Research has revealed that one of the most critical elements to preventing new converts from leaving the church is friendship. According to one study, “Each new person should be able to identify at least seven friends in the church within the first six months.” In other words, developing faith based friendships is critical to faith development.
William Arthur Ward once wrote, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.” I believe that sentiment embodies the example of a man named Joseph who was integral to the growth of the church during its infancy.
Have you ever noticed the abundance of traffic signs around you? Everywhere you look there are traffic signs. Some signs regulate the flow of traffic like speed limit signs and stop signs. Other signs tell you what to expect ahead such as construction signs, speed bump signs, and curvy road signs. Then there are signs that indicate your location or provide directions such as street names, mile markers, and exit signs. The most important thing about traffic signs is that every sign serves a purpose. Some provide drivers with useful information, some keep drivers safe during their travels, and some direct drivers toward their destination. Without traffic signs driving would be a chaotic, frustrating, and dangerous endeavor.
In Matthew 16:15, Jesus asked His disciples the most important question man will ever answer. He asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered correctly in the following verse when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter’s response was celebrated by Jesus and identified as the “rock” on which Jesus would build His church (Matthew 16:17-18). Why was so much emphasis placed on Peter’s confession of Jesus’ identity? Because it matters who we say Jesus is.
In Exodus 3, we read the story of Moses and the burning bush. At this point in his life, Moses had been away from Egypt for approximately forty years. You may remember that Moses thrived in Egypt. He lived in the house of Pharaoh. He was raised among kings in a royal environment. He grew up as an Egyptian even though he shared the same ethnicity as those who were slaves. However, he eventually grew sympathetic toward his kinsmen, and, at one point, he killed an Egyptian who he witnessed abusing a Hebrew slave. As a result of his actions, Moses fled Egypt as a fugitive, knowing that his murderous deed was not as secretive as he initially assumed.
The term “hypocrite” originally referred to an actor who pretended to be something he was not. In its original context, the word “hypocrite” was not a derogatory title; however, it evolved over time so that it came to be associated with dishonesty, a lack of genuineness, and contradictory behavior. It is this latter understanding of hypocrisy that the Bible utilizes.
In Colossians 3:8 Paul identified blasphemy as one of the sinful behaviors that Christians are to “put off.” It is identified in a list that included anger, wrath, malice, and filthy language. These latter behaviors are familiar to us, but blasphemy is a behavior that is somewhat foreign to our twenty-first century culture since the term is rarely used. So, what is blasphemy and how might we commit it?
Detours are frustrating. Detours are stressful. Detours are burdensome. When you are traveling in unfamiliar or unfrequented territory and you come across a detour it feels like a tremendous setback. It interrupts your direction, it interrupts your schedule, and, if you’re like me, it interrupts your blood pressure. But detours are often necessary. For example, detours are utilized when dangerous conditions are present. You may be forced to detour because a bridge is washed away or debris is obstructing the roadway. Detours are utilized when improvements are underway. You may be forced to detour because construction crews are working to repair or build better transportation systems. Detours may interfere with your life but they typically exist for a reason.
What is hope? The way the world tends to use the word “hope,” it comes across as if it is just a “wish” or a “desire,” something you want but lack certainty of whether or not it will come to fruition.
For example, a student might say, “I hope that I pass my Calculus class.” What that student is really saying is that he wants to receive a passing grade, but he is not certain that he did well enough to achieve a passing grade. Or, a child, like Micah, might say, “I hope that I get a Minnie Mouse car for Christmas.” What that child is really saying is that she wants to receive a $300 miniature, drivable car as a gift at Christmas, but she is not certain that Santa will fulfill her request.
All such hope-oriented statements demonstrate a fear that the final outcome may not match the desired outcome. As a result, such statements reveal that the world’s definition of hope lacks certainty and security.
On July 4, 1776 the thirteen American colonies formally announced their independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain when the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. That was the last day that the United States of America was under the rule of a king. As a result, the concept of a “kingdom” is lost on our society because most of us do not know what is like to serve a king or live under a monarchial reign.
There are wonderful blessings that come from living under a democratic government but one of the unfortunate consequences is a diminished appreciation for the concept of a kingdom. And the only reason this is worth noting is because kingdom terminology permeated the teaching of Jesus. No fewer than twelve of His parables were used to describe the “kingdom.” No fewer than 87 verses among the four Gospels quote Him as using the term “kingdom.” In fact, when Jesus began His preaching ministry, He proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; cf. 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:15 Luke 4:43; 8:1), and then He commissioned His disciples to proclaim this same message (Luke 9:2, 60).