to every living thing.
         His faithful love endures forever.
 26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.
         His faithful love endures forever.

That’s 26 times. God repeats this 26 times in 26 verses. So if we’re supposed to sit up and pay attention when God says something twice, what do we do when he says it 26 times?

Me? I believe it. God isn’t going to waste our time just saying the same thing over and over and over again. If He allowed David to write this Psalm this way, He did it for a reason.

God’s faithful love endures forever. So when your day sucks and everything goes wrong and nothing goes the way you planned it and when you feel like God has turned His back on you, remember that His faithful love endures forever. And even though we can’t understand what forever means or how long forever is, God does.

And when God says He’ll love us forever, He knows what He’s promising. He’s seen forever. Shoot, He is forever. He made forever.

It’s not about us understanding forever. It’s about us believing that God’s got it all taken care of and that there’s nothing that can separate us from His love. Not even ourselves.

Entitlement in blessing

When someone does something nice for you, what is your reaction? Do you expect people to be nice to you and do things for you? So when someone does, do you just act like they were required to do it? Do you refuse to accept someone’s kindness? Are you humbled that someone would be kind to you? Do you run around and tell everyone about it?

I love to watch little kids open presents. They get so excited, and once they have it open and know what’s inside, they’ll usually run around showing everyone.

If someone does something nice for you, generally your first reaction is going to be to tell people about it. Isn’t it? You’ll want to tell your friends and your family and the people you work with that someone you know did something amazing for you.

That’s what I thought when I read today’s verse, 1 Chronicles 16:8.

8 Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
      Let the whole world know what he has done.

1 Chronicles is one of those Old Testament books that gets looked over sometimes. It’s a history book, usually used for extended reference with 1 Kings. But it has detail in it that 1 Kings doesn’t, and we can learn things from the Chronicles that we don’t in the Kings.

In 1 Chronicles 16, David and a select group of people are moving the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. This was a big event. In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God. It was where He would speak to the High Priest. The Israelites carried it into battle with them. It was a symbol. Not an idol. And it was supposed to be at the center of the Temple, in a chamber called the Holy of Holies. Well for some reason or another (it’s complicated), the Ark needed to be moved back to Jerusalem (I can’t remember if this was the time the Philistines stole it or if it was a separate occurence).

In any case, when David and his people got the Ark back to Jerusalem, David wrote a song. The first line of the song is today’s verse.

When was the last time God did something for you that He didn’t have to do? I bet it was more recent than you think. Did you wake up this morning? Are you able to read and understand the words in this post? Do you taste the coffee you’re drinking?

How much has God done for you just in your early morning routine?

I think we expect God to just do things for us because He’s a good God. But we live in such a screwed up world that the entitlement mentality of our culture has spread to our faith.

God is not required to do anything for us. I mean, He already sacrificed His Son so we could have eternal life. What more can we ask from Him? Yes, He tells us to ask Him for what we need, that we don’t have because we don’t ask. But even when we ask, we’re supposed to have the right heart. And many times, I don’t think we do.

God has done amazing things for us. God is doing amazing things for us, and many times we don’t even realize it. So we don’t thank Him like we should, and we don’t tell others about it either.

So today, think about what God has done for you. Because even the “little” things are bigger than we think, too big for us to accomplish on our own. And once you see the things that God has done for you, tell others about it. Because nothing demonstrates gratitude like telling other people what someone else has done for you.

God helped me wake up this morning. He gave me a life where I have a warm bed and hot coffee to drink. He’s provided me with a job that I enjoy, even though it stresses me out sometimes. He’s given me a car to drive that is still going strong at nearly 121,000 miles. He gave me the ability to write and the hands to type my thoughts down. He gave me a family that’s incredible and friends who help keep my focus straight. He gave me a church that’s out-of-this-world awesome. He’s given me opportunities to do the things I love and help people at the same time. He’s given me everything that I need and many things that I wanted. And the things that I wanted that He hasn’t given me are probably just around the bend.

God has been good to me. Very good. And the least I can do is proclaim that goodness to other people. I want the whole world to know that God has blessed me when He didn’t have to.

How has God blessed you this morning?

Think about it. Thank Him for it. And then tell somebody.

Before you gobble, gobble, take time to remember

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you have a warm, bright day full of laughter and lots of family time (and far too much pumpkin pie than is probably healthy).

And as we celebrate our plenty, I hope none of us forget to be thankful. Truly thankful. And not just for the food and the family or anything else that’s obvious.

We need to be thankful for something more important than all of it. Colossians 2:6-7 says:

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

If you’ve chosen to follow Jesus, you have something to be thankful for today that is more precious than too much to eat. You have a life with Him and a relationship with God, open access to the creator of the universe. And it’s not just that, but it’s strength to live your life. Christ provides us with a foundation to survive the craziness of the world we broke.

So when you sit down enjoy your thanksgiving feast today, don’t forget to thank God for all that He’s done.

Thank Him. Mean it.

And dig in.

Happy Thanksgiving, ya’ll!

The lost holiday

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a holiday that gets lost in American culture, I think. Nestled between Halloween and Christmas, the stores rarely put out Thanksgiving decorations anymore. They just have sales on food.

I remember as a child when Thanksgiving came around, stores would have images of turkeys and pilgrims to remind people that it was Thanksgiving time. Now, it seems we skip straight from the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween to Santa and the reindeer. Maybe there was no room for the turkey and the pilgrims in the world of secular icons?

Or maybe it’s just because, as a culture, Americans are so fat and happy all the time that a day devoted solely to eating and watching football isn’t that unusual anymore. If that’s the case, it’s ironic. Because Americans are fat and happy and they’re the one people group in the world that spend millions of dollars to lose weight and even more on medication to avoid being depressed.

Now, I’m not saying I’m against eating. Good grief, no. Personally, I’m supposed to stay away from sugar and grains. But let me tell you, I intend to eat my share (or more than my share) of pumpkin pie and stuffing tomorrow. I’ll probably go right to sleep, but I’m going to do it because Thanksgiving only comes once a year. … and I really really love pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, but I think Americans have forgotten what it is that we’re celebrating. It’s not exactly a cut-and-dry type of holiday, after all. It’s a little unusual. And if you don’t know anything about history, it’s easy to get your focus off, especially with the consumerism in the American market now.

What do we celebrate on Thanksgiving? Do we celebrate that the pilgrims came over on the Mayflower and made friends with the “Indians” and learned how to make succotash? Do we celebrate that people play football? Do we celebrate that it’s autumn? Do we celebrate that Christmas is coming?

I think Thanksgiving is easy to forget in America because we have so much all the time, it’s hard to be thankful. Thanksgiving is being thankful. But after you spend all day, sometimes a day and a half, preparing food, it’s difficult to be thankful for it. You just want to eat it. Or after you’ve worked and worked and worked for eleven months, it’s easy to just want to take a day off and rest.

But that’s where I think we lose the holiday. It gets lost because we’re not thankful. Our focus is wrong.

If you’ve never been out of the country, you really have no context to understand how blessed America is. We are a blessed people. Blessed beyond belief or imagination.

2011 has been a difficult year. Actually, the U.S. has had a run of difficult years. We call them difficult years, but are they really difficult? Difficult means something different in the U.S. than it does in other countries. Difficult here means someone lost a job. Difficult here means a family had to move to a smaller house. Difficult here means someone has to survive on minimum wage or unemployment.

And I’m not making light of any of those situations. They’re all unfortunate. But what is difficult — truly difficult — about living in the United States?

The only thing that’s truly difficult about living in the United States is remembering to be thankful. Because even in our worst circumstances, we have more than any other country. And even if you have nothing, you have the opportunity to start something. Even if you have no one, you can meet someone. And if you’re all alone, you can ask for help. And many times, someone will help. Because this country is still the most generous, kind-hearted country in the world.

Do we realize how unusual that is? Or are we so caught up in the busyness and the excess that we just skim over it?

My heart breaks for this country because those of us with so much don’t think about those who have nothing. All I have to do is think about my dear Q’eqchi friends in Guatemala who live in homes with dirt floors and who are so happy and thankful for everything they have. I think I’m grateful for the blessings in my life, and they put me to shame.

So how can people from a country that has everything remember to be thankful? In my mind, the only way is to remember where our plenty came from. Because blessings don’t occur in a vacuum. Excess doesn’t just happen. America is blessed because the people who founded it followed God. And America is still blessed because there are many many people in it who still follow God and pray for this country.

Today’s verse is Psalm 100:4-5.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
      go into his courts with praise.
      Give thanks to him and praise his name.
 5 For the Lord is good.
      His unfailing love continues forever,
      and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

And whoever arranged this verse probably intended to focus on verse 4. After all, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. But really what stands out to me this morning is verse 5.

For the Lord is good.

His unfailing love continues forever.

And his faithfulness continues to each generation.

I’m thankful for turkey. I’m thankful for pumpkin pie. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for my friends. I’m thankful for my country. I’m thankful for my church. And I’m thankful for words to be able to express my thoughts.

But more than anything, I’m thankful to belong to God. And I’m thankful that He’s a good God and that He loves me and that no matter what I do or where I go, His love will continue forever. Even until after time is gone, He will still love me. He’s faithful and that faithfulness has been passed down through the ages, and it won’t stop either.

We have so much to be thankful for. And while Halloween is fun and Christmas is epic, we shouldn’t forget the little holiday in between. Because if we forget to be thankful, we’ll lose more than just a holiday.

Living in peace within the Church … easier said than done

Have you ever thought about what life would be like if your body tried to destroy itself? I’ve met some people with diseases that do that, where one part of their body tries to destroy another part of their body. Their whole body is basically at war with itself. It’s a terrible way to live, knowing your own body is incapable of living in harmony with itself.

That’s what I thought about when I read today’s verse, Colossians 3:15.

15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

As members of one body, we are called to live in peace. Read that again.

The Church is often called the Body of Christ, and all of us who are believers are a part of the Church. That makes all of us who believe in Christ part of the Body of Christ. One body. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

But oftentimes we live as though we are one of the people with a body-killing disease, where one member of the body is trying to destroy another member of the body. And that’s not healthy. It’s not helpful either.

Churches seem dead set on tearing each other down in today’s world. One church is bigger and better than another one. Another church is smaller and better. Another church is less ornate. Another church is more ornate. Another church has better music. Another church has no music. And it goes on and on and on, and we become consumed with judging each other.

That’s not what we’re here to do.

As members of one body, we are called to live in peace.

But anyone who is a believer knows that there is nothing harder than learning to agree to disagree with another Christian. There’s something grating about having to leave the minor issues to God and focus on the major issues, because it’s the tiny rocks in your shoes that are more annoying than the big one that hits your head. But many times, that’s what we have to do. Because God deals with different people in different ways. No one is in the same place as everyone else.

Obviously, God saves us all the same way. But we are all in different places in our individual walks, and no one will agree completely on every single subject in Scripture. And at that point when you reach a disagreement with a fellow believer, what do you do?

Do you tear each other down? Do you break your friendship? Do you walk away?

You can. But what good will that do either of you?

At that point, you have a choice. You can choose to walk away or you can choose to peacefully coexist.

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is peace. Peace isn’t something that just happens, though. It’s something that comes from God, and we have to let it. We have to allow God’s peace to “rule in our hearts.” It’s a choice. To keep our mouths shut.

It’s the same with a church. Churches who preach the truth of the Scripture are supposed to support each other, not tear each other down. There are so many churches — just in Wichita — that preach the Truth, but because they disagree on minor issues, they hate each other. The whole denomination fiasco has done more harm within the church than almost anything else. People define themselves by their denomination instead of by Scripture. There are no Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists or any other -ists or -ics in the Bible. There are just people who follow Christ and people who don’t.

Now am I saying that the Church (and I mean those who believe in Christ and the Bible) need to support other churches that don’t? No.

Church means the people who follow Christ. So that doesn’t mean that the Church needs to go out and support other “churches” that are proliferating error and falsehoods about Scripture.

However, the Church does need to seek them and welcome them.

But I’m not talking about churches that don’t preach Truth. There’s enough conflict between the members of the actual Church. And there shouldn’t be. As members of one body, we are called to live in peace, and as followers of Christ, we all have access to God’s peace. We just have to allow it to rule in our hearts, which means we listen and obey the Spirit’s leading instead of our own pride.

Whenever I hear other Christians speaking badly of another Bible-preaching church, I always think of Luke 9:50. Where the Disciples saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and told him to stop. Why? Because he was doing it wrong? Because he wasn’t being successful? Or because he was taking credit for it?

No. The Disciples told him to stop because “he wasn’t part of their group.”

And Jesus’ response has always fascinated me.

 50 But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.”

Fellow members of the Body of Christ, remember this. If you have a problem with another Bible-preaching church and they are reaching their community in a way that no one else can, stop speaking ill of them. Don’t try to stop them, and don’t try to discourage them.

If they’re not against us, they’re for us. We’re all on the same side. Especially now as the night is nearly over and the day is coming when Christ will return, we need all the help we can get to reach a world that still doesn’t believe. And you never know if some other church may be positioned better to reach the people you can’t.

Let God’s peace rule in your life. Live at peace with other believers. And don’t let the minor issues between you cause the Body of Christ to fail.

A gifted church

What makes a church? Well … that’s a strange question. Mostly because a church wasn’t originally supposed to be a singular entity. All churches were supposed to stand together, united, as one body. In ancient cities, like Corinth, there weren’t twelve different churches. There was one. Just like in Ephesus, Philippi, Antioch, etc. There were no denominations. That’s why you’ll hear ministers refer to the Church in Corinth or the Church in Antioch.

The Church is supposed to be one, united force. In America, the concept of a church is different than what it was in the Bible. In America, a church is a building with beautiful statues or stained glass windows. Or, depending on denomination, it’s a modern complex with high-technology and stadium seating and McDonald’s in the lobby.

But that’s not the Church. The Church isn’t a building. The Church is people. If the building were to fall down or blow away, the Church would still stand because the people yet remain.

Nowadays, especially in American Christianity, the Church has entered the realm of tradition. It’s something we do because our parents did. It’s something we suffer through because it alleviates our guilt. It’s something that is performed for us instead of us participating in.

Some churches operate under the belief that they exist to keep their members happy. Some churches operate like a country club, welcoming only the people who fit their defined mold of what a Christian should look like and rejecting (politely) the people who don’t. Some churches operate like a zoo, keeping their members under lock and key. Some churches operate like party with no adult supervision, with wild chaos and noise and no direction or goals.

Some churches care about their communities and work to see people come to Christ. Some churches only care about their own needs, although they donate a little bit of money to a good cause every Christmas. Some churches only care about putting on a good show and are willing to sacrifice the truth to keep their numbers up.

But which one is right?

I don’t know if I have the right to determine that. But what stands out to me is what makes a church effective. And it doesn’t matter how big a church is or how few people attend or where it’s located or how good it’s music is or how talented its pastor is. What matters is if everyone recognizes that anything good in the Church comes from God.

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 1:4-5.

4 I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge.

I think it’s so funny that Paul starts this Book of the Bible off with praise. I think he wanted to soften the blow of following chapters. Because 1 Corinthians is a scathing letter to a church that had lost its senses. The Church in Corinth had been making some very very foolish choices.

What stood out to me this morning was how Paul pointed out that the enrichment of the Church of Corinth was a result of the gifts God had given its people when they accepted Christ. Whenever someone accept Christ and receives the Holy Spirit, God gives that person a Spiritual Gift. Some folks have more than one. But every believer has a gift, and that gift is designed to serve the Church. It may be an obvious gift, like preaching. It may be a serving gift, like hospitality. It may be a quiet gift, like prayer. But every believer has one.

And it’s essential that those gifts be used in the church. But more important that using those gifts, it’s important to remember where those gifts came from.

I have the privilege of attending the most awesome church in the world. My church is my family. It’s my second home. And I know people say that all the time, but I mean it. There are few places where I feel at home, and my church is one of those places. But what makes my church awesome isn’t our beautiful building. It’s the people. And what makes those people so gifted is God and the power of the gifts He’s given them and their willingness to use their gifts AND their understanding that those gifts aren’t their own doing.

My church is a gifted church, a blessed church. And the only reason it has remained blessed is because no one is seeking the spotlight and no one is trying to be more important than someone else. And no one has forgotten where our blessing came from. God has drawn people from all over the place, people with gifts that defy explanation. The talent base at this church is unreal. But all it would take for everything to fall apart is for us to forget that God is the One who brought us here.

There’s nothing special about what happened at my church. There’s no secret formula, and there’s no magic words. What happened to us was we decided to take God at His word and love people and give Him the credit for anything and everything that happened.

The Church is here to point toward Christ, to lead others to Christ and to encourage other believers to keep going. And I don’t know if we can really judge what makes an effective church, mostly because what the Church is here to accomplish can’t be seen with human eyes. It’s true that some church have a higher ratio of gifted people in attendance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a church will be “more effective” because of it. Because all it takes is forgetting.