Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Judging Others

Judging others is often a confusing topic. It's confusing because we're told not to judge others (Matthew 7:1-6) and to demonstrate love to all people (Mark 12:30-31) but yet, we live in a world consumed with sinful people and sinful behavior. It can seem impossible not to judge those whose actions are sinful and against God. So why does God tell us not to judge?

Because often our judgments are wrong and unfair.

James goes into great detail about judging others (James 4:1-12) and teaches that God is the only one qualified to judge. Why? Because our judgment can be motivated by jealousy, pride, anger, or ambition; our judgment creates conflict and damages relationships. And because we lack God's ability to save the people we judge, we are unequipped to offer a fair and discerning judgment of the heart.

God is the only one qualified to judge others because only he has the power to save and destroy. In other words, God can condemn a man for wrongdoing, but God can also be merciful and provide reconciliation. It's the same way for us as believers: God can condemn us for our sin, but he can also provide a way to salvation.

Paul teaches us something important in Galatians 5:13-15; he tells us that people have the power to destroybut nowhere in scripture does it say people have the power to save. When we place ourselves in the role as judge, the only thing we're able to do is destroy one another. We're great at condemnation, but our limitations as humans prevents us from offering anyone salvation. And when we judge, we aren't obeying God's law of love; instead we're placing ourselves in God's position and, in effect, considering ourselves to be God's equal!

So what should believers do when we see sinful behavior?

The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) is a perfect example of judging. Jesus responded to the woman's accusers with, "If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Or, in other words, "You want to be judges? Fine. If anyone of you are qualified like God is qualified, feel free to start judging." But once we do, then we've unequivocally declared ourselves to be God's equala sin of pride and arrogance if there ever was one.

This does not mean that we are not to see sin for what it is. Just as the woman caught in adultery, we should recognize sin when we see it. We should understand what actions are wrong and sinful, and should know what actions need to be avoided in our own lives. But we should not judge a person who has sinned, because that person should be judged by God alone.

If our behavior and attitude towards a person change because that person has sinned, we are in dangerous territory. Because the response we should have, is simply to love that person, just as we should love all people, even when someone does the wrong thing. Jesus did exactly that when he was presented with the adulterous woman.

Let's follow his example.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

So You Say You're A Christian

The most difficult part of being a Christian is acting like one. I don’t mean by going to church, reading the Bible, or even praying—what I’m talking about is acting like a Christian in every situation, exposed for everyone around to see. That’s where the difficulty lies.

It’s easy to say, “I’m a Christian.” People say that all day long. But do those words actually mean anything? When we claim to believe, do we follow through with our actions? Sometimes, maybe—but what about every time?

Do we act on our faith only when it’s convenient, choosing when to be a follower of God and when to be a friend of the world?

Almost fifteen years ago I met Lea, an Israeli, living in America while she studied at the university. Not wanting to be apart for two years as she studied, she brought her husband and three children along with her to the U.S., and we met six months before they were to return to Israel. Over those six months we grew very close, and we remain best friends today.

One evening before they left, her husband and I had a conversation I’ll never forget. We were talking about something unimportant when he said, “There’s something different about you.”

I responded, “Oh, I know. I’m a Christian.”

He laughed and said, “It isn’t that. I’ve met many Christians here in America and you’re not like them. It’s something else.”

So I said again, “I told you, I’m a Christian and I try really hard to always remember that. That’s probably what’s different.”

He didn’t seem sure of that. “Hmm, maybe, but there’s something different inside you.”

I actually beamed when he said that! He didn’t acknowledge my Christianity as being the difference, but I sure did! I knew that’s what was different. And he saw it.

Why is that conversation so memorable to me? Because it’s the only time in my Christian walk that someone has told me I was different. No one had ever said it before, and no one has ever said it since.

I am far from perfect. I have a sinful nature that’s prone to anger, selfishness, cursing, gossiping, and prejudice—among other things. Just like Paul talked about in Romans chapter 7, I know that two natures are conflicting within me. But Paul also said believers are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in them (Romans 8:9). That means my sinful nature is only in control when I give it control.

But when Lea’s husband said there was something different about me, that confirmed to me that God is actively transforming and renewing my mind, and that those changes are evident to others in my words and actions. Perfect or not, there is a difference.

So when we say we’re Christians, is that transformation evident? Do others look at us and see something different? Or are they instead surprised when they learn that we’re Christians?

Maybe instead of just saying we’re Christians, we show others we are Christians. If we let others see that we are different—having a transformed and renewed spirit—maybe, just maybe, through our words and actions, the world will see and accept the truth of God.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Trials And Temptations

Believers are often confused about whether they're facing a trial or a temptation, and both James and Paul teach a great deal about the two. James tells us to focus on God throughout trials (James 1:12) and Paul warns us to always remain alert for temptations (Galatians 6:1). It's important for believers to understand the difference between the two because once we understand, we're in a better position to react to what we're facing.

Simply put, a trial is a set of circumstances—often ongoing, over a period of time—that can help a believer become stronger, more faithful, and more dependent on God, all without causing sin. In fact, with a trial, there is no obvious sin to commit. Financial hardship is a good example of a trial.

Temptation, on the other hand, is often fueled by sinful desires, and it can cause a believer to stumble and sin in a very clear way. Temptation generally comes down to a single act—if the action is taken, it ceases being a temptation and becomes sin. An example of temptation may be the desire to steal, or to commit adultery.

Now that we understand the difference between the two, how are we to react? The ideal response to a trial is, "I should depend on God and have faith," followed by prayer for strength, perseverance, and endurance. The ideal response to temptation is, "I should not do this," followed by prayer for strength and a commitment to godly behavior.

By understanding what we're actually being confronted with, we're in a better position to respond and behave in a way that's pleasing to God. Just by asking ourselves a simple question—"Am I being tempted to do something that will result with me sinning?"—we can identify our circumstances and respond accordingly, either by persevering through our trial or resisting the temptation.

Remember, a trial is meant to be persevered, while a temptation is meant to be overcome.

Excerpt from James Through the Eyes of Paul, chapter 2

Monday, November 2, 2015

Onward Christian Soldier!

If you’re a believer, you have an enemy—Satan. And that enemy will do whatever he can to destroy your relationship with God or at the very least, to interrupt it. He desires nothing more than to have a believer walk away from their faith, and he’ll use some very powerful ways to accomplish that.

But how does he do it? As always, it’s best to turn to Scripture for answers.

To begin with, listen to how Jesus describes Satan in John 8:44-45 (TLB):
“For you are the children of your father, the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning and a hater of truth—there is not an iota of truth in him. When he lies, it is perfectly normal; for he is the father of liars. And so when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe it!”
Wow! Jesus tells us that Satan is by nature a liar and his primary method of attack is through deception. Read that again—Satan is a liar! He lies about God—about who God is, about what God desires for us, and about everything else related to God. Again, Satan is a liar!

So how does Satan use his deception to attack believers? He preys on our fleshly desires.

He did it in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and he still uses that same method today. Because of the fall of man in the garden, every human being is born with an internal sinful nature. And with that nature comes sinful desires. And every person has this internal temptation within themselves—a nature that Christians are very aware of.

Listen to how Paul describes the conflict that takes place within all believers:
“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit which is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17-18 NIV)
What Paul is saying is that all people have this sinful internal source of temptation within themselves.

Paul then goes on to describe the sinful nature by saying,
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (Galatians 5:19-20 NIV).
So because all people have this sinful nature, Satan preys on that nature and externally uses the world to spread his lies.

How? By using the unbelieving world to entice and make attractive sinful desires. He promotes a worldly lifestyle that follows what is contrary to God—beliefs and values that are based on Satan’s lies, Satan’s deception, and Satan’s cunning ways. Because he is the ruler of this world (John 12:31, 14:30), he makes sure that all people are externally surrounded by a world filled with a lifestyle that follows the internal desires of the flesh.

And to do that, he attacks Christian beliefs and values. He gives the world a false Jesus, a false gospel, a false salvation. He uses confusion, chaos, doubt. It can come through media, society, family, friends, and culture. He even masquerades himself as an angel of light while he heaps persecution upon God’s people.

He lies about what’s right and wrong.

But we, as believers, submit to God’s wisdom (Read the book of James for an excellent teaching about worldly values). We stand firm in what we know to be true—God’s truths! We have the Holy Spirit guarding our minds, guarding our beliefs, guarding our values. And because we are God’s people, we have the faith and courage to continue marching on—we won’t lose heart, we won’t give up. We know that Satan has already been defeated by Christ on the cross!

Yes we have an enemy, but with Christ at our side, each one of us can take another step and boldly say—

"Onward Christian soldier!"

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Birth Of A Book

Writing a book is very similar to giving birth to a baby. I’ve done both, and I’ve been just as excited about a new book as I have been about the birth of one of my own children. From conception to final product, my face beams—just as it did during my first pregnancy—as I await “the birth,” my baby, my new book!

The process for both is very much the same. For months and months, you have to nurture and care for a new life, preparing for its arrival, doing anything and everything possible to ensure it is healthy and strong. With a book, you have to diligently study your material, outline your book chapters, write them, revise them, do everything you can to improve every word you’ve written—because once it’s finished, a book must survive on its own, without its author.

Finally, the big day arrives! After months spent anticipating this moment, nothing compares to seeing your baby—and your completed book—for the first time. All the hard work spent writing, researching, and finding a publisher has finally paid off. And as you stare in awe at this new thing you have created, you can’t help but be proud that a small piece of who you are will live on and, hopefully, have a positive impact on this world.

My oldest son—my real one, not a book!—shared a video with me about the birth of a book, and it reminded me how beautiful it is to be a writer. I hope you find it as inspiring and moving as I do.

Birth of a Book from Glen Milner on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tapping Into An Unstoppable Force

The apostle Paul writes some pretty amazing stuff in his letters but I have to admit there are times when I come across something that he’s written that baffles me—things that don’t quite make sense at first glance. For example, take 2 Corinthians 12:10. Here he says, “...for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

What? How could Paul delight in suffering? But more to the point, have I ever found delight in suffering?

I answered that question with a big no. I do not delight in suffering. Then I asked myself, how could Paul say that he took delight in all that happened to him during his ministry? I mean, the guy was stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, hungry, cold, naked, and imprisoned on numerous occasions, and these are just the things he tells us about! What about the times he suffered that aren’t mentioned in Scripture? I’m sure there were plenty more.

And how could he delight in all that? Where did that kind of dedication and courage come from? Why didn’t he feel sorry for himself or decide to completely give up, thinking it was hopeless? I mean, he wasn’t super human! He was an ordinary, everyday person, just like me.

Then I turned to Philippians 4:13, where I found the answer for Paul’s strength and power. There Paul writes, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul didn’t lean on his own strength, wisdom, or courage, but leaned only on Christ. He tapped into an unstoppable force, and because he fully trusted and had complete confidence in Christ, he delighted in hardships.

Wow—what an amazing lesson. Paul taught me that I too have access to that same strength and power if I’m willing to put my complete trust in Christ.

It doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been a Christian or how many Bible studies I’ve written; God continues to open my eyes and teach me more and more each day.

That is something I take delight in.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Scripture is packed with the message of love. In fact, depending on which version of the Bible you’re reading, the word love is mentioned over 550 times. And because love is so powerful and so important to God, Scripture focuses on love to teach believers how to develop the kind of Christian character needed to get through this life in the best possible way.

So let’s look at a few important love verses in the Bible.

Ultimate Love (John 3:16)
In my opinion, this verse says it all. God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for sinners—to die in our place while we were still his enemies. This is the most supreme act of love ever displayed. Period.

Unselfish Love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
This section of Scripture is the famous love chapter of the New Testament. It’s here where we learn the true definition of love. Read these verses and put your name in place of the word love—the areas you need to work on will become crystal clear.

Commandment To Love (John 13:34-35; Mark 12:30-31)
These are some tough verses. It’s here where Jesus said people will know whether or not we are his by the love we show. In fact, he commanded us to love one another. And he also told us how to love—with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Obedient Love (John 14:15)
This verse teaches us that love cannot be separated from obedience. If we truly love Christ, we will obey his teachings.

Forgiving Love (1 Peter 4:8)
This is one of my favorite verses. It’s a reminder that love forgives over and over again—just as God continues to forgive us. And because God continues to forgive us, we also must strive to forgive others.

But my favorite verse on love comes from the apostle Paul in Romans 5:6-8,
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Beautiful isn’t it?

So what’s love got to do with it? 

In a word, everything!