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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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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.

Would You Rather Be Dragged Around or Led Around?

Several years ago, my parents and nephews visited me here in Florida. They drove down from Mississippi to spend time with my family. Because I wanted to show them the beauty of our area, I decided to take them on a kayak trip down the Santa Fe River. The boys had not quite reached the preteen years, and were still young.  One of them, Everett to be exact, refused to board his kayak.  All manner of persuasions were tried, and all manner of persuasions failed. He had convinced himself that alligator hazards lurked around every bend, and that the drabness  of the boat ramp was preferable to the dangers of the river. Ultimately, I had to drag him kicking and screaming onto the boat. But once we had glided down the river a bit, his attitude softened, and he realized that the boats and their captains were safe. He also realized that the beauty of the river, and the time with his family was worth the hazards. How we get to know Jesus can be a little like that.

A very controversial verse in the bible is John 6:44. It is there that Jesus declares that no one can come to him unless he is drawn by God. The Greek word for “to draw” in that verse is the same Greek word that means “to drag,” “to pull,” or “to haul,” with purpose (John 18:10, John 21:6, John 21:11, Acts 16:19, Acts 21:30, and James 2:6). Various kinds of Christians argue over the verse because some believe that it means God uses an external force to pull people into salvation whether they like it or not, and that there is no true free will, while others believe that the word means that God uses a gentle internal pulling or wooing to bring people to Jesus which can be resisted or even rejected.

I won’t get into the pre-salvation elements of that controversy given the confines of this short piece. However, I believe it is safe to argue that the principle of “dragging” easily applies on the saved side of salvation. God is continually making us more like Jesus using a variety of methods (Romans 8:28-29). He also disciplines us, and molds us like a father (Hebrews 12:6-7), or like a potter (Isaiah 64:8).  In those instances, God brings us closer to Jesus by dragging us through difficult circumstances.  The more we resist, the harder the drag will be. Once we are saved, he has promised to keep us until the very end (Philippians 1:6). We can either submit to his will and be led around, and see the beauty along the way (Psalm 25:4-10), or we can be dragged kicking and screaming to the same place in the same way that Jonah was (Jonah 1:1Jonah 4:11). Either way, he’s going to finish what he started.

Driving A Hard Bargain

To drive a hard bargain is an American idiom that means to be uncompromising when making a deal. The person who drives the hard bargain is the person who has the advantage in any negotiation.  His or her advantage is so great, and the position of the other negotiator so poor, that the price for the bargain can be set at almost any level.  In reality, when a person is able to “drive a hard bargain,” negotiation does not truly take place. Instead, the disadvantaged negotiator simply capitulates to the bargain driver either out of need for the deal, or out of an overwhelmingly strong desire for the deal. Or, they walk away from the deal altogether.

God drives a hard bargain. Every. Single. Time.  This is because his advantage over us is overwhelmingly, demonstrably, inarguably great. He is the creator of everything, the owner of everything, and the controller of everything. There is nothing that we can offer him that he does not already have. Our failure to recognize this truth sometimes compels us to engage in immature thoughts about what we think we have to offer.  The usual thought process goes something like this:  Dear God, if you get me out of this fix, I will do x, y, or z.   Interestingly, the reverse offering is also frequent:  Dear God, if you get me out of this fix, I will NOT do x, y, or z.   But the truth is that God is not that interested in what you do or don’t do.  Just think for a moment about any human behavior separated from motive. If you think your tithe has worth to God you are mistaken, he already has your money and can separate it from you at any time. What has worth to God is you giving your tithe cheerfully because you love him and wish to obey him. The tithe itself is of no value.  The condition of your heart is what holds value. If you do good things because you expect good rewards, your deeds are self-serving and of no value to God (Isaiah 64:6).  But a heart that desires good deeds because they are good, and because they help to establish the love of God among men, and to change them into something better, is of immense value (Hebrews 10:24, Titus 2:7-9, Philippians 2:13). If you avoid doing wrong things because you fear punishment, then you are not truly being good, you are simply preserving yourself.  What God desires is that you have a transformed heart that willingly follows Jesus with a desire to be like him. Such a heart is of very great value. God knows that once your heart is actually changed, you will tithe for the right reasons, do good for the right reasons, sacrifice for the right reasons, avoid evil for the right reasons, and most of all love him for the right reasons.  This state is a total transformation for the better, and God’s love and your well-being so completely reflected in it that he is unwilling to compromise or negotiate on the process.  Perhaps A.W. Tozer realized this when he noticed, “God never negotiates with men. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross put an end to any kind of negotiations. It is now Christ or nothing. It is now God’s word in its entirety or nothing.”

The Beauty of Ugly Feet and Toenails. . .

Most people don’t put “feet” and “beautiful” in the same stream of thought.  Generally speaking, feet get a bad rap, and are more often associated with stinky socks, smelly sneakers, the aroma of the boy’s high school locker room on a Friday afternoon in May, sweaty ickyness, cold clamminess, or toenails.  And let’s face it toenails and the rest of that stuff are NOT beautiful unless you’re a troll, or Oscar the Grouch.

But as is often the case, God doesn’t always see things in the same way that we do.  On at least two different occasions in the Bible (Romans 10:15, and Isaiah 52:7), feet are described as beautiful.  They’re described that way because they transport the people who bring good news.  When I was a soldier training at Fort Sam Houston, TX, there was a truck that rolled around the post.  We called it the roach coach.  There was really nothing beautiful about the appearance of that truck. But whenever I saw it, I had a good feeling.  It was full of cold drinks, snacks and a variety of goodies. It wouldn’t have mattered if the truck looked like a train wreck in a wet chicken coup, its appearance wasn’t important. Its contents were, and because of that, I saw it as attractive.

Notice that in those feet verses the focus isn’t so much on what God sees as beautiful (although I think he does see those feet as beautiful) but rather on what the recipients of their messages see.  Feet that normally appeared ugly, now appeared beautiful because they brought the best news possible – that people could be friends and children of God once again. When you are outside the will of God, and when you are not friends with the person who sustains all life, you are in a desperate place.

Interestingly, these messengers were in a win-win situation.  God considered them beautiful for their obedience to the Gospel, and their fellow man considered them beautiful for playing a part in their rescue and restoration.  And even more beautiful than all of this, is that you can be just as beautiful as they were when you take the message to those people who haven’t yet received it.  When they do receive it, you too, will be beauty in their life! So no matter how ugly you think your feet are, they can be among the most beautiful objects in the world to the people you touch with the gospel!

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