My wife and I have belonged to a Christian cell group for many years. It began as a specific church, but now is composed of people from four different denominations. We also participate in a prayer group which is an extension of Franklin Graham’s Decision America. People from five different denominations meet together every week. I belong to a group of men who meet each week for breakfast. In our cell we fellowship together as friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. We worship and study the Bible together. In the prayer group we focus on the future of our country. In the men’s group, we not only enjoy each other’s company over breakfast, but we discuss the gospel, how to live for Christ and share our troubles and blessings. We have a time of prayer. In every case we may not agree with each other in all our beliefs, but one thing is certain. We all believe in the truth of our salvation by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We believe together in the essentials of the gospel. We do what I believe God wants us to do: think about His Word and all that it means to us and share with each other. We pray together. We meet in a fellowship of love in each group and in all the circumstances of our lives. In every case we try to follow Ephesians 4:2-6–Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in all. We’re not perfect, but God blesses each group in many ways. Shouldn’t we all strive for that unity of love, especially in the times that we find ourselves?
Thomas told the other disciples that he would not believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared unless he saw the nail marks in His hands and the wound in His side. When Jesus came a week later and Thomas saw and touched the wounds, his response was, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus commended those who believed without having seen. I have a friend in a prison thousands of miles from where I live. He has been in prison for 28 years. For 22 of those years he has been a follower of Christ. I have never seen him, but I know him. I know him because of the words he has spoken to me by phone or letter. He shares his life with me, and I with him. Jesus is doing the same thing with both of us. He shares Himself with us through His Word, the Bible. He speaks to us in various ways. I don’t need to see my friend to believe in him anymore than Thomas needed to. We know and cherish our friendship without seeing each other. One of the nicest things he has said to me was his response to my book, Transformation The Servant’s Heart–A Life of Faith. He calls it a “forever” book, because the three subjects: Anxiety, Hypocritical Love, and Pride are really a matter of relationships–with God and with each other. I want to know Jesus more and my friend more and that’s a forever thing. Jesus is always there, although I can’t see Him. My friend in prison will always be there and I can’t see him either.
A few days ago I was mowing our lawn for the first time this spring. I had waited too long and the grass was tall and wet. The mower kept jamming and I kept getting tireder getting in going again. When I was near the neighbors house, a woman I didn’t know watched me trying to no avail to restart the motor. She was sitting in the patio having a smoke while I was yanking on the starter cord. She got up, came over and said, “Maybe I can help”. After a couple of pulls, the motor roared. I thanked her and she walked away. After a few minutes a thought crashed into my head. That lady had been looking at me and seeing an old man. She was right. I usually think that I’m no older than I feel. In fact, I view a lot of people I know as being older than me, and they are far from it. It’s easy to deceive ourselves, but we need to face the facts, whatever they may be. I have trouble remembering names, even of people that I know or have known in the past. I learned that it is best to admit to the fact and just ask that person what their name is. Admit to the truth. One of the greatest facts of my life is the number of old friends I have. What a blessing, whether I remember their name or not. The best fact of all–to me–is the friend I have in my Savior and Lord, Jesus.
Today I was listening to a pastor on a Christian radio channel and he stated that many pastors today don’t mention the blood of Christ in their sermons. The reason is that they don’t want to offend or upset their congregations by talking about blood in a bloody culture. To some extent, to tickle their ears. Talk about the love of Jesus, but don’t mention His blood. Without His shed blood, Jesus’ teaching has little if any value. It was the expression of His love for people who don’t deserve it. Soon after that I listened to another pastor talk about love. His focus was that love is a choice. I was glad to hear that because that is the focus in my book, Transformation The Servant’s Heart–A Life of Faith. God’s love is reflected through us if we choose to allow it. It isn’t based on feelings, although feelings may occur from the choice of loving God, people, even our enemies. The first pastor said to avoid listening to those who refuse to bring Christ’s blood to the front. Without it, Christianity vanishes and feelings take over. Burn with the love of God and be light in a dark and dismal world.
A recent lesson in our church talked about what James said in his letter about boasting about what we’re planning to do in the future and not including God in the plan (James 4:13-17). I guess he told us that because we are prone to do that very thing. With a small amount of honest thought we all know that we can make all the plans we want, but we really don’t know what is going to happen, even in the next minute. My wife and I have been invited three times to the home of a friend who has been in Israel several times and has developed a study about Eastern beliefs in comparison to the West. Each time has been canceled because of something happening in the family. We concluded that it wasn’t God’s will to have this meeting, at least not at this time. I think about the fight to gain the nomination for the presidency. I believe it’s safe to say that each candidate, Democrat or Republican, has made statements about how they are going to straighten out the problems of our country. Little if anything has been said about seeking God’s will in the process. It seems likely that a few of the candidates have prayed about their gaining the position. How much better it would be if God was included in the process. Seems like those days are gone. I guess I could be criticized by trying to connect church and state, but it is a personal matter. I have my own problems because I make plans on my own. Sometimes they work out; sometimes they don’t. I know what I’m supposed to do. Then do it, James says. James is pretty serious about what he says.
Although my book, Transformation, is not a best seller (I wish), it has done in part what I intended and hoped for. One reader called me and wanted to talk about the content of the book and ended up accepting Christ as his Savior. We have become good friends as brothers in Christ. Another friend, who is serving a life sentence for murder, called the book a “Forever Book” because the content is such that it will never lose its value in the life of a believer. This man has been a Christian for 20 years in 28 years of imprisonment and uses Transformation as a study for other inmates. I am grateful for both of these men. The book has been used in two Bible studies and I’ve been asked to create a study guide for other groups that might want to do the same thing. There are other stories I could tell, but these are the best. My prison friend recently was transferred to another prison because of problems where he was. His new abode is not where he wanted to be and he was discouraged when he found he had to transfer. However, he is ecstatic because he has an opportunity to share the gospel with countless men who need to hear it desperately. I think of Paul, whose ministry was multiplied in prison, even to “Caesar’s household.” I refer to the book as “our book” because without the help of the Lord and several friends it wouldn’t exist. Also, those who have benefited from it are also a part of it.
This morning as I was preparing to start my morning prayer time, I was thinking about a list of people, friends and relatives, whom I see as needing a living relationship with the Lord, or a better one. I was suddenly aware that I needed to pray for myself in that regard. The truth is that I need a better relationship with Jesus. Frankly, I need to know Him better–much better. I may be correct in seeing the needs of others, but I definitely need to deal with my own problems first. In John 17, Jesus prayed for His disciples and then for “those who will believe in Me through their message (us).” However, Jesus prayed for Himself first, before He prayed for us. He thanked God for their relationship and prayed that we would have the same relationship with Him as He had with His Father, that we would be one with Him. What an awesome thought. God is to be trusted to point us in the right direction if we will pay attention. I’m glad he did what He did this morning. He cares about our relationship with Him, all of us.
Ever since I wrote Transformation The Servant’s Heart–A Life of Faith I have noticed that pastors, evangelists and theologians are preaching as if they had just finished my book and were using what I wrote about as the basis for their messages. I know that’s not true, but I am encouraged that the same subjects seem important to them as well as me. It is about relationships and no one can get away from that. I guess its kind of like buying a different car. You buy and drive a VW Bug and suddenly their are bugs all over the street. When you write about some particular subject you suddenly realize that other people are thinking about the same thing. I’m no theologian, but those issues, anxiety, hypocrisy and pride affect everyone who claims Christ. We all need to deal with them in our own lives. Transformation is written for believers who honestly try to live with best relationship they can with Christ, but one reader, a non believer, put his belief in Jesus, repented and was baptized. I couldn’t ask for more, but I am, hoping that many more will start appearing, just like the VW Bug.
This morning I looked out the window and everything was covered with snow, and more drifting down. Southern Idaho has had a remarkably summer like autumn. Truthfully, I was not ready for snow. I wanted more days of sunshine. Life is like that. Things happen and we have no control over them. Even the mistakes we make generate consequences that we don’t want. The nice thing about the snow falling this morning was that there was not a hint of breeze. There was a feeling of peace in spite of my reluctance to accept the coming of winter. It is a wonderful feeling to sense–to know–the presence of God in the midst of trouble. He promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. It’s true. In order for the promise to be fulfilled however, requires a relationship with Him. It isn’t just a feeling, like the silent snow fall, but the knowledge of His presence. I couldn’t hear the snow falling, but then, God commanded us to “Be still and know that I am God.” Listen. He is there. He cares. He understands. Trust Him and find joy even in the most desparate of situations. He said in Nehemiah 8:10, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” What a promise!
My book, Transformation The Servant’s Heart–A Life of Faith talks about three issues that can affect a relationship with God. The issues are anxiety, sincere love and pride. Any one who has published a book knows it can require a big investment; The content should present the meaning in a loving, encouraging and helpful way, and depending on the results, it can overwhelm the author with an attitude of pride. Think about it. Marketing can dump the author into a sea of anxiety. The meaning of the content can be taken wrong, so its crucial that the author express his intent in a careful, loving way. If the book sells well, pride can take over. Transformation is a challenge to me to live up to what I have written. I have to confess that I have had to deal with anxiety and pride. The responce to my book has been quite positive with one exception. The intent is to motivate people to think about their relationship with God and examine their hearts. God wants a good relationship with all believers. He provides ways in which they can restore a broken relationship or improve a mediocre one. The thing that I could really be proud of is that one reader gave his heart to Christ. However, it wasn’t me who orchestrated that. It was God. I was only used by Him through His grace. To deny that we, as believers, don’t worry is foolishness. Anxiety can separate us from God and that is a sin. The point is, what do we do about it? For the believer to be critical damages the commandment to love God and our neighbors. Pride sneaks in so subtlely. Its there and we don’t know it or admit it. We should have the mind of Christ. It’s all about Him.