Category Archives: General

Practice, Practice, Practice! Part Three

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. (Philippians 4:9)

Jesus said that “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). I began this series of articles by stating that all that the Christian church can learn and receive from the apostle Paul and from Christ Himself can be summed up in one powerful practice: LOVE. On Wednesday we used Paul’s definition of love, given us in “The Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, to look at the practice of patient love. Today we will dig down into how to practice kind love. The kind of patient love that Paul was telling his audience 2,000 years ago–and is telling you and me today — to practice, practice, practice is the kind of love that is able to endure displeasure for a season and then respond with kindness.

Kind Love

In the Greek language that Paul wrote his epistles in, the word for kind describes the qualities of benevolence, gentleness, tenderness and mercy. In essence, kind love expresses itself by extending good to others, especially those who might be extending some kind of “bad” toward us. This good is not only something that kind love desires; it is something that kind love demonstrates as it patiently endures whatever circumstances life sends its way. In a word, kind love is merciful. When our patience is being tested and tried, kind love displays a merciful attitude toward all involved.

Because life consistently confronts us with challenging circumstances and challenging people, Paul tells us to practice the love of God in Christ Jesus that we have received . . . and that we continue to receive, not just daily, but moment by moment. Without a disciplined approach to putting this love into practice, we tend to respond harshly to ill treatment; we are filled with anger, bitterness, and hostility toward those who mistreat us.

Don’t miss this, Christian: Kind love does not mean we refuse to speak truth to others, truth which might include a gentle rebuke. Paul charged his protege Timothy to “correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). But Paul also made it abundantly clear that our truthful rebukes are always to be delivered in love . . . kind love, which seeks the ultimate good of the other person.

The only way we will ever consistently live out a patient love that finds its expression in kind love is through practice, practice, practice! Remember, both of these loves are fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Actually producing these fruits in our lives is what I call an “inside job,” because these character traits, which are rooted in the nature of Christ, can only be produced by the Holy Spirit working in us. And yet, while these fruits are gracious gifts from our loving God, that does not mean there is nothing for us to do in order to increase the demonstration of them in our lives. And what did Paul telling us to do in order to maximize our fruitfulness? Practice, practice, practice!

So . . . how are you doing in your practice of a patient love that is expressed through kind love? Always remember that perfection will never happen on this side of the grave. Practice will not make you or me or anyone else perfect, no matter what the old saying tells us. The goal is to continue making progress as God grows and matures us in our faith, and as we cling to His promise of perfection when we are received into glory. So until that day comes, practice, practice, practice for the glory of God and the good of others.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Practice, Practice, Practice! Part Two

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. (Philippians 4:9)

Let’s review the passage we used to close out Monday’s blog before we head out into some deep water and let our nets down for a catch.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Context is king in understanding the Scriptures, and the major theme of Paul’s entire first letter to the church at Corinth is unity. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for acting in an unloving way toward each other and admonished them that this behavior needed to stop for the sake of the Gospel. And in his extended definition of what Christian love thinks, feels, and does, Paul gave us a great many things to put into practice; I want to drill down into two of them. Today we will look at the practice of “patient” love, and on Friday we will unpack the practice of “kind” love.

Patient Love

The Greek word that many of our English Bibles render as patient can mean “a state of remaining calm while awaiting an outcome” or “a state of being able to bear up under a difficult set of circumstances.” In essence, patient love is demonstrated as it endures displeasure for a season. Patient love does much more than wait calmly in a long line at your bank or a store; patient love remains calm when people are out of line and it is impacting you personally.  

You read Paul’s statement that love “is not easily angered.” We all have a natural tendency to become angry when our patience is being tried by the waves of challenge that wash over us in life. And that is why we must practice a love that is patient . . . especially when we don’t feel like it!

My own personal experience has taught me that the more we lack in this particular area, the more God will continue to test us as He is working to conform us into the image and likeness of Christ, and His means are not always comfortable for us. A friend once wryly observed, “I asked God to give me patience; His answer has been to keep putting me in the slow-moving checkout line at the grocery store!” God is graciously encouraging my friend to practice, practice, practice!

On Friday we will focus on what flows out of patient love: Kind love.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Practice, Practice, Practice! Part One

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. (Philippians 4:9)

The old phrase “practice makes perfect” expresses the idea that the regular exercise or practice of an activity, skill, or discipline is the way to become increasingly proficient in it until we reach the level of perfection. Of course, no matter how much we practice anything, we never actually perfect it, because there is always room for improvement. So inasmuch as the goal is perfection, the real result we hope to achieve is progress.

The same is true for living the Christian life. As the apostle Paul closed out his letter to the Philippians, he exhorted them to “Put it into practice.” He had already instructed his Christian brothers and sisters to follow his example in living the Christian life (Philippians 3:17) . . . whatever they had learned or received or heard from him, or seen in him. What Paul declared with his lips and demonstrated with his life was to serve as a living epistle for the Christians at Philippi . . . and for you and me today. Paul’s words should encourage us to practice, practice, practice in order to live a life that is pleasing to God and beneficial to others.  

What did the the church learn, receive, and hear from Paul, and see in him? I would submit that all Paul learned, received, heard, and saw in Christ through the Holy Spirit can be summed up, just as the Law can be summed up, in a single word: LOVE. The most important and God-glorifying practice in the life of the Christian is the practice of love. The more we put love for God and love for our neighbor into practice, the more we will be like Paul; and the more we are like Paul, the more we will be like Jesus. “Follow my example,” the apostle wrote, “as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:11).

And so I’d like to devote the rest of this week to unpacking two pillars of practice that are rooted in 1 Corinthians 13 — the “love chapter,” as it is often called called — which was penned by Paul. I’ll include a portion of that passage here so that you can begin to meditate on it as you prepare to practice . . . practice . . . practice it.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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No Secret Service Saints!

They went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land. (Matthew 9:31)

No doubt you have heard of the US Secret Service. Do you know how it got its name? The agency is a holdover from the Civil War days, when the organization’s primary purpose was to work as “undercover” agents to track down counterfeiters. Over the years, their mission has expanded, most notably to include protecting government officials, but much of their work is still done under cover.

One of the tragic failings of the church today is that there are far too many “secret service saints,” who are serving their Savior “under cover,” so as not to let anyone know Whom they serve. It is one of the strangest paradoxes I know of: the Christian faith begins with a public profession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ for all the world to see, but all too often it is lived out in the most clandestine way. This sort of secret service is exactly what Jesus warned against: light that has been hidden under a bushel and salt that has lost its saltiness.

But this is not for you! What we profess with our lips must be practiced with our lives in such a way that those we come in contact with know who we work for. We must never be satisfied with the profession we make by going to church on Sunday. We must make that same profession at the office, in the gym, on the college campus, and around the neighborhood. We must remember these words of our Lord: “Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). In other words, secret service saints are not allowed!

How well are you making your Lord known to those you come in contact with? May it never be that you and I should be like the person who, after a ten-year friendship, was told, “All these years I’ve known you, and I never knew you were a Christian!”

The best way to make Jesus known is to know Him better, and the best way to know Him better is by reading His Word. When we study the Bible, the Bible studies us; and when the Bible studies us, we will never find ourselves in the “secret service” of our Savior.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Make It Personal!

The Lord is my shepherd . . . (Psalm 23:1)

Psalm 23, one of the most well known and best loved passages in all the Scriptures, begins with the words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” This truth is frequently quoted and provides the foundation upon which many funerals and memorials have been built, as well as many sermons intended to encourage and warm hearts. It is one thing to know that God is a shepherd; it is another thing altogether to understand that He is MY shepherd. This is where we rise above the level of a powerful proclamation and make it profoundly personal.

To know that God is my shepherd is to know that my every need will be met. You see, the Shepherd cares for His sheep, protects His sheep, leads His sheep, and guides His sheep . . . and He does all that for me because He is my shepherd. And if you have believed in your heart and confessed with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, He is your shepherd too!

The intimacy this one statement describes is as instructive for us as it is inspiring. No one knew this “my shepherd” truth better than King David, who penned the psalm. David had experienced the providential care of his Shepherd, whether he was conquering the giant Goliath or being conquered by his sin with Bathsheba. He experienced refuge with his Shepherd. He experienced refreshment with his Shepherd. He experienced repentance with his Shepherd. He experienced restoration with his Shepherd. When David found himself in his darkest moments, walking through a variety of grim, gloomy valleys, including the valley of the shadow of death, he knew his Shepherd was not only caring for him, He was carrying David most of the way.

I hope you will take a few moments today to meditate on the almost incomprehensible truth that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, He who holds all the planets in their orbits and sustains all life, has committed to being your personal Shepherd. The Good Shepherd who walked on the water is for you. The Good Shepherd who calmed the storm is with you. The Good Shepherd who conquered demons is in you. Jesus spoke of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go in search of the one that was lost. It doesn’t get more personal than that!

To be sure, a shepherd cares for the entire flock of sheep, but the good Shepherd cares for all of His sheep individually. The next time you wander off course, let that truth help you course-correct. You can do that by looking at the glorious promise contained in God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word and making it personal.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Answered Call

He will call upon me, and I will answer him. (Psalm 91:15)

I often remind our congregation of this, because we all have a tendency to forget it: The Lord does not just hear our cry (which is a truth we usually remember); He promises to answer our cry. Now that is a word of eternal encouragement, wouldn’t you agree?

Life is full of unwelcome and unexpected storm winds that blow our way. From the doctor’s report that the tumor is malignant, to being caught in the “down” part of your company’s down-sizing, to a wayward child, one moment we are advancing according to the plans we have made and the next our lives are turned upside-down. In addition to storms, we are also confronted by temptations that test the outer edges of our faith. During these times, we must cling to the words of this psalm, which reminds us that God both hears and answers our prayers.

Now, this is a word of incredible comfort, but as I’ve said here many times before, we must also remember that God always gives us the absolute best answer to our prayers, and that answer may not look anything like what we were hoping to receive. At those times, we must rest on the fact that to know that God answers our call is to know enough. He has promised to work everything together for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28), according to His perfect plan and purpose for our lives.

We have been given the Holy Spirit of God, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11), to carry us through any wave of challenge that is threatening to engulf us. And as that supernatural power dwells within us, we must be mindful of the three possible answers the Lord will give to us when we call upon His name:

  • YES
  • NO
  • WAIT

Naturally, you and I are always hoping and praying for a resounding “Yes!” from God. But the truth is, our lives are often marked by “No” and “Wait.” When we receive one of those two answers, they are exactly what we need, whether we know it or not. Almost all of us can remember at least one time in our lives when we cried out to God repeatedly for something, and He answered “No” . . . and today we are filled with deep gratitude and thanksgiving for that “No.”

So regardless of what you are currently facing, be strong and courageous. Know that God is at work and will bring you to the other side of whatever storm you are facing, and you will be better and stronger than you were before. In every answered call, you will always receive the answer that brings the greatest glory to God and the greatest good to you.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Are You Attractive?

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

What am I asking in today’s title? I assure you, I am not referring to your physical appearance, facial features, or any external beauty. What I am referring to is what is on the inside that others see when it shines through on the outside.

As Christians, we are to be attractive – drawing others to our Lord rather than repelling them. There is nothing more attractive in a fallen, broken, and hurting world than to see fallen, broken, and hurting people, people who have been saved by grace through faith, living grace-filled lives. There is something irresistible about a Christian who is a conduit of the grace of God. The light of God’s grace has been given to us to shine in such a way that others are attracted to it and changed by it.

One of the most important things we can do to be attractive is to demonstrate a heart of hopeful compassion for those who are in darkness – because that is where we once were.

For you once were darkness, but no you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)

It is not uncommon to hear people say that they want to change the world. That’s a great goal . . . when it is done for the glory of God. But changing the world begins and ends by changing one heart at a time. And that change only takes place when the light of the Gospel penetrates the darkness inside of dead hearts, making them alive to Christ.

You and I must always remember that our salvation is not primarily about us; it’s about Jesus Christ and the expansion of His Kingdom. Thank God that someone (or perhaps many someones) in your life thought that way and took the time to share the good news of the Gospel with you. Because they had Jesus in their lives, they were attractive and they attracted you to Jesus.

So let me ask you again: Are you attractive? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” if the way you live your life points others to your Savior. It has always been a source of great encouragement to me that God does not need any of us to expand His Kingdom; rather, He wants us — so much so that He died for us to make us His. The more that truth seizes us, the more our lives will be lived in the service of our Savior, and the more attractive we will become.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Philippians 4:11)

We all have the root of resentment deep within us. Our sinful nature creates an internal “GPS” which leads us in the wrong direction. I am not talking about a Global Positioning System, but rather the three ugly qualities of . . .

  • Greed – We are unsatisfied with the portion God has given to us.
  • Pride – We are unwilling to stop comparing ourselves with others.
  • Selfishness – We are unable to see past our own desires.

Our sinful GPS makes us envious of what others have, and we are often angry at God because we don’t have it ourselves. This root of resentment has ruined many relationships, both vertically and horizontally. That is why it is so important to recognize the workings of our internal GPS and take it to Christ for correction.

When was the last time you prayerfully considered the internal operation of your GPS? Is it directing the course of your life upward or downward? Are you drawing nearer to Jesus or slipping away?

One of the keys that can unlock the door to changing your GPS so that it reflects the glory of God is to live by the truth of today’s passage from Paul. Notice that Paul had to learn contentment. It did not come to him by nature. He had to draw on the person and power of Jesus in order to be content, regardless of the circumstances he faced in life. Whether in plenty or in want, Paul looked to Jesus and found the necessary contentment to press on in life without the root of resentment restricting his forward progress. To be sure, the apostle Paul knew the full range of human experience, from the bright sunshine of the mountaintop to the gloomy darkness of the valley. Through it all, God was teaching him contentment.

Is this the confession of your life today? Remember, unlike many of God’s gracious gifts, contentment is not given to us in the full amount. It is learned over time and through many trials. The more we look to Jesus, the more we will learn contentment. We will be satisfied with our portion because our portion is Jesus. We will stop comparing ourselves with others because we know we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And we will see past our own desires to the desires of our God and the needs of others.

Perhaps the best way to remember how to change your GPS is to ask God to work in your heart every day to change those words from greed, pride, and selfishness to GOD, PEOPLE, and SELF. When God is on the throne of our lives, we will love and serve our neighbors, and the self will learn contentment. Then our lives will be tracking on the correct course, and our new, Spirit-filled GPS will lead us in a divine direction.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

The dictionary defines the word expendable this way: “Of little significance when compared to an overall purpose, and therefore able to be abandoned; designed to be used only once and then abandoned or destroyed.” You might remember the action film series, The Expendables, directed by Sylvester Stallone, which depicted a group of elite mercenaries tasked with a mission to overthrow a Latin American dictator. The importance of accomplishing their mission made each person “expendable” when compared to the overall purpose of the mission.

In reading through the book of Acts, it is plain to see that the apostles and the disciples of Jesus saw themselves as “expendable” in the mission and service of their Lord. Self-preservation and self-promotion were as far from their thoughts as the east is from the west. They were completely sold out in the service of their Lord, regardless of the cost or circumstance, and they were willing to die for the cause. Many of them did, in fact, die in violent, excruciating deaths at the hands of the enemies of the Gospel.

Notice how the apostle Paul expressed this truth:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Do you see yourself as an “expendable” disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ? How far are you willing to go . . . how much are you willing to do . . . how long are you willing to persevere in accomplishing the mission your Savior has given you? You and I may not be called on to die in the service of our Lord (as many martyrs have throughout the history of the Christian church), but make no mistake, every Christian is called to “die to self.” We are to put the self to death — to crucify our own sinful, selfish desires — in order to live for our Savior.

Think about it this way: We are born again to die to self. That death is both a one-time event when we are saved and a lifelong pursuit as we are being sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ. Please understand that the Bible never gives the impression that dying to the self is optional. It is simply the reality of our new birth and our new calling. And that means we are “expendable.”

Let’s close today with a wonderful word of encouragement from the British missionary to China, C. T. Studd, who said:

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Life is short. Eternity is forever. Let us expend ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others with the one life God has given us to live.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Last Words Are Lasting Words

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Last words have a tendency to be lasting words — words which stay with you — and this is certainly true with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. You will find His last words in all four Gospel accounts and also in the book of Acts. Let’s take a look at them here.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

Jesus told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47)

Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

These last words of our Lord Jesus Christ are commonly known as The Great Commission. They were delivered to His disciples shortly before He ascended into Heaven, after His atoning death, burial, and supernatural resurrection. These words represent His final marching orders to His disciples then and for every disciple throughout the ages. Think for a moment of the incredible privilege we have been given by Jesus to be part of His “disciple-making” mission. There is no greater purpose in this life than to be pouring ourselves out for the expansion of the Kingdom of Christ. It is the only thing we can do in this life that has eternal value in the next.

How well have you taken these last words of our Lord to heart? Does the confession of your life reveal that they are, indeed, lasting words — words that have stayed with you? If that is not the case, what changes do you need to make in your life? Remember, lasting value in this life and the next will only be found in living for the last words of Christ.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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