Acting Out: Day 25 — Agree to Disagree

Read Acts 15:22-41

“Key Verse: Acts 15:36 “After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return to each city where we preciously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are getting along.” (NLT)

It seems that disagreements and even arguments were not uncommon among the early church. There was the big debate over the gentile Christians and now we see Paul and Barnabas disagreeing. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them to visit the cities where they had preached, while Paul dd not want to bring him because he had a bad experience with John Mark.

Whatever the disagreement was about is not really important. What is important is how the two handled the situation. It was okay to disagree with each other but they needed to handle it appropriately. They decided to agree to disagree on this issue and went their own separate ways.

It is not wrong to disagree with someone. It is not a sin to have a different opinion then someone else. Disagreements become sinful when we allow our tempers to get out of control or when we fail to use wisdom and end up saying things that are meant to hurt one another. God used Paul and Barnabas’ separating to allow both of them to go their different ways and do even more work for Jesus.

We need to learn from their examples and discover the importance of being able to walk away from a disagreement without destroying a friendship in the process.

Prayer: “Lord, please give me the wisdom I need to learn how to end all arguments appropriately and without saying or doing something I will regret. Help me to have Godly attitude in all disagreements.”

Living in the Land of Nod

The Biblical account of creation and the early history of humanity is filled with many wonders as well as many unfortunate events.  Perhaps one of the saddest verses in the entire Word of God is found in Genesis 4:16,

“So Cain left the LORD’s presence and settled in the land of Nod.” – NLT

Settling in the land of Nod is not the peaceful transition that is appears to be at first glance.  Nod is not simply the name of a nice alternative to the location that Adam and Eve had settled after Eden.  Nod comes from the Hebrew word meaning “wandering.”  The reality is that once Cain was forced to leave his family he never again found a place to call home.  Cain became the world’s first nomad, wandering around just trying to find the bare minimum that he needed to survive.  His whole life had become a struggle where he would never feel content or know peace.  He lived in constant fear that others would do him harm and he lived with the guilt of having committed the world’s first murder and with the legacy of being the first person ever recorded to have told a lie, a lie that he told to God Himself (Genesis 4:9).  Cain’s punishment was made complete when his wandering included the reality that he had been removed from the very presence of the LORD.

We have all wandered at times and if your anything like me you have probably felt what seems to be the absence of God’s presence.  Sadly it is normally in our times of struggle, when peace is gone, and we are filled with fear and guilt that we find ourselves in the land of Nod (wandering) and away from God.  But how is it that we end up there? One minute we are right where we need to be and the next we become an outcast of our own making.

Cain’s problems all started when he made the conscience choice to casually give God less than He deserved (Genesis 4:3).  It wasn’t even a problem with Cain’s gift itself as much as was a clear problem with the attitude with which Cain approached God.  From that moment, the moment he choose to treat God with this poor attitude, everything in his life began to spiral downward and away from everything that truly mattered.  I hope our attitudes never lead us down a path so tragic as Cain’s (after all he did commit murder) but the truth is that once we start to see God as less significant and worthy of less than our best we have taken the first steps towards Nod.

Thankfully there is hope!

Even Cain experienced the mercy of God even as he was recieving his punishment for all the wrong he had done.  God marked Cain in some way so others would know that there would be an even more severe punishment for anyone who tried to harm him (Genesis 4:15). Today, whether you find yourself in God’s presence or in the land of Nod wandering around just trying to survive, know that no matter how far you wander away God still loves you and has every intention to protect you until you come home to Him.

What’s It Worth To You?

Think about your prized possession for a moment.  It doesn’t matter what it is, just think about the actual physical item that is your favourite, most valuable possession.  Now think about what that item is actually worth.  If it were sitting on a table at a yard sale, what would the sticker price say?  For some of us, our most valuable item may actually be worth a considerable amount of money, but I’m willing to guess that for the majority of us, our most valuable item may not be of much value at all to somebody else.

Assuming there is no loss of life, this is where the real tragedy comes in when someone loses a home to a fire.  Sure you may have insurance on the contents of your house, but a dollar figure will not necessarily replace the items that you’ve lost.  In many cases, even if an identical version of the item you lost could be found and paid for, it would not hold the same value as the original to you.  A lot more goes into the value of an item then the actual price paid for it.

How do we determine the value of things?  Most of us have come to understand that the true value of any item that we might have is not found in the item itself but in how we received that item.  That birthday card that your child made for you with a couple of crayons and a piece of construction paper is literally worth nothing in terms of its dollar value, yet to you it maybe one of the most valuable things that you could ever own.  That Bible that you’ve had for many, many years, you have marked in it, cried over it, and spent so much time in it.  As a physical book it is be worn out, the cover might be missing, and pages are torn.  To somebody else it might be of very little value, but to you it is irreplaceable.

Ultimately the true measure of the value of anything that you possess comes down to the value you place on the person that gave you the item.  The way that you treasure that item really doesn’t reflect the dollar value of it, but the emotional value, the meaning behind it, and how much you value the person that gave it to you.

In Genesis 25 we find the story of Jacob and Esau.

This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac.  Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.

 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.  The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated, one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb.  The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau.  After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents.  Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.  Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished.  He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.  Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.  So Esau despised his birthright. – Genesis 25:19-35

The story of Jacob and Esau is a very intriguing one.  The are a number of hard to answer questions.  How is it that One son is considered to be the son of the promise while the other one is not?  How is it that one son can be elevated above another when they are twins?  How is it that the son whom God chooses seems to be the one who is in the wrong in the story, while the son He rejects seems to be the victim?

Jacob comes across like a crooked weasel of a man, while Esau loses everything and apparently at no fault of his own.  Jacob rips him off, he takes advantage of his brothers weakness and then later takes advantage of his own father’s weakness.  How is it that this man is the one God chooses over the other?

Sure, Jacob stole from his brother, but in reality it was Esau who ripped off himself and all of his future generations.  It doesn’t seem right to us that Jacob used his brother’s weak moment to get a birthright and steal a blessing.  But the truth of the matter is that Esau was not worthy of what was his.  He was the rightful firstborn son and he was the rightful heir to his father’s wealth and to his father’s blessing.  He gave away something he would have had for his lifetime, something he ought to have been able to pass on to his children and children’s children for generations, he traded it all for a brief moment of physical satisfaction.

His birthright should have been his legacy forever and he traded it for a meal, he traded it to calm a hunger that would return in mere hours.  There is no way that he was that hungry.  He was a healthy, strong, rugged man and a skillful hunter, he could have gotten food.  He was the first born son of his father’s estate, the servants would have been obligated to serve him and take care of his needs, all he had to do was demand food.  He could have begged anyone for a scrap for food, enough to settle the hunger pangs, while he prepared the meat that in all likelihood he had just brought into the camp from his hunting trip.

Instead Esau gave up the most important thing that he had for something so temporary.  Sure he had the meal but No doubt that meal must have left a bad taste in his mouth when he realized how much it had cost him.  Sure he must have felt bad and must have been angry with his brother for what had happened to him, but he must’ve known in his heart that he was the one to blame because he traded something so valuable for something so cheap.  He must’ve known in his heart that it was his own fault, for whatever reason in that moment, he decided to trade his lifelong, generational blessing and favour for a brief moment of satisfaction.  We often want to blame Jacob for Esau’s loss when in reality Esau did not deserve what we had because he chose not to see the true value in it.  We wrestle with the same struggle today, and every day.

Don’t be like Esau.

That really sounds strange to us.  What do you mean don’t be like the victim in the story?

Don’t be like Esau don’t trade eternal things for temporary moments of comfort or pleasure.  You are a child of God and as a child of God you have received the greatest gift imaginable.  Jesus Christ shed His blood and gave His life for you.  He bought your inheritance for you and paid the way so you could be made right in the eyes of the living God.  This was a gift for you from the Father, who sent His Son, because He loves you so much.

What we have in God is eternal.  Often we treat the most valuable gift that we have and could ever have, our very salvation, our very relationship with our Heavenly Father through the blood of Jesus Christ our Saviour, like it is cheap.  Don’t be like Esau who never saw the value in what he had.  Don’t be like Esau who got caught up in the moment and saw his human physical urges as more important to meet then to hold onto the eternal things that were his as a child of his father.

Be like Jacob.

Again this sounds strange.  What do you mean?  You want us to be like the one who lied and cheated to steal from his own brother?  Of course we are not being encouraged to steal, cheat, and lie.  We are not being encouraged to take advantage of someone else’s weakness for our own gain.  Be like Jacob and understand the true value in the eternal things.

What we have received, when we gave our lives to Jesus Christ, must be the most valuable thing that we could ever possess.  We have an inheritance.  We have peace of mind, a very rare thing these days.  We have received joy, the removal of our guilt and shame, a fresh start, and a new life.  Would we trade all that for something so fleeting, so temporary, so carnal, as a moment of pleasure.  So many times we jump headfirst into sinful behaviour even though we’ve been there before.  We know that the pleasure and satisfaction that we receive in the flesh will only last for a moment.  A moment of pleasure that can cost so much.  We must see the true value in eternal things and choose not to trade them over truly for temporary moments sinful pleasure.  The next time we are tempted to sin let’s pray that God will help us overcome the temptation because we see the price Jesus paid for our inheritance as being worth far more.

The Benefits of Sin

We often hear people argue that they don’t need Jesus since they are fine just the way that they are.  “I like the way my life is right now. I don’t see why I ought to change,” they say.  Ah, the “benefits” of sin.  Of course they don’t want to change, why trade all that sin has to offer for anything else?  It is this great lie that so many people choose to believe, that everything is fine without Jesus and that they will be missing so much if they accept Him.   

Somehow there is a delusion that things are permissible and easy without Jesus and strict and rigged with Him.   That may be the common thought but in reality it is quite the opposite that ends up being true.  Without Christ people are in bondage to sin yet see themselves as being totally free.  They think that with Christ they will be bound by religious lists of do’s and don’t’s but the truth is that only in Christ that we are ever truly free.

It comes down to the benefits of a life with Christ or life without Him and which is most appealing.  Paul asks a rhetorical question in Romans 6:21 that is worth trying to answer, “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:21‬ ‭NIV‬‬)  He already put the final exclamation point on the answer for us.  Paul declares that whatever else the benefits of a life of sin might be, the ultimate result is death and this is eternal death and complete separation from God the Father.  But there are other things that sin gives us before death puts the final exclamation point on life.

1) Guilt – the feeling of remorse that comes when you have done something wrong.  Here is a great benefit to sin.  Everyone loves that deep ache in the pit of your stomach that comes when you know that you have done something wrong.  The uneasy feeling of a conscience that is torn and consumed with thoughts of regret and sadness for behaviours we want nothing more than to wish away. 

2) Shame – the feeling that there is something wrong with you.  The benefit of shame takes our guilt and internalizes it, making us feel like not only were our actions wrong but that we are broken ourselves.  Shame succeeds in lower our view of ourselves to the point that we no longer believe that we are worthy of anyone else’s attention or affection.  Who wouldn’t want to experience this benefit of sin more?

3) Fear – the feeling that there will be unpleasant consequences for your actions.  Another wonderful benefit of sin is that as guilt and shame settle in they then allow fear to take a hold of us.  This deep sense of dread and the inability to rest or relax because we know that bad things are coming our way, can be ours if we choose the benefits of sin.  

Of course I’m being facetious but I think that point is clear enough.  When Paul asked what benefit we received from the things we did in sin, he meant for us to see that there is no benefit to sin at all that is worth wanting.  In contrast, a life in Christ Jesus knows the benefits of having our guilt and shame removed.  With Jesus we get to experience perfect love and we know that perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).  Ultimately the greatest benefit we could ever ask for is only found in Jesus and that of course is eternal life.

Which benefit package do you want to experience? 

The Four Nails of The Cross

“A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’.” Matthew 37:37 (NLT)
It is important for all of us to recognize the means by which Jesus paid the price for our sins.  By dying on the cross, He not only paid our debt but He also opened up the possibility for all of us to be made right in the eyes of God.

During the crucifixion of Jesus, four nails were driven into His cross. Three of those nails pierced the flesh of our Saviour, while the fourth nail was used to fasten a sign above His head.  Those nails are not pretty objects that we like to spend a lot of time thinking about, but they played a critical role in the narrative that paved the way for our salvation.  Thinking about those four nails today and each of their positions in the cross, I begin to see that they serve as an object lesson that reminds us of our responsibilities as believers in Jesus Christ.

The two nails in His hands should remind us that it is our job to be the hands of Christ to reach out, and touch, and heal the brokenness in our world.  It was with His own hands that Jesus healed the lepers, the deaf, the blind, the dying and even the dead.  It was with His hands that He changed so many lives and today we must be His hands.  As we reach out and comfort those who mourn, or offer relief to those who are suffering, we are quite literally acting as the hands of Jesus.  We can do what He would be doing; “For even the Son of Man (Jesus) came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

The nail that held His feet to the cross reminds us to be the feet of Jesus.  By coming to the Earth He created, God demonstrated the great lengths that He is willing to travel to bring His love to us.  Jesus left this instruction, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19.  He means for us to do as He did, be His feet and go everywhere to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to know about Him.

The final nail was used to fix to the cross a sign that read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”  Like that fourth nail we should take it upon ourselves to share the truth.  Jesus is the King and not just the king of the Jews but the King of all.  As followers of Christ we ought to hold fast to that message and boldly share it with everyone who will listen.

Let the four nails of the cross remind us today to be His hands, to be His feet, and share His message to this world.

How’s Your Reputation?

A person’s reputation is an important asset.  It opens doors and creates opportunities for employment and social impact.  Our reputation affects the way people approach us and how they present themselves to us.  The problem arises when we lose sight of what truly makes for a great reputation and whom it is that we ought to be trying to impress.  Christians have been taught for generations that it is important that we make a good first impression and that we must be careful about who we associate with.  If we spend time in the company of the “wrong” type of people they might rub-off on us and give others the idea that we agree with or participate in their bad behaviours.

We all like to be liked. There’s nothing wrong with the desire to have others think well of us. But when you look at how Jesus lived His life it seems that we might focus a little too much on making a good impression on those around us.  

“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” – Luke‬ ‭15:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Jesus spent a considerable amount of His time with “notorious” sinners.  He associated with people that everyone knew stories about.  Those kinds of people that you may have crossed the road to avoid getting too close to.  They had created very bad reputations for themselves because everyone knew the mistakes they had made.  These were the people who were often at the center of all the juiciest gossip.   The very same people that your momma warned you about.

Somehow the church has become infected with the idea that we need to be careful about the company we keep, even though Jesus himself clearly set a very different example for us to follow.  Jesus didn’t let the potential damage to His own reputation stop Him from spending quality time with the very worst that society had to offer.  He didn’t seem concerned that the religious people of His day didn’t like the choices He made.

There is really nothing complicated going on here.  The simple fact is that if I am going to make any kind of impact on this world I need to be in contact with those who are the least like me.  Spending all my time and attention on other Christians will not create a significant change in anyone.  Meanwhile, if I lived more like the way Jesus demonstrated for me I would be able to shine the light of His love into many dark places.  If I considered it to be more important to make a change than to protect my reputation I might be far more effective in the mission.

If religious people don’t find our spirituality upsetting, perhaps we are not living enough like Jesus.  I would rather have a bad reputation and be like Jesus than have a clean reputation and have never made a real impact. Pray with me for more opportunities to change the world around us by shining His light into the darkness.  

Back on The Horsecycle

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Have you ever fallen off a horse, or perhaps more likely a bicycle?

Learning to ride can be a trying process.  There are often many scrapes and bruises along the way to mastering the skills of learning to pedal and balance, while watching where you are going and steering and braking when necessary.  There is a lot going on all at once and it can be quite overwhelming.  Falling off the bicycle is as much a part of learning to ride as anything else.

The same is true about learning to run this race that we call the “Christian Life.”  Learning to put one foot in front of the other, while staying on the straight and narrow path, and resisting the seemingly endless number of distractions and obstacles that try to trip you up, can seem all but impossible at times.  The truth is that we all stumble and fall on occasion, ok, sometimes it is more like constantly than occasionally.  The most important thing that we can do is get into the truly stubborn habit of not giving up.

Falling off that horse, or bicycle, whichever, can often be a very painful experience that can leave you seriously considering giving up altogether.  One way that we find the motivation to get back on and keep trying is by realizing that we are almost at our destination.  We fall off, we get bruised and more than a little embarrassed, but then we see that we are closer than ever before to our goal.  So we climb back on and keep going.  Falling may have hurt and certainly slowed us down but it didn’t send us all the way back to the start to have to begin all over again.

When you stumble as a believer, and we all do, it is important to realize that although it hurts and leaves you feeling embarrassed and ashamed it is not the end of the line for you.  You don’t have to start all over with God every time you mess up.  Your race may have been disrupted a little but a simple heart-felt acknowledgement that you still need Jesus is all it takes to have Him pick you up, dust you off, tend to your wounds, and set your feet back on the track.  He never kicks you when you are down and you should never kick yourself or anyone else.  We are all running this race to the one common goal of receiving the eternal reward that Jesus died for.  Don’t give up, get back on the horse, I mean bicycle.

“The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT‬‬