May 11: A Good Name Where it Counts

Read Revelation 3:1-6

This week, we are seeking to grow in understanding and in experiencing the reality that having a good name is better than any material possession. From our reading today, it is my hope that you take away two important truths. Let me introduce both of them here up front:

  1. Our church has a reputation.
  2. What others think is not what matters most.

Now, let’s pause and examine these truths in more detail. As the glorious Son of God spoke to an exiled apostle, He invited John to write seven letters to seven churches that existed at that time…around 90 a.d. The affirmation and exhortation extended to those churches have application for churches today.

As attention was directed to the church in Sardis, Jesus said, “…you have a reputation of being alive…” Reputation is not just a personal thing, you see. This church likely had a history of passionate engagement for the cause of Christ. Others knew of the activity. In fact, as others thought about the church at Sardis, they apparently thought to themselves, “Now, that church is alive!”

I wonder…beyond your own personal reputation…what is the word on the street about your church? What do people say about my church, Grace Church in Wooster, Ohio? How would people complete this sentence? “That church is _________!”

But, as outlined earlier, the word on the street about a person or even a church is not the final word. Even though the Sardis church had a reputation for strong, passionate, attentive service for Christ, the Savior knew otherwise. Even though their reputation may have once been accurate, Christ had the defining perspective. The truth was, they were dead. They needed to wake up, experience revival, and finish what He had called them to do.

If you were to set aside what others think for just a moment, what would be Christ’s assessment of you / your church? Psalm 139 gives us words that express a prayer of vulnerability. Would you pray them today in sincerity?

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23, 24 NIV)

sbk

May 10: Love and Faithfulness

Read Proverbs 3:1-35

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you, bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”

A good name…that is the focus of our study this week. That kind of positive reputation is something we should aspire to possess. We should pursue it with greater passion than we would silver or gold.

When we write our actual names, we write it horizontally on paper. But, as we have seen, a good name is two dimensional. It has both vertical and horizontal aspects. While it is of great importance what people think of us, it is of ultimate importance what God thinks of us.

Thankfully, Solomon outlines for us two vital characteristics that assure us of a good name in both directions. Before we look at these two, notice that these traits should be enduring (never leave you) and internalized (on the tablet of your heart). In other words, they are not like clothing that we temporarily put on or take off. They are not like a mask that superficially hides our true identity.

So what are these two characteristics? Love and faithfulness. When we love, we reveal that we know God. When we love, we resemble God, for God is love (1 John 4:8). When people experience our love unconditionally, they experience a refreshing taste of the Divine. Those who become a conduit of the love of God to others, have favor with both God and man.

Faithfulness, meanwhile, reflects an undying commitment. The Christ follower who is faithful does not throw in the towel during difficult or challenging times. He is predictably loyal to God. She is consistently true to her faith. And that faithfulness overflows into human relationships where words spoken are binding and promises extended are kept.

When our commitment to love and faithfulness is enduring and internalized, God smiles..and so do others. Make them smile today.

sbk

May 9: A Good Name…Inside and Out

Read 1 Timothy 3:1-13

Church leaders must have a good name…as should every believer.

I hope that you would agree with me and acknowledge that all followers of Christ are not exempt from the “good name requirement.” In fact, I would encourage you to consider that there are really very few of the characteristics indicated in this description of elders and deacons that do not carry over to all believers. Yes, you can probably identify two or three, but the overwhelming majority applies to every one of us.

So, let’s take a closer look at the bookends of the elder qualifications. In verse 2, Paul describes the suited overseer as being “above reproach.” In theory, I suppose that accusations of ungodliness may be leveled against the person, but they don’t stick. Sin has been avoided. When it has been committed, it has been confessed. Where others have been involved, reconciliation has been sought. You see, to be “above reproach” does not require absolute perfection, but it does necessitate a pursuit of holiness and godly responses in the face of our imperfections.

As Paul closes his description of the approved overseer, he also points to the need for “a good reputation with outsiders” (v. 7). The person does not just have a “good name” among believers. Colossians 4:5, 6 give us more detail on what that looks and sounds like.

“Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

He or she knows how to act and what to say around people who have not yet embraced Christ. His/her life is characterized by acts of compassion. His/her speech overflows with words of grace. As a result, outsiders will hold us in high esteem…even if they don’t agree with our message.

Based purely on the bookends of this passage, would you say that you have a good name? Would accusations against you stick? Do outsiders have a respect for your life and speech?

sbk

May 8: Who are you?

Read Acts 16:1-5 and Philippians 2:19-24

Who are you?

That can be a dangerous question, I know. Recently, I read that most of us measure our identity with one of three wrong yardsticks:

  1. “I am what I do.” In other words, you measure your worth by your performance as a parent, student, employee, or athlete.
  2. “I am what I have.” If this describes you, you value things. In fact, things may have taken on almost idolatrous proportions in your life.
  3. “I am what others think.” Your people pleasing tendencies cause you to go to extremes to make sure that everyone is happy and that they think highly of you.

Is there one of those statements that most describes you? I know that number 3 is a weakness for me. In fact, the next few lines are dedicated to any and all who are like me.

At first glance, we may place Timothy in the #3 camp. Fellow church members in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him (Acts 16:2). Even Paul thought highly of him after years of ministry together. According to Timothy’s spiritual father, was a “one of a kind” who took genuine interest in the welfare of others (Phil. 2:20).

I suppose that people pleasing Christ followers may, on the surface, have some of those same characteristics, but the thing that truly set Timothy apart was his ultimate devotion to the interests of Christ. You see, the real welfare of others is not what others find to be most beneficial or desirable. No, it is ultimately what is most pleasing to Christ. When I seek the welfare of others by pleasing Christ, I may have to disappoint them. It may require that I say some difficult things.

In the end, our identity is not bound up with performance, possessions, or people. It is built on the person of Christ. We have a “good name” when we seek His interests over our own…and His interests over what makes others happy if the two are in competition.

sbk

May 7: What are you known for?

Read Colossians 2:1-23

Have you ever written a letter to someone you don’t actually know? I suppose that most of us have written a quick e-mail or a brief correspondence of some kind to someone like that. These are always somewhat awkward to write.

There is nothing awkward about this letter from Paul to believers in Colosse. Although they had never met, Paul had heard about their faith. As an apostle with the unique call of God to reach people for Christ and establish healthy churches, Paul did not hesitate in sharing his joy and concern with these believing men and women.

One of Paul’s greatest concerns for this infant congregation was the infiltration of false teaching. They were surrounded by others who held that Jesus had not become man, that angels were to be worshiped, and that adherence to legalistic rules was the way to true spirituality. Paul made his concern very clear.

So what is wrong with having certain rules by which we live? I have built a few in my life. Here is my short list: I exercise every day. I never watch R movies. (Many PG and PG13 are questionable enough!) I do not drink alcohol. You would likely applaud, criticize, or add to my list. While the rules may have some positive elements, they cannot restrain what goes on in my heart.

If we are not careful, we can boil down our faith as Jesus followers to a list of things we don’t do. This can trickle down into our reputation as well. People may know us more for what we don’t do than for our heart for God and those made in His image. Don’t get me wrong, there will and should be those things that we should always steer clear of. I hope, for example, that people will recognize me as one in whom there is not a hint of sexual immorality (Eph. 5:3). Meanwhile, I want them to see beyond the fact that I don’t go to that movie or won’t listen to that joke. I want them to know that Christianity is more than things I don’t do.

sbk

May 6: Your Name and Your Past

Read Acts 9:1-31

We are so familiar with Paul’s glorious ministry that we can easily forget Saul’s infamous past. Remember these things about him?

  • He cast his vote in approval of Stephen’s execution.
  • He sought to destroy the church.
  • He dragged believing men and women away and had them placed in prison.
  • He went to Damascus with written permission to take believers back to prison in Jerusalem.

Prior to his Damascan Road encounter, Paul had a past. He had a reputation. It is no wonder that the mere mention of the name “Saul” caused Ananias to voice hesitation: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (vv. 13, 14) I am sure you would have done the same!

The power of Saul’s reputation was also reflected in the surprise of those who heard him in Damascus as he now boldly proclaimed the truth about Christ rather than opposing it. His reputation was also clear as the disciples doubted his motives when he sought to associate with him.

Does your past include a “Saul reputation?” It can be difficult to get people to change their opinion of you because of it. But consider these important factors that can help:

  1. Experience a genuine “Paul conversion.” The Spirit of God begins transforming change in a life that is surrendered to the person of Christ.
  2. Begin to manifest a life of godly character. The proof really is in the pudding. People won’t change their assessment of you unless they have more reason than you contending, “Well, I’m a different now!”
  3. Realize it will take time. While a single positive act or word makes a positive contribution towards a change of opinion, most people need to see many evidences over a longer period of time.
  4. Allow a “Barnabas” to speak on your behalf! Once there are people who are convinced that you are now “Paul” rather than “Saul,” use them as personal references or character witnesses.

Your past doesn’t have to define you today!

sbk

May 5: A Good Name is Better

Read Proverbs 22:1-29

“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

We lived for years in the land of Adolf Hitler. The atrocities committed as a result of this man’s leadership impacted more than six million people. This man’s reputation is so widespread that the mere mention of his name causes people to shudder. In fact, because of its associations, “Adolf” is now a name seldom given.

Most of us have names with their own legacy of people, both famous and infamous, who have borne them. You may associate my name, “Steve,” with the likes of computer genius Steve Jobs or perhaps with the first Christ martyr, Stephen. Those connections, however, may be misleading. For one, my computer know-how doesn’t reach much farther than being able to turn mine on and off. And in the case of the other Stephen…though I am a Christ-follower too, I am still very much alive.

Of course, the author of Proverbs 22:1 has much more in mind than the name a parent chooses for a child or than the actions of others who have carried your name. He is more concerned about your own personal reputation. Having a good reputation as a man or woman of integrity is our goal. That is better than having wealth. Let’s explore a few areas that will help you to see if you esteem a good name as better than silver or gold.

  1. Income tax forms- Your name went on the documents this year, you know. Was it more important to you to maximize your return or minimize your additional payment than to be completely truthful and accurate in what you declared?
  2. Expense reports- If you have occasion to fill one out, you affix your name to the report somewhere. Do you exaggerate the total number of miles traveled or the amount of a tip given, or is a clear conscience and your integrity of greater value to you?

Of course, those are only two of countless examples that could be given. Is there an area where you sacrifice a good name on the altar of personal gain?

sbk

May 4: The Sacrifice of Obedience

Read Isaiah 48

If only you had paid attention to my commands . . . (v18)

All week we’ve been looking at God’s love language. Obedience. He said it to King Saul when he tried his own way of pleasing God.

To obey is better than sacrifice. (1 Samuel 15:22)

We saw it in Jonah’s story as well. God was not interested in Jonah’s beautiful words of praise or his willingness to die as much as He wanted Jonah’s wholehearted surrender and his humble obedience.

We’ve seen that God is not interested in flowery words or nice gifts. Rather, He desires an earnest and faithful that shows up as like humble and obedient.

It was true of the pagan fishermen on the boat to Tarshish just as it was true of the Israelites of Isaiah’s day. And still, it’s true of us today.

God wants our willing agreement more than He wants our empty gifts.

All that God has offered us, all that He has sacrificed, is worthy of nothing less than our complete surrender.

For His own Name’s sake, He offers us His mercy. For His own fame, He gives us His grace. The display of His Name shines bright and strong when we obey and follow His ways. Because it is through this surrender that He grants His peace. His righteousness.

We can say great things about God. Give up an offering that would pay for an entire year’s worth of food for the hungry. But if we don’t know God’s ways or follow them, it’s all just meaningless.

It’s cause to step back and take inventory of our hearts. What have we given to try to pacify God? Have we acted like Jonah and offered Him something attempting to convince Him we were worthy of His glance? To try to impress Him or maybe the pastors at church? Or that famous Christian we admire oh so much?

Pointless!

Because God wants nothing less than all of us. And when we give Him that, we will automatically obey Him. Surrendered entirely. Sacrifically. Wholeheartedly.

brw

 

May 3: Obedient Hearts

Read Daniel 3:1-30

Shadrach’s, Meshach’s and Abednego’s obedience to God came from their unwavered trust in Who they knew Him to be.

Their love for God and their faith in Him showed itself true when they were presented with a problem: disobey God and bow down to an idol or die.

And their obedience and faith led to an awesome showing of God’s mighty power. His amazing and faithful care for those He loves.

(Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) trusted in God and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. (v28)

They had sacrificed a lot just to be in this place. Still, here they were servants of God in the service of Nebuchadnezzar.

Having been given lots of opportunities to turn their backs on what they believed, they stood strong with Daniel when he convinced the guard in charge to let them give up the king’s best food for the sake of their God and the purity He would give them when they remained undefiled by the royal food and wine. (See Daniel 1:8).

Still, God called them to more. He knew Shadrach’s, Meshach’s and Abednego’s faithful hearts.

I wonder if they wavered as they fell into the fire. Did they remember all they’d given up? Did they question their choice to stand firm in their God-fearing?

If they did, it only lasted a moment. For no sooner had they followed God’s ways right into the center of a furnace than He Himself showed up and stood inside the flames right with them.

Their faithful obedience led to miraculous revelation. Had Shadrach, Meshach or Abednego rested on the laurels of all they’d already given up for the sake of their God, they would have missed the gift of His personal saving. Straight out of the flames.

For God loves a heart that trusts Him so entirely it will not waver no matter what He asks. It’s the kind of heart He personally rescues. The one that recognizes its own folly and turns to Him in full surrender.

Obedient.

brw

May 2: The Difference Between Not Breathing and Dying to Self

Read Jonah 3:1-4:11

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. (4:1,2a)

You would think Jonah had learned his lesson. At least, it sounded like he had back in the belly of the fish.

But his real colors shone through when God granted mercy to Nineveh upon their repentance.

Jonah wanted to give his life, more than he wanted to live his life according to God’s ways. He had no interest whatsoever in God’s methods of grace or His willingness to show mercy to people Jonah deemed unworthy.

His un-surrendered heart gave God cause to teach Jonah about what really mattered.

Clearly God honored the repentant hearts in Nineveh. But Jonah just wanted Him to ignore their pleas.

For Jonah it was all about outward acts. He didn’t like the pagans called the Ninevites. Hated them for their wickedness. And he couldn’t see beyond it. Couldn’t get past the righteousness he believed God had given him.

He’d been chosen by God as a member of the Hebrew nation. An exclusive club, in his mind, that allowed for God’s mercy solely on the people whom Jonah had determined.

His pride, however, blinded him to the truth about God and what He likes. And what He doesn’t.

You see, Jonah, was all about physically dying. He wanted to give up his life and call it a sacrifice.

But God asks for a different kind of death. Death to self. The giving up of our own way of living and seeking what we want in full surrender to His way of doing things. No matter if we like them or not.

And Jonah was unwilling to die that kind of death. He was unable to see that, to God, to obey is better than to sacrifice.

How willing are we to give up our own ways and fully trust God for His way of living? Are we, like Jonah, stuck on something we don’t like about His ways? Something He’s asked us to do? Or are we ready to give up our ways, our pride, for His, trusting He knows best?

brw