Like a Scout, We Must Be Prepared

In 1907, a movement began in the United Kingdom with the aim of helping young people in developing physically, mentally, and spiritually. That movement, called the Scout Movement, or Scouting, became a worldwide movement that includes the Boys Scouts of America, one of the largest scouting organizations and one of the largest youth organizations in the United States. Not long after, the Girl Scout movement was born. The motto of the Boy Scouts and of the Girl Scouts is “Be Prepared.” Being prepared means that scouts is always ready to become productive citizens, strong leaders, and ready to bring joy to the lives of others. Scouts should be ready in body and mind to face whatever challenges life may bring.

As believers in Christ, we must also “be prepared.” Christ will return on a day and at an hour that is known only to God. Because we don’t know the date and time of His return, we must always be ready. In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul instructed believers that Christ will return and gather all believers, the dead and the living, to Him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). That day, the day of the Lord, will come upon us like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). And that is why we must be prepared. But, what must we do to be prepared?

In that same letter, Paul gives some final instructions to the Thessalonian believers. These instructions are for us as believers as well. While we wait for the return of the Lord, we are to respect those who labor among us, those in positions of leadership in the body of Christ. We are to show them the love that they deserve for their work among us (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Paul also addresses those of us who are leaders, urging us to provide correction and support as needed. Leaders are to provide firm counsel to those who are idle and be gentle with those who are weak, showing patience to all of them (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Paul’s instructions also tell us that none of us should repay evil with evil. Instead, we must always seek to do good to fellow believers, as well as to those who are not believers (1 Thessalonians 5:15). It is God’s will that we live lives that are filled with joy in all seasons of life; we must pray continually and give thanks to God no matter what the circumstances are (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We must always allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, to guide us and to counsel us. We must never quench His work in our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:19). We must not reject prophecy but must test what we hear and what we read by holding it up to the Word of God to determine if it is from God (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).

Above all, we must abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We must live lives that are beyond reproach, seeking to be like Christ, striving to have the mind of Christ in all that we do. When we follow these instructions, like a good and faithful Boy Scout or Girl Scout, we will “be prepared” when the day of the Lord comes.

The Worship of a Broken Heart

If you’ve ever been on a tour of a movie studio, you may have come across some beautiful buildings. As you look at the front of these buildings, they can look quite stunning and impressive. But if you were to walk into the front door of one of these buildings, you might be in for a big surprise. One such group of buildings is a row of brownstones that appear in the opening credits of the TV show, “Friends.” From the outside, they are beautiful, but the buildings are just facades. But the interiors are empty, nondescript, and not very impressive at all.

1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that, when it comes to people, God does not look at the outward appearance. What He looks at is what’s inside, at the heart. God is more interested in what’s inside of us than what’s on the outside. This is especially true when it comes to worship. We can come to worship God looking our best, dressed to the nines, smiles on our faces. The songs that come from our lips may be beautiful songs, with wonderful melodies and inspiring lyrics. But none of that is what is important to God. He wants to know what’s in our hearts, even if our hearts are broken.

In Psalm 51:17, David wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” God is not looking for rituals, He is not looking for a beautifully sung and skillfully played worship set. What He is looking for are people who trust and rely on Him, even in those times when our hearts and our spirits are broken. When we come to God in our brokenness and offer our praise despite that brokenness, He is pleased with our worship. Worship offered by a broken and contrite heart shows a true attitude of reverence to God.

When we can worship Him through our brokenness, when we can give Him praise despite the fact that our hearts or our spirits are broken, we are offering a true sacrifice of praise, a sacrifice that is acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). We become true worshipers, those who He seeks, worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

The Vine and the Branches

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)

Jesus taught that He is the vine of which we are the branches. But not only did He say that He is the vine, but that He is the “true” vine. In the Old Testament, the vine was used as a symbol for the nation of Israel. God planted this nation, this vine, in the Promised Land. God nourished and tended the nation of Israel, guarding it and protecting it. But God found that, instead of yielding a harvest of good fruit, this vine produced bad fruit (Isaiah 5:1-2). Throughout the Old Testament, the people of Israel rebelled against God.

Because His love for His people was so great, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the true vine. Jesus is the vine that produces fruit that is filled with goodness and love. When we become followers of Jesus, we become the branches of that vine, capable of producing good fruit. As disciples of Jesus, we are tended and nourished by God, the vinedresser. In a vineyard, the vinedresser prunes the branches of the vine in order to remove any dead, damaged, or diseased growth. In the same way, God prunes us, in order to purify us, to nourish us, and to remove anything in our lives that should not be there. This pruning helps us to bear good fruit.

If you were to cut a branch off a vine, it no longer would be able to produce fruit. It would not have the nourishment it receives through the vine. That branch would just wither and die. As the branches of the true vine, we will produce fruit only if we abide in Jesus. If we abide in Him and in His words, He abides in us. As branches connected to the true vine, we will bear much fruit. And when we do, God is glorified through us and we show ourselves to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Life is Uncertain But God’s Word Stands Firm

We are living in very uncertain times. Life can change for us at the drop of a hat. Recent hurricanes have destroyed several Caribbean islands, causing many people to experience loss of all they owned. Earthquakes have destroyed areas of countries like Mexico, claiming lives and property. Wildfires in California have done the same. And, for our nation, the threat of war with countries like North Korea has come closer and closer to reality, threatening the peace that we cherish.

Although life is uncertain at best, there is something that we can cling to, something that stands firm no matter what is going on in the world. That something is God’s Word and faithfulness. Psalm 119:89 tells us that God’s Word is fixed in the heavens. In fact, it is not just fixed, but firmly fixed. That same verse says that God’s faithfulness endures to all generations. Not just one or two generations but to all generations, those that have passed, those that exist right now, and those that are still to come.

We can rest in the neverending certainty of God’s Word because its heavenly foundation is in God Himself. He is a faithful God, a God who keeps His promises and whose love for those who love Him is steadfast (Deuteronomy 7:9). It is a love that never ends but endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34). We can also rest in the certainty of God’s Word because of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14) and He is the same today as He was yesterday and as He will be tomorrow and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

In these uncertain times, we can turn to God’s Word for assurance. His Word provides all that we need. It is a lamp to guide our feet and to give light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

Serving Others

Yesterday, our church did what it has done every other year for the past several years. In a church-wide effort called Service for Service, we gave up our regular church services in order to serve our community. Rather than worship God with our voices, we worshipped Him with our actions, with service. Teams of people were sent out throughout the neighboring towns to participate in a variety of projects. Some lent their hands to painting and construction projects, some visited shut-ins and held worship services at nursing homes, some participated in offering free car washes. Through all of these things, the gospel was preached through actions rather than words. And, through it all, God was glorified.

Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors (Matthew 22:36-39). When we reach out to those around us, offering our hands and our hearts to help them, we are following those commands. Our service to people around us, to our neighbors, reflects our love for God. The things that we do for those in need around us, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40). Our service to those around us, to our neighbors, also reflects our love for them. And when we love our neighbors in that way, we are showing them the love of Jesus. We become mirrors that reflect His image to the world around us.

Jesus taught that we are to serve others. On the night before He gave His life for us, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, giving them a tangible example of what it means to serve others, to be servant leaders (John 13:12-15). Jesus is the greatest example of a servant leader. Despite the fact that He was the Son of God, part of the Trinity, Jesus came into this world not to be served but to serve. And, His greatest act of service was in giving His life as a ransom for our sins, providing a way for us to enjoy eternal life (Matthew 20:28). As believers, we must always seek to serve not only God, but also our neighbors.

Stand in the Gap

One of the responsibilities of the Old Testament prophets was to act as God’s spokesmen and to denounce the wicked deeds of God’s people. With the exception of men like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the prophets pretty much ignored the sins of the people, instead giving the people false visions and divining lies (Ezekiel 22:28). But Ezekiel did denounce the wicked deeds of the people, based on the words that God gave him. In Ezekiel 22:30, God told Ezekiel that He searched for someone to stand in the gap for His people, but He could not find anyone. Israel had rebelled against God and would suffer because of her sins.

Standing in the gap means to assume a position of active, resolute defense. God was looking for someone who would be willing to defend His people, someone who was willing to plead their case before Him. When Moses was leading God’s people in the wilderness, there were times when God’s anger burned against them due to their rebellious, stiff-necked behavior (Numbers 14:11). Moses stood in the gap for them and pleaded their case (Numbers 4:19). As a result, God held back His anger and His wrath.

Jesus stood in the gap for all of us. We are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The wages of our sin is death and, by rights, we should have had to face the penalty for our sin (Romans 6:23). But Jesus stood in the gap for us. He took upon Himself all of our sins as He gave His life on the cross. Jesus became our advocate before God (1 John 2:1) so that we could avoid the penalty for our sin and instead have eternal life.

We are called to stand in the gap for others, to plead their cases before God by interceding for them in prayer. Parents are called to stand in the gap for their children, believers are called to stand in the gap for other believers and, maybe more importantly, for those who do not yet believe. As believers in America, we are also called to stand in the gap for our country. America has turned its heart away from God. Because He is a righteous God, the continued rebellion against Him will cause His anger to burn against it. For that reason, we must stand in the gap for America. We must humble ourselves and pray for God to heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Transformation

In 1984, Hasbro released a new line of toys called Transformers. These toys, targeted to young boys, were action figures of alien robots. By moving the robot’s various parts, each robot was able to transform into everyday vehicles, electronic items, or weapons. This transformation enabled the figure to disguise itself until such time as its true form was needed for battle.

In our walk with Christ, we also need to go through a transformation. Unlike the Transformers, we don’t transform physically by changing in form or appearance. Our transformation is a change in character, behavior, or attitude. It is a transformation from our sinful nature to holiness. Such a transformation is one that sets us apart from the world. God’s Word warns us not to be conformed to our former desires, the desires of the flesh. Rather, in all that we do, we are to seek to be holy, just as Christ is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Romans 12:2 tells us that we should not be conformed to the world. When we conform to the world, we are allowing ourselves to become like the world, to live by the standards of the world rather than by God’s standards. When we accept Christ as Savior and give our lives to Him, our goal is to become like Him. We can do that by allowing a transformation to take place in us through a renewal of our minds. We must seek to have the mind of Christ. When we do, we are then able to discern God’s will in our lives, His good, acceptable, and perfect will.

Transformation is only possible when we allow His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and to guide us. Through the Spirit of the Lord, we will find freedom, not just from the penalty of sin, but from its hold on us. And through the Spirit, we are transformed into the image of God (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

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