Everyone else was doing it

Who never used the excuse that “everyone else was doing it” when you were a kid? It was a pretty simple go-to reason for why you did something your parents explicitly told you not to to. But did it ever work? If you tried it, you may have received “if they all went and jumped off a bridge, would you jump off, too?” as a response. Of course you wouldn’t. You’re smarter than that. Yet you did do something for which your only reason for doing it was because everyone else was.

John warns against following evil influence. The influence he’s talking about has far greater repercussions than getting your bicycle taken away or being grounded from the internet for a week. It’s your eternal soul at stake.

Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.

3 John 1:11 (NLT)

The evil influence John is talking about here is that a man, Diotrephes, is going around telling the church that they don’t need to welcome or care for travelling ministers—a teaching that is completely contrary to the example Jesus set. But we can take this word of advice and apply it to far more than just travelling ministers. It is advice for life.

Influence comes at us from all directions—all day, every day. It’s unavoidable. It comes from Christians as well as unbelievers. It is up to us as individuals to determine how we let it affect us. In this passage, John gives us a pretty simple answer—know God. When we know and love God, good deeds will be the visible byproduct. If we don’t know God, evil deeds will be the byproduct. And we cannot assume that everyone who calls himself a Christian knows God (John’s warning here was against someone in the church).

It’s all so confusing! How am I supposed to know what’s what?

It’s a good thing that God doesn’t expect us to know it all. And it’s a good thing that He does know it all. And it’s an even better thing that He gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us in that regard. The closer we are to God, the more in tune we will be with His Spirit and can allow ourselves to be influenced by Him rather than those around us. And the stronger God’s influence is in our lives, the more of a good influence we will be on those around us.

If you need an influence to follow, Jesus is your prime example. Get to know him. Don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it (even Christians), do it because Jesus did it.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 11-12, 3 John 1

That was easy

Our world gets more complicated by the hour. Whether it’s in science or computing, arts or politics, few things are truly simple anymore. And, the more complicated something is, the more reward and respect a person can get for accomplishing it. We seek out the complicated. We make easy things more complicated—even to our own detriment.

When we, as Christians, present the Gospel as anything but simple, we do not help our cause. If we argue that the way to Christ is wrought with long, arduous tasks and much emotional distress, we do not help the Kingdom. There is nothing more simple in this world than salvation through Christ and the victory that it brings.

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and really, that isn’t difficult. For every child of God defeats this evil world by trusting Christ to give the victory. And the ones who win this battle against the world are the ones who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5:3-5 (NLT)

Salvation is easy. Repentance is easy. Victory is easy. Obedience is easy. All of these things are simple not because of what we are or can do, but because of who God is and what He’s already done. And if we trust Jesus with one thing, we can trust him with everything.

John tells us that the battle is not won because we Christians fight hard and strong. It is won because we simply believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

When we let go of all our methods to obtain victory, we can settle on the truth that it is not a difficult or complicated process. God didn’t make it that way on purpose. He wants salvation and victory to be available and accessible to everything. We have to trust Christ for the victory. We have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That’s it.

It’s not difficult. It’s easy.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 7-8, 1 John 5

Blameless

Then the other administrators and princes began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling his affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize. He was faithful and honest and always responsible. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the requirements of his religion.”

Daniel 6:4-5 (NLT)

Here is a man with wisdom and knowledge. This wisdom and knowledge has gained him great influence. Because of his influence, the other leaders become jealous and seek to find a way to destroy the man. Yet they cannot seem to find a way because the man in blameless. With no other options, they manufacture a way to catch him and have him arrested and killed.

Are we still talking about Daniel here?

A very similar story is repeated in the Gospels with the account leading up to Jesus’ arrest. Daniel’s story sounds a lot like the one that would play out centuries later.

So what’s the deal with these leaders who can’t stand to have a blameless person in their midst? The answer is right there—blameless. Daniel was able to accomplish more than all of the other advisors and princes were able to—without cheating or lying. He put them to shame because of his integrity. A worldly way of thinking just can’t handle the way of the blameless.

Read the news. Christians are still experiencing similar persecution. When the world doesn’t understand the way we live, they feel as though they must quash it. I believe it is because of their own shame that they do so. When Christians stand firm in their faith, it sends a message to a world that stands for nothing. And, to those who stand for nothing, it renders their existence meaningless. Can you imagine living a life void of meaning?

As Christians, our lives are full of meaning and purpose and we should do all that we can to live both of those to their fullest potential.

If is for the glory of God, when those who profess religion, conduct themselves so that their most watchful enemies may find no occasion for blaming them, save only in the matters of their God, in which they walk according to their consciences.

Matthew Henry

Paul tells us to find joy in trials of every kind because they make us stronger and build our faith. Daniel, after enduring a night with the lions was given even greater power than he had before. While I cannot guarantee that you’ll end up the third most powerful person in the country, I can guarantee that, when you stand before the Lord having held firm in your faith, you will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 5-6, 1 John 4

Eternally entwined

Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions. It is by our actions that we know we are living in the truth, so that we will be confident when we stand before the Lord.

1 John 3:18-19 (NLT)

While our spoken words are living things, they are cheap when compared to our actions. We all know that actions speak far louder than words.

But it should be noted that it is a record of actual deeds of self-sacrifice done out of unfeigned love which constitutes this sign of indwelling divine life, and not simply the feeling of adoration toward the infinite, which so easily passes for ‘love of God’.

International Bible Commentary

Our belief and confession thereof is what sets us on the path of righteousness, but that’s just the beginning of our walk of faith. It’s what puts us in the race. Now, a runner can stand at the starting line and tell everyone that he’s the winner, but until he gets into the proper stance and prepares himself, he’s nothing but a man standing on the starting line. He’s not a runner until he runs.

In the same way, we are not Christians until we act like Christ. Loving God is the start. It is our love for God that should lead us toward loving others. And it is in showing our love for others that we also show our love for God. The two are eternally entwined and cannot be separated. John calls us liars if we say we love God and do not love others.

It is in displaying our love for our brothers and sisters that we build the confidence to approach God because it is our actions toward others that prove our love for God and our faith in Him.

Dear friends, if our conscience is clear, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive whatever we request because we obey him and do the things that please him.

1 John 3:21-22 (NLT)

Because of our love for each other, we can go to God expecting a response. Jesus said that, when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too (Mark 11:25). It would seem that love and answered prayer are a package deal. So let’s stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 3-4, 1 John 3

Intensely

Jesus gave us two commands: love God and love each other. Loving God comes pretty easy. When we realise and accept all that He has done for us, it’s a no-brainer. How can we not love the One who saved us from our own sin and set us on a path to eternal life? It’s the latter command that tends to give us more trouble.

Loving each other can be difficult. Many in the church often pray that God would give them a love for unbelievers, but I think love for our fellow believers is even harder. We give grace to the sinner when they sin. After all, that’s what they’re supposed to do. It’s when Christians—who are supposed to be better—mess up that we have a tendency to withhold the love Christ told us to give.

Now you can have sincere love for each other as brothers and sisters because you were cleansed from you sins when you accepted the truth of the Good News. So see to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your hearts.

1 Peter 1:22 (NLT)

How would you describe your love for the person who sits in your seat on Sunday morning? What would you have to say about your feelings to that elderly woman who sits behind you with the overbearing perfume that matches her voice as she warbles out the wrong words to your favourite song? What about the friend that let you down? Or the trusted leader who betrayed you? Our love for each other is apparent when things go exactly as we think they should. But where is that same love when things go awry?

What comes to mind when you read that we are to love each other intensely?

INTENSELY: To an extreme degree; vehemently; attentively; earnestly.

Peter made a point to tell the members of the church to love each other. I’m sure he had the same struggles that we all do in that it’s hard to love those whom we believe should be held to a different set of standards. Paul spoke to those situations.

Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)

When we put our expectations of each other before our love, we will always be let down. But when we can love each other with the same intensity that God loves us, we make room for mistakes. That kind of love makes room for fault. Love first. Love intensely. You’ll be surprised at what no longer matters.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 32-33, 1 Peter 1

Make common

We all know that common sense isn’t nearly as common as its name implies. And common sense isn’t the only thing that isn’t as common as it should be.

You are generous because of your faith. And I am praying that you will really put your generosity to work, for in so doing you will come to an understanding of all the good things we can do for Christ.

Philemon 6 (NLT)

The New Living Translation makes this verse pretty clear, but Barnes Notes on the Bible expounds on it even more.

Calvin has well expressed the sense of this passage, “…For although faith has its proper seat in the heart, yet it communicates itself to men by good works.” The meaning is, that [Paul] desired Philemon would so make common the proper fruits of faith by his good deeds toward others, that all might acknowledge it to be genuine and efficacious.

Barnes Notes on the Bible

My faith is personal. Yes, of course it is. It should be. But our faith should be anything but selfish. Like we discussed earlier this week, being a Christian, by definition, is to be Christ-like. And even Jesus, in his most personal moments, took the time to generously minister to others.

GENEROUS: Liberal, bountiful, free to give; strong, full of spirit; full, overflowing, abundant; sprightly, courageous.

That doesn’t sound much like something meant to be kept on the inside.

Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.

Hebrews 10:24 (NLT)

James 2:26 states that …faith that does nothing is dead (NCV). Works or good deeds are not what saves us—grace has done that—but works are what prove our faith to everyone else. Works are what draw others to our faith. Works substantiate our claim to belong to Christ. And, as we act more and more like Christ, not only to we look more and more like him, but we get to know him better and have a deeper understanding of who he is and strengthen our personal relationship with him.

Like common sense, the fruits of our faith are not nearly as common as they should be. We shouldn’t have to tell others we’re Christians. Our good deeds should do it for us.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 36-37, Philemon

No perfect people

On the marquis on the front of my church, you’ll find the words No Perfect People. It is an open invitation to the lost and broken in our community that they can find a place in a church that will not judge them. Over and over again, we’ve heard of people coming in our doors because of those words. Then they came back because they held true. None of us are perfect, so how can we judge anyone else’s imperfections?

One Palm Sunday, I was invited with a group I sang with to sing the mass at the local Catholic church. I jumped at the opportunity. I enjoy learning about how other Christians express their faith. After the service, I made a comment to one of the parishioners about how our church services could be so different, yet we still worshipped the same God. The felt response I received was one of scorn; how dare I compare my contemporary church service to the sacred mass?

I think that, in our own church circles, denominations, traditions, we often forget that we are not the only Christians around. There are millions of Christians in churches all around the world who celebrate their salvation in different ways.

For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people, He is the man Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 2:5 (NLT)

I may not agree with everything the Catholic church does, but I can see merit in much of it. I have a great appreciation for the respect and honour given in the church. Personally, I like the open atmosphere in the church I attend, but that doesn’t make me right and them wrong. It simply makes us different.

So whether you prefer mass, a traditional hymn service, or a contemporary service with fog and a light show, remember that there are no perfect people. We all serve the same God in the way that suits us best. So long as we are obedient to the Word of God, no one is wrong and yet no one is perfect. And, in our imperfection, we have all at some point in our lives, approached the single, perfect throne of grace to be accepted by the one true God.

No matter what church tradition you find yourself a part of, we are all still a part of the same body. The Church. Where there are no perfect people, but there is perfect grace.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 7-8, 1 Timothy 2

The reason and reward

LOVE: In a general sense to be please with; to regard with affection, on account of some qualities which excite pleasing sensations or desire of gratification.

ENDURANCE:  Continuance; a state of lasting or duration; lastingness. A bearing or suffering; a continuing under pain or distress without resistance, or without sinking or yielding to the pressure; sufferance; patience.

What do love and endurance have to do with each other? Paul takes these two seemingly unrelated words and puts them together in a single statement.

May the Lord bring you into an ever deeper understanding of the love of God and the endurance that comes from Christ.

2 Thessalonians 3:5 (NLT)

Why would we need to have a deeper understanding of God’s love as well as endurance? Could it be that the two are not as unrelated as they would seem? As far as Paul is concerned, they go hand in hand.

As Christians, we should always be striving to have a deeper understanding of the love of God. After all, it’s the reason we’re Christians in the first place. Without God’s love, we are nothing.

So where does this endurance come into play?

In his letters to various churches, Paul has made it pretty clear that we can expect pressure in our walk with Christ. (If you never experience pressure because of your faith, you should probably rethink your faith.) Because of this pressure, we will require endurance, continuance, the ability to go through pain distress without sinking or yielding. Anyone who has no reason to endure pain or distress will most likely give up easily. Why bother if there is no reason or reward? But we have both reason and a reward to endure.

When we have that ever deeper understanding of the love of God, we have a reason to endure. We know what we have been rescued from and we know whom it was who rescued us. It is because of the love of God that we can endure. He is our reason. And, as we endure whatever trials the world may throw at us, we become stronger in God’s love and gain an even deeper understanding of who He is and all He has done for us. His love makes us stronger. His love is our reward.

Without a revelation God’s love, endurance is pointless. But as we are brought into an ever deeper understanding of the love of God, we understand why we must also know the endurance that comes from Christ.

He is our reason. He is our reward.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 3-4, 2 Thessalonians 3

In conclusion

As we come to the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, some may be left with the idea that, since nothing seems to really matter, we should just live our lives in pursuit of personal pleasure.

“All is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “utterly meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 12:8 (NLT)

There’s nothing like a bit of encouragement from the Teacher (largely presumed to be Solomon) first thing in the morning. If everything still to come is meaningless (11:8), why bother trying to do good? Why should we help other people when we can help ourselves? Because it is our duty—not as Christians, but as human beings.

Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NLT)

As soon as someone tells me that I have to do something, I suddenly don’t want to do it whether it’s good or not. Words like fear and obey are often not see in the best of light and we tend to not want to comply when they’re thrust at us. If you’ve been following along in your daily Bible reading, though, you’ll have already come across hundreds of reasons why fearing God and obeying His commands are really good things.

Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom…

Proverbs 15:33 (NLT)

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge…

Proverbs 1:7 (NLT)

Fear of the Lord leads to life…

Proverbs 19:23 (NLT)

Life. Wisdom. Knowledge. Who doesn’t want those? We should fear the Lord. And not just out of duty, but because we want to.

And what about obedience?

Praise the Lord! How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands.

Psalm 112:1 (NLT)

When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

John 15:10 (NLT)

Joy! Love! We could go on all day about the benefits of fearing God and obeying His commands. It may be our duty, but it is also to our benefit to do so. If the wisest man who ever lived concluded that we should do these things, perhaps there’s something to it.

Daily Bible reading: Ecclesiastes 10-12, 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

Team player

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can goodness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live in darkness?

2 Corinthians 6:14 (NLT)

I am well-aware that this portion of scripture is talking about believers and unbelievers. We usually take this to mean those who call themselves Christians and those who don’t. The New King James Version tells us not to be unequally yoked together. But, did you know that you can also be unequally yoked with believers?

I will admit that, as soon as I saw the word team, my mind drifted to sports. Last year, my favourite football team went through a rebuilding. That’s putting it nicely. The new head coach managed to break a league record for the highest number of different starters fielded by a single team in a season. In addition to talent, the coaching staff were looking for chemistry. In order to win, you need a team of men who have the same drive, mindset, vision, and work ethic. One person on the field who doesn’t share those qualities with the rest of the team can spoil a game or even a season. A year and a half and well over one hundred players in, we’ve started winning again. There’s hope for a spot in the playoffs.

Let’s take this to the realm of the local church. Replace players with leaders, volunteers, or regular church-goers. When we all share a vision and work together with similar ethic and effort, we win. The church grows. Plans come together. God moves. But one person applying a different set of ideals can spoil the whole thing. Ask any church leader.

Every denomination and even every church within a denomination (or outside of a denomination) has their own way of doing things. We trust that the leadership is hearing from God and are presenting that vision down the line to the rest of the body. We have several options:

  1. We can get into line. We can be those players who are on the team to win. We’ll follow every instruction passed down from the coaching staff and do everything in our power to win. In church words, so long as the pastor is in line with the Word of God, we come into line with the pastor.
  2. If you don’t agree with the coach/pastor, a few more options may present themselves. You can work to come into agreement with the leadership—so long as the vision and methods are biblically sound. Pray about it. Ask God to change your heart and your mind. If you still cannot come into agreement, a word of advice—leave. Don’t be that one person that spoils it for everyone else. If you’re the one that doesn’t agree, be quiet about it and exit gracefully without making an attempt to bring the whole thing down. If it’s not of God, it’ll come down on its own anyway.

If you are a believer, I hope that you’ve found yourself a winning team, er, church. I pray that you are in a place where you can get on board with the vision and are invited to help that ministry become all God has called it to be. If you haven’t yet found your team, I pray that you soon will or that God will do a work in you so that you can grow right where you are.

God created us with so much variety. There is no one single way to go about accomplishing His work, yet He never called anyone to go about it alone. So find those with whom you can team up. Work with them. Grow with them. Win with them. Be a team player.

Daily Bible reading: Proverbs 23-24, 2 Corinthians 6