Know Your Source

These days, everything seems to have become political. Whatever we hear is slanted according to the agenda of those speaking. How is anyone to know what is true, anymore?

It is critically important when deciding what to believe that we consider the source of the information and the potential bias of that source.

We can choose to believe that whatever we agree with is truth, while something that goes against our own ideas is propaganda, or we can look beyond our own preconceptions and consider the track record of the source of the information.

In the Gospel of Matthew we are told that we may know the character of a person by the fruits of their life.

15-20 “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.

Matthew 7:15-20 (MSG)

Has the source of a particular piece of information been trustworthy in the past? Or have they shown themselves to be trying to manipulate data for their own benefit? In the translation above, we can insert any type of information source for the “preachers” in the text. A more traditional translation refers to prophets, those claiming to bring God’s message:

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV)

Whether weighing the words of preachers, prophets, or politicians, the same principal holds. It may be more work to do the necessary research to find out the speaker’s track record for impartial truth, but if we are to be wise it may be necessary.

A wise man will hear and increase learning,
And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel

Proverbs 1:5 (NKJV)

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I hope, I hope, I hope…

The Bible tells us that God cares deeply about each one of us, that He knew us and had a plan for us before we were even born. Every experience of our lives, no matter how painful or frustrating, is filtered through His great good will and can be used for our good and His glory.

When I begin to think I can’t make a difference in the vast scheme of things, I consider those truths and realize that each one of us does make a difference, for good or ill.

While I may not be an influencer on a grand scale, I do have an impact on each person I encounter, every single day. Whether I share a smile and a kind word in the grocery store, or pass down the aisles wrapped up in myself and ignoring fellow shoppers can make a difference, both to others and to my own mood.

If my conversations with friends and family are filled with complaints and grumbling, I darken everyone’s thoughts, but when I make the effort to comment on the many blessings and opportunities I see, it brings sunshine into our lives.

Concentrating on our joys and blessings, especially when interacting with others, fills everyone with greater hope.

Be strong and take heart,

    all you who hope in the Lord.

Psalm 31:24 (NIV)

Keeping our focus on the blessings to be found in even the most difficult day and upon our joyous eternal hope does make a difference in each small sphere of influence. Like the ripples in a lake at the start of the rainstorm become roiling waves as they multiply, when the people of Christ work together to share the hope we have within us waves of faith spread across the land.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Whether we recognize it or not, our every action or inaction makes a difference. Make the choice to share hope today.

13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 (NKJV)
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Where is the love?

Perhaps one of the most difficult commandments in the Bible sounds the simplest: love one another.

In theory, this sounds easy. We know how to love our family and friends and to treat everyone we meet with kindness. The difficulty comes when we are faced with loving our enemies, those who persecute us.We must first recognize who our enemies are and then proceed to love them.

On a battlefield or in a life or death struggle with an assailant, it is easy to know who the enemy is. While the Bible tells us we are in a battle for our spiritual lives, our enemy may appear in many guises and many subtle forms. Therefore we must:

13-14 Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (MSG)

Bravely and strongly standing up for our convictions in chaotic and perilous times is never easy. It is made just that much more complicated when it must be done in love.

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NIV)

These verses were featured on the You Version online Bible devotional for today and the presenter made a profound statement. He said, “Love with an agenda isn’t love.” To me that means I must look beyond the anger and resentment I feel toward those I perceive as the enemy and see each one as a fellow sojourner trying to make sense of these troubled times. I must set aside my agenda of trying to change their attitudes and beliefs and simply treat them with the same love I want to receive, reminding myself continually that nothing is impossible with God.

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Surely Goodness and Mercy

Last week we considered people who influence us, this week I’d like to look at those whom we influence.

The closing verse of the 23rd Psalm says “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…” which is often interpreted as God’s goodness and mercy being poured out upon us, but when quoting this Psalm I like to picture myself walking through my days scattering God’s goodness and mercy wherever I go, sort of like a flower girl scattering sweet-smelling rose petals at a wedding.

In today’s chaotic world, we all need sweet mercies to overcome the stench of hopelessness we find around us. While I can’t wipe out a virus, put out wildfires, or even make much of an impact on national policy, I can influence the people around me. I can remind them that no matter how bleak circumstances may seem, there is hope.

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:5 (NKJV

Rather than adding my own voice of doom and gloom, I can counter depression and despair with hope. I can emphasize whatever goodness there is and I can show mercy and love to each one I meet.

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Romans 5:5 (MSG)

In the western states, wild fires have raged for months this summer and we have lived with many days of smoky skies filled with unhealthy air. On the infrequent days with good air quality, we eagerly take deep breaths of clean, fresh air.

In a climate of almost constant uncertainty and fear, God’s promises bring hope, a breath of fresh air for all who believe.

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Who influences you?

When I was growing up it was common to hear warnings about giving in to peer pressure.

“If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?” was many parents’ go-to question when hoping to influence their children to think for themselves.

With today’s world-wide social media, it isn’t only close friends who exercise influence upon our children and upon ourselves. There is a tremendous pressure to appear to be “in” with what we might call the “cool kids” of society.

Having and sharing opinions or values which are not sufficiently woke can make us feel like an outcast, like the kid who always got chosen last for teams in school.

In order to stay on top of what is currently acceptable to the elite, many turn to social media stars, those new creatures called “influencers” who can be relied upon to tell us how to think and live in this glittery new age.

While I am no longer in school or subject to parental warnings about peer pressure, I have a sinking feeling that many of those trying to influence us today are jumping off that proverbial cliff.

I can feel the pull of those trying to convince me to join them in that leap. It is the fashionably smart thing to do, they say, “All the trendy folks are doing it, come on, don’t be an old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud.”

The best way to resist the lure into darkness is to stay as near as possible to the trustworthy, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving Influencer, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and His precious Word.

  • Psalm 16:11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
  • Psalm 17:4 Concerning the works of men, By the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer.
  • Psalm 17:5 Uphold my steps in Your paths, That my footsteps may not slip.
  • Psalm 25:4 Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths.

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What am I doing here?

Whenever I feel powerless to make a difference in this topsy turvy world, I remind myself of all those ordinary individuals in the Bible whose lives were pivotal to the history of God’s people.

If any one of them had failed to respond to God’s leading, He would certainly have used someone else who was willing to fulfill His plan, but what blessings might have been missed?

God chooses the perfect candidate at the perfect time to bless those who put their trust in Him.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV)

Occasionally you will hear an elderly person lament that they don’t know why they are still alive because they no longer feel needed or valuable. However, if anyone is a Christian, one of God’s people, they can be absolutely certain that God has a good reason to keep them right where they are.

God has a plan for each of us. No matter your age, if you remain on Earth He is with you and wants to use you for His purposes and His glory.

The believer’s job is to accept that truth and to begin to look at our circumstances from a new perspective, seeking to find His purpose in the opportunities that exist right were we are.

… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, … 

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

Every believer has an individual race to run. We mustn’t drop out before the Savior greets us at the finish line.

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The End is Near!!!

1-5 Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (MSG)

The Scripture verses above often lead to discussions about whether or not we are in the last days. Theologians agree that we have been in the End Times since the Resurrection, but as time goes by the end is unarguably growing closer.

Some people get caught up in End Times prophecy, etc., pointing to all the events and circumstances which indicate the End is Near. While I’m no prophet, I can say with some confidence that they are correct about these being our last days.

For each one of us, the end is near; whether in moments, months, years, or decades, death is on everyone’s horizon, and much too soon.

15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-17 (NKJV)

While some might prepare to survive the Tribulation by stockpiling supplies and learning wilderness techniques, we would be more prudent to redeem whatever time we have.

How then do we walk circumspectly? The Message puts it in plain language:

11-16 Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

17 Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.

Ephesians 5:15-17 (MSG)

Whether you live to see Our Lord’s return to Earth or you succumb sooner to accident or illness, be ready to meet your Maker, knowing you’ve done your best to do His will with the time you’ve been given. Accept Christ’s salvation and let the End Times take care of themselves.

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Where is the joy?

There is a familiar verse from the New Testament book of James (chapter 1, verse 2) where we are instructed to count it all joy when we fall into various trials. Of the many difficult passages in the book, this may be one of the hardest. Especially if we think of the definition of joy as an “emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune.” This definition doesn’t seem to make sense of James’s admonition to find joy in hardship, does it? However, the dictionary definition goes on to say, “or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”

Can we find joy in a future prospect? Even when we feel our joy buried beneath sickness, loss, confusion, heartache, or fear?

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the present circumstances in your life, now is the time to deliberately seek the joy beneath it all.

But, where are we supposed to look? Where may our joy be found in the midst of sadness?

Gratitude is one antidote to sorrow. Reminding ourselves of those things in our past and present which bring us delight. Beauty in nature, loving relationships, a good night’s sleep, the genuine smile of a friend; unexpected blessings abound when we lift our eyes and seek them.

Giving thanks to God for His every gift, even the seemingly insignificant, can bring your elusive joy closer.

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11 NKJV

Fixating on temporary situations or allowing fear of the future to fill our heart can divert us from the joy we seek. When we find that happening, it is time to concentrate upon the prospect of possessing what one desires.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

Psalm 51:12 NKJV

The hardships and sadness of this world are brief. As we read in Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Christians enjoy the prospect of an eternal morning, thanks to the gift of God through His Son.

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…”

Luke 2:10 NKJV

Whatever is weighing you down today, consider it all joy in the light of God’s great love.

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Pray for Whom? Seriously?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:43-48 (NKJV)

The New Testament is chockful of admonitions to love our enemies, render unto Caesar, and other counter-intuitive advice about our dealings with “those who spitefully use” us. There is a temptation to read Christ’s words and sort of shake our heads. Sure, it is easy for an all-powerful, all-loving God to extend such grace to enemies, but He can’t really expect me to do the same. Can He?

Especially is these days of charges of incompetence and corruption at all levels of government, it is easy to feel contempt for those in authority. Surely Jesus understands that these are extraordinary times and His words no longer apply to us. It must have been easier for the first century Christians to pray for their Roman rulers … or perhaps not. In any case, why would Our Lord tell us to pray for those who abuse us?

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 

1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NKJV)

When reading the above verses from Paul’s letter to Timothy, I finally got it. God our Savior, desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

What a quiet and peaceable life we would live if every leader, everyone in authority, were saved and lived in godliness and reverence.

We can freely give thanks for those God places in authority over us, knowing that He has a plan to use them, and we can pray wholeheartedly for their salvation, especially when they are behaving badly toward us.

We aren’t praying for them to prosper in abusing their authority; we are praying for them to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved.

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“Fear Not!” It bears repeating

You can be certain that in the last days there will be some very hard times. People will love only themselves and money. They will be proud, stuck-up, rude, and disobedient to their parents. They will also be ungrateful, godless, heartless, and hateful. Their words will be cruel, and they will have no self-control or pity. These people will hate everything that is good. They will be sneaky, reckless, and puffed up with pride. Instead of loving God, they will love pleasure. Even though they will make a show of being religious, their religion won’t be real. Don’t have anything to do with such people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (CEV)

The two words the New Testament records as repeated most often from the lips of Jesus are Fear not. The fact that Jesus said these words so often lets us know how important they are, especially for us today.

When preparing to write this message, Christ’s admonition was on my heart. I knew I’d written about this before, but when I looked back over my archived posts I was surprised to see that “Fear Not” had been my theme five times since 2015. Rather than deciding to write about something else, I took this as sign that these words from God bear repeating.

FDR’s famous “nothing to fear but fear itself” seems ludicrous when we have only to look around us to see that this world is a scary place with plenty to be afraid of. However, FDR knew that fear is a powerful weapon of the enemy; instilling fear in your opponent causes confusion, discouragement, and saps his will to resist.

Our Enemy today knows this tactic well. Fear causes us to distrust our neighbors, draw into ourselves, and retreat from challenges. In the Spiritual Battle we face, we must not allow ourselves to succumb to the enervating forces of fear. When you find yourself being overwhelmed with feelings of fear and despair, do a Bible search, either online or in your concordance, for verses related to fear and courage, like those below, and be filled with God’s peace.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

7 For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

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