Tag Archives: God

Truth and Grace: How to Share?

The C12 Group focused on the issue of trust in this month’s business segment. Trust is a foundational element of our relationships in the workplace, family, friends, churches, schools, government, military and pretty much anywhere two or more people interact. One of the first building blocks of trust is engaging with truth. In addition to engaging with truth is engaging with grace. We in America are certainly being challenged today to engage each other with truth and grace. The double edged sword of technology allows us to share our thoughts and opinions very easily, but also in a way that can be harsh and demeaning. How do we engage with each other, pointing out when the truth is being misunderstood, but doing it in a way that doesn’t damage or even sever the relationships that are important for us to keep?

Let’s start with man’s definition of each of these terms. As is common in the English language, there are nuances to the definition of a single word. From Merriam-Webster, the definition of truth: the real facts about something; the things that are true; sincerity in action, character, and utterance; the body of real things, events, and facts; a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality. Again, from Merriam-Webster, the definition of grace (relevant to what I am sharing): unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful.

For me, all truth starts with the foundational truths that God exists, that He created the universe, including us, that He has a plan for the human race and that we are active participants in that plan. The foundational source of these truths that God revealed to us is the Bible. Abraham Lincoln said, “In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible on September 7, 1864 (Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 7:542). The apostle Paul writes in 2nd Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT).

When we engage in any relationship one of our tendencies is to assume wrong motives for the other person’s words or actions. This is especially true when engaging in social media, texting or emailing interactions because the amount of communication is very limited compared to an in person engagement with conversation and body language. There is a lot of personal history that we may know nothing about which has shaped this person’s view of the world and what truth they have been exposed to. This is one of the reasons I try to start new relationships, especially important ones, with sharing our respective life stories from birth to present day.

The foundational truth of grace is that God loves us so much that He gives us something we don’t deserve, eternity with Him, otherwise known as Heaven. That gift is only available through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, which does require submission. Another aspect of that truth is that if we reject the gift, reject God and reject Jesus Christ as lord and savior, then we reject the outcome and will not spend eternity with Him, otherwise known as Hell. These are eternal decisions, not taken lightly. “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12 NLT).

If we are Christians who have accepted these truths, then how do we conduct ourselves in these personal engagements, sharing truth and grace? The Bible gives us instructions to do that. “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25 NLT).

Returning to the point about understanding motives, let me give you a practical example. I intensely dislike cigarette smoking (note I prefer these terms instead of “hate” which is a strong word, often wrongly applied). What is my history with this issue that is affecting my view of smokers? I did not like cigarettes the first time I tried them as a teenager. The odor is quite intense in a bad way for me. And most importantly, it is a fact that cigarettes cause cancer. My grandmother and father both died of cancer (not from cigarettes) and my wife is a cancer survivor. I have been and am in relationships with people who smoke. I know that quitting is very difficult and I empathize with that difficulty. But, the outcome of not quitting could literally be death. When I have a crucial conversation with someone about their smoking habit, I try to engage them by sharing what has shaped by view and try to help them see the truth of what they are doing and the truth of the potential consequences to themselves and their families. I don’t like their actions, but I do in fact love them as people and I am trying to engage them in a way that demonstrates that.

The same methods can be applied to any relationship and any discussion of differing views. Let’s civilly and respectfully share our stories forming our views and in the process share the truths that God has and continues to reveal to us each day. There are many opportunities today to have these discussions around marriage and family; the role of government in our lives; the freedom to live out our faith every day in every place, not just one day in one place; interacting with the world; and abortion to name a few. I have previously written about a great book with practical advice on how to have these crucial conversations: https://marcjmartin.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/get-better-at-having-difficult-conversations/.

If you are a disciple of Christ, then fill yourself each day with God’s truths from the Bible so you can continue to grow in sharing the truth with grace. Gather with fellow disciples in groups of three or four regularly and challenge each other to grow in these areas. Pray for wisdom and discernment each day. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5 NLT).

If you are not a disciple of Christ, investigate these truths with an open heart and open mind. Thanks to technology (another gift from God) we can easily access many places to do that. The best source again is the Bible and you can start in the book of John: https://www.bible.com/bible/116/jhn.1.nlt. Talk to someone you know who is following Christ and you see that person living it out in a God honoring way. Feel free to contact me as well.

Here are some other resources:

http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-reason-for-god

http://www.josh.org/resources/free-book-downloads/

http://godlife.com/

 

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Are You a Christian in a Religion or a Relationship?

I usually try to avoid describing myself as a Christian, instead using the term Christ follower. Why the attempt to differentiate? Because the terms Christian and religion have such a broad application that they don’t truly represent what I have come to learn about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and our personal relationship with each element of this Trinity.

Merriam-Webster gives three definitions for the word “religion”:

  1. the belief in a god or in a group of gods
  2. an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
  3. an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

This is what the public generally thinks of us who identify ourselves as Christians. Their view of us tends to be around their perception of the rules and ceremonies. The multitude of Christian denominations has not helped clarify this perception either, especially with some seemingly focused on the rules and ceremonies instead of Bible teaching.

These definitions don’t come very close to describing the true nature of a Christ follower. What does Merriam-Webster say about “Christian”? “A person who believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ”. That is certainly a true statement in a broad sense, but leaves out many elements of the relationship between a Christ follower and Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. The key elements beyond believing in the teachings of Jesus are the commitments that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord. Savior means that Jesus is the only way to be with God in Heaven after we die. Lord means that we are in continual submission to Jesus everyday of our lives. My relationship with God is that He is my Father. The Holy Spirit is my guide and advocate, helping me to make wise choices and helping me communicate with a God who is truly beyond full understanding.

So what does it look like to be in a relationship instead of a religion? It starts with purposefully spending time in the relationship. The communication elements of a spiritual relationship include reading the Bible, which is how God talks to us (revealing who He is and His plan for humanity, as well as how we should conduct ourselves), praying, which is how we talk to God (with the help of the Holy Spirit when we don’t have the words) and worship, both alone and together with other Christ followers. Submission happens when what I want contradicts what Jesus wants for me and from me.

These are daily elements of the relationship, not once a week for an hour or two on Sunday morning. They should be elements you are participating in throughout your day. In addition to my daily habits of Bible reading and prayer in the morning I regularly get wisdom and guidance from online Bibles and prayers when confronted with a decision or request for help or advice from someone. With the easy access to Christian radio and podcasts I am able to worship in my car and at home, as well as listen to Bible teaching from a number of qualified pastors. Sundays I am able to worship with other Christ followers at Bible teaching churches in my town or other towns when traveling. Every choice and decision, including business ones, that I make is rooted in these elements of this relationship I began 20 years ago.

How about you? Are you in a relationship with Jesus, reflected by your daily choices and activities? Or, are you in a religion, practicing ceremonies without a true understanding of what they mean? Are you participating in a religious ceremony on Sunday morning, then leaving every other aspect of following Christ at the door as you leave? Read Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and think about your life and your relationship with Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord.

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Do You Know Your Purpose?

“Christian CEO’s and business owners building great businesses for a greater purpose” is the C12 Group motto. That purpose that every C12 Group member and area chair shares is honoring God in the way we conduct our businesses and serving Him according to our talents and abilities. That purpose has an eternal perspective, which helps us when we are faced with challenges in this life, whether those challenges are in our businesses, our families, our churches or our communities. A greater purpose helps you overcome and it helps you deal with circumstances that prompt the question “Why?”

Do you have a purpose for your life? Is it to accumulate wealth or stuff? Is it to have the most pleasant life experience you can? Is it to be recognized as a leader in your community? These are all things our American culture promotes on a daily basis. If you hear it often enough, you can start to believe those are purposeful things, especially if you don’t have any other source of truth. So, where do you discover your purpose, where do you discover the truth? My answer is that it all starts with the Bible.

The Bible is what God has given us to begin to know Him and understand His plan for all of humanity, as well as our individual role in that plan. That plan applies to both here in the present on this Earth and in the future eternity. If you don’t believe in God I challenge you to read the Bible and see if your opinion changes. You don’t even need to read it all at first (everyone can gain wisdom from reading the entire Bible at some point in their life, preferably multiple times). Just read a few books in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. If you aren’t willing to take that step consider reading a book or two like “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel or “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller. If you aren’t much of a reader you could start with Josh McDowell’s web site providing answers to skeptic’s questions, http://www.josh.org/resources/study-research/answers-to-skeptics-questions/. If you truly want answers, seek out a Bible reading evangelical Christian in your community and invite them to coffee or lunch and begin a dialogue.

Do you believe God exists but you don’t see Him active in your life or you’ve experienced loss and can’t understand why God is letting that happen to you? Again, you need to invest some time and effort in searching for answers. God doesn’t turn His back on us, but He also doesn’t always grab us by the shoulders and turn us around when we turn our back on Him (that free will thing, He can’t force us to love Him). A book written by a pastor who lost his adult son in an accident may be helpful, it is “Hope For Hurting Hearts” by Greg Laurie. Another is Tim Keller’s “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”. Keller and his wife both have experienced life changing diseases. The previously mentioned books and web site are still relevant for you as well. That coffee with a Christian idea is a good one for you too.

What about you who are Christ followers but don’t have your purpose figured out? The first question I would ask you is how much time do you spend with God on a daily basis? What kind of relationship do you expect to have with someone if you never talk to Him or listen to Him? I realize it’s a little harder because He is invisible and very rarely audibly speaks to anyone, but it’s worth the effort. Don’t just show up for an hour or two on Sunday and expect the relationship to be the same as when you spend time every day reading His Word (the Bible) and talking to Him about the things in your life (prayer). There are plenty of Bible reading plans available to help you develop a new habit. Bible.com offers apps for multiple platforms. One of the best books on prayer that I have recently read is Philip Yancey’s “Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference?” Instead of the coffee with a Christian idea, you need to make a bit more of a commitment, get together with two or three other Christ followers (men with men and women with women for transparency reasons) who all want to live out their purpose and help each other discover how to do that (it’s called discipleship).

Here are some other ways I stay plugged into what God wants me to know about His will for my life (in addition to the daily Bible reading and prayer):

  • Going to a Sunday service where I worship Him and give thanks for His provision, listen to some Bible teaching from someone who studies the Bible for a living and spend time in community with other Christ followers.
  • Listening to Christian music that is uplifting as well as sometimes challenging.
  • Listening to other Bible teachers in addition to the one I listen to on Sunday (Greg Laurie is one of my favorites, http://www.harvest.org/radio/ways-to-listen.html)
  • Reading books like the ones I’ve shared.
  • Spending time with other men on a regular basis encouraging and challenging each other.

I hope you find your purpose and more importantly I hope you find God through the person of Jesus Christ, not just for this brief time on Earth, but for all of eternity. Eternity without being in God’s presence will be horrific and I don’t wish that on anyone.

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Obedience or Duty? Is There a Difference When Serving God?

Is there a difference between obedience and duty when you are doing something for God? What is the definition of “obey”? Merriam-Webster offers this definition: to do what someone tells you to do or what a rule, law, etc., says you must do. This definition of “obedient” conveys what I believe when I think about being obedient to God: submissive to the restraint or command of authority.  Here is what Merriam-Webster has to say about duty:

1)      Conduct due to parents and superiors

2)      Obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position 

3)      A moral or legal obligation.

What has prompted me write about two English words that are close in meaning? One is my experience on a missions trip to Indonesia this January and the second is devotion from Oswald Chambers that I read shortly after my return.  This was my third trip to Indonesia since July 2009. Our church has a partnership with a national church planting organization and we have sent small teams of three to six people to help them with a retreat that they have for their staff every two to three years. I have led all three teams that have gone. Usually we provide some teaching at this retreat. This year we also helped provide child care for thirty children between the ages of two and seventeen. The travel to get there is quite demanding, usually a short flight to a major hub like Minneapolis or Chicago followed by approximately thirteen hours in the air to Tokyo followed by a two hour layover then a seven hour flight to Singapore followed by a six or more hour layover followed by a one hour flight followed by a three to five hour drive to the retreat site. Sometimes there is an overnight hotel stay before the last road trip. Adding up the time, it is roughly 40 hours of non-stop travel with very little opportunity for a full night’s sleep. This particular trip was a little more challenging as the first short flight was cancelled and we ended up driving to Chicago three and a half hours then starting our flights. We also had our Singapore to Indonesia leg cancelled two days in a row and had to find an alternative airline to get there at all.

I was not excited about going on the trip this time, primarily because the physical demands of the travel from 2011 were still fairly fresh in my mind. I also do not like the hot and humid climate, even when it’s subzero here in Wisconsin. I felt a “duty” to our church planting partners to make the trip again. I felt I was being “obedient” to God to offer to lead and recruit a team. The work being done by the Indonesians is important and their efforts are being blessed by God, especially in a very dark place. My leadership skills were tested by the travel challenges we faced getting there. The team responded well and the Indonesian partners appreciated our efforts once we got there. We did have an impact on the children and their parents as well.  While on the trip and since coming home I have been conflicted about my future role in this partnership and about returning in a few years. Reading this passage from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost of His Highest devotion a few days after my return has me wrestling with this even more:

“If we do something simply out of a sense of duty, we are trying to live up to a standard that competes with Jesus Christ. We become a prideful, arrogant person, thinking we know what to do in every situation. We have put our sense of duty on the throne of our life, instead of enthroning the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to “walk in the light” of our conscience or in the light of a sense of duty, but to “walk in the light as He is in the light . . .” (1 John 1:7). When we do something out of a sense of duty, it is easy to explain the reasons for our actions to others. But when we do something out of obedience to the Lord, there can be no other explanation—just obedience.”

What I read in Chambers’ comments is that the difference between “obedience” to the Lord and “duty” is my motivation. Even if I have that right, it is not easy for me to discern what my true motivation is for going on this trip, much less my motivation for being involved in our church partnership with the church planters. I would like to think my motivations are pure and submissive to the Lord, not prideful and arrogant, but I’m not completely sure, primarily because of my role as “team leader”. I did not enjoy the challenges of the trip, but I did get satisfaction out of my teammates’ compliments as we returned home. My ego was also fed by the appreciation and gratitude of our partners in Indonesia. Was my behavior and conduct God honoring or Marc honoring?

I wish I could say I have this figured out. I guess the fact that I am still wrestling with it is a good sign that I haven’t completely come down on the prideful side of this discussion. I do want to be obedient to my Lord and Savior. I feel a strong sense of duty to be a soldier in this ongoing battle that we Christ followers are actively involved in. My nine years in the U.S. Air Force may have contributed to that heightened sense of duty. My prayer is that I can balance both concepts in being a servant of Jesus Christ in every aspect of my life, including my business. My prayer is that you also have a similar struggle.

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So Who is This Baby Jesus?

Is your view of Jesus the baby in the manger in the nativity scene?  The one described in “Away in a Manger”:

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.

While certainly an accurate picture of Jesus at that point in His life, what about the other titles given Him this time of year in other Christmas carols: Messiah, King, Lord, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Savior? What do those really mean? What do you think of when you sing those words or hear them on the radio?  These hymns are based on the biblical description of Jesus Christ. Here’s one passage many people are familiar with from Luke, chapter 2:

8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

What is the good news that will bring joy to all people? That a baby was born? What does “The Savior” really mean? What about these lyrics from “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”?

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

What is He King of? When will there be peace on Earth? Who are the sinners and how will they be reconciled with God? The Bible tells us He is the King of All Kings, which means no one in history, past, present or future is higher than Jesus Christ. Here is a description of Him from Revelation, chapter 19, as John was shown a glimpse of the future return of Jesus.

11Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. 12His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. 13He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. 15From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. 16On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

A little different picture than the sweet baby in a manger don’t you think?  This is the King Jesus, the one the world will see again in person someday. There won’t be peace on Earth until after He returns. The rest of Revelation explains this, I urge you to read it.

In between the baby and the King of All Kings is another depiction of Jesus from Isaiah 53:

2My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,

like a root in dry ground.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,

nothing to attract us to him.

3He was despised and rejected—

a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

He was despised, and we did not care.

4Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,

a punishment for his own sins!

5But he was pierced for our rebellion,

crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

He was whipped so we could be healed.

 This is the Jesus who died on the cross so that verse from “O Come All Ye Faithful” can be fulfilled. The sinners are us, every person who was ever born. The reconciliation, or the restoration of the relationship with God, was done by Jesus when He died. That’s what it means when you read or hear the statement “Jesus died for the sins of the world”. What you may not realize is that is a personal statement, relevant for you, it’s not a blanket condition for everyone. He’s not Savior of the world in a global sense, He’s Savior of each and every individual person on the globe, at least for those who choose to accept His offer of salvation.

That’s the part we often miss at this time of year. We are joyful that Jesus Christ was born, but do we really understand that we need to accept His offer of salvation? This offer requires us to individually, one by one, accept the fact that He is God, He is the Lord of All Lords, He is the King of All Kings. This  requires acceptance of that truth, submission to Him, and a change of heart on your part. There are millions that have done so before you, so if you have not done it the beauty is that you don’t have to have anyone lead you through it, you can do directly to Jesus Christ, Son of God, who is God, all by yourself, just by asking Him to forgive you and asking Him to be your personal Lord, King and Savior.  If you aren’t quite there yet, then read the Word, the Bible for yourself or find someone like me who has made this choice and ask them your questions. We who have made this choice want everyone to be with us in Heaven, that’s the Good News Luke wrote about!

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What’s My “Why”?

Why do I do what I do for a living? Why did I sell my three businesses and start over in a new business? Why did I leave the security of a successful, prospering company providing information technology products and services to the business world for a start-up, one man consulting business franchise focused on Christian business owners?

In truth, part of that answer is due to my belief in myself, in my own abilities, skills, talents and determination; all of which are given me by God. But that is not the only reason, because if it were, I would be doomed to failure. The primary reason is that God called me to do it and rely on Him more than me. I didn’t even realize it at first when I decided to pursue being a C12 Chair. When I was interviewed via phone by Buck Jacobs, founder of C12, he asked me if I was called to do this. I was honest in my answer and gave all the logical reasons and shared the sequence of events that seemed to point me in this direction, but couldn’t say with complete conviction that I was called. I believe that my own misunderstanding of what it meant to be called contributed to my lack of clarity on the answer to the question. A severe case of jet lag after returning from Indonesia didn’t help either.

Buck helped me through the fog a little with a couple articles he had written on the topic, specifically for C12 Chairs and C12 members, explaining in detail the concept of calling for a business guy like me. My experiences preparing for the chair role and being a chair have confirmed that I have indeed been called to do this. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy or that I haven’t made mistakes. It does mean that I have to do it, no matter what.

I have now spent a little more than eighteen months in this role of C12 Chair, facilitating one group of ten Christian business owners. In addition to running the monthly group meeting, I meet with each of them individually for a ninety minute one-on-one coaching and accountability session. Each one of these men has grown in some way in the short time they have been a part of the C12 Group. The most rewarding thing to see is their determination to be a better servant of God, making a difference in the lives of their employees and their families, building businesses that are well run and prosperous, but more importantly, being Christ-like examples in the business community and the world. They care, and they care a lot.

So, my “why” is that I have been called by God to be a C12 chair, building groups of C12 members who have been called to be more than typical business owners. My “why” is helping them discover that calling and helping them live it out in their business, with their families, in their churches and in their ministries. I too, care, and care a lot. It sometimes feels like a burden, and sometimes a very heavy one, but only for a short while, especially when I remember the eternal perspective.

We are serving the God who created the universe, we are serving Jesus Christ, who gave us a way to be with God in a new heaven and a new earth for all of eternity, and we are serving the Holy Spirit, who gives us guidance and direction, when we can get rid of the noise and clutter in our lives enough to hear Him. We are making a difference in our communities today and for all of eternity.

If you are a Christian business owner or CEO reading this, what is your “why”? Why are you in business? Who is your business serving? How are you employees and their families being impacted by being a part of your business? What are you doing with the profits from your business? What difference are you making in this world and more importantly, what difference are you making for eternity?

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Salt and Light in the 21st Century

In the 21st century we have at our fingertips the ability to share our thoughts, beliefs and opinions with a wide audience. It doesn’t require much effort or thought to do so. With a click we can share something someone else wrote or created and send it out like ripples from a stone tossed into a pond. Like many other tools God has given us, these tools can be used for good or for bad. The good can be sharing the Gospel, sharing a truth from the Bible, sharing a fact about an injustice, or sharing the actions or needs of an organization. The bad could be spreading rumors, defaming someone’s character, sharing what you believe to be a fact without verifying the truth or the source, or simply being mean or disrespectful.

Why is this so important for those of us who profess to follow Jesus Christ? In Matthew, Jesus taught about salt and light. “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:13-16, New Living Translation.

Salt and light both enhance our lives; either by adding flavor to food or by helping us to see or be seen better. We should also be enhancing the lives of others around us. People who are not followers of Christ should see a positive difference in the way we conduct ourselves. Our actions should speak louder than our words, or louder than our tweets, posts and emails. People will be more likely to listen to us when they know us, when they know we care, when there is a trust relationship built. How do you build trust? You spend time with people and demonstrate that you care, that you have integrity and that you are Christ-like.

I did not have a biblical world view before I started following Christ. I might not have heard the Gospel clearly presented if I wasn’t given an invitation by a friend who I liked, admired and trusted. Because he followed Christ, followed Christ’s teaching and was obedient, I was given an opportunity to be transformed. Now I have a biblical worldview and so does my wife and so do my children and so will my grandchildren. My wife also heard the Gospel from a different source, in a different setting, but that opportunity was the result of trust relationships that were built with her. My worldview would probably have not been changed by arguments, talk radio, news shows, magazines, newspapers, books or blogs. It was changed by Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God, the Father. It has been and continues to be transformed by God’s Word to us, the Bible, and by conversing with God through prayer and by listening (not easily done in our noisy world) to the Holy Spirit’s whispers.

I think the 21st century tools we have at our disposal to share our worldview and the Gospel are very powerful. Like any useful and especially, powerful tools, we need to be skilled and thoughtful about using them. Put some thought into what you share and how you sound when you share it. Read it out loud before you click “submit” or “send”. Have someone else read it and listen to their opinion. Are you enhancing, being positive and uplifting (Christ-like) or are you degrading, being negative and crushing (world-like)? I wish I could say I am always the former, but sometimes I let my emotions rule and share something I shouldn’t or share it in the wrong way. Hopefully, when that happens, the people I’m sharing with extend me grace because they know me, they know my heart and they know I care, so they have respect for me and my positions, even if we don’t agree. Someday, hopefully their worldview will be transformed like mine was, through the love and grace of a merciful God and Savior.

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What’s My Faith Story?

Are you curious about my journey as a Christ follower the last 19 years? Or are you curious about what I was doing before that point 19 years ago? I’ll share some of both and hopefully you’ll find something to relate to. Please don’t be offended by the description of my experiences with different Christian U.S. denominations. I am not criticizing, just sharing my story. Remember that no one, including the clergy of any church, is perfect in God’s eyes. As a result we sometimes have less than perfect experiences in churches. That doesn’t mean you give up on God or stop going to church. If you have a bad meal or bad service in a restaurant do you stop eating out completely or even worse, stop eating?

As a young boy in rural Fond du Lac County in the 1960’s, I attended a large United Church of Christ congregation in Fond du Lac. I went to Sunday school and church.  When I was around 12 years old I participated in a confirmation class where I memorized the Ten Commandments and the books of the Bible, at least those are the parts I remember. In my teens we started attending a smaller rural UCC church (less than 100 folks). I was part of the small youth group there and also taught Sunday school. In 1979 I married my high school sweetheart who grew up in the Catholic Church. The first 9 years of our marriage was spent in the Air Force, moving around the world every few years. We mostly attended Catholic services on Sundays. We moved back to Wisconsin and settled in the Stevens Point area in 1991, becoming members of a Catholic congregation.

In the fall of 1993 I attended a nondenominational church service at a weekend business conference. The service was led by business people, not clergy. At that service I heard something different that got my attention. I heard that God wanted a personal relationship with me and that the only way that was going to happen was if I recognized that I couldn’t earn it, I had to realize Jesus Christ earned it for me and I could simply believe its truth, accept it and acknowledge it. I thought hard about the statement I heard many times in church, that Jesus died for our sins. Why did he die for our sins? Did he die for my sins? What are my sins?

I didn’t do anything about it at that event, but seeds were planted. In the spring of 1994 at another similar event I heard the same message presented. Like before, I was given an opportunity to publicly acknowledge my acceptance of the truth presented by standing up, which I did. We were given some good advice, which was to get a Bible to read and find a church that teaches from the Bible. Since I didn’t have a Bible I went out and got one. God blessed our family by leading my wife to the same truth at about the same time through other people in our community. We were led to an Evangelical Free Church of America denomination church and heard clear Bible teaching from the pulpit. We hadn’t really seen this in the churches we attended as children and adults.  Fortunately, there are many churches who do offer this kind of teaching.

So, what does our faith life look like now? We have our own Bibles, more than one translation, both print and electronic. We read from our Bibles daily, not out of obligation, but out of a desire to know and understand better the Creator of the entire universe, someone we will walk with in eternity, just like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. We worship together with other Christ followers on Sunday, singing great songs, listening to Bible teaching and socializing. We spend time praying, alone and with other Christ followers in various gatherings. We have served and continue to serve in various roles within the church and outside the church, trying to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ.

In the last 19 years we have gone from being nominal, Sunday Christians, to being fully devoted, 24/7 followers of Christ. My business is working with other business owners who also follow Christ and help them live their faith journey. Our lives have purpose and our children and grandchildren are following our example. We still have struggles like anyone, because we are disobedient at times or God is pruning us at times. We continue to mature, a never ending process.

I hope you have an opportunity to hear truth like we did. I hope you accept and acknowledge it like we did. I hope you were encouraged or provoked by my story. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss your situation, I’m happy to try to help with advice if you want it.

Some Bible teachers I enjoy reading or listening to (not an exclusive list):

 

 

 

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Are You Relational?

I recently had the opportunity to share my testimony, my story about how I came to an intentional decision to follow Jesus Christ. As part of that discussion I was asked to share how a business guy saw the good news of the Gospel. I told the person that I was starting from an understanding that Jesus died for our sins as a statement or even a fact, but not of personal impact. I began to understand that Jesus died for me, so that I could have a personal relationship with the God of the Universe; that I could someday walk with the same God that Adam walked with in the Garden of Eden. I began to understand that I could also have a personal relationship with the other parts of the trinity, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Over the last 18 years of that relationship I have learned how to pursue it, how to listen, how to be aware of the feelings in the relationship. Like any relationship, it takes time, intentionality and purpose. There are times of elation and times of disappointment. The times of elation are a result of the blessings of grace and mercy and plenty. The times of disappointment are a result of my own misunderstanding or disobedience.

In some ways my relationship with God the Father is influenced by my own relationship with my father. As a young child I knew my father loved me; I would get a hug or kiss good night at bed time, we would spend time hunting, fishing and camping together. I also feared my father in those times when I was disobedient or broke the rules, because he would punish me for it. I know God loves me and yet I also fear Him. Those are both biblical statements which sometimes we have difficulty accepting. I can get a better understanding of those elements of our relationship by regularly reading the Bible, discussing passages with more mature Christians, by listening to good teaching, and by praying. Last summer my father died after six months of suffering with cancer. I miss him and through that loss have a greater hunger for a deeper relationship with God.

I have enhanced my relationships with the Trinity by entering into intentional relationships with other Christ followers. As I already mentioned, it takes time, intentionality and purpose. I have found that having a small group of men about the same age who have the same desire to be transparent and be transformed by reading and studying the Bible, praying together and processing our trials and triumphs has been instrumental in helping me build a better relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is what discipleship looks like in the modern era.

If you have been blessed with a spouse and children and even grandchildren, then you know that you have even more relationships to again take time, intentionality and purpose for growing, improving or even maintaining those relationships. To do so in our culture today will require choosing not to pursue some of the myriad of leisure activities available or to limit your time pursuing work and its fruits.

If you own a business you have a responsibility to pursue relationships with your employees. Depending on the size of your business, that may not be every one of them, but at least the ones who report directly to you. Make sure they know you care about them. Invest in them, not only from a business perspective, but from an eternal perspective. Let them know about God’s love, grace and mercy through your actions and your words. If you can extend that to their family as well, you will have a huge impact.

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Give the Gift of Mercy and Change Our Nation

Did you notice some confusing behavior from voters in our recent election? Here in Wisconsin we elected 5 out 8 Republican representatives to Congress, provided a Republican majority to the state Senate to go with the Republican Assembly and Governor, re-elected a Democratic President and most surprisingly elected one of the most liberal Democrats in the country as our Senator. Wisconsinites had to have voted for conservative Republican candidates and liberal Democratic candidates on the same ballot. One congressman stated this in fact happened in his district. Most of the media will be analyzing these results and focusing on demographic issues of race, age and gender, or on the range of the liberal – conservative spectrum. I don’t believe this is a political issue, this is a spiritual issue. To be more precise, this is a spiritual warfare issue.

God is always speaking to us through His Word, the Bible, and on Friday after the election I read these passages in Ephesians chapter 2:  1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. English Standard Version

The confusion among the electorate is being sown by Satan, influenced by their own selfishness, pride, and disobedience, just like we were before we were given the gift of mercy and switched sides in this war.  4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus

A person (like me for instance) who has been offered the gift of mercy, accepts it, submits himself to Jesus Christ as savior and lord and pursues a deeper knowledge and relationship with God, will be transformed into someone who elects a God honoring government. That complete transformation takes place over time and requires discipling from others who have come to know these truths. Discipling doesn’t happen Sunday morning in an hour or two, just like evangelism doesn’t happen Sunday morning in an hour or two. Discipling happens in small groups of four to six men or women, studying the Bible, praying and learning how to love each other and share that love with those confused people around us. Expand that discipleship group to a missional community living out their faith 24/7 and you have real impact for the kingdom.

In order for our nation to be changed, we have to change one person at a time and that is up to each of us to do. We need to share the gift of mercy and grace with those around us at work and in our neighborhoods. This requires we obey the commands Jesus Christ gave us in John 13: 34”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ESV

Note that word “disciple” again. We have to share our faith by building relationships with them, showing them love, not hate, offering them the gift of mercy through Jesus Christ, and then discipling them as they begin the journey of transformation. I was given this gift by someone who loved me, who gave me the opportunity to hear the truth of the Gospel very clearly and accept the gift. Eighteen years ago at the age of 34 and a child of the 60’s and 70’s with liberal ideas of what is okay, I began to be transformed. I wish I could say I was discipled early on that path, but that didn’t happen, not the way it should have, according to the biblical model. In God’s grace I was still transformed and continue to be transformed and thankfully that is now in a discipling relationship. Let’s all enter into discipling relationships, let’s all share the love of Christ with those around us, let’s all change our nation one new believer at a time, multiplied over and over through our personal sharing of this gift. It’s not going to happen from the desks of television and talk radio or even from the pulpits of the churches. It’s going to happen in the places we work, the neighborhoods we live in, the places we recreate in and the places we serve in.

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