A Thankful Tomorrow
by Ryan Duncan, crosswalk.com
“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.” – Psalms 31:19
I’ve always really enjoyed Thanksgiving. Sure, the family can be pretty crazy at times, and I usually end up on dish duty after the meal, but Thanksgiving has always been a time for me to stop and realize how blessed I am. Friends, family, a warm meal, there are many simple things in this life that are easy to take for granted, so it’s good to have a day that reminds us to be thankful for all God has given us. The problem is that’s usually how long it lasts, a day. After the food has been eaten and prayers have been said, many people wake up the next morning and jump head first into the madness of Black Friday.
I can only remember shopping twice on Black Friday, and I regretted it both times. It’s complete chaos, with people running, screaming, and sometimes even fighting each other over things they want to buy. I’ve never had any crazy experiences myself, but my brother-in-law remembers a particularly strange incident that happened while he was in college. One year, while he and my sister were still dating, he drove up to visit her on the Friday after Thanksgiving. He had left his house at 3am with hopes of avoiding the holiday rush and was making good time on the freeway when suddenly, out of nowhere, a long line of traffic appeared in the distance.
At first he thought there had been an accident, but as he got closer he realized that the stalled traffic was due to cars making complete stops on the freeway so their passengers could get out, jump the guard rails, and climb a small hill to a nearby outlet mall. It’s ironic, and a little sad, that a day which celebrates American greed happens after the holiday about being thankful. At times like these, it’s important that as Christians realize we cannot live Christ-centered lives when we leapfrog between God and possessions.
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)
So don’t throw out your thankfulness with the evening leftovers, but hold onto it as the Advent season begins. Remember the blessings Christ has given us and use them to prepare yourself for Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Christ, the greatest gift of all.
Spiritual gifts fall into two basic categories: speaking and serving. Neither is more important than the other because both are demonstrations of God’s grace to the church. However, if members are not using their gifts, then the church suffers.
Every believer should be involved in a local church and actively loving the body of Christ. One of the ways we do this is by employing our spiritual abilities for the benefit of others. Those with speaking gifts can teach truth, promote righteousness, and offer correction and encouragement. Serving gifts give practical help so the church can function smoothly and extend personal care and love to its people.
Spiritual gifts aren’t merely some bonus added on top of salvation. They are to be taken seriously and given our full attention (1 Timothy 4:14-15). But we need never fear that we won’t use our spiritual abilities well. After all, it is God who works through us, and He will enable the Spirit’s gifts to be utilized for both the benefit of others and His glory.
What Is the Importance of Integrity?
By: Lucas Hagen, Crosswalk.com
In modern Western culture, integrity is not an emphasized virtue. A hyper-focus on individualism and career success leads many to assume that doing whatever it takes to achieve success is permissible. Integrity takes a back seat to a “the end justifies the means” mindset.
Unfortunately, this toxic mindset has permeated the Church. If you have followed the news over the last few years, you know that there are countless tragic stories of Christian leaders falling when secret sin is exposed.
This needs to change. There are few, if any, more important characteristics for spiritual growth and maturity than integrity.
Jesus’ Teaching on Integrity
There are myriad examples of Jesus teaching on integrity and its importance for His followers. One primary example of such teaching is found in the Sermon on the Mount.
All of Matthew 6 is focused on Jesus emphasizing giving, praying, or fasting — not in order to be seen by people, but rather to be done in secret to please God the Father.
In regard to giving in particular, Jesus says:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).
Jesus’ focus on this teaching is not on the actions themselves, but the manner by which the actions are performed. Everyone listening to Jesus knows that it is important to give to the needy.
However, there was not as much emphasis on the intentions for this giving. Too many focused on giving for the purpose of looking good in front of others to be praised.
However, Jesus stresses the importance of integrity: Doing such good things even when no one is watching. In fact, Jesus encourages doing such behaviors only when people are not watching!
Jesus understands the vanity of status and seeking to please people by your actions. The reward is fleeting and is not worth seeking. It is through integrity that one can truly be rewarded by God in heaven.
The Mark of the Christian
A common misconception among Christians is that it is good enough to go to church, small groups, and pray in order to be a good Christian. However, Jesus teaches that these kinds of basic behaviors are not what indicates that one is a Christian.
Rather, it is by one’s love and character that one is determined to be a follower of Christ. Jesus teaches,
“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Note that Jesus does not say that people will recognize His disciples by their church attendance, prayer quality, or number of Bibles. Rather, one can be recognized by their love, by their integrity.
One can be judged by God to be a Christian or not by the way they treat people consistently, especially when no one else is watching. One’s private life is what demonstrates one’s faithfulness to Christ, and if one does not live with integrity, then it is fair to assume that one is not a follower of Christ.
This is of major importance for Christians because your behavior and level of integrity will influence unbelievers’ perception of Christ and the Church. If you have non-Christian friends or relatives, their understanding of Christ is heavily influenced by the Christians in their lives.
If they see you stealing, cursing, manipulating people, and living in sin, they will associate your behavior with the Church. As Christians, we are God’s representatives in the world.
It is our duty to ensure that our way of living is representative of the character of God, thus showing through our actions who God is. Your integrity can open people’s hearts to the love and truth of Jesus Christ.
Integrity Leads to Security
Integrity is frequently mentioned throughout the Old Testament, especially in the book of Proverbs. One noteworthy example is Proverbs 10:9, which reads, “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.”
Those who live with integrity can live in confidence, knowing that they are above reproach. However, those who commit secret sins are bound to live in paranoia, wondering whether their mistakes will be exposed or not.
Live with integrity to protect yourself and your family from being accused and convicted of secret sins.
Paul’s Teaching on Integrity
1 Corinthians 13 is often known as the “love” chapter. However, Paul also speaks of the importance of integrity. Paul opens this chapter speaking about love as it relates to the integrity of his readers. Paul writes,
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Paul does not consider a Christian’s value to be in their ability to speak in tongues, have prophetic powers, or perform miracles. While these are wonderful gifts, they are nothing if one does not have love.
If one performs amazing, dramatic, inspiring miracles in public, and then abuses his family in private, one is not a great Christian. If you hear your pastor preach an amazing sermon, and then hear that they cheated on their spouse, trust in their teaching is undermined.
One’s level of faith is not measured by one’s public actions, but one’s private actions. If you do not live with integrity, then the rest of your actions will be devalued.
While the world measures value by what one does in public to be recognized by others, God measures based on what only He can see.
If you want to please God, do not flaunt your spirituality or holiness. Rather, make sure that no one else can see what you do. Seek God’s favor alone, lest you cause yourself to stumble.