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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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The Law of Consequences

Sometimes we forget the simple truth that consequences exist for every action we do (and don’t do). Sometimes the consequences turn out to be good, and other times they turn out to be bad.  Most of the time bad consequences come from bad choices, and good consequences from good choices. For instance, if you discipline yourself to save money, you will likely suffer a bit, but end up with a surplus that you can later use when you are wiser, and really need it.  But if you spend your money on every momentary, worldly pleasure, you’ll later have no money when you need it, and will have missed out on deeper pleasures that shape a healthy life. The bible applies the wisdom of consequences to both believers and unbelievers. In Jude 1:5-7, we are told how the Lord destroyed unbelievers in three separate events. It tells us how he destroyed those in the exodus who did not believe, and how he imprisoned angels who didn’t respect the boundaries placed on their authority, and how he destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha for their lack of belief.

In all of those cases, the consequence of choosing a life outside of God’s will was both devastating and permanent. It is a dangerous and terrifying thing to ignore, resist or subvert the order of God. Those that met their awful fate were unbelievers — even the angels.  After all, those angels chose NOT to believe that God metes out ultimate punishment.

This truth of consequence also applies to believers. While true believers may not experience the ultimate consequences dispensed to unbelievers, they are, nevertheless subject to fallout from bad decisions.  Probably, the verse easiest to understand on this truth is Proverbs 3:11-12, where we are told that God disciplines those he loves. The writer of Hebrews 12:4-11develops the concept more fully, explaining that discipline is a sign of God’s love in your life.  He describes that discipline as painful. However, this pain can be diminished by simply learning what God wants, and then doing it. Finally, perhaps the greatest negative consequence reaped by a believer is that of missing out on God’s blessing and his relationship. When we live a life of sin, we miss out on the blessing of God’s relationship.  In effect, we exchange the deeper pleasure of knowing God more, for the cheap and quick pleasure of satisfying a diseased body and life.

The Tears of An Elderly Man

The other day I met an elderly man at the ice cream counter of a local eatery that I sometimes enjoy. His thin frame, his southern appearance, and the hat adorning his head reminded me of my own grandfather who has been gone since I was young boy. We both stood there awkwardly looking at each other and wanting cones for our ice cream.  Unfortunately, the cone dispenser was empty, and he had been standing there for some time. He seemed polite, but mildly perturbed that there were none. He appeared reluctant to ask for help. I called the waiter over and asked him to remedy the problem.  While we were waiting for the cones, the man volunteered to me that his son had served overseas in the first Gulf War. I asked him what service, and he told me that it was the Army. He then shared that his son had died.

 

“In the war,” I asked. “No,” he said, and then explained that his son had gotten sick over there and had died after returning home. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I responded. I know that I said it awkwardly.  I hadn’t expected his candor, or the conversation, and I could think of no other thing to say, or what level of empathy or feeling I should express when saying it. He told me how his son’s wife had died shortly after. Emotion and turmoil crept across his countenance. “How did she die,” I asked, “did she catch what he had?”  A film of tears swelled in his eyes. The turmoil on his face melted into pain. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said. His head dropped. He lingered a moment more. I apologized, and expressed my condolences. He walked back to the table where he had family waiting. I don’t think he got his ice cream.

 

The event threw me for a bit of a loop, and I have thought about it for a while. Although he said he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, it was clear to me that he wanted to talk about something. He had, after all, brought up the topic himself. He needed comfort. Perhaps he needed an embrace. Maybe he just needed someone to say, “tell me about your wonderful son and his wife, and the loving things they did in their community.” I can’t say for sure. But I can say with confidence that If I spend more time in daily prayer asking God to help me when these opportunities arise, I will be more prepared because my mind will be better transformed for that kind of work (Romans 12:2).  Maybe it is for this kind of transformation that Paul tells us to pray steadfastly (Colossians 4:2) and without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), because if there is anything that prayer will change, it is where our minds are focused. 

A Perspective on Renewing Your Mind, and How You Treat Others

There are many junctures in your life when you will realize that something fundamental has changed. Upon making this realization, you then change your view of the world to be in accordance with the reality that you now better understand. Then, once that view is changed, you begin to adjust your behaviors to fit the new view. For instance, sometime after a couple has children, they may come to the realization that the world does not revolve around them, and that their actions and attitudes will impact their innocent children, perhaps diminishing their children’s innocence prematurely. They begin to view the world through a lens of parenting and responsibility. When that happens, their behaviors change in subtle ways at first.  Maybe they stop using foul language. Or maybe they no longer watch the same movies. Even their choice of music may change. One day, they recognize that moral consistency is very important, especially if they make an effort to view their own consistency through the eyes of their children, and they begin to insist on a life that is very different than what they were living before having children.

 

This is part of what the bible means when it says to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). When our minds understand something for what it really is, we will begin to adjust ourselves to conform to the true reality of things. Paul uses this principle of knowledge and understanding in his letter to the Colossians. In Colossians 4:9, Paul tells that particular church that he is sending them the man Onesimus.  He calls him beloved, and tells them plainly that Onesimus is one of them. This is curious, because Onesimus was a slave that ran away from one of the members of their church. At some point, he met up with Paul, and was transformed into a believer (Philemon 1:1-25). Paul knew that some may still view Onesimus as a slave, so he reminds them this is not so, just in case that didn’t get his point in Colossians 3:11 where he told them that in the body of Christ there were no divisions in regard to such things, and that Christ is all and in all. If they were able to make that connection, their view of people would change radically, and their behaviors toward others would as well.

 

How do you view the people around you? Does that view align with the bible?  Is your treatment of others in line with what you claim to believe?

Discipline and the Good Life

Discipline is an inseparable part of the good life. That statement sounds counterintuitive, but I assure you that it is wholly true. Almost nothing in life that is good comes without some kind of discipline.  If you want to be good at your job, you have to discipline yourself to learn, perform, show up on time, and be nice to your co-workers and your company’s customers. If you don’t, you will, at worst, be fired, and at best you won’t advance. If you want to be wealthy, you will have to discipline yourself to work hard, to save money, and to make sound financial decisions. If you don’t, you likely will be poor, in debt, or both. If you want a good marriage, you will have to discipline yourself to prioritize the marriage relationship and not your own desires and pleasures. If you don’t, you will either be divorced, or miserable. If you want to have good health, you will have to discipline yourself to be attentive to what goes into your mouth, and your mind.  You also will have to discipline yourself to work your body regularly. If you don’t own those behaviors, you likely will develop diseases of affluence.

Spirituality is no different. If you want to grow spiritually, you will have to prioritize your relationship with Jesus, and keep your  mind focused on those things that please him (Colossians 3:1-4).  If you don’t, then your spiritual walk will be hobbled by things that displease him (Colossians 3:5). In fact, Paul uses a very strong argument in Colossians 3:5.  He says that covetousness, which some might think of as the least of the sins in that verse, is idolatry.  He doesn’t say that it is like idolatry.  He says that it isidolatry. He likely makes this argument because things like covetousness, sexual immorality, evil desire — or really any sin — have a way of capturing your devotion and stealing it from God. They cause you to prioritize selfishness.  They rob you of selflessness.  And they put your mind in an earthly state. They put tension between you and God. Although God will discipline those he loves, it isn’t as much a tension on God’s part as it is yours.  If you are truly saved, there is now no more condemnation as far as God is concerned (Romans 8:1).  But having that earthly state of mind deadens your desire to be with God, and makes it difficult for you to serve him until you have laid it at his feet and submitted your will to his. Therefore, Paul argues that sin is idolatry. It gets your worship instead of God. Paul’s prescription for that ill is a strong one.  He says to put to death those things in you that are earthly.

Got Symptoms. There’s a Cure!

Sometimes when we get sick, we, or our doctors, make the mistake of treating our symptoms instead of their cause. This never leads to a cure for the actual problem. In fact, it sometimes makes our problem worse by masking the cause and leaving us unaware of an advancing disease process. The medicine, the procedure, or the treatment leaves us feeling better, but all the while an invisible affliction marches on.

This kind of blunder can be very prevalent in our spiritual lives. Paul touches on this truth strongly in the closing verses of Colossians chapter 2. In Colossians 2:20-23, Paul warns against trying to grow spiritually by following man-made rules. He tells us not to give into asceticism — which was a belief that strict self denial, the avoidance of any kind of indulgence, or the severe treatment of one’s body would result in spiritual growth. Paul condemns that idea, telling us in Colossians 2:23 that it has no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. What Paul means is that following rules does not make us more spiritual. It only treats a symptom and hides a much bigger problem. It does not make our evil urges abate. Instead, it tends to make us puffed up or proud (Colossians 2:18). We think we are growing spiritually because our symptoms are masked by our pious rule following behaviors. All the while, spiritual cancer eats us from the inside, and we become hypocrites with an invisible (to us) holier than thou attitude. We develop a false humility. Our fallen flesh still wants to indulge in those things for which our fallen flesh wishes to indulge, and our rule keeping behavior only keeps others from immediately seeing that fact.

Instead of trying to follow man-made rules, Paul teaches that we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). He argued this point because he knew that setting our mind on the flesh led to death, and setting it on the spirit led to life (Romans 8:6). If we put the example of Jesus first, and try to please God, and walk by the spirit, our sinful urges will diminish, fade away, and abate. The closer we walk with God, the less we need rules, because we will lose interest in satisfying our fleshly urges (Galatians 5:16). So listen to Paul’s advice. Don’t treat your symptoms. Go straight to the source of the problem. Let God change your heart, and your mind!

What Does it Mean to Rob God?

It is no secret to any Christian that all resources belong to God. It really doesn’t matter if those resources entail finances, time, talent, labor, or anything else. God is the owner of all of them (Psalm 24:1). As Christians, we know this truth intellectually well, because we hear it in sermons, sunday schools, and other teaching venues frequently.  But we still sometimes forget it because we haven’t taken the time to internalize it, experience it, or really notice it. Then, too, there is the risk of blessings.  We forget the truth of God’s ownership of all resources because we’ve become used to our blessings, and then take them for granted, without ever asking about why they were granted.

You may think that your paycheck comes from your company, and that they give it to you because of your labor, or your talent.  But this isn’t completely so.  You only have your talent because God gave it to you, and the company only has a cash flow to fulfill your paycheck because God gave its leadership the talent and resources that attract and allow that flow.  God could terminate your talent, the cash flow, or the company’s leadership at any time. You may think that you’re talent at playing ball, or playing the piano, or writing a book, or singing a song, or persuading others with smooth speech is something that belongs solely to you, and that came to you as a result of practice, self-discipline, and well leveraged opportunities. But the truth is that God gave those talents to you.  It is true that you may have developed them with practice, self-discipline, and well leveraged opportunities, but then God also gave you the breath, energy and life necessary for the practice and self-discipline.  Many times, he also gave you those opportunities to leverage.

God gave you these things, and he expects you to steward them a certain way.  There is an expectation that a portion of what you are given, be given back to God so that it can be used for his purposes.  When you do not do this, God considers it robbery (Malachi 3:8-12).  He punishes this robbery with an erosion of his blessings.  He also rewards obedience to giving with an increase in blessings. When that happens, your house and church community become a delight and an example to others.

So with that in mind, ask yourself if you are giving well from those things that God has given you. Perhaps you are giving plenty of money — maybe even more than your share. There are many who do, and that is awesome and commendable! Are you giving of your talents? Are you giving of your time? Are you giving of your labor?  God expects and rewards giving out of all of these blessings.

How the Church is Like a Piece of Knitting

When you look at a blanket, or a garment, or some other creation that has been made by knitting, you will notice something profound.

In the simplest pieces, a single strand of yarn interlocks with itself to create wide swaths of fabric.  In more complex pieces, multiple strands of yarn are interlocked together to create unified wholes. This interlocking pattern is very important.  It allows the garment or cloth to be strong, to hold together, and to function correctly. It creates both beauty and utility.  However, if when being knitted together, something was done wrong, or if one of the “interlocks” comes undone, the whole garment can begin to unravel. This can leave the cloth with gaping holes. It becomes unsightly, and may even cease to function effectively for its intended purpose. But when done correctly, multiple strands of yarn, and even multiple separate pieces of knitting can be united in a single, useful, and beautiful tapestry that is resistant to unraveling.

Paul envisioned such a tapestry for the church at Colossae, as well as all Christian churches throughout history. He writes that he wants them to be knit together in love so that they can come to know and understand the mystery of God, which is found in Christ (Colossians 2:2). In other words, he wanted every believer at Colossae to be interlocked with every other believer at Colossae.  He wanted that interlocking to be something he called love. There are many words in Greek for love, but the word that Paul uses for “love” in that verse is the Greek word “agape.”  This isn’t a word that is based on transient feelings.  Instead, it’s a word that is based on faithfulness and commitment to the well being of others, good will and choice. It is the kind of love that God has for his people. He loved us to the point of willful death.

Paul seemed to understand that if each of us is interlocked with our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in a true commitment to the well being of those brothers and sisters, that our churches would better comprehend God’s mystery – his love that is modeled by Jesus.

How Sincerely Do You Believe God?

Paul, the New Testament Apostle, gets right to the point about what the gospel does when he writes to the church at Colossae. InColossians 1:3-5, he affirms their faith, and their love of other people.  But he says something curious after that affirmation.  He argues that their faith, and their love of others comes from a confident expectation of a future reward in Heaven.  In other words, he points out that what they believe about the future was having an impact on what they were doing at the moment he wrote the letter. He goes on to point out how this gospel was not only producing fruit in them, but all over the whole world as well (Colossians 1:6).  He explains that the gospel was producing fruit for them because they understood the grace that had been afforded to them. Paul makes two points here.  The first is that a belief about the future motivated their behavior, and the second, is that an understanding of the past was producing fruit.  The Colossians understood that God had given them a gift they didn’t deserve out of a love and commitment he had for them that they didn’t deserve, and this understanding was changing and shaping them in profound ways.

As he continues, he tells them that he is praying that God will give them spiritual wisdom and knowledge so that they will produce even more fruit, and please the Lord with their lives (Colossians 1:9-10). He then makes – perhaps – the strongest statement of this section of his letter.  He prays that by bearing every good fruit, and living a worthy life, they will grow in the knowledge of God.

As you read Paul’s opening remarks to the Colossians, ask yourself what it is that you believe about God and his plan.  Do you believe that there is a future reward for your work on earth?  Do you believe that God has rescued you from the horrors of hell, the horrors of your sins, or the horrors of your own anxieties and shortcomings?  If you truly believe those things, take the time to prayerfully ask some additional questions:  What am I doing to love others?  What am I doing to serve others? What am I doing to serve God? How am I growing in the knowledge of God?  Has my spiritual wisdom expanded? What fruit do I see in my life?  The answers to the second set of questions may tell you something about the truth of the answers you gave to the first set of questions.

Dear God

Dear God –

Thank you for providing us fathers.  Thank you for those fathers who have sacrificed their time and their own desires so that their wives and their children can both be loved as well as feel loved. Thank you for the fathers who have provided. Thank you for the fathers who have stayed through difficulty and darkness..  Thank you for the fathers who have brought life.  Thank you for those fathers who have brought discipline, instruction, and guidance with a spirit of firmness, kindness, and love. Thank you for the fathers who lift up mothers, and that support them and help them. Thank you God for the fathers who have worshiped in spirit and in truth. Thank you for those fathers who have modeled Jesus, followed him, and led their families to him.

Lord, I pray that you shine before all fathers so that they cannot ignore you.  For those who know you already,  I ask that you shine in such a way that their families can see you in them.  And for those who don’t know you, I ask that you shine in such a way that the path to your forgiveness and acceptance is clear, undeniable, and unmistakable so that all other paths before them are dimmed in comparison to yours.

Lord I ask that you bless fathers with the strength to live out their roles with enthusiasm.  I ask that you bless them with the wisdom to discern your will.  I ask that you bless them with others who can be entwined in their lives so much so that their strength, resolve, direction and spirit is multiplied many times by the power you place individually in the lives of them all. I ask that you forge Godly friendships and Godly alliances in those who are fathers.  God, I ask that you bring purpose, and guide them to lead their families.  Most of all, Lord, I ask that you help them to follow the example of your son in every domain of their lives.

I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

What Do You Believe About God?

One thing you may have heard me preach from the pulpit and elsewhere is that faith produces behavioral results.  In other words, what we believe affects everything we do. If you believe that your car is not safe, you  likely won’t drive it anywhere. If you believe your car is perfectly safe and will magically transport you to a mountain of riches once you hit 95 miles per hour, you’ll likely be trying to find a long, flat stretch of road pretty quick. In fact, every single thing that we do is anchored to some kind of belief. It is because of this that theological questions are the most important, and probably the most powerful.  What we believe about God (or what we don’t believe about God) has the power to govern all other beliefs we hold, and therefore, influence all of our behaviors, and even emotions. This is why Paul firmly teaches us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

Struggling to answer theological questions is essential to healthy Christian growth.  Of course, there’s a risk that you may arrive at the wrong answers, but if you skip the struggle you miss out on maturity.  Ponder how much power theological beliefs have over us by considering this question which was recently asked by one of our youth:If God is past, present and future then he would know your decisions, so technically he should know where you are going, so what’s the point of us living here on earth to suffer? Not answering this question properly leads to a belief that either God is pointless, or that life is pointless.  Both of those beliefs will produce dangerous behaviors, and very possibly a life of misery. The question is probably impossible to answer fully with finite human minds, but we can at least approximate a reasonable one. First, let’s look at a problem within the question itself. Just because we know something is going to happen doesn’t mean that we can’t derive good, or enjoyment from it.  For instance, I know how my children are going to respond to a variety of morally ambiguous situations.  Just because I know ahead of time how they will behave doesn’t mean that I am not either pleased or disappointed when they do the right or wrong thing. Now let’s look at a second perspective regarding the question.  We were made for God’s pleasure (Colossians 1:16, Revelation 4:11) and for his glory (Isaiah 43:7). Since we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), it is safe to assume that he, too, experiences pleasure when he sees us make right decisions,or feels displeasure when we make wrong ones, or feels pleased when he sees us follow him.  And he is definitely glorified when we do the right thing, especially when it’s sacrificially hard to do.  This holds true even if he knows the outcome ahead of time, because Satan doesn’t know the outcomes, and neither do most men. Finally, he created us to have relationship with him (Leviticus 26:11-12, Deuteronomy 6:5) and to do good works (Matthew 22:39, Ephesians 2:10). Neither our good works, nor our love for God are diminished by his knowing what happens ahead of time. Seeing God from this perspective can give us joy, rather than misery.

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