I grew up in the age of televangelists. I was a teenager when Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker fell from grace as we called it. I remember them being all over the news for their failures. I also remember the Church joining in with the world in taking them down. Days before the news broke, these men and their ministries were held in high esteem by many. Then immediately they were cast out. The same thing happened to singers Marabeth Jordan from First Call and Michael English. They were pulled from the radio, their CD’s taken out of stores and they were shunned. I remember thinking, “What if King David had been treated this way? We forgive him, but not these people.” Michael felt the reaction so heavily that he ended up homeless and on drugs. I’m not sure what the exact response is, but rejection isn’t it.
In John 8:1-11, the religious leaders paraded a woman into the Temple area where Jesus was sitting. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?” (GNT) If this had been in our time, we would have started throwing the stones, but Jesus wasn’t so quick to pick up a stone. Instead, He drew in the dirt as He considered His response. He straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” One by one they dropped their stones and walked away. He drew in the dirt some more, then looked up at her and asked if anyone was left to condemn her. “No one, sir,” she answered. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.”
Jesus provided a great example of love and restoration. Galatians 6:1 says, “My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too.” Instead of walking around with stones in our hands looking to take out brothers and sisters who fail, we need to be looking for ways to use those stones to repair their foundations. We forget that we’re in the restoration business and not the demolition one. Demolition is fun because it’s quick and easy. The work of restoration is long and tedious, but that’s what we’re called to do. Who have you been withholding restoration from? Who have you thrown rocks at? We’re all guilty of it, but it’s not too late to change. If Jesus is able to forgive them, we must be willing to as well. We are His vehicle for restoration of their lives. Let’s act like it.
One of the things I’ve learned is that if you’re going to grow, you must be teachable. People who think they know it all have placed a lid on their growth. The ones who are humble enough to realize they don’t know what they don’t know are often the people who ask questions that seek understanding. They want to learn more so they can get better at something. They seek out people who know more than they do in the area they want to grow in, ask questions and then apply what they’ve learned. Application is a huge part of growth. It’s what takes the knowledge you’ve been given and does something with it. If you’ve been taught something new and don’t do anything with it or change how you do things, then you may not be as teachable as you thought.
Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, was a serious scholar. He had one of the brightest teachers who poured everything into his students. Even though he had all that knowledge and was very strict in obeying the Law, he was missing the point. Jesus met him on the way to Damascus to show him His will for him. Paul spent the next several years relearning everything in the Scriptures with his new perspective. Once he understood what God wanted him to do, he did it faithfully until he died. He served God with complete devotion, and wrote letters to the churches of that day explaining the Scriptures and helping them follow Jesus with the same devotion.
In Psalm 86:11 David prayed, “Teach me, Lord, what you want me to do, and I will obey you faithfully; teach me to serve you with complete devotion” (GNT). It’s a prayer each of us should pray as we seek to grow and follow Jesus more closely. Like Paul, God will reveal to us His will and give us understanding of Scriptures. He wants us to know His will for our lives so we can obey Him and fulfill our purpose. It starts with us being teachable and asking Him to show us. Just like before, knowledge is great, but growth happens in the application and obedience. Both David and Paul were people like you and me. They had flaws and failures, but what sets them apart from most is that they were always seeking to know more of what they didn’t know about God and how to serve Him more faithfully. I believe their teachability is why God revealed so much to them and why God used them to write so much of the Bible. Imagine what God could do through you if you were that teachable.
There are times when I feel like I have the type of faith that can move mountains. There are also times when I feel like my faith is much smaller than a mustard seed. Sometimes I read verses like John 14:13 where Jesus tells us to ask for whatever we need in His name and He’ll give it to us, and I think, “What if I ask and you don’t answer?” Hen I think, “What if I don’t ask at all? What happens then?” Having the faith to believe sometimes feels like the gas gauge on my car. Sometimes it’s full, and other times it feel empty. Either way, I believe God honors the faith we do have, but He’s also encouraging us to have more.
In Mark 9, Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration to find his disciples arguing with some teachers of the Law. When he asked them what they were arguing about, a man pushed forward and said he had brought his son to be freed from demons, but the disciples couldn’t do it. Jesus asked for the boy, and Ashe approached, the demons threw him into a fit. The man begged Jesus to help them if He possibly could. Jesus responded, “Yes, if you yourself can! Everything is possible for the person who has faith” (GNT). To that, the father answered, “I do have faith, but not enough. Help me have more!” Jesus cast the spirit out and the boy was healed.
Faith is a partnership between us and God built on trust and communication. Jesus wanted to partner with this father’s faith for his boy, but the man felt he needed more. He is a lot like several of us doubting our faith isn’t enough. Jesus was able to use what faith he did have to free his son. Later, when the disciples asked why they couldn’t cast it out, Jesus told them, “Only prayer can drive this kind out. Nothing else can.” It’s a reminder to us to look at our prayer life when our faith feels small. How much quality time are we spending with our Heavenly Father? I’ve found that the more time I spend with Him in prayer, the greater my faith is. You and I can have more faith, but it comes through prayer and reading the Bible.
At our church we like to say, “Honor up. Honor down. Honor all around.” It’s a simple way to remember the importance of giving honor to people. The easy thing to do is to honor up. We’re used to honoring pastors, leaders and people up the ladder. Can you honor down though? Can you find ways to give honor to people who you are leading or are not as high on the ladder as you? There are people who are faithful, who anticipate needs and do things behind the scenes that never gets noticed until it’s not done. They need to be appreciated and honored even though they can’t do anything to help you climb the ladder. Honoring someone is hard sometimes because it takes the spotlight off of ourselves and gives it to someone else. If you have a hard time honoring others, it may be a pride issue.
In Philippians 2:25-30, Paul gives honor to a man named Epaphroditus, who he says has been a friend, brother and a fellow soldier in the work of the ministry. Paul had been going through a difficult season and was discouraged. The church at Philippi sent Epiphroditus to encourage him. While he was with Paul, he got sick and nearly died. The people in Philippi heard about it and were worried, so Paul was sending him back to the church there to let them know he was all right. In verse 29 he wrote, “Welcome him home in the Lord with great joy, and appreciate and honor men like him” (AMP). It wasn’t just Epiphroditus that they needed to honor. It’s all people like him who serve God and others.
You can honor people using the Five Love Languages. Some people just need a pat on the back (physical touch). Some need to be told how much you appreciate them (words of affirmation). Some could use a token of your appreciation (gifts). Others need something special done for them (acts of service). While others would appreciate you spending time with them one on one (quality time). However you choose to honor people, it’s important that we as believers give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7). We need to be the models of being selfless and pointing the spotlight on others, especially when it’s something we crave. A simple encouragement from you will fill their tank and keep them going. The only thing you need to do is figure out who to honor and how best to do it.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
On November 19, 1863, Edward Everett, the former dean of Harvard, gave a two hour speech at the dedication of a piece of land in Pennsylvania. When his speech was over, they invited President Lincoln to offer a message as well. His speech was two minutes long, and became one of the most recognized speeches in American history known as the Gettysburg Address. He could have used this opportunity to gloat and talk big about the victory the North had just won over the South in the Civil War. Instead, he took the opportunity to try to heal the nation. The words he spoke are remembered because their purpose was to bridge the divide, to honor the fallen and to call the nation to a new birth of freedom.
In 2 Samuel, King Saul had been killed in battle and Israel was divided between those loyal to the house of Saul and those loyal to David. Saul’s son Ishbosheth had been ruling Israel while David ruled Judah. Once Ishbosheth was killed in a battle, David became king over all Israel. It had been 15 years since he had been anointed King over Israel. He had fled for his life and lived in the wilderness running from Saul all that time. Instead of disparaging Saul, David honored him with his words and deeds. Because David didn’t alienate those who had been loyal to Saul, he was able to unify the nation and rule for 33 years as Israel’s most famous king. David understood the power of his words and taught that to his son Solomon who became king next.
In Proverbs 12:18, Solomon wrote, “Reckless words are like the thrusts of a sword, cutting remarks meant to stab and to hurt. But the words of the wise soothe and heal” (TPT). Do your words cut and maim or soothe and heal? Do they bring people together or push them further apart? What about what you post on social media? It’s in our nature to use words to hurt others, especially those who disagree with us or have even been against us in the past. Paul reminded in Colossians 4:6 to always let our speech be full of grace. We have the choice each day with the words we use and how they’re used. We have a choice in what we put out on social media as well. Choose to let your speech, and posts, bring healing in an already divided world. Let them be filled with the love and kindness of Christ that will lead them to Him rather than to push them further away from Him. In the end, it’s eternity that matters.
When I was in college, I used to go to the local park all the time to play pick up basketball games. There was always a game going on. Once a game had started, someone would yell out, “I got next.” That meant they picked the team for the next game to face the winner of the current game. The only problem in pick up games was there was no referee. Each person had to call their own foul. If you fouled someone and didn’t call it, the person who was fouled would usually make a comment like, “I guess no blood no foul huh?” It never failed that arguments would always break out over whether a foul was called or whether something was a foul. When it started getting ugly and fists started flying, it was time to grab my basketball and go.
In the Old Testament, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and later The Law to be a referee. Up until then, there really wasn’t anything other than each person determining what was right and wrong. God knew that we needed a referee to show us those things, but He also knew that we had to know The Law in order for it to work. In Deuteronomy 6:6-9, God told them to commit wholeheartedly to what He was telling them. He then told them to talk about them everywhere they went, to tie them to their arm and forehead and to post them on the doors of their houses as reminders of what He said. Yet even still people did what was right in their own eyes because it hadn’t moved from their head to their heart.
In the New Testament, Paul wrote in Colossians 3:16, “Let the [spoken] word of Christ have its home within you [dwelling in your heart and mind—permeating every aspect of your being] as you teach [spiritual things] and admonish and train one another with all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (AMP). The word in the original language of the New Testament mean, “To act as an umpire.” Once His word dwells in us richly and permeates our entire being, then it can help us know how God wants us to live. We weren’t created to call our own fouls determining what’s right and wrong. God has given us His Word and the Holy Spirit to do that. Allow both to rule and reign in your life so that He can call the fouls that lead us to repentance and an abundant life.
After speaking at a high school chapel service, a young girl came up to me and asked how she could know what her calling was. I told her to find her holy discontentment and start there. She still seemed a little confused, so I asked her to think about things that break her heart when she sees them. Then I gave her some advice I heard Andy Stanley give: Do for one what you wish you could do for many. Sometimes we look at an entire problem, feel inadequate and give up. You may not be able to eradicate hunger in the world by yourself, but you can feed one person. Start there. Do for one what you wish you could do for many. When you prove you can be faithful helping one, God will empower you to help many. It all starts with one.
I can’t help but think of King David wanting to show kindness to Saul’s family. When he found out Jonathan had a son that was still alive, he had him brought in. Historically, when a new family took over the throne, they wiped out the bloodline of the previous ruling family. Jonathan’s son thought that was what was going to happen to him when the king summoned him. However, David placed himself in this young man’s shoes and decided to show him kindness. If the roles had been switched, he would have appreciated kindness to his grandson. He then did for one what he wanted to do for any in Saul’s line; he gave him a seat at the king’s table and restored his family’s property.
I know you probably grew up reciting the Golden Rule and were taught to treat others the way you want to be treated, but what if you used it as a measuring stick for fulfilling your calling? I love the perspective that The Message gives it in Matthew 7:12. It says, “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” When you have found your holy discontentment, do for one what you wish people would do for you if you were in that situation. Quit making the excuse that the problem is too great, you don’t have the resources to make a difference or that you’re not ready. Find one person in that situation and do what you can. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but you have to start. Put yourself in their shoes, think of what you would like for someone to do for you, take the initiative and do it.
I was just telling my son, that Romans is my favorite book in the Bible. It’s full of so many treasures and some outright blunt speaking from Paul. One of which is Romans 2:4. It says, “Are you [actually] unaware or ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness leads you to repentance [that is, to change your inner self, your old way of thinking—seek His purpose for your life]?” (AMP) Through this verse, Paul revealed part of our salvation process and the change in our heart and mind that led us to seeking forgiveness for our sin. When you think back to when you received Jesus as your savior, there was kindness or goodness in action from God towards you that led you towards trusting in Him. That kindness created a change of heart in you. That same kindness that God demonstrated to you is the same kindness listed in the Fruits of the Spirit that we are to display to others.
In Genesis 43, Joseph’s brothers returned to Egypt for more grain. Joseph showed them kindness by feeding them at his own home. They knew they didn’t deserve this kindness as their consciences reminded them of what they had done to their brother. After having lunch with them, he planted a cup in Benjamin’s bag that was found later after they left. When he said Benjamin had to go to jail, Judah stood up and offered an act of kindness by saying he would take the punishment for Benjamin. When Joseph saw this, he knew their hearts had changed and he revealed himself to them. Forgiveness and restoration took place because kindness (goodness in action) was demonstrated when they didn’t deserve it.
Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you” (AMP). It’s not just God’s kindness that leads to repentance, it’s our goodness in action and forgiveness that points them to Jesus too. Who in your life least deserves kindness from you? We are to readily and freely forgive others just as Jesus readily and freely forgave us. We need to show kindness to those who have wronged us rather than to seek revenge. Pray for wisdom from God to help you forgive others and to show you ways to express His kindness to those who wronged you and to others you meet. We know that when others see our good works and goodness in action, they’ll glorify God and turn to Him.
I’ll never forget the first time I climbed up the side of a mountain. I was somewhere in Washington State a month or two after my mom passed away. I remember the climb up was more difficult than I imagined. When I got halfway up, I sat down to take break. As I looked down on the valley, I was struck by its beauty and lush vegetation. I remember thinking that while I couldn’t stay in the valley, I could at least grow while I was in it. What had seemed dark and dry from below, now looked like fertile soil from higher up. God used that climb to speak to me and to bring healing. I wasn’t meant to stay in the valley, but just because I was walking through one, it didn’t mean God couldn’t grow me through it. What seemed like a dry time in my life was really God planting seeds in fertile soil.
When we go through some of the darkest times in our life, we refer to it as going through a valley. David famously wrote in the 23rd Psalm, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me” (NLT). God doesn’t leave us when we go through the valleys of life. He’s close to you even when you can’t feel Him, and He’s given you tools for protection and comfort. He then prepares a table for you there representing that you will be taken care of and that you can thrive even in the darkest times of your life.
I like the promise given in Psalm 84:6-7. It says, “As they pass through the dry valley of Baca, it becomes a place of springs; the autumn rain fills it with pools. They grow stronger as they go; they will see the God of gods on Zion” (GNT). Your dry, dark times will become a place of life that you will look back on the rest of your life to draw strength from. It doesn’t feel like it in the moment, but when you get more perspective as you move forward up the mountains in your life, you will see that God never left you and He uses these times to make us stronger. Keep pushing forward through what seems like a dark and dry time, trust the promises in God’s Word and know that what you’re walking through is preparing you to make a difference in the lives of others. What seems like an end is truly a new beginning.
Thanks to Sohaib Ghyasi @sohaibghyasi for making this photo available freely on Unsplash