Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category

When the Old Testament ended, God turned off the lights, closed and locked the door and walked away. Or so it seemed.

For the next 400 years, God was silent, while the Jewish world waited and wondered about the promise of a Messiah.

Then suddenly, something big happened.

An old white-haired priest was on duty in the temple in Jerusalem when an angel tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John . . . he will be great in the sight of the Lord . . . and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit . . . and he will go on before the Lord . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk 1:13–17).

Next stop for the angel was sixty-four miles north of Jerusalem, in Nazareth, where he knocked on the door of Mary, an astonished teenage virgin. “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” he said. “You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David . . . his kingdom will never end” (Lk 1:28–33).

Mary quickly packed her bag and set out for a town in the hill country of Judea to visit cousin Elizabeth, mother-to-be of John. When Mary greeted her “the baby leaped in [Elizabeth’s] womb . . . In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (Lk 1:39–43).

Then Mary broke into a song of praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name” (Lk 1:46–49).

Nine months later, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and the angel made a third visit—this time to a gaggle of shepherds on the outskirts of the village. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” he said. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10–11).

Forty days after that, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate Mary’s firstborn to the Lord. There they encountered Simeon, a devout old man who had long been waiting for this moment. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” He took the baby in his arms and praised God, saying: “Now, Lord, you can let me, your servant, die in peace as you said. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk 2:25–32).

Anna, a very old prophetess, was also in the temple; in fact, she “never left the temple but worshipped night and day.” She joined the circle and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:36–38).

The 400-year silence was broken. God unlocked and opened the door and turned on the Light. The Messiah was here.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.
—Isaac Watts

In Matthew 25, Jesus pitches three straight-shooting stories.

1.Be Ready

A story about ten bridesmaids (vv. 1–13).

Five were judged wise because they were prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom to begin the wedding banquet and five judged foolish because they weren’t.

It’s that simple: we are ready for the Lord’s return or we’re not.

“Always be ready,” he said, because two things are certain: 1) “You don’t know the day your Lord will come,” and 2) He “will come at a time you don’t expect him” (Mt 24:42, 44).

“Unprepared!” is an appalling ending.

2. Be Responsible

A story about three men and the use of their talents (vv. 14–30).

The owner gave resources to each; went away and left the use of those assets up to them; then returned and pronounced his verdict on their performance.

He gave to “each according to their ability.” No one was required to perform at the level of another’s ability; only to the best of their own. The two-talent servant was not required to produce at the level of the five-talent servant—but he was expected to produce, and he did. The one-talent servant was not required to produce at the level of the two-talent servant—but he was expected to produce, and he didn’t.

The five- and two-talent servants delivered a one hundred percent return on their master’s investment. The one-talent servant produced nothing. He returned what he had received, nothing more. He had done no harm; neither had he done any good. The master’s verdict for the five- and two-talent servants was, “good and faithful.” His verdict for the one-talent servant was, “wicked and lazy.”

Each of us has our given share of abilities, a trust to be used, and a responsibility to be acknowledged: “Master, you entrusted me with five talents . . . I have gained five more;” “Master, you entrusted me with two talents . . . I have gained two more;” “Master, you are a hard man . . . I hid your talent.”

The master entrusted talents to his servants in verses 14–18; then went away. He returned for an accounting in verse 19. You and I are presently living between verses 18 and 19.

The talent we’ve been given is a coin with two sides: on one side is written “endowment;” on the other side “responsibility.” Our master has gone away. He will be back.  His verdict will be, “good and faithful” or “wicked and lazy.”

3. Be Reliable

A story about judgment day (vv. 31–46).

Our service to Jesus is judged by how we treat his little brothers and sisters. When we see their need and fill it, he says, “You did it to me.” His ruling?—“Take your inheritance—the kingdom reserved for you.”

When we ignore their need, he says, “You did not do it to me.” His ruling?—“Depart from me.” Like the five foolish bridesmaids and the wicked and lazy servant, they were not condemned for doing something bad, but for failing to do something good—turning a blind eye to those in need. It wasn’t what they did but what they didn’t do that doomed them.

We won’t be judged by the knowledge we have acquired, the fame we have achieved, or the fortune we have amassed, but by the help we have given.

We are free to live our life as we choose. But at the end, we must give an account to the One who entrusted us with life.

I Believe Jesus is Lord

I believe that Jesus was with God in the beginning; that he gave up his place in heaven and came to earth in human form, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary; that he lived a sinless life; that he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, forsaken by his disciples, rejected by the religious establishment, and sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate; that he was crucified, buried, resurrected, and ascended back to heaven; that he will come again to judge the living and the dead; that he is at the right hand of God, interceding for believers and reigning over his kingdom which will never end.

I Believe God is Sovereign

I believe that God is all-powerful; that he is God, and there is no other—that he does what he pleases, and what he has planned he will do (Is 46:8–11); that humans hatch their own plans, but it is the Lord’s plan that will prevail (Prv 19:21); that “all things happen just as he decided long ago” (Eph 1:11); that he is “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tm 6:15); that he rules over the nations (Ps 22:28); that he “brings down rulers and turns them into nothing” (Is 40:23);

If with fallible human reasoning I ever doubt the sovereignty of God, it will carry no weight, for he will remain infallibly sovereign. He is God and is not shackled by my limited understanding. He has infinite knowledge, unlimited power, and operates on his own clock and calendar, not mine. He, only he, is in control.

“Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be his counselor? . . . For everything comes from him; everything exists by his power and is intended for his glory. To him be glory evermore. Amen” (Rom 11:33–36).

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk 1:47).

I Believe Life is a Gift

I believe that life is a gift from God (Jb 10:12; 12:10; Acts 17:25); that there is a God-designed reason I was born; that God gives me the freedom to live this life as I choose, but that my status is stewardship, not ownership; that my talents and abilities are gifts from him, and that I am responsible for their cultivation and use; that I only get one earthly life, therefore only one chance to thank him for this incredible gift by using it to serve and glorify him; that he wants me to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Mi 6:8); that I start breathing at one end of life and stop at the other, and that what I do in between measures how I value the gift.

I Believe Eternal Life is Real

I believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that those who believe in him, even though they die, will live again (Jn 11:25).

In Daniel Silva’s novel, The Other Woman, Alistair Hughes, an American falsely accused of spying for Russia, is murdered. At the graveside, his colleague Arthur Seymour approaches Milinda Hughes, Alistair’s widow, to offer his condolence. She requests a word in private, and as they walk among the headstones she asks, “Are you a believer?”

“I am not,” admits Seymour.

“Nor am I,” she says. “But at this moment, I wish I were. Is this how it ends? Is there really nothing more?”

There is more, Milinda, for believers much more—an eternal life where there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain (Rv 21:4).

God wants to be your friend. That seems strange in a way because people of different social, educational, or economic levels seldom become close friends. Presidents don’t generally pal with peasants. Research scholars don’t normally fraternize with grade-school dropouts. Seven-figure executives don’t ordinarily socialize with the homeless. There are refreshing exceptions, but we usually form friendship with those who are like us.

If the bank president and the cleaning person seldom become close friends, it seems unlikely that God, who created the world, owns it and keeps it ticking would want to hang out with a gal who can’t balance her checkbook or a guy who can’t fix a leaky faucet. If well-heeled residents of SoHo shun down-and-out tenants of South Bronx, it seems doubtful that a flawless God would want to hobnob with a shabby sinner.

Doubts notwithstanding, God wants to be your friend.

He knew that would be a stretch: knew we would find it hard to feel close to someone so superior—and seemingly so far away. So he took an astounding step to bridge the gap. Since we couldn’t become like him and go to where he is, he became like us and came to where we are. He stepped down from his throne, took off his robe, changed into his work clothes, and moved into our neighborhood. Philippians 2:7 tells us “he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like man and appeared in human likeness.”

He wanted us to know that he knows how we feel. So he went through everything we experience: birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood. Just like us.

He got hungry, thirsty, tired, lonely. Just like us.

He walked in our shoes and went nose-to-nose with the same temptations that we tangle with. Hebrews 4:15 says, “Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are.”

Everyone felt the sincerity of his friendship. Tiny tots and senile seniors. Winners and losers. Top guns and wayward sons. Crooks and cripples. Prostitutes and puritans.

He was called a friend of sinners (Mt 11:19). And he was that. He was, in fact, the ultimate friend. He said, “The greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).

And then he did just that—laid down his life for us, his friends. “He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

The cross! The final blow. The end. When the last nail was set, his enemies thought they’d done him in. It sure seemed that way.

But they were wrong! This was his doing, not theirs. He chose to live—and die—for his friends. For me. For you.

It was his way of saying, “Let’s be friends. Best friends.”

Lloyd Ogilvie, Chaplain of the United States Senate from 1995-2003, told about an eight-year-old girl in a Pennsylvania orphanage who had been unimaginably abused. She was understandably distant and defensive. Shunned and bullied, she had no friends, not one.

One of the residents told a supervisor that she’d seen the little girl write a note to someone and hide it in a tree outside the stone wall surrounding the campus.

The suspicious supervisor retrieved it, read it, hung her head and wept. The note, scrawled with a crayon, said: “To whoever finds this, I love you.” She so desperately wanted to connect with someone who would love her that she went outside the walls of the institution and left that note on a tree: “To whoever finds this, I love you.”

The enemies of Jesus took him outside the walls of Jerusalem and nailed him to a tree. A note on that tree has your name on it: “To whoever finds this, I love you.”

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. —Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Support

The first benefit of companionship is support: “If one falls down, his friend can help him up.”

At a Special Olympics race—where children with disabilities were competing—a cute kid named Timmy quickly took the lead and was far ahead. He was nearing the finish line when he looked back and saw that his friend had fallen and hurt himself. Timmy stopped. People shouted, “Run, Timmy, run!” He ran alright—back to his friend. He helped him up, brushed off the dirt, and the two jogged together, arms around each other’s shoulders, coming in last.

How can you tell the difference between a true friend and a so-so acquaintance? That’s easy: get in trouble. A true friend is a person you can call at two in the morning and tell her you need her. She doesn’t ask what the problem is before deciding whether or not to come. She asks, “Where are you?” while she’s getting dressed.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prv 17:17). Sooner or later trouble comes to all; it’s included in the price of the ticket to life. We need the support of others—and they need ours.

Comfort

The second benefit of companionship is comfort: “If two lie down together, they will keep warm.”

Travelers in Palestine often had to spend the night outdoors. From December to February the nights were often wet and cold. A hiker was fortunate if he traveled with a companion, because “If two lie down together, they will keep warm.”

In 1957, Sam Rayburn—the longest-tenured Speaker of the House of Representatives—learned late one night that a friend’s teenage daughter had died in an accident. Early the next morning Sam walked through his friend’s front door, went to the kitchen and started making breakfast. The surprised father said, “Mr. Speaker, I read that you and Senator Johnson were to have breakfast with the president at the White House this morning.” “We were supposed to,” Sam said, “but I called the president’s secretary and told her to tell the president that I have a friend who’s suffered a terrible loss and I have to be with him; I can’t come to the White House for breakfast.”

It’s a cold world at times. All of us skid through icy patches where we need the warmth of comforting companions.

Protection

The third benefit of companionship is protection: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

In Old Testament days, combat was mostly hand-to-hand. Soldiers went into battle with a partner they trusted. The two stood back-to-back, ready to take on an enemy coming from any direction. We all need a friend who has our back.

A cord of three strands may mean that when two stick together, they can do the work of three.

Or it may mean—and probably does—that the Lord joins the twosome: “Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Mt 18:20).

The companionship of supporter and Savior is peak protection.

Why This Waste?

Jul
2018
07

Following Matthew’s chronology, the dinner given in Jesus’ honor in Bethany was the last supper before the Last Supper. There were seventeen people present: Simon the Leper, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the twelve apostles, and Jesus.

While they were eating, Mary broke the seal of an alabaster jar of expensive perfume and anointed Jesus.

“Why this waste?” howled Judas. Other disciples joined in: they were indignant and harshly rebuked Mary, fuming that the perfume—worth more than a year’s wages—should have been sold and the money given to the poor.

These critics had often experienced the hospitality of the Bethany home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Did they ever high-five their hosts—and quip, “Why this waste?”

“Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”

Was Mary’s action extravagant? Yes. Was it wasted extravagance? No. Mary’s act of devotion honored Jesus. A “beautiful thing” done for Jesus is never wasted and never forgotten.

Judas bristled at Jesus’ rebuke to “Leave her alone!” He left the table, slithered out the door, and cut a deal to deliver Jesus to the enemy. A few hours later he would leave the Passover table, slip out the door, and make good on the traitorous transaction.

Judas had been given a privileged position. Of the thousands of residents of Judea, he was the only one chosen to be an apostle; all the other apostles being from Galilee. He had been a close companion of Jesus for three years; had seen the miracles and heard the parables. He was one of the few commissioned by Jesus to heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons. And he held the trusted post of treasurer for the apostolic group.

He squandered all of that. The question he asked about Mary’s deed is the question that should be asked of his: “Why this waste?” His wasn’t the waste of a pint of perfume, but the waste of a position of influence and trust. It wasn’t the waste of things, but the waste of life. Jesus called him “son of perdition” (Jn 17:12), which Dr. Warren Wiersbe translated “son of waste.”

The actions of Mary and Judas both had far-reaching (think eternal) consequences. Mary’s act of love filled the house and the world with a fragrance that will last forever. Judas’s act of betrayal left a stench that will also last forever.

Of Mary’s deed of love, Jesus said, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Of Judas’s deed of betrayal, Jesus said, “It would be better for him if he had not been born”—the eternal epitaph etched over the gate of his final purchase, the “Field of Blood.”

Mary’s devotion inspires us to live up to our best. Judas’s disloyalty warns us of the tragedy of living down to our worst. We have choices. And choices have consequences.

Life is a gift. It isn’t purchased. It isn’t earned. It isn’t deserved. It is given. And each life is custom-made. There are no mass-produced, assembly-line, off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all, lives. Your life is unique, one-of-a-kind, the only you in history. It’s your life. You can spend it however you choose—you can use it wisely or waste it.

The apostle Paul wrote: “God’s grace has made me what I am, and his grace to me was not wasted” (1 Cor 15:10 NCV).

God’s grace to Mary was not wasted. His grace to Judas was.

By the grace of God, you are what you are. “We beg you who have received God’s grace not to let it be wasted” (2 Cor 6:1 TEV).

Pray that examination of who you are, what you have, and what you do will never kindle the question, “Why this waste?”

Answering the following questions will jumpstart the next chapter of your life.

Is This In My Control?

You can save yourself a lot of agitation by sorting out what is in your control and what isn’t.

Your actions, words, and thoughts are in your control. Other people, the weather, and some life events are not.

Whatever you’re facing, ask, “Is this something I can control?” The answer will tell you if it’s worthy of your concern.

You’ll be happier and more productive if you focus attention on the things you can control and avoid getting bent out of shape by the things you can’t. Freedom comes from letting go of the things that are beyond your control.

“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7 ESV).

Is This Worth Worrying About?

Worry saps stamina, triggers health problems, torpedoes optimism, impairs judgment, and smothers gratitude.

Worry doubles your trouble: if what you’re worrying about doesn’t happen, you’ve lived through it once needlessly; if it does happen, you’ll have lived through it twice.

Worrying will change neither your past nor your future but will poison your present.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Mt 6:27 NLT).

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything . . . If you do this you will experience God’s peace . . . His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6–7).

Is This the Most Important Thing to Me?

What’s the most important thing to you? If you don’t know the answer to this question, you have no way of knowing if you’re putting first things first.

What is most important to someone else doesn’t necessarily fit you, so avoid living by their priorities.

When you know what the most important thing is to you, you are positioned to say “No!” to less important things and opt out of races that don’t move you toward your goal.

Nail down what the most important thing is to you; own it. The biggest danger is self-deception—telling yourself something is the most important thing when deep down it isn’t. Get honest.

The most important thing in life is to know what the most important thing in life is.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2).

Is This Who I Want to Be?

Blunt fact: you are what you say and do.

Blunt truth: you’re not good if your words and actions are bad.

Measure your stature by asking if what you’re saying and doing exhibit the kind of person you want to be. Do you judge? Gossip? Spew negative thoughts? Is this the person you want to be?

Stop yourself mid-stride when you’re about to say something critical or do something hurtful and ask if this the person you want to be?

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned, forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6:37).

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable . . . think about these things” (Phil 4:8–9).

John Glenn. Everyone knows the name of this American hero who flew fifty-nine combat missions in World War II and twenty-seven in Korea; first American to orbit the earth, and the oldest man in space when, at seventy-seven, he flew with the Space Shuttle Discovery crew; four-term U.S. Senator from Ohio.

His history of accomplishment is on exhibit at Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. One panel features his high school civics teacher, Harford Steele, citing the prof as the person who taught him the importance of public service—in Glenn’s words, “igniting a fire in me that never did go out.”

Flags weren’t lowered when Harford Steele died, but it was his influence that caused American flags to be flown at half-staff for nine days all over the world when John Glenn died on December 8, 2016.

Remember Joseph, the Levite from Cyprus? Probably not, because you don’t know him by that name. You know him by his nickname, Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”

You might never have heard of the apostle Paul if Barnabas hadn’t given him a boost. On Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion, he was shunned. The church wanted nothing to do with him; thought he was a fraud. But Barnabas stood up for him, and he was accepted. Later, when Paul was isolated in Tarsus, Barnabas recruited him, brought him to Antioch, and then accompanied him on his first missionary journey.

Then there was John Mark. You’d probably know nothing about him if Barnabas hadn’t taken him under his wing.

After jump-starting the careers of these two evangelists, Barnabas faded into the background. He never wrote a book or letter that found its way into your Bible, but it was his encouragement that launched the ministries of two men who, combined, wrote half of the New Testament.

A common ingredient in the lives of people who have lived up to their potential is the gift of encouragement. Someone believed in them, supported them, ignited the fire.

For John Wesley, it was his mother, Susanna.

For John Quincy Adams, it was his father, John.

For cleric Henry Ward Beecher, it was a teacher who taught only one year in the rural elementary school he attended.

For humanitarian and author Stanley Mooneyham, it was a County Superintendent of Schools.

For Paul Harvey, it was his widowed mother Anna and his beloved elementary school teacher, Miss Harp.

For American Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, it was her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles.

Not to take anything away from your fine gifts and commendable accomplishments, but you are who you are and are doing what you’re doing because of the influence of a parent, grandparent, teacher, friend—a Harford Steele, a Barnabas.

Most of us are not beacons, just small lights: not playing on the big stage, but filling an important, though unheralded, role on a small platform. Whatever the part, someone saw something in us, believed in us, encouraged us.

For me, it was parents, friends—and other early influences: Mrs. Womack, my First Grade Sunday School teacher; Vance Mitchell, my Jr. High Sunday School teacher; Clarence Nelson, an elder in my boyhood church.

For you, it was ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________________________________

Lower the flag. Thank the Father.

Alive Forever

Apr
2018
07

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend.
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.
—Louisa M.R. Stead

I love that old hymn. Trust isn’t easily achieved, and it doesn’t survive unchallenged. It’s tested when life dumps you in a dark patch where the wind blows cold, and your world is lonely.

The words of ’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus were written in the darkest stretch of Louisa Stead’s life. Louisa, her husband Malcolm, and their four-year-old daughter Lily were enjoying a beach picnic when a boy’s cry for help came from the waves. Malcolm rushed into the surf but was no match for the pull of the tide and the terrified youth. Malcolm and the boy drowned as Louisa helplessly watched.

In the excruciating days of emotional convalescence, the young widow wrote: “’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus . . . and I know that Thou art with me, Wilt be with me to the end.”

Jesus knows the helplessness—and desertion—you feel when your world is falling apart. He knows how painful it is to pray and wonder if you’re being heard. In the inky loneliness of Gethsemane, he prayed—three times—to be delivered from the agonizing ordeal coming at him.

The answer to his prayer was silence.

Instead of being saved, he was seized. Instead of being defended, he was denounced. Instead of being acquitted, he was convicted.

Instead of being answered, he was abandoned.

A few hours later he was impaled on a cross. Battered and bloody. Suffering and dying.

Had his trust been misplaced? “He trusts in God,” antagonists sneered; “let God deliver him now, if he wants to” (Mt 27:43 NRSV).

Silence.

“My God . . . why have you forsaken me?” he cried.

Silence.

Still, with his last breath, he declared his trust: “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”

Three days later, God honored that trust with a spine-tingling, heart-stirring, world-changing Sunday. Grieving women who had watched him die on Friday trudged to the tomb on Sunday. It was empty. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” an angel asked—“He is not here; he has risen!”

You, reader, are in that triumphant story. Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20, 22). “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (Jn 11:25 NRSV). “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (Jn 6:47 NKJV).

Experiencing a tough time? Clothed in trust, you’ll get through it.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word,
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Trust him. Take him at his word. Rest upon his promise.

Here is his promise: “Because I live, you also will live” (Jn 14:19).

And that life, my friend, will be forever.

Sooner or later nearly every church is contaminated by contention. Like cancer, it infiltrates furtively at first and goes undetected. But eventually, it metastasizes and permeates the body, resulting in severely depleted strength. Or death.

Toxic Intruders

Paul used a lot of ink exhorting Christians to encourage one another, build each other up, love one another. He was following up on Jesus’ instruction: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34–35).

Satan’s most effective tactic for destroying a church is to infiltrate it with those who are divisive. He chooses intruders carefully: they are often persuasive, charismatic, invariably wearing a mask of love.

And they are toxic!

Don’t ever be influenced by destroyers of unity. They are contagious—a hazard to your spiritual health. “I urge you, brethren,” wrote Paul, “note those who cause division . . . and avoid them” (Rom 16:17).

If you give a sympathetic ear to the disrupter of unity, you become a partner in the crime of conflict. “[D]on’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil way, making you his partner” (2 Jn 10–11 MSG).

Paul counseled Titus that after trying twice, “have nothing more to do with a person who causes conflict, because you know that someone like this is twisted and sinful” (Ti 3:10–11 CEB).

If you get sucked in by a divisive person, you will be polluted. Don’t bathe in dirty water.

Proverbs 6:16-19 tags seven things that are detestable to God; the final one being a person “who stirs up trouble among brothers.”

Don’t give a divisive person the keys to your church.

Friends or Foes?

Now, let’s switch gears and talk, not about church matters, but about those you hang out with. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, widely considered Germany’s greatest literary figure, said, “Tell me who you spend time with, and I will tell you who you are.”

You may think you’re strong enough to buck the pull of the profligate, but that’s naïve. The apostle Paul said it this way: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Cor 15:33 ESV).

The words and actions of those you spend time with influence your disposition, decisions, and direction. It goes both ways: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prv 13:20).

The character of your companions rubs off on you, for good or bad: work behind the perfume counter, and you’ll smell like perfume; work in the fish market, and you’ll smell like fish.

Ask this question about the company you’re keeping: Is this relationship moving me closer to the Lord or further from him?

Nor is it just about personal relationships. You are also influenced by what you read, what you watch, where you go. The environment you choose sculpts you into its image. It’s been called “the proximity effect.”

Choose your company carefully. “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God” (Ps 1:1 TLB).