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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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The Strongest Motivator

 

One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that properly placed belief is one of the most powerful motivating forces in all of the world.  Belief, or faith, is far more powerful than fear, or money, or lust, or fame, or pride, or any other common human motivator. For instance, people who truly believe in a cause will go to very great lengths to further that cause.  Often, they will risk or give their lives for the furtherance of the cause they believe in. The vast majority of the world’s people would never even think of giving their lives for those things, but they will act on what they believe in.

Whenever I train or teach someone something new, I notice that those who believe in what I’m teaching will follow my instructions to a T. Those that are unsure about what I’m teaching, will usually attempt what I am instructing with only half-hearted fervor.  This is true even of myself.  Whenever I find myself doing a lackluster job at work, or anywhere else, I almost always notice that I have questioned the worth of what I’m doing. In those moments, I either don’t believe in the job, or I don’t believe in the benefits of the expected outcome, or I don’t believe that what I’m engaged in will be successful. My lack of motivation is rooted in unbelief.  Sometimes that unbelief is characterized by an unhealthy dependence on what the rest of the world has influenced me to believe.

This phenomenon is illustrated well in Mark 6:41-52.  In that passage the disciples see Jesus miraculously feed 5000 men with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish. By the way, since ancient societies only counted men, the crowd was probably much, much larger – perhaps greater than 20,000.  After the miracle, Jesus sent the disciples to a town on the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he goes to pray.  Later in the evening, the men are struggling against the wind in their boat.  Jesus takes note and approaches them by walking on the water. They all saw him, but they didn’t recognize him.  Instead, they saw him as a ghost, even though they’d just seen him perform an amazing miracle.  They were terrified, but Jesus tells them to take heart as he identifies himself, and steps into their boat. The wind ceased.

Take heart, he told them. To do this, believe that God is in control, that he works miracles, and that he wastes no event to further his good purposes. If you are able to do this, your struggle will not be as difficult because you will recognize Jesus when you see him! However, if you don’t take heart and believe, then you will be like those disciples in the last verse (Mark 6:52). Their hearts were hardened even though they had just seen a multitude miraculously fed, and a man walking on water.

Why Do an Angel and a Demon Argue Over a Dead Body?

The Bible has a few stories for which we aren’t given much information.  We are left to our own speculations about what they mean.  Unfortunately, this can be dangerous if we miss the larger point of the story.  One of those stories is found in Jude 1:9 where Michael, the only named Archangel in scripture, disputes with Satan over the body of Moses.  Jude doesn’t tell us what the two were disputing about, and we simply have no good ideas from established scripture. Jude appears to be referencing an apocryphal book called the Assumption of Moses, or the Testament of Moses. That book is no longer extant, and our only strong knowledge of it’s similarity to Jude’s claim is from an early church theologian named Origen. He lived in the second century AD, and commented on Jude’s possible use of that book.

 

The best explanation of the reason for the argument is pure speculation, but does have some credible weight. Moses was buried by God himself outside of the promised land, and the location of that burial was kept secret (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). People who think about such things contend that God wanted it kept secret so that the Hebrews would not worship Moses by paying undue homage to his burial site. People have a tendency to focus their worship on things that don’t deserve it, and Moses had been an extremely important figure in the development of Hebrew culture. This would have made him a prime object for reverence. Satan would have wanted the burial location information known so that he could further corrupt the devotion of the Hebrew people toward the only true God. Perhaps Michael disputed with Satan over that location. In yet another possible explanation, Satan the accuser, wanted the body of Moses because Moses had been a sinner and a murderer. In essence, Satan believed he had right to it since the redemptive work of Christ had not yet happened. Michael then debates with Satan in order to nullify that claim.  

 

But Jude’s purpose wasn’t to give us details about that event.  His purpose was to show how false teachers were walking on shaky ground when they defied proper authority and scoffed at supernatural beings  He was pointing out how the chief of the angels, Michael, did not directly accuse Satan, but instead deferred to the authority of Jesus. The false teachers were less than Michael and were rushing in to places where Angels did not tread!

 

Jude’s point is that you don’t have the authority or power to address demons directly, but that God does.  In such instances we are better off relying on God’s word, and on the name and authority of Jesus.

A Good Word Is Mighty

A good word is mighty. It brightens despair, powers through difficulties, and inspires action.  But at its most powerful, a good word changes things.  In fact, it does more than just change things, it transforms things.  We sometimes conflate those two terms, thinking they mean the same thing.  They don’t.  My wife has an old, tan colored Toyota van.  I’ve never liked the color, and frankly, don’t really like the van.  I could repaint it a different color.  Perhaps a deep metallic blue with a wide stripe down the right hood and roof would make it more palatable. Of course, if I do that, I’ll change the van, but only in a very small way. It won’t be as ugly to look at, but it’ll still be the same less than desirable, unmanly, bland, Toyota Hoseymobile. However, if I paint it that fabulous blue, put in a V8 engine with twin turbos, give it new tires, tint the windows, give it a new steering and suspension system, make it a 4 wheel drive, and deck it out with exterior lighting, I will have transformed it into a new and different van!

Words are transformational like that.  Last year, I met a man who was very distraught.  He had some goals for his life, and he wasn’t meeting those goals.  Ultimately, he wanted to move from a rural community to a larger city where he would have access to many services, as well as be exposed to many opportunities. Somehow, he developed the idea that if he didn’t complete a piece of paperwork within the next couple of week’s he’d lose his opportunity to move. In his head, he had to solve a problem with an apparent two week deadline on the day he was talking to me.  His body was tense, his mood was tense, his brain was tense, and he was unable to make decisions appropriately for anything he was doing.  I simply looked at him and said, “you know you don’t have to figure this out today.” I said it quietly, and kindly, then walked away. All his tension melted. His entire behavior and demeanor transformed in a matter of moments. He approached me few days later, and thanked me for giving him that good news. He’d never thought about it before.

Paul tells us about this dynamic clearly in Romans 1:16.  It is there that he tells us that the gospel – that is, the good news – has the power of God to transform us, and save us from our sins.  God’s amazing word has unmatched power for those who believe it! It doesn’t just change us, it transforms us.

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.

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